Palak is the Hindi word for spinach and this dish is a heavenly pile of fragrant, mildly spiced spinach with crispy bits of paneer for contrast. It is also something that almost every single Indian restaurant here in Frankfurt seems to get wrong: instead of bright green spinach they serve a brownish watery version that often has vast amounts of fat floating on the surface. The paneer is playing hide and seek but it’s mostly just hide, because there’s so little of it and even that has a weird consistency that I can’t really place. Anyway. I guess I’ve made my point - this isn’t something I eat out at restaurants here and so when a friend mentioned that it was one of her favourite dishes and that she ordered it in often, I thought, uh oh. And I’ve been meaning to make it for her ever since and finally had a chance to last night. I used a recipe off Heidi Swanson’s great blog and it turned out amazingly: the spinach isn’t a wilted, watery mass but rather bright, vibrant and with texture. I like to fry the paneer a bit to give it some bite, and rather than frying them in little cubes, I prefer to do it in large pieces and then cut it. I used store bought paneer this time, I’ve found an amazing brand and I will admit that its so much more convenient that making it from scratch, especially during the week when time’s a bit scarce. But making your own isn’t hard at all, just a bit time-consuming and Ms Swanson has instructions for how to as well. We ate this with some fried okra, a buttermilk curry and a turmeric quinoa pilau, but It would go very well with a chapati as well. I ate the leftovers for breakfast this morning, warmed and spooned over a fried egg, and it was delicious!
400 gms spinach, rinsed
2 tablespoons ghee or sunflower oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 medium clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 thumb peeled ginger, grated
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 280gm can tomatoes, crushed
A pinch of kasturi methi
A generous splash of milk
salt to taste
Toasted cashews as a garnish, optional
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the spinach to the boiling water and blanch for 15 - 20 seconds. Drain, run under cool water and use a food processor or blender to puree and set aside.
In a small pan, heat a tablespoon of ghee over medium heat. Add the paneer slices and fry until golden on both sides. Remove, cut into cubes and set aside.
Heat one tablespoon of ghee in a large, heavy-bottomed pan or a wok. Saute the onions until golden, then add the ginger and garlic. Fry until fragrant and then add the turmeric, coriander, cumin and chili powders. Stir together and fry for a couple of minutes, then lower the heat and add the tomatoes and the garam masala. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the spinach to the tomato spice mixture and stir well to mix. Add the pinch of kasturi methi and salt to taste and mix well. At this point I like to add a generous splash of milk and mix it through, I feel like it brings everything together better.
Cook for about 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and turn out into a serving bowl. Serve top with the paneer and some toasted cashew nuts, and rice or rotis on the side.
Serves 4 as a side.
Prep time: 25 min Cook time: 30 minutes
Text & Images: Vatsala Murthy