As the granddaughter of a landowner and farmer from the heart of Punjab, India, I implore you, please do not refer to Saag as Palak. My family spent our years living in America struggling to string vacation days together to visit my grandparents in the haweli where my father grew up. To even get to his childhood village, you have to drive your way through fields and fields of bright green and yellow-topped mustard green fields. I've been on a tractor in those same fields and can still smell that freshly-cut aroma from the tender stems. When these mustard greens are cooked down with key spices and then topped with ghee - that is saag. There is no paneer. Nothing added except maybe other greens on that slightly bitter spectrum - fresh fenugreek or collard greens, etc.
Palak, which most people incorrectly refer to as saag in the U.S., is simply spinach. The cooking process is similar, but often we'll eat this dish with homemade cheese or paneer. That's what I have perfected for you in my pressure cooker below. I have added two ingredients (dried fenugreek and cornmeal) that we traditionally add to our saag to thicken it up a bit. While I do add a bit of cashew cream now to my palak paneer, keep in mind we typically add no cream - that's more of a classic restaurant tweak. Totally fine, but for our homestyle tastes - the cleaner the better.
Instant Pot Palak Paneer, Curried Spinach with Paneer *
Pressure Cooker Size: 3 quart or larger
Warm Up: 7 minutes
Cook: 0 minutes
Cool Down: manual release + 3 extra minutes
TOTAL: 10 minutes plus manual release time
Makes: 3 cups without paneer
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 (1-inch) piece ginger, cut in small pieces
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ - 3 Thai or serrano chiles, stems removed and chopped
1 small tomato, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted tomato paste
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon red chile powder or cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons methi, dried fenugreek leaves (optional), gently crushed in one hand to release flavor
2 teaspoons cornmeal (optional)
1/2 cup water
4 cups fresh spinach (4.5 oz.), tightly packed, trimmed and coarsely chopped
2 cups diced paneer
1. Place the inner cooking pot in your Instant Pot. Select the SAUTE setting and adjust to MORE. When the indicator flashes HOT, add oil. Once the oil is hot, add hing and cumin. Mix well 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 turmeric. Cook for 30 seconds.
3. Carefully add onion. The moisture can cause the oil to splatter. Stir well and cook for 1 minute.
4. Add ginger, garlic, and fresh chiles. Cook 1 minute, stirring well.
5. Press CANCEL. Add tomato, tomato paste, garam masala, coriander, red chile, salt, methi, cornmeal, and water. Stir well.
6. Add spinach. If the spinach goes slightly above the maximum fill line, just push it down with your hand. No need to stir.
7. Lock the lid into place. Make sure that the pressure release valve is set to the sealing position (upwards). Press the PRESSURE COOK button until the panel indicates MORE and adjust the time to pressure cook for 0 minutes on HIGH pressure.
8. Once the cooking is complete, release pressure manually. After the float valve drops, open the lid. Use an immersion blender or regular blender to process until smooth or leave a little texture – your choice.
9. Select the SAUTE button again and adjust to MORE. Immediately add paneer - there is no need to wait for the indicator to flash HOT, as your pot is already warmed up. Cook for 3 minutes, with the lid on the pot slightly ajar so that you avoid splashes. This step helps to cook the paneer, while thickening your dish slightly.
10. Stir well and serve over basmati rice or with Indian bread like roti or naan.
* This recipe has been adapted from page 128 of my first book that was updated in 2019, 'The Indian Slow Cooker'.