Paneer or Indian cottage cheese is one of the most common types of cheese used in India to make many different kinds of dishes. Cows milk or buffalos milk is first heated, a food containing acid such as lemon juice is then poured into the hot milk to separate the curd from the whey. The curd is then drained into a cheese cloth or through a fine strainer, allowing excess water to be drained. The leftover curd is then wrapped in the cheese cloth and pressed further for 4 to 5 hours by placing something heavy on top of it to allow more water to drain thereby forming a block of soft cheese. Once formed, it is cubed and then used in curries, sweets, flat breads, rice, snacks and many other different dishes, depending upon the region of Indian. Even though this cheese is soft, it is non-melting and takes on the flavour of the dish you are pairing it with.
For vegetarians, paneer is a high quality protein, packed with calcium, iron and B12. One of the most popular ways of using paneer in India is in vegetarian curry dishes. There are so many different curries that paneer is used in – from mattar paneer (Peas and Cheese), paneer butter masala, paneer tikka masala, chilli paneer, and of course the most famous palak paneer.
The recipe below is one of my most favourite recipes, mostly because its easy to make but also because it’s my Nana’s recipe. If you are new to Indian cooking or a seasoned cook, I encourage you to try this recipe. You will NOT be disappointed. It’s such a tasty and easy recipe to make, that my son has been cooking this dish from the age of 10 to impress his friends.
The secret to preparing this curry, is to start with good quality spices that have not been sitting in your pantry for ages. Also use fresh local vegetables and good quality paneer. But MOST importantly, take the time to allow your onions, garlic, ginger, spices and tomatoes to cook on slow to medium heat, cooking it well to create a delicious masala, this is what will determine how tasty your curry will turn out.
Palak Paneer – Spinach and Soft Indian Cheese
- 1 red onion
- 5 cloves garlic
- 2 inch ginger
- 2 green chilies
- 3 tomatoes
- 1/2 cup coriander leaves
- 2 bundles spinach
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1.5 cups water add more if needed
- 12 oz Paneer
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil I'm using avocado oil
- Remove skin and slice 1 onion, roughly chop 5 cloves garlic and 2 inch piece ginger, slit green chilies in the middle, roughly chop 3 tomatoes, roughly chop 1/2 cup coriander leaves, roughly chop 2 large bundles spinach, cube your paneer or tofu and keep aside
- Turn your heat on medium low and add 3 tbsp oil, when oil is heated add onions, stir fry well till translucent about 5 minutes or so
- Add ginger and garlic and fry for 4 to 5 minutes
- Add coriander leaves and green chilies and fry for 1 minute or so
- Add spices, give it a good toss, add salt and tomatoes and cover your pot, allowing it to cook for 7 to 10 minutes. Make sure you are cooking this on low heat, so your tomatoes and spices do not get burnt. You need to give it time for the spices, the tomatoes, onion, garlic, ginger and coriander leaves to cook well and release all its aroma, thereby turning it into a masala, which is the basis to a good curry. This step is key in determining how tasty your curry will turn out. Once this is cooked really well, add the spinach and water.Close the pot and allow the spinach leaves to wilt. This shouldn't take too long
- Pour this into a high powered blender and blend on high. Turn the pureed spinach mixture back into the pot, place the pot back on medium heat and heat throughly . Add a bit of water if the curry is too thick
- Finally add your chopped paneer (or tofu) if you are using it and you are done. You can lightly pan fry the paneer, if you like your cheese slightly crisp.
- Serve with rice or roti and a mango pickle. Alternatively you can eat as a soup on its own