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The BEST Saag Paneer!

The BEST Saag Paneer!

Dishes such as Saag Paneer may not be something that conjures up memories of childhood lunches, comforting family dinners, dawats and the such if you’re Pakistani. 

Paneer happened to be something that never made an appearance in our kitchen growing up. You see, it’s used commonly in India but not so much in Pakistan. In fact, I recall the first time ever trying it properly to be on my Walima, in the form of a delicious Chilli Paneer. And since then, I’ve been hooked.

Having said that, Paneer isn’t something that grows on everyone. It’s a saltless cheese that doesn’t go ooey-gooey like traditional cheeses. When heated, it becomes soft and more-ish, but again it’s a taste that doesn’t grow on everyone. My husband is one of those people – he will always skip the Paneer dish where he can. When it’s cooked for a get-together or served at a wedding, I will always hear someone saying ‘Paneer doesn’t taste of ANYTHING!’

The BEST Saag Paneer Recipe

But if you are one of those people who do enjoy Paneer, then rejoice! This Saag Paneer will be RIGHT up your alley!

It’s delicious, quick and very easy therefore ideal for those who haven’t got the time, patience or expertise for something elaborate!

What is Saag Paneer?

Saag Paneer is a hearty and wholesome Punjabi dish – more popular in the North Indian region than in Pakistan.

It’s a dish made using Paneer, a kind of cheese similar to halloumi, and leafy greens, usually spinach. It’s spiced with a small selection of spices, nothing too hot and is generally served with some cream or butter.

Traditionally, Saag Paneer was cooked using mustard leaves (called sarson ka saag in Hindi/Urdu). It’s thought that spinach began to be used in this dish more commonly when this dish was brought over to the Western world due to the easier availability of spinach over mustard leaves. You can cook it with a variety of leafy greens not just limited to mustard greens including spinach, fenugreek, spring greens, swiss chard, arugula… anything!

A picture of the tinned mustard leaves I use, for reference. You can get them at most Asian stores and large mainstream supermarkets in the UK

And indeed, Saag Paneer is a pretty popular curry on the British Indian takeaway scene, alongside other favourites such as Chicken Korma, Chicken Dopiaza, Chicken Karahi, Peshwari Naan etc. Most recipes call for spinach still, despite the easier availability of mustard leaves today in the form of very convenient and well thought-out pureed pre-cooked tins. I personally use a mix of the tinned mustard leaves, spinach and spring greens depending on what’s available to me at the time.

It’s vegetarian, gluten-free and can also be low-carb and diabetic friendly if consumed on its own a low-carb accompaniment.

The BEST Saag Paneer Recipe

Whats the difference between Saag Paneer and Palak Paneer?

Directly translated from Hindi/Urdu, Saag means mustard greens and Palak means spinach.

In Palak Paneer, only spinach is used. In Saag Paneer, you are open to using a variety of different leafy greens such as mustard leaves, fenugreek and spinach too. I’ve left the option for you to choose a mix of leafy greens in the recipe card. This particular time, I actually just used spinach due to what I could access at the time. Hey, it’s difficult getting hold of other fresh leafy greens! Having said that, I wouldn’t shy away from using them in this recipe if I could.

I have an old Palak Paneer recipe on the blog here, but the pictures are very outdated and in need of some tlc! The recipe is very similar to the recipe I’m sharing today.

The BEST Saag Paneer Recipe

Saag Paneer Ingredients

I adore making Saag Paneer as a relatively easy meal – I find it’s so quick and simple, relying on very few ingredients by Indian/Pakistani cooking standards. All you need is:

  1. Paneer – readily available as a block or cut into cubes from a variety of Asian stores and also in mainstream supermarkets such as Tesco. I’ll go into more detail about this further on
  2. Leafy greens – For ease of accessibility, I prefer using a bag of baby spinach from my local mainstream supermarket and tinned mustard leaves I pop the spinach into the freezer as soon as I get them and before needing to use it, I take the spinach out and very fashionably crush the bag with a rolling pin to crush the leaves. Hey, I said I have a one year old and no time!
  3. Onions and garlic – the base of pretty much allllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll Indian/Pakistani food
  4. Some spices – nothing too elaborate. Just salt, turmeric, cumin seeds and chilli powder
  5. Double cream – this is optional but really kicks the luxury up a notch. It also helps bring out a brighter green hue in the spinach, as opposed to the murky, foresty shade it can become after cooking

What Paneer should I use for Saag Paneer? A block or pre-cubed?

Paneer comes in two forms in the supermarkets – either a as a large block or pre-cubed.

The block requires you to cube the paneer at home yourself (obviously). This does add a bit of time to the task, but I find the block paneer tends to a lot firmer and doesn’t release annoying crumbs when frying. You also have control over the side of the paneer cubes – so you can make them as small or big as you like.

The pre-cubed paneer holds the obvious advantage of requiring no cubing. HOWEVER, a word of warning – I find the firmness of this sort of paneer very lacklustre. Here I’ve taken a picture of the paneer I purchased for this recipe

I purchased this because – hello, so convenient! BUT, when I opened the packet, I was taken aback at how the cubes were. I present, specimen A…

The BEST Saag Paneer Recipe

Can you see the problem? It’s all stuck together. I had to manually separate most of these cubes and a lot of them ended up breaking or becoming an odd, not cubed shape. It took me perhaps just about slightly less time than chopping the paneer would have.

