Palak Paneer is one of the most popular Indian dish made with succulent paneer cubes (Indian cottage cheese) in a smooth spinach sauce. I share two ways to make this healthy dish – a homestyle version and a restaurant style version with a charcoal smoking method (brought back on reader’s demand). Both the vibrant green palak paneer recipes are made with fresh spinach leaves (palak in Hindi), aromatics, herbs and spices. Make these super delicious spinach paneer recipes with my easy step-by-step photo guide and video.
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It is one of the most popular Indian curries around, and with good reason. This deliciously creamy and vibrantly green dish is made with paneer in a mildly spiced fresh spinach sauce. This is a delightful and easy to make vegetarian main you just have to try!
This delicious palak paneer is a family recipe that my Mom passed down to me. She has been making this recipe for our family for years, and I am so happy to get to share it with you here.
It is one of the most popular and well-liked palak recipe on the blog, not to mention our favorite at home. Packed with healthy nutrients like calcium, iron and vitamin C, this is a meal that I can feel good about eating.
In this recipe, I show you how to quickly blanch the spinach. This is done so that the dish has a nice green color, as well as for some health benefits. Did you know that blanched spinach is healthier than raw? For this reason, I always recommend blanching spinach before using them in my collection of Palak Recipes.
This delicious palak paneer goes well with roti, naan, or paratha. If you are gluten-free, you can also serve it with cumin rice or biryani rice, saffron rice or ghee rice.
Palak Paneer and Saag Paneer Difference
Saag paneer and palak paneer are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are actually different dishes. Palak paneer is an authentic Indian dish made with only spinach puree, whereas saag paneer is made with a mixture of 2 to 3 various types of greens.
In the Punjabi or Hindi language the word ‘saag’ means greens, and ‘palak’ means spinach. Various leafy greens fall under this category of ‘saag’, including: amaranth leaves, spinach, dill leaves, radish leaves, mustard leaves, fenugreek leaves and purslane.
Saag paneer seems to have been popularized outside of India, however it is still very uncommon in India. My mother-in-law never makes saag paneer per se, however, there are four variations of palak saag that she makes.
Even though they are different dishes, both palak paneer and saag paneer are healthy and delicious vegetarian curries.
How to make Palak Paneer
Blanch and Purée Spinach
1. Using a colander or strainer, rinse the palak (spinach) leaves (250 grams or 0.55 pounds), very well under running water.
2. Boil 3 cups water in a pan, microwave or electric heater. Add ¼ teaspoon salt to the hot water and stir. Then add the spinach leaves to the hot water. Let the spinach leaves sit in the water for about 1 minute.
If doing this on a stove-top, be sure to remove the pan from the hot burner.
While the water is coming to a boil, make a bowl of ice water and set it aside. Just add 8 to 10 ice cubes to 3 cups water to get cold water.
3. After 1 minute, strain the spinach leaves.
4. Immediately transfer the palak (spinach) leaves to the bowl containing ice cold water. This method of “shocking” the spinach helps preserve the vibrant green color of the spinach. Allow the spinach leaves to stay in the cold water for a minute to stop the cooking process.
5. Drain the ice cold water and press the spinach to remove any excess moisture. Add the spinach in a blender or grinder jar with 1 inch chopped ginger, 1 to 2 garlic cloves and 1 to 2 chili peppers (green chillies). You can use a hand-held immersion blender to make the puree if you prefer.
6. Make a smooth spinach purée by blitzing the ingredients together. There should be no need to add any water to make the purée. Set the spinach purée aside.
Make Spinach Gravy
7. Heat 2 tablespoons oil, ghee or butter in a pan or kadai (wok). In the photos below I used butter. If using butter, melt it on a low flame making sure that it does not brown.
8. Add ½ teaspoon cumin seeds and let them splutter.
9. Then add one small to medium-sized tej patta (Indian bay leaf).
10. Add ⅓ cup finely chopped onions (1 small to medium sized onion).
11. Sauté until the onions become golden.
12. Then add 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic. Sauté till the raw aroma of garlic goes away, but stop short of browning the garlic.
13. Add ⅓ cup chopped tomatoes (1 small or medium sized tomato).
14. Stir and sauté the tomatoes until they soften.
15. Once the tomatoes are softened and you see fat releasing from the sides of the mixture, then add ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder, ½ teaspoon red chili powder (or substitute cayenne pepper or paprika) and a pinch of asafoetida (hing).
