mostly about food and cooking, but also the stories about the Bread and the Butterflies!

Palak Panir

In Low Fat, Punjab, Under 30 min!, Vegetables, Vegetarian on September 18, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Palak Paneer

I have been cooking a lot of express-Indian these past few months. In fact, my usual cooking is reasonably Express, and predominantly Indian. But this was additionally challenging because I was looking for 6 ingredients or less. I am going to take some creative license and add oil to the list of not-to-be-counted ingredients. There is just a tablespoon of it anyway.

Yes, really. And, no cream. Sorry to have been the harbinger of this disappointing information but it is true that in the ‘real’ palak-panir (pah-luk-pun-nir) there is no cream. The creamed-spinach is likely the contribution of some restaurant-cook to fulfill the expectations of Indian food (quasi-Punjabi-Mughlai in most restaurants abroad) shimmering in that layer of floating fat. You do serve sarson-ka-saag makhan mar ke (splattered-with-butter) but not palak panir. Or, maybe, the name-change that this dish underwent when it was exported to the Western shores might have had something to do with this. Palak-(ka-saag)-panir got mixed up with the aforementioned saag and somewhere along the way became saag panirSaag is the generic word for ‘greens’ in Punjabi, but when used by itself usually refers to mustard greens. I believe I have come across recipes (on food blogs) for mustard greens cooked with panir. Inspired? ConFusion? I will keep my counsel.  Maybe Punjabi-kudi can shed more light on this subject…

Palak Paneer
Palak Panir
(Spinach with panir)

Serves 4

1 bunch spinach, about 400-500gms
200 gms panir, cubed
1 T grated ginger
1 onion chopped fine (about 1/3 C)
1 tomato, chopped fine
1/2 t kashmiri veri masala* (or garam masala + pinch of hing)
1 T oil or butter
salt
1 t red chilli powder (optional)
2 green chillies, slit
1 T oil

Blanched Spinach Rinse spinach in cold water.  Trim out any thick stems and blanch in boiling water. Drain, reserving the liquid. Soak cubed panir in this hot water; it will absorb the broth and swell in size.

Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan or karahi. Add grated ginger.  Stir till fragrant (a few seconds). Add onion and saute till transparent. Add the chopped tomato and cook till it is mushy and the oil separates. Add red chilli powder and green chillies. Saute for a minute and remove the green chillies. Remove from heat. Mix in the blanched spinach and make a coarse puree using a hand-held blender. Put the spinach back on the stove. Add the panir and its soaking broth. Break off a piece of veri masala, pound, and add to the simmering mix. Season with salt. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove to a serving bowl and garnish with the reserved green chillies. Serve with roti or paranthas.

Last week I cooked it for dinner in under 20 minutes, not including blanching spinach, which I had done while fixing my morning tea.  This, my friends, is the real palak-panir.  Which is not to say that the inspired versions are not worthy.  But, you need to meet the original to be inspired.

With that, welcome to this year’s Mad Party, though the conversation here has become quite tame.  Remember those early days of madness?  Will they ever come back?  Ah, Memories… don’t hold back!

PS: For what it’s worth, A Mad Tea Party attained another milestone of sorts this month – 1 million hits!

* Veri masala is my inspired addition to the dish, which most likely uses only garam masala.  But like all favourite family dishes this too carries the signature of its cook.  This recipe has evolved over time and reflects my attempts at recreating the elusive flavours of other good cooks (here, a bit of my friend Prati’s palak-panir).  I find that the slightest hint of Kashmiri veri masala rounds off the ‘bitterness’ of spinach rather well, and I always add it to my North-Indian spinach preparations.  Veri masala is available at the INA Market in Delhi at stores that stock Kashmiri spices – Durga Stores, near the exotic-veggies market, is one such store.

  1. LOVE it! One of the twists i play on this dish is to add some fresh or dried methi, and it takes on another interesting hue! And also sometimes make a palak bhurji with crumbled paneer, that one is a quick-fix!

    Never tried sarson with panir, may work, depending on how fresh the leaves are. But i did make a bhurji with collard+paneer and it was tasty! The one thing that happens with creamed spinach avatar of palak paneer is that many restaurants do not fresh cream, and then if it’s not your day and you are in the wrong restaurant, the cream has really turned bad😦.

    • Ah…now where have I heard of methi with palak? Kashmiris will mix palak with methi – that is what our methi-tchaman is! Great with peas as well.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this recipe! It looks great! I have a couple of questions on measurements:

    1) “1 onion chopped fine (about 1/3 C)” — I was a little surprised by this because the standard variety of onions one finds in markets in the US typically yield about 1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped. It seems that the onions you’re using are much smaller. Are standard onions found India, and in your other recipes, typically of this much smaller size?

