Paneer is one of the easiest cheeses to make, so why not give it a go this weekend? This easy palak paneer recipe uses homemade paneer for a tangy and crave-worthy dish your family will love. We’re using frozen spinach and a store-bought garam masala blend to cut down on prep time. Skip the takeout and make this pretty, veggie-filled, and delicious dish!
If you’ve tried my homemade ricotta recipe, you will find the process of making paneer to be very similar. Technically, the recipe that I gave you for “ricotta” is actually for paneer. (Tricky, tricky!)
“Traditional ricotta is made from whey that’s leftover from the cheesemaking process in which rennet or lactic acid has been used to create the formation of curds.” However, most of us make homemade “ricotta” from milk, since we do not have that type of leftover whey. This cheese, compressed from the curds that formed from milk and acid, is technically paneer.
We’re going to use lemon juice this time as our acid, instead of white vinegar. The lemon juice results in a milder cheese, with no traces of sharp vinegar aftertaste to be found.
However, the curds that form from the juice are much softer than with vinegar. To create a firm cheese that cuts into cubes for the recipe, you will need to press it well.
How to press your paneer (on any budget)
I have a small cheese press that I purchased on Amazon. It may also be used to make juice, wine, and (according to the instruction manual) olive oil! I think the olive oil would be very low-yield, but I have not tried it yet.
There are cheese presses available at far lower price points than the one I purchased. If you are on an extremely tight budget, pressing your cheese between two plates may do in a pinch. Try weighing the top plate down with heavy books or a piece of cast iron cookware.
I used to do something similar to press tofu, back when the extra-firm tofu was not found easily in supermarkets. It worked reasonably well to get the liquid out.
Palak paneer versus saag paneer, what is the difference?
Admittedly, I am no expert when it comes to the delicious and varied cuisines of India. My understanding (from reading several sources) is that saag paneer refers to a dish of greens and cheese. Meanwhile, palak paneer means specifically that the dish is spinach and cheese (not other greens).
Again, I’m not claiming to know it all on this subject. If you have additional knowledge of the differences between palak paneer and saag paneer, please do leave a comment below! I think learning more about foods of the world helps to make me a better dietitian.
On a personal level, it helps me to learn more about delicious foods to eat when I travel. Plus, it is something that I find extremely interesting.
You may see dishes like this one referred to as saag paneer on other websites. In fact, the recipe that I based this one on is a saag paneer recipe. I changed up the spices to fit my family’s taste preferences and added some ingredients (like tomato) below.
Speaking of spices, I used a store-bought garam masala blend for this easy palak paneer recipe. It contains cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, black pepper, and coriander. Some blends will use a slightly different combination of spices, which will, of course, impact the flavor of this dish.
Compared to palak (or saag) paneer that I’ve had in U.S. restaurants, this recipe is significantly less oily. With all of the fat from the delicious cheese, though, this is far from a low-fat dish.
If you have cheese-loving kids, this easy palak paneer recipe might be a good way to increase their vegetable intake. My son liked this veggie-packed dish!
And now for the disclaimer…
All recipes on this website may or may not be appropriate for you, depending on your medical needs and personal preferences. Consult with a registered dietitian or your physician if you need help determining the dietary pattern that may be best for you.
The calorie information is an estimate provided as a courtesy. It will differ depending on the specific brands and ingredients that you use. Calorie information on food labels may be wildly inaccurate, so please don’t sweat the numbers too much.
For more information on how the three recipe levels may help with a weight management goal, refer to this post. Let’s get cooking!
Easy Palak Paneer Recipe with Homemade Paneer
For the paneer:
- ½ gallon milk, 2%
- 6 T lemon juice, fresh squeezed
For the palak paneer:
- 1 c brown basmati rice, dry
- ½ t turmeric
- 1 t garam masala
- salt, to taste
- 2.5 T ghee, melted (divided)
- 20 ounces frozen spinach, thawed
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, seeded, finely chopped (or keep the seeds for more heat)
- 2 t fresh ginger, grated
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ½ T cumin
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 1 t coriander
- ½ c goat milk yogurt, plain (or thin, plain cow milk yogurt)
- 3 T cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 fresh lemon, juiced (optional)
To make the paneer (do this in the morning):
- On the stovetop, bring the milk to 180°F while whisking occasionally. Use a candy thermometer to ensure that you are getting the right temperature.
- Once it reaches 180°F, take the milk off of the heat and stir in the lemon juice right away. You should begin to see the yellowish whey separating from the curds immediately.
- Allow the curds and whey to cool at room temperature for approximately 30 minutes.
- Line a colander with a double-layer of cheesecloth. Put the colander in a large bowl. Pour the curds and whey into the lined colander. Let drain for 5 minutes. The curds will stay in the cloth while the whey will drain into the bowl. (The whey can be discarded or saved to be used in another recipe.)
- Gather up the edges of the cheesecloth so that the curds are collected into a tight ball. With clean hands, squeeze the ball gently over the sink to release more whey. If you are concerned about a lemony taste remaining, you can run the ball under gently running water and squeeze again, if desired.
- Unwrap the cheesecloth. Put the cheese into a cheese press in an even layer.
- Press the cheese for 30 minutes. It should form into a firmer block.
- Refrigerate the cheese for several hours until ready to use. It will firm up even more in the fridge.
To make the palak paneer:
- Cook the brown rice in water according to package directions. It will take approximately 45 minutes. Work on the rest of the recipe while the rice cooks.
- Cut your paneer into cubes. Sprinkle the cubes with the turmeric, garam masala, and salt. I yielded about 13 ounces of paneer and used it all in this recipe.
- Melt 1.5 T of ghee in a skillet over medium heat. Brown the paneer for approximately 5 minutes, gently turning as it cooks. Remove the browned paneer from the skillet and set aside.
- Puree the spinach in the food processor. Set it aside while you work on the rest of the dish.
- Melt the final 1 T of ghee in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, jalapeno, ginger, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently until the onion is softened. It will take approximately 10 minutes.
- Add the cumin, coriander, tomato, and 2T of water to the onion mixture. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the spinach and ½ c of water to the onion mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Most of the water should evaporate. Turn the heat on the skillet off.
- Stir the yogurt into the spinach mixture. Then gently stir in the paneer. Garnish with the cilantro and optional lemon juice, and serve over the rice.
This is a level 2 recipe (transition or weight maintenance). This is not the lightest dinner option since it has a lot of cheese. You could try reducing the saturated fat here by using skim milk to make the paneer. (I’m not guaranteeing that this change won’t impact the taste, though.) For those who lean towards lower carb eating, skipping the rice is the obvious choice. On the other hand, if you want to add a little more energy to the meal, add a condiment. My husband sweetened his dish up with a little mango-ginger chutney, which he said was a nice touch.
If you are an Indian food aficionado, please share your thoughts on my palak paneer recipe. Would you change things up in any way? What is your favorite press for making paneer?