You can find asafoetida at your local spice store or on amazon, but if you don’t have it, you can skip it. Also, please note that many commercially available brands of asafoetida are processed with wheat. If you are gluten intolerant, please be sure to purchase gluten free asafoetida.
16. Mix very well.
17. Add the spinach purée to the pan.
18. Mix well.
19. Add about ½ cup of water or as required. Mix and stir again.
20. Simmer the gravy for 6 to 7 minutes or more until the palak puree is cooked. Season with salt as required. The gravy will have thickened by now.
21. Stir and add ¼ to ½ teaspoon garam masala powder.
Assemble Palak Paneer
22. Stir again and then add the paneer cubes (200 to 250 grams cottage cheese) directly to the gravy.
You can also opt to lightly pan-fry the paneer cubes in some oil until they are lightly browned and then add them to the palak gravy. In this case, you don’t need to cook the paneer further.
23. Mix gently and switch off the heat.
24. Lastly add 2 tablespoons of light cream or cooking cream or low-fat cream. I used Amul brand cream. If using heavy whipping cream, then add 1 tablespoon of it.
You can also add 1 teaspoon crushed dry fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) at this step, however this is optional.
25. Stir gently so that the cream gets uniformly incorporated into the gravy.
26. Serve palak paneer hot with roti, naan or paratha or cumin rice or ghee rice. You can top it with some butter or cream also while serving. Drizzle a few drops of lime or lemon juice on top along with ginger julienne. Enjoy!
Restaurant Style Palak Paneer
This recipe is a restaurant style version of palak paneer made with spinach puree, onions, spices and paneer. It does not include tomatoes and is one of the best restaurant style palak paneer recipe that you can make.
This delicious recipe was shared by my dad who had got it from one of his Punjabi friend, who owned a popular dhaba in the Mumbai suburbs.
On occasions, my dad would get us palak paneer or Paneer Butter Masala and dal makhani from uncle’s dhaba and we would always relish it as kids. This dhaba is closed now, but the memories remain.
On some days, when we are in a mood to have restaurant-style food at home, I make this palak paneer recipe. The homestyle version that I have shared above is very different from this recipe.
The first difference is in the proportion of some ingredients included in this restaurant style palak paneer recipe. The second big difference is flavoring the dish with a unique charcoal smoking technique (known as ‘dhungar‘) that really make it a top notch recipe.
There is no tangy or sour ingredient that I add in this palak paneer recipe. If you want a bit of tang, feel free to add 1 small to medium tomato after sautéing the ginger-garlic paste. Alternatively, you can add a few drops of lemon juice or dry mango powder.
Serve the spinach paneer hot with tandoori roti, naan, chapati or jeera rice or biryani rice. It also pairs well with as simple steamed rice.
How to make Restaurant Style Version
Ingredients You Need
For Spinach Puree
- 250 grams spinach or 8.81 oz
- 3 cups hot boiling water for blanching
- 2 cups water for ice bath
- 8 to 10 ice cubes
For Pan Frying Paneer
- 250 grams paneer or 8.81 oz
- 3 tablespoons oil
For Spinach Sauce
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 small tej patta or 1 medium to large tej patta (Indian bay leaf)
- ⅓ cup tightly packed finely chopped onions – 60 to 70 grams or 1 medium-sized onion
- 1 teaspoon ginger paste (1 inch peeled ginger crushed to a paste in mortar-pestle)
- 1 teaspoon garlic paste (6 to 7 small to medium peeled garlic, crushed to a paste in mortar-pestle)
- 1 to 1.5 teaspoon finely chopped green chilies – swap ½ teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne with green chilies)
- 1 pinch turmeric powder (ground turmeric)
- ½ teaspoon black pepper – crushed in a mortar-pestle – optional
- 1 teaspoon dry fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) – for more hints of bitterness you can add overall 2 teaspoons of dry fenugreek leaves
- ½ teaspoon garam masala powder
- ¼ cup light cream or low-fat cream or 2 to 3 tablespoons whipping cream
- 1 pinch of sugar
- salt as required
1. Rinse 250 grams spinach leaves very well in running water. Once they are rinsed, place them in a colander, so that the excess water drains off.