    2) Same question with regard to the tomato: In the US the standard market tomato is usually something like fist-sized, while we also have a range of smaller varieties. When you specify 1 tomato, what size of tomato do you have in mind? What would be an approximation of the chopped measure?

    • Yes, Jim, Indian onions are about 1/3rd the size of the US ones (just like our country and its people are!🙂 ), which is why I specified the cup-quantity. Whenever I remember this disparity, I try to also give the cup-measure. All recipes here refer to Indian sizes of vegetables. Our spinach is large leaved with some tough stems…

      Tomatoes, I find, are same-sized, so fist size is what they are (but we have smaller ones as well). In any case, a tablespoon more or less, should not make a difference. I usually eye my pile of veggies, then pick out an appropriately sized onion/tomato and will usually use an entire onion. In the US it was a rare day that I would use one whole onion in any dish! And the garlic cloves – our desi-varieties are a 1/4 the size of the hybrid ones which are half that of the ones I remember in the US! So watch the garlic (not used in this recipe though)!

      • This was helpful, about the sizes…some indian recipes call for 8-10 cloves of garlic and I’ve always wondered about that! Should’ve known better…

  3. Hmmm. Now, when you said on The Party Invitation that salt and chillies wouldn’t count, I was thinking dried, ground, red ones, and not fresh, whole(though slit), green ones. I don’t know…I am thinking that this is kinda iffy whether or not it’s a seventh or non-qualifying ingredient. What says The Little One on this? I think maybe we should elect a parliament to make sure the queen isn’t breaking and making up rules for her own party!🙂

    • In which case, count them as optional, but I wouldn’t…really. So, what are you going to do about it? My Party, my rules!😀
      And TLO, she is away, climbing mountains or hiking hills…or camping, or something).

      • Calling the court to order! Order! Order!

        Our onions, garlic and our people may be bigger, and the education system rather terrible but we still know how to count up to 6 and even beyond. Tsk! Tsk! I had a quick look as I headed out to the mountains and wanted to point out this awful lack of respect for rules, albeit one’s own but alas, the wireless signal was on her side and I lost it.

        Why not just make everything in this dish optional?😀

      • Yes. Beyond che to saat. But I like the idea of making all the ingredients optional: say we leave in the spinach, just to be nice…and the panir too, I suppose…and we gotta have ginger. There be all this talk about the size of garlic-cloves, but no garlic? Add garlic. Just a smidge. But no onions, they’re very “last year”…And most of my maters are still green so one of those pureed will look good here. What’re we up to now? 5? Get rid of the veri masala since I can’t pronounce “mutsch” yet…salt and chillies still don’t count, so we still need a sixth!

      • Pel, I hope you pronounce ‘panir’ propah-ly, and not like puh-near…

        You could make oil optional…If I was using store bought panir, and pan fried it (which i don’t for palak-panir)with no additional oil/fat, I can bet you that I could’ve fried the aromatics in the fat-from-the-panir.

        But if you are going to be so uptight then I will just have to disqualify you two on some pretext. (Who takes pickles or churan to a party?!)

      • I’ll bring a sweet then- instead of pickles and rice, since that’s what I do most of the time. Well, all of the time, really. But I’ll need another week (at least) to get things together, cook and post… maybe something with cashews to harmonize with the gravy of the palak-panir?🙂

      • So, which sweet are you cooking? The 7-cup can make the cut after all!

      • My seven-cup barfi has eight cups, though; subtract the ghee and I’m still over by one. Made Shahi Tukri tonight, but that’s too time-consuming to fit the bill. Nope! Pickles-and-rice is what we’re left with! Just 2 ingredients- do I win or what?!😉

      • Shahi tukda takes time? Why so – I made some (again!) for dessert after lunch yesterday. Oh, you reduce the milk! I used evaporated milk and had leftover syrup from gulabjamuns bought eons ago…!🙂

      • A tin of evaporated milk and leftover syrup from gulab jamuns that you bought?! And here am I: roasting nuts in ghee, caramelizing syrup, patiently watching a litre of milk whittle down to an approach of khoya. Splendidly-sinful sweet though! My gosh… thanks for suggesting it in the first place!😉

        I topped mine with sliced prunes and cashews; what’d you put on yours?

  4. this is my husband’s fave! i have tried 4-5 diff variations with subtle differences but haven’t yet figured out THE one!

