There are times when I crave good food in quantity– I want to completely fill up my bowl and savor it for a good long time until I’m totally satiated. Palak Paneer is absolutely perfect for those nights, with spinach and fresh protein-packed cheese in a rich, creamy sauce. A heaping serving is still incredibly healthy so you can feel good about ladling just one more spoonful on top.
Making fresh cheese sounds so much more intimidating and time-consuming than it really is and the result is so worth it. The Kitchn has great instructions on making paneer – I’ve included the basic steps I follow in the recipe, but head over there if you’re looking for more in-depth information & photos. It takes some patience, which is not something I have in abundance or even in teaspoons sometimes, but it’s worth it to not have to scrape burned milk bubbles off the bottom of your best stockpot. Trust me on this one.
The first few times I made paneer, every recipe said to use whole milk – you need a certain amount of fat to get a good cheese, and whole milk is less processed than lower fat milks. But I’m not very good at following directions, so I’ve experimented with making paneer with low fat and skim milk and here’s what happens: you’ll only get about two-thirds of the curds from 0% fat skim milk that you would from the same amount of 3.5% fat whole milk. The cheese will be dense and more rubbery instead of fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth. I’ve written that you can use 2% as well because I find that it still has enough fat to make a good cheese, and it actually holds together better when being stirred into the palak sauce.
I wanted to wait to share another Indian-inspired recipe, but the cool weather has just been calling out for this. If you’re not feeling the whole make-your-own-cheese part and can’t find paneer at your local store, this is also delicious with tofu. Tofu won’t melt into the dish in quite the same way, but holds its shape for a different texture.
- ½ gallon whole or 2% milk
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ½ t. salt
- cheesecloth (optional but helpful)
- 9 oz. spinach
- 1-2 green chiles roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic smashed & peeled
- ½ inch fresh ginger roughly chopped
- 2 T. butter
- 1 onion diced
- 1 tomato diced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- ½ t. cumin
- ½ t. red chili powder
- ¼ t. turmeric
- 1 t. lime juice
- 1/2 t. garam masala
- salt to taste
- 2 T. cream
- Pour the milk into a large pot and slowly bring to barely simmering over medium-low heat. Stir often to make sure the bottom isn’t scalding.
- When the milk is starting to foam and steam, remove the pot from heat and stir in the lemon juice. You should start to see curds forming almost immediately.
- Cover and let stand for 10 minutes or so until the curds completely separate from the yellowish whey.
- Pour the curds into a cheesecloth-lined colander and lightly rinse to remove any lemon flavor. Alternatively, if you’re like me and totally forgot to check if you had cheesecloth before starting, drain as well as you can, rinse & drain again, and scoop the curds into a clean dishtowel.
- Twist and squeeze the cheesecloth or dishtowel to remove as much liquid as possible.
- Open the towel, sprinkle the paneer with salt, and wrap again.
- Set the wrapped curds on a large dinner plate and press into a flat shape. Set another plate on top to weigh it down – I often balance cans on top for additional weight.
- Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or up to an hour. The cheese will set while you’re beginning the palak.
- Boil 3 cups of water in a large bowl on the stove or in the microwave. Add the spinach to the hot water, give it a quick stir, and cover for 2-3 minutes.
- Strain the spinach and rinse with ice cold water to stop cooking and preserve color.
- Combine the spinach, green chiles, garlic, and ginger in a food processor and pulse until smooth.
- Melt the butter in a large pan on the stove. When hot, add the cumin and let it sizzle.
- Sauté the onions until translucent, then add the garlic and sauté for a couple more minutes.
- Add the tomato and let cook until soft, then add the chili powder and turmeric.
- Slowly add the spinach puree and mix well.
- Simmer for 7-10 minutes until the spinach is fully cooked and the sauce has thickened.
- Season with lime juice, garam masala, and salt to taste.
- Stir in bite-size cubes of paneer and let cook for a couple minutes until soft.
- Remove from heat and stir in cream.
Nutrition information is for 3 servings.