If the stems are tender, then keep them. But if they are hard or fibrous, then discard them.
2. Boil 3 cups water in a pan. You can also boil water in an electric heater and then take it in a pan or bowl.
3. Add the spinach leaves in the water. Mix to combine and immerser the leaves in the water. Blanch the spinach leaves in water for 3 minutes.
4. When the spinach leaves are blanching, in another bowl, take 2 cups some water and add 8 to 10 ice cubes.
5. After 3 minutes, remove the blanched spinach leaves from the hot water and add them to the cold water. Stir gently so that all the leaves are immersed in the cold water.
After 1 minute, remove them with pasta tongs or using a strainer/colander drain all the water.
6. Place the spinach leaves in a grinder or blender jar.
7. Grind or blend to a smooth puree. No need to add any water while grinding or blending. If you prefer you can also blend the blanched spinach leaves to a slightly coarser puree.
Pan Fry Paneer
8. This step is optional but recommended as lightly golden pan-fried paneer cubes taste good. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a well-seasoned pan or non-stick pan. Place the paneer cubes (250 grams).
9. Turn over when one side is lightly golden and fry the other side.
10. Fry till the paneer cubes are light golden evenly. Avoid frying too much or for a longer time, as then the paneer cubes become dense.
11. Remove and then drain the fried paneer cubes on kitchen paper towels.
12. To soften the paneer more, keep them immediately in water. Let the paneer to be in the water for 3 to 4 minutes. Then lightly squeeze them and keep aside.
Note that this is an optional step and you can skip it.
Make Spinach Sauce
13. Now in the same oil, in which we had pan-fried paneer, add the following spices – ½ teaspoon cumin seeds and 2 small tej patta or 1 medium to large tej patta (Indian bay leaf). Fry till the cumin splutters.
14. Then add ⅓ cup finely chopped onions.
15. Stir well. Sauté the onions till they turn light golden on medium-low to medium heat.
16. Then add 1 teaspoon ginger paste, 1 teaspoon garlic paste and 1 to 1.5 teaspoon finely chopped green chilies.
You can also add ½ to 1 teaspoon green chili paste instead of chopped green chilies. ½ teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne pepper can also be added instead of green chilies.
17. Stir and sauté till the raw aroma of ginger-garlic goes away.
18. Now add the ground spices and herbs:
- 1 pinch of turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper, crushed in a mortar-pestle, optional
- 1 teaspoon dry fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) – crush the dry fenugreek leaves between your palms and then add to the sautéed onions.
19. Stir and mix well.
20. Add the spinach puree.
21. Season with salt according to your taste preferences.
22. Add in a pinch of sugar. Stir and mix.
23. On a low to medium heat, for about 6 to 7 minutes, simmer the gravy till it slightly thickens.
If the consistency looks very thick to you, then add in a splash of water. Mix and simmer for a few minutes.
Make Palak Paneer
24. Add ¼ cup light cream or low-fat cream (or 2 to 3 tablespoons whipping cream) and ½ teaspoon garam masala powder.
25. Stir to combine to an even mix. The cream should be mixed very well with the palak sauce or gravy. Then switch off the heat.
26. Add the paneer cubes.
27. Mix them well with the rest of the gravy. Cover the pan and set aside.
28. This is an optional step, but I highly recommend it. Burn a small piece of natural charcoal on a stovetop with the help of tongs.
Place a small flame proof rack or a grill pan like shown in the photo below on the stovetop. On top of the rack, place the charcoal. Burn the charcoal carefully till its red hot using a pair of heat-proof and fire-proof metal tongs.
29. Now place a small bowl or some layers of an onion in the gravy. Place the charcoal on top.
Add ½ teaspoon oil on the charcoal. You can also keep 1 clove or ½ teaspoon cumin seeds on the charcoal and then pour the oil. As soon as you pour oil, smoke will emit from the charcoal.
30. As soon as the smoke begins to emit, immediately cover the pan tightly with a lid. Keep the pan covered for a minute so that the charcoal’s smoky aroma and flavor gets infused with the dish.
For a slight tang you can add ¼ teaspoon dry mango powder or a few drops of lemon or lime juice and stir before serving.
