I usually have some frozen Paneer (Cottage Cheese) in my freezer, yup as an Indian I am a little ashamed to admit that. But then it is not so readily available here in Sydney, so I always manage to get a bag of frozen paneer during my ‘Indian Grocery trips,’ which happen once a month or even less frequently. And then having that reassurance of paneer means one had endless possibilities of dishes to make.
One of the most dependable dishes to make with paneer is ‘Palak Paneer’ (Spinach with Cottage Cheese). It is delicious, nutritious and can be indulgent if you add some cream to it. And no, before you completely write me off, I don’t use frozen spinach because thankfully, it is readily available in vegetable markets here.
On days when I do bulk cooking, I make the Spinach puree in advance and freeze it. So, on days when I can’t be bothered, I just thaw the gravy, heat it, and add the paneer, and there is a delectable dish ready in minutes without breaking into a sweat. It is ridiculously reassuring and simple to make and can really add a lot of colour and obviously nutrition to your dinner table.
Recipe (Cooking time 30 minutes)
For the puree:
500 gms washed and chopped Spinach
2 red onions, roughly chopped
1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
2 green chilies
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
½ cup Cashewnuts, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes
1 tbsp fresh cream (optional)
1 tsp red chili or paprika powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2 green cardamoms
Salt to taste
For the paneer:
250 gms paneer
1 tbsp oil
Heat a tbsp of oil in a non-stick and toast the cubed paneer on all sides till slightly golden. Drain on a tissue paper and keep aside.
Steam the spinach in a large pan with water and a steamer placed on top.
In a grinder, add the spinach, ginger-garlic paste, cashew nuts, green chili, and the roughly chopped onions and blend till smooth.
In the same pan in which we toasted the paneer, add the Ghee or oil, cumin seeds, bay leaves, cardamoms, and saute for 10 seconds. Now add the spinach puree and gently cook on a low flame for 10 minutes till the raw smell of the spinach is gone.
Add the cumin powder, salt to taste, and red chili powder and cook for a further 2 – 5 minutes on a low flame. Discard the cardamons at this stage.
I like the gravy not too thick, so I add ½ cup hot water and bring it to a gentle rolling boil. If you are using cream, add the cream at this stage before you add the cubed paneer.
Turn off the heat and cover the pan, letting it sit for a few minutes before you serve hot with rice or naan.
– You don’t have to toast the paneer; I do it because I like the crunchy texture.
– If you are using frozen paneer, I would recommend you add it in a bowl of hot water for atleast 10 minutes before you drain it on a paper towel and then toast it. This allows the paneer to thaw, and it is easier to toast.
– You can use tofu instead of paneer and skip the cream for a vegan version.
– You don’t have to steam the spinach, and you can also boil it in hot water for 5 minutes and then quickly run it under cold water to stop the cooking. However, I feel that steaming helps retain the green color.