So bearing all this in mind, it’s up to you whether you prefer convenience over looks! I will always side with the block of paneer.

Making Paneer from scratch… worth the effort?

So, this is actually an option too!

Paneer is actually cheese made from curdled milk. It’s incredibly easy to make – all you need is some milk, vinegar or lemon and a cheesecloth! I won’t go into the full details of how to make Paneer from scratch on this blog post just because I definitely do not have the time on my hands to do those sorts of culinary wonders anymore! 

Personally, I prefer purchasing the ready made stuff since it’s so readily available. If it isn’t readily available for you or if you’re so inclined, making it at home is wonderfully easy and cheaper too! In a past life, I used to do it too! 

So is it worth the effort? If you don’t have the time or energy, no. But if you do, then it’s definitely worth trying at least once!

You can check out a tutorial on how to make Paneer at home here

The BEST Saag Paneer 12

How do you make Saag Paneer?

Saag Paneer is a relatively easy meal to prepare and doesn’t take any excessive  skill. I would describe it as a beginner/intermediate level dish.

  1. First, we start by heating some oil or ghee in a pan and frying the paneer cubes. A wide pan or wok is great for this so the paneer can brown in a single layer. If you find you have more than a single layer, fry it in batches. Allow the Paneer to brown and crisp up on all sides, stirring often. Set aside once browned. The BEST Saag Paneer RecipeThe BEST Saag Paneer Recipe
  2. In the same pan – top up with more oil/ghee if needed – add the onions. Begin to fry these until they turn gold. Slow and easy is the best. Stir continually to ensure they brown evenly. Towards the end of the cook time, add the garlic and all the spices The BEST Saag Paneer Recipe
  3. At this point, tip in the leafy greens . Cook this on a medium to high head, sautéing and allowing the water from the spinach to evaporate. The time this will take will vary, depending on whether you used fresh or frozen. Spinach contains A LOT of moisture, so don’t be surprised when it begins to steam up and wilt down into nothing The BEST Saag Paneer Recipe
  4. Once the spinach is looking dry, tip in the paneer. Give everything a good stir and allow the paneer to sit with the spinach on a medium heat, uncovered, soaking up the flavours.  The BEST Saag Paneer Recipe
  5. Once done, turn off the heat and stir in the double cream. Watch the green colour pop! It’s beautiful!

The BEST Saag Paneer 12

Substitutions, alterations and tips

  • You are free to use halloumi instead of paneer. They are both very similar in texture – although halloumi is saltier so you will need to adjust the salt in the recipe
  • You can also substitute the paneer for tofu for a vegan version!
  • Potatoes can also be used in lieu of paneer to make Saag Aloo
  • In terms of the leafy greens, you are pretty open to using whatever you have to hand. Kale, fenugreek, arugula, mustard leaves, dandelion leaves, radish leaves are all great to use. I personally would advise using a mix of leafy greens
  • If you like more of a spicy kick, you can add in a few chopped green chillis at the same time you add the spices. Use as much as you can tolerate!
  • If you’re not comfortable using something as rich as double cream, you can substitute it for single cream, milk or even coconut cream/milk. You can use yogurt too if you’re so inclined, but I’m not a huge fan of it
  • Frying the paneer as recommended gets the paneer nice and crispy, but for some extra crunch you can dredge it in some cornflour before frying! You’ll definitely have to use a new batch of oil when you begin to fry the onions though

How do you serve Saag Paneer?

Saag Paneer is generally served with either rice or naan. It’s a personal preference how you like it. I am definitely on team naan!

Saag Paneer is also great eaten on it’s own! I have done so in the past when on a low-carb diet and it was a very welcome meal!

Other recipes using similar ingredients

Chilli PaneerPalak PaneerAloo PalakPalak Chicken

Yield: 5 servings

The BEST Saag Paneer

The BEST Saag Paneer Recipe

A popular Punjabi curry made using leafy greens and cheese, this dish is very popular on the Indian takeout scene and for good reason! This is a comforting, delicious recipe to have on hand

Ingredients

  • 500g paneer, cubed
  • Oil, as needed
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1.5tsp cumin seeds
  • 2tsp coriander powder
  • salt, to taste
  • 0.5tsp chili flakes
  • 0.5tsp turmeric
  • 1kg mixed leafy greens (mustard leaves, spinach, spring greens, arugula etc), chopped.
  • 5tbsp double cream (known as heavy whipped cream in the US)

Instructions

  1. Heat enough oil in a pot/pan to generously fry the paneer in. Once hot, add the paneer and fry on a medium-high heat, stirring often to ensure the paneer browns evenly. Once the paneer is golden, drain and set aside
  2. If the oil in the pot/pan doesn't have small bits of paneer crumbs remaining, you may re-use the oil for the next step. You just need about 3-4tbsp of it, so remove any excess. If the oil has crumbs, you can switch out for a new batch of oil
  3. In the oil, add the chopped onion and fry until translucent. Add the ginger, garlic and spices and fry for 2 more minutes
  4. Add in the leafy greens. Allow them to wilt and release their water fully on a medium to high heat without the lid.
  5. At this stage, if you want a smoother saag base, you can pulse it in the food processor. I didn't want a smooth base, so I didn't
  6. Add in the paneer. Allow everything to simmer together on a medium heat for a few minutes, stirring in the double cream right at the end

Notes

For pictures of the recipe step-by-step, please refer to the blog post

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