31. Serve restaurant style palak paneer with tandoori roti, naan, chapati, paratha or cumin rice or saffron rice. The lightly spiced spinach sauce or gravy also pairs well with steamed rice.
You can top the palak paneer with some butter or cream or grated paneer while serving. Also, you can drizzle a few drops of lime or lemon juice on top paired with a few ginger julienne, when serving.
Tips & Variations
- Spinach: Use fresh, tender spinach leaves. Remove the stems from the leaves if they are dense or stringy; any tender stems can be added. You can also use frozen spinach instead of fresh. If you use frozen, the leaves have already been blanched, so you can skip that step. Squeeze of the water from the frozen thawed spinach very well.
- Blanching: I recommend blanching the spinach in the recipes. It only takes a few extra minutes and has so many benefits! Blanching removes the raw taste, bitterness and metallic flavor of spinach making it more palatable.
Blanching also gets rid of harmful microorganisms and pesticide residues, as well as makes the nutrients of the spinach more bioavailable. It also helps to preserve the green color of the spinach leaves, making your palak paneer more beautiful. That, my friends, is a win-win-win.
- Paneer: For the homestyle palak paneer recipe, you can opt to lightly pan fry the paneer cubes and then added to the spinach sauce for added richness. If possible try to use fresh, Homemade Paneer. For packaged or frozen paneer, follow the instructions written on the pack.
- Special Ingredients: Dry fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) and asafoetida (hing) can be skipped if you do not have these.
- Vegan options: If you’re vegan, you’re in luck! You can easily swap in tofu for the paneer in this recipe. I have made palak tofu many times, and the smooth spinach gravy tastes very good with the tofu. You can use cashew or coconut cream in place of regular cream, or just skip the cream altogether.
- Restaurant style flavors: The homestyle palak paneer recipe can also be smoked using the charcoal technique (dhungar method) that I have illustrated in the restaurant style version.
Sounds like you skipped the blanching step. Raw spinach leaves have high levels of a compound known as oxalic acid that causes a bitter taste. Blanching your spinach leaves (i.e. cooking them briefly in hot water) will remove the oxalic acid, which not only makes the spinach taste better but will also make the nutrients more available for your body.
If you blanched the spinach and it still tastes bitter, try adding a tablespoon or two of 35-50% cream. The fat content will help to smooth the bitter taste.
I would not recommend freezing palak paneer because the paneer will lose its soft texture when you reheat it again. Moreover as per Ayurveda, fresh cooked food has maximum prana (life force). It is therefore better to eat palak paneer (and all foods) when they are freshly cooked and hot or warm.
Feel free to swap in cashew paste, malai (a layer of cream collected on top of cooled milk that has been boiled earlier), or coconut cream.
Good question! Prior to freezing, spinach is already blanched to protect the cellular structure of the veg. As such, you can skip the blanching step and move along to blending. But remember to squeeze all the water from the thawed spinach.
Spinach stems become rather fibrous as they get older and bigger. Be sure to remove any thick stems prior to blanching. You can also opt to use baby spinach leaves instead, as they are extremely tender and don’t require you to remove the stems.
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Palak Paneer Recipe
For spinach puree
- 250 grams spinach or 5 to 6 cups roughly chopped spinach
- 1 to 2 green chilies or 1 Serrano pepper or 1 to 2 Anaheim peppers – chopped
- 1 to 2 small to medium garlic cloves – roughly chopped (optional)
- 1 inch ginger – roughly chopped
- 3 cups water for blanching spinach
- 3 cups water for ice bath
- 2 tablespoon oil or ghee (clarified butter) or butter
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 small to medium tej patta (Indian bay leaf)
- ⅓ cup finely chopped onions or 1 small to medium sized onion
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic or 4 to 5 small to medium garlic cloves
- ⅓ cup finely chopped tomatoes or 1 small to medium sized tomato
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder (ground turmeric)
- ½ teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne pepper or paprika
- 1 pinch asafoetida (hing) – optional
- ½ cup water or add as required
- ¼ or ½ teaspoon Garam Masala Powder – add more if required
- 200 to 250 grams Paneer or tofu
- 2 tablespoons low fat cream or 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon kasuri methi leaves (dry fenugreek leaves) – optional. kasuri methi is crushed and added right towards the end. just before adding cream.
