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 & 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 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 (cottage cheese) cubes.
Mix very well and switch off the heat.
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 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 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.