I will always order Palak Paneer if it’s on the menu in a restaurant. It’s the law. I could forgo rice and bread and quite simply eat a bowl of Palak Paneer with a spoon.
You can tell a good Indian restaurant from a bad one by the quality of their Palak Paneer. Have they bothered to blend the sauce for a rich, luxurious finish? If it’s left chunky with tomatoes, lots of turmeric and far too many spices, it’s probably the base for another dish on the menu doubled up to be used for Palak Paneer too. It also shouldn’t be labelled Saag Paneer on the menu. Saag Paneer is an entirely different dish made with delicious, peppery mustard greens and shouldn’t be confused with the milder-tasting Palak Paneer made with spinach.
It’s delightful when restaurant Palak Paneer turns out to have a smooth and creamy blended spinach sauce with a bright green colour. You can tell it’s been made with care and attention. simple flavoured sauce paired with a big, bold and spicy tadka on top (but using very few ingredients). You have to be able to taste the ginger, garlic and green chillies; they can’t just be part of the background flavour. Bonus points for a little splash of cream on top to temper the heat of the green chillies.
Palak Paneer is a stick-to-your-ribs North Indian treasure that was made to be a filling vegetarian option so please don’t cut out the butter. You can however, veganise this Palak Paneer easily by switching the paneer for pan-fried firm tofu, using a flavourless oil in place of ghee and butter and topping it off with a splash of coconut milk instead of cream. For a true restaurant-style finish, I have some simple tips to share. These will ensure you have a smooth, bright green sauce, melt-in-the-mouth paneer chunks and a luscious tempering of garlic and chilli on top.
The trick to a super green sauce is to cook the spinach as little as possible. Just apply enough heat to wilt it at the beginning and heat the finished sauce just to warm all the ingredients through. Soak the paneer in slightly-salted boiling water to soften it up and give it a bright white colour. You only need to do this if you’re using shop-bought paneer. Fresh paneer will already be tender.
I like to finish Palak Paneer off with a buttery garlic and chilli tadka. Only cook it up until the point that the garlic is blonde and crispy. Nobody likes the bitter taste of burnt garlic. Ensure the chillies are slit so that they don’t burst in the oil.
If there’s excess water in your wilted spinach, use a slotted spoon to drain as much as you can from it before you blend the leaves. Leave the cooking liquor in the pan and reduce it down to around 2 tbsp. This is full of flavour and goodness so you don’t want to throw it away but you also don’t want excess water blended into the sauce. This will ensure you don’t need to evaporate the water by simmering the finished sauce too long, preserving that lovely green colour and the spinach flavours.
Serve with paratha or naan. Or if you’re anything like me, eat it straight up with a spoon.
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