January 18, 2021 4 Comments
As the granddaughter of a landowner and farmer from the heart of Punjab, India, I I implore you, please do not refer to Punjabi Palak Paneer as Saag Paneer. The word saag has become interchangeable in the West to mean cooked, spiced, and pureed spinach with cheese. While the word saag refers to greens cooked with various spices and mashed down, this dish when cooked with spinach is referred to as Palak - the Hindi word for spinach. Saag typically refers to a dish that includes leafy mustard greens. We do add spinach to it and sometimes other greens, but this saag is never ever served with paneer in it. Sarson ka Saag is is sarson (mustard) blended into a saag. (Pureed Mustard Greens). It does not need paneer ever because it's so amazing on its own and is typically eaten with corn roti, or makhi ki roti. Hence the term 'Sarson ka saag, makhi ki roti', which when uttered in our home simply makes our mouths water. (In case you really want a Hindi lesson, makhi means corn, but it also means a fly - like the insect - so you want to be careful how you use it.)
In this post, I will give you the recipe for Palak Paneer, which I have perfected in the Instant Pot for my new book Instant Pot Indian to be released in April 2023 from Agate Publishing. I added two ingredients (dried fenugreek and cornmeal) that we traditionally add to our mustard greens to thicken it up a bit. While I do add a bit of heavy dairy or cashew cream now to my palak paneer, keep in mind we typically add no cream - that's more of a classic restaurant tweak. This recipe has been adapted from page 128 of my first book that was updated in 2019, 'The Indian Slow Cooker'.
Instant Pot Palak Paneer, Curried Spinach with Paneer
Pressure Cooker Size: 3 quart or larger
Warm Up: 7 minutes
Cook: 0 minutes (this is not a typo - see the note in Step 6 below)
Cool Down: MR + 3 minutes saute
TOTAL: 10 minutes
Makes: 2 cups before adding paneer and cream
2 teaspoons oil or ghee
1 pinch hing (asafoetida) (optional)
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 small yellow or red onion, roughly chopped
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, cut in small pieces
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ - 4 Thai or serrano chiles, stems removed and chopped
1/2 cup water (double if making this recipe in a 6-quart IP)
4 cups fresh spinach (4.5 oz.), tightly packed, trimmed and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons methi, dried fenugreek leaves (optional), gently crushed in one hand to release flavor
2 teaspoons cornmeal (optional)
1 small tomato, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted tomato paste
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons red chile powder or cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups diced paneer, add later
2 tablespoons heavy cream (dairy or alternative), add later (optional)
1. Place the inner cooking pot in your Instant Pot. Select the SAUTE setting and adjust to MORE. When the indicator flashes HOT, add the oil. Once the oil is hot, add the hing and cumin. Stir and cook for 40 seconds until the seeds are reddish brown. Because the oil pools to the sides, push spices into the oil along the border of the inner pot so they can cook fully.
2. Add the turmeric. Stir and cook for 30 seconds. Add the onion and stir - cook for 1 minute. Add the ginger and garlic. Stir and cook for 1 minute.
3. Add the fresh chiles, stir, and cook for 1 minute.
4. Press CANCEL. Carefully remove the inner pot and place on a heat-resistant surface. Add the water and stir, scraping loose anything stuck to the bottom. Let the pot cool for 5 minutes. This prevents a BURN warning later.
5. Return the pot to the base and add the spinach, methi, cornmeal, tomato, tomato paste, garam masala, coriander, red chile, and salt in that order. Do not stir. If the contents go slightly above the maximum fill line, just push them down a bit.
6. Lock the lid into place. Make sure that the pressure release valve is set to the sealing position (upwards). Press the PRESSURE COOK button and then press the PRESSURE LEVEL button until your panel reads LOW. Adjust the cook time to 0. The zero cook time works because the warm-up time is sufficient to cook this dish. I promise this is not a typo!
7. Once the cooking is complete, release the pressure manually. After the float valve drops, open the lid and stir. Use an immersion or regular blender to process until smooth or leave a little texture – your choice. If using an immersion blender, you may need to tilt the pot so the contents don't splash.
8. Select the SAUTE button again and adjust to MORE. Immediately add the paneer - there is no need to wait for the indicator to flash HOT, as your pot is already warmed up. Cook for up to 3 minutes, with the lid on the pot slightly ajar so that you avoid splashes. This step helps to cook the paneer.
9. Add the cream if using and stir. Serve over basmati rice or with Indian bread like roti or naan.
For my STOVETOP RECIPE click here. This is a fun post that also talk about how to make this recipe plant-based by using baked tofu. If you have my cookbooks, you can find my stovetop recipe on page 158 of Indian For Everyone, my vegan recipe on page 175 of my book Vegan Indian Cooking and my slow cooker version on page 128 of my book The Indian Slow Cooker.
TRY THIS! Want something fun and different? Try this Palak Paneer recipe paired with Polenta. Yep, it makes perfect sense. Polenta is made from corn and we have a deep love of corn flatbread, especially eaten with mustard greens. Spinach works just as well. I use the roll of Polenta found in the shelf-stable section of my grocer, slice it thin and pan fry it (I recommend getting it slightly crispy). Then, I simply arrange it on a bed of steaming Palak with cubes of paneer, sprinkle it with red chile powder, and garnish it with minced onion and thinly sliced green chile.
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