Palak Paneer Recipe- Healthy Indian Spinach Dish with Homemade Cheese
By EatFeelFresh on September 19, 2012
Palak paneer is a delightful Punjabi dish chock-full of flavor and vegetables. During my month in India, I was forbidden from eating any raw vegetables. So what is a spinach-addict to do without any raw veggies for a month?
The Hindu gods answered my prayers with this dish:
This aromatic dish is comprised of chunks of creamy paneer simmered slowly in a slightly-spiced creamed spinach. It is a staple in North Indian cuisine and the ultimate comfort food, a favorite of both children and adults.
What is paneer?
Paneer is homemade Indian cheese made of boiled milk with lemon juice strained over a cheese cloth. To learn how to make your own paneer, check out the Food Networks Paneer Recipe.
Paneer is loosely translated as cottage cheese but I wouldn't ever compare the two. Most Americans picture a chunky, bumpy custard when imagining cottage cheese. Instead, envision creamy balls of mozzarella melting in your mouth. Paneer is the most versatile cheese and can be used in curries, stews, desserts or grilled. Paneer takes many forms (like the Hindu gods) because millions of Indians are vegetarian. The Hindu religion respects all life and states that one must never harm any living creature. In India, it is normal to see a traffic jam because a cow is crossing the street because no one wants to disrupt the cow, a holy animal, from its peace, let alone eat it! Hindus are very humanitarian and some very religious ones even sweep the floor before them as they walk to make sure they do not even step on a bug. If only the whole world had such a strong sense of compassion for all living things.
Since beef is out of the picture, paneer is the protein-source fueling this bustling nation! India is the country with the largest amount of vegetarians in the world so you can imagine how many veg dishes there are out there! Many imagine vegetarian cuisine as flavorless, unfilling and boring.. Well you've never tried Indian food since there is not one bland dish out there!
What I learned about Indian food in India
1. Not all Indian food is spicy! Dishes like Palak Paneer, Korma (creamy yogurt and cashew curry), Baingan Bharta (eggplant, tomato dish) and many Southern Indian dishes are sweet and full of flavors like coconut.
2. Not all Indian food is curry! Curry is a spice used in certain dishes, but real Indian food has a huge variety of spices from saffron to cumin. Cheap fast-food Indian places only offer a few dishes, which is why you may have the impression that all Indian food tastes the same. This is anything but true! You can go a year in India eating a new dish for every meal and never repeat the same one. India is diverse with different regions and cultures that have entirely unique forms of cuisine. The dosas (lentil pancakes) in the South differ greatly from the Murgh Biryani (slow-cooked chicken in tomato rice) in the North!
3. Tikka masala does not exist in India. When the British colonizers came to India, they could not get used to the flavorful spices used in Indian cuisine, which had a lot more going on than fish and chips! So they "invented" their own dish which is a more mild version of butter chicken. The word "tikka masala" doesn't even mean anything! Tikka means oven and masala means spice.. So essentially a chicken tikka masala is just a "chicken oven spice"! Avoid sounding like a tourist and do not order this impostor Indian dish!
4. Not all Indian food is heavy! Indian cuisine often gets a bad rep for being full of calories, oils and fat. Most Indians only eat their home-cooking because they want to avoid that stuff! By making Indian food at home, you can eliminate the heavy creams and ghee (clarified butter) that restaurants often use for flavor. Indian food made from scratch is actually one of the healthiest foods in the world due to its rich variety of fresh produce.
5. Indians eat their medicine. Even the most basic meal is made with whole ingredients bought daily at the market, along with medicinal spices like tumeric, ginger, garlic and green chilies. Each meal has abundant medicinal benefits that we are only discovering now.
Cumin is an antioxidant spice with health benefits like lowering diabetes and improving the immune system.
Turmeric is an antibacterial liver-cleanser which reduces your chance of breast cancer.
Check out the 7 Miracle Spices with Huge Health Benefits and Big Flavor.
You get your daily medicine in India just by tasting the cuisine, which is probably why Indians have some of the strongest immune systems in the world and are not prone to getting the many diseases Westerners are! Indians live long lives free of cancer, heart-disease, arthritis and other aches and pains from their healthy lifestyle, calcium-rich foods like paneer, and holistic approach to health.
Read our article: Ayurved- Wha? to understand the Ayurvedic health system in India, which is the oldest health system in the world!
So let's start with Palak-paneer.. And I'll let the pictures do the talking!
As an option, I have included Palak Chicken for those of you who prefer to try this creamed-spinach dish with a bit of meat. But I highly recommend the paneer!
First things first- play some Bollywood music! If you haven't heard Sheila Ki Jawani you're missing out.
This is a crucial part of the recipe- Indian food comes from the heart and it will be impossible to get in the mood without some tunes!
What you'll need
- 10 cups fresh baby spinach
-2 large fresh tomatoes
- olive oil
- 2 cups Paneer or several drumsticks of chicken
- 1 onion, finely chopped
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1 piece ginger, grated
-2 green chilies, finely chopped (option)
- Turmeric powder
1. Wash several cups of spinach.
2. Place spinach into a large pot over the stove with water and boil until wilted.
3. Drain boiled spinach and let cool. Then put in blender to make a puree.
4. Chop up 1 onion, 4 cloves of garlic and grate 1 piece of ginger.
5. Place olive oil in a large bowl over the stove and let heat.
6. Sauté the garlic, onion and ginger for 2-3 minutes.
7. Add 1 teaspoon turmeric powder and sauté.
7. Add two cups of freshly chopped tomatoes into the mixture. Option: Add half can of tomato puree.
8. Add the blended spinach into the bowl and mix well. Shake that spatula like you're shaking it at a monsoon wedding!
9. Add 1/4 tsp garam masala, chopped green chilis (optional for spiciness) and 1 tsp of salt. Add a splash of water if dry.
10. Now that we have the base, it is up to you whether you want to make it veg or not!
For chicken option: Grill several drumsticks of chicken marinated in plain yogurt. Add to pot.
For Paneer option:
Throw in 2 cups of chopped paneer into spinach and mix well. Allow to simmer for for about 10 minutes, or until stew thickens. Serve hot!
The best part of Indian cuisine is how versatile it is!
According to your dietary restrictions and what you have in your fridge, you can make any adjustments necessary. Some include:
- Dairy-free: Replace paneer with extra-firm spinach.
- Tomato-free: Eliminate tomatoes and replace with plain yogurt or milk.
- Extra creamy: Replace paneer with ricotta cheese.
- No blender: Replace fresh spinach with frozen, chopped spinach.
- Adverse to spicy foods: Eliminate garam masala and green chilies.
Namaste, and enjoy!
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