- salt as required
- 1 to 2 teaspoons cream (low fat or heavy cream or cooking cream) or butter for garnish – optional
- ½ to 1 inch ginger – julienne
- lemon or lime wedges or slices
Making spinach puree
- Rinse the palak or spinach leaves very well in running water. Tender stem are fine. If the stems are stringy, then discard the stems.
- Boil 3 cups water in a pan or microwave or electric heater. Add ¼ teaspoon salt to the hot water and stir. When the water comes to a rolling boil, switch off the flame. Add the spinach leaves in the hot water. Let the palak leaves sit in the water for about 1 minute.
- After 1 minute, using a pasta tong, take the leaves.
- Immediately add the palak or spinach leaves in a pan or bowl containing ice cold water. This method helps in preserving the green color of the spinach. Just add 8 to 10 ice cubes to 3 cups water to get cold water. Allow the spinach leaves to be in the cold water for a minute.
- Then drain the ice cold water. Add the spinach in a blender or grinder jar with chopped ginger, garlic and green chilies.
- Make a smooth palak puree. No need to add water while making the puree. Keep the spinach puree aside.
Sautéing onions and tomatoes
- Heat oil or ghee or butter in a pan or kadai. If using butter, melt it a low flame making sure that the butter does not brown.
- Add the cumin and let them splutter.
- Then add the tej patta or Indian bay leaf.
- Add the finely chopped onions. Saute till the onions become golden.
- Then add the finely chopped garlic. Saute till the raw aroma of garlic goes away. No need to brown the garlic.
- Add the chopped tomatoes. Stir and saute the tomatoes till they soften.
- Once the tomatoes are softened and you see fat releasing from the sides of the mixture. Then add the turmeric powder, red chili powder and asafoetida/hing.
- Mix very well.
Making palak paneer
- Then add the palak puree and mix well.
- Add about ½ cup water or as required. Mix again.
- Simmer for 6 to 7 minutes or more till the palak or spinach is cooked. Season with salt. The gravy or sauce will also thicken by now.
- Stir and add garam masala powder.
- Stir again and then add the paneer (Indian cottage cheese) cubes.
- Mix very well and switch off the heat. Be quick as we don't want heat the paneer for more 30 seconds to 1 minute. Overcooking paneer will make them chewy and dense.
- Lastly, add 2 tablespoons of low-fat cream. If using heavy whipping cream, then add 1 tablespoon of it. Stir gently again so that the cream gets incorporated in the gravy uniformly.
- Pour the palak paneer in serving bowls. While serving you can top it with some butter or cream.
- You can also drizzle a few drops of lime or lemon juice on top along with ginger julienne on the palak paneer.
- Stir and serve palak paneer hot with some roti. It also goes very well with Indian breads like tandoori roti, phulka, paratha or naan.
- Being a versatile dish, it also accompanies rice dishes from the indian cuisine like cumin rice, vegetable pulao, ghee rice, saffron rice and even a simple steamed rice very well.
- Blanching: I always recommend blanching spinach when making palak paneer recipe. Blanching removes the raw taste, bitterness and metallic flavor of spinach and makes it palatable without having any after taste. Apart from preserving the green color of the spinach leaves, it also gets rid of harmful microorganisms and pesticide residues.
- Pan-frying paneer: The paneer or tofu cubes can also be lightly fried and then added to the spinach sauce. In this case, you don’t need to cook the paneer or tofu in the gravy as when frying they are already cooked.
- Spinach: Use fresh tender spinach leaves. Remove the stems before from the leaves if they are dense or stringy. Tender stems can be added. You can also use frozen spinach instead of fresh spinach.
- Paneer: Use fresh and soft paneer or better to use homemade paneer. For packaged paneer or frozen paneer follow the instructions written on the pack.
- Optional ingredients: Kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves) and asafoetida (hing) can be skipped if you do not have these.
- Vegan variations: Substitute paneer with tofu. Use cashew or coconut cream in place of regular cream, or just skip the cream altogether.
- Scaling: Make a large batch of this recipe if making for parties or get-togethers.
Nutrition Info (Approximate values)
This Palak Paneer post from the archives (originally published on May 2013) has been updated and republished on 6 December 2021.