  5. Original or not, I wouldn’t know. But I definitely like this no cream doused version.
    I’m a bit tired of being served north Indian vegetarian fare in restaurants, that no self respecting north Indian would even dream of cooking at home! Same goes for the south Indian and ubiquitous Udupi stuff that is also dished out by them!!

    Btw, just brough a bit of dessert to the party.🙂

  6. Anita

    Have just spent the past hour reading through bits and pieces of your blog and fellow bloggers.

    I have yet to be much of a contributer
    None the less enjoy my time spent with you.

    Imagine 1,000,000 hits to your blog
    That says something for sure

    Diane

  7. Anita, congrats on your stats. I am a bit late but promise to bring mine soon like in a couple of days. You accept?

    As for palak paneer my first introduction was in a restaurant and have hated it ever since. But I like the no frills version you have here.

  8. okay, I have finally figured out all of these mad ingredients except the veri masala….i know it is a spice cake, but what are the spices…….i know i can make the panir (after looking around to find out what the heck it is only to find out it is much like our mexican boiled milk and limon juice cheese)….living in mexico, i don’t think i will find any veri masala, so can you spill the beans on how to make it..or if i missed it in another post of yours…tell me which one? LL

    • Hi, Linda Lou! You like them mad spices?😉

      Veri masala is a spice cake made from a bunch of ingredients (see Jim’s comment), sun-dried and stored for later use. Actually, it develops a flavour quite different from the sum of its parts after drying in the sun for a couple of days…But garam masala will be a good substitute which is much simpler to prepare at home. i would recommend making it at home as opposed to store-bought – a world of difference between the two.

      I think I am going to attempt making veri masala this winter…using my mum’s recipe.

  9. Hi Anita, I tried your palak paneer recipe this afternoon-it’s very good! I really appreciated the tip about soaking the paneer in the hot water from the spinach-it gives the paneer a wonderful softness that it doesn’t otherwise attain. Like probably many living outside India, I did not have access to the Kashmiri veri masala (if anyone can find an online source for people in US or Europe to order this from, please post it). I’m not familiar with how veri masala should authentically taste but I wanted my results to be as you intended, so I made this ( http://shehjar.ftghome.com/files/resources/zip/080628112755_Recipe_Var/index.html ) sans the bake-in-the-sun step to get as close as I could in terms of flavours. It actually gives the palak a very savory quality that is quite nice. Next time I’m going to try the Kashmiri garam masala+hing alternative. Thanks, Anita, for this great offering of your culinary creativity–You’re a big inspiration to all of us!

    • For what it’s worth (in the interest of ‘authenticity!’) – do NOT roast the spices for Kashmiri or Punjabi garam masala – the garam part is mistakenly believed to be from heating the spices – it actually alludes to the spices that are believes to have heating/warming qualities.

      As for finding a source for veri masala in the US… you just have to be nice to them!😉
      Since you have already gone to the trouble of getting all the different spices together, you might as well take the last step – sun drying. That bit makes the masala more than the sum of its parts; really.

      [And thanks for all the nice things you said…but I doubt if the palak panir came anywhere near the one you had in any restaurant!]

      • I generally tend to prefer the unroasted versions of garam masala too. Your method of drying the spices in a slightly warmed oven seems to work well for me.

        Thanks for the tip about sun-drying the veri masala. It’s been cool and rainy all week here so I didn’t think it would be a good time do it – but I’m excited to give it a try! (Incidentally for “oil” in these, would you use mustard oil, or something less prominent?)

        Restaurant food and home-style food are most often quite different stylistically, and either can be good or bad. Your recipe is very good! I don’t personally care for the creamy, heavy type of palak one often finds in restaurants. (I just like the cashews and have had good success with that method-not to diminish anyone else’s success with any other.) Please keep posting your own lovely home-style recipes: That’s why were here-to benefit from your great insights and experience!🙂

      • For all things north-Indian, mustard oil is the way to go!
        I’ll just have to try the cashews in my palak next time, I can see how it will keep the water from ‘leaching’ out!
        [🙂 A little flattery never hurt anyone!]

      • …except that poor, little fly!

        Pssst, Jim: beware! I strongly suspect that she owns stock in several of the mustard-oil-producing companies…most of us here are already slave to the stuff!

      • Post-pssst: I’m only here looking for the antidote…

      • Pel…forewarned!🙂

        At the very least, they should pay be some commission – after all, I am taking on global giants who have been spreading all kinds of misinformation about this wonderfully healthy oil!

  10. Such a simple recipe, yet so delish…awesome comfort food…one of our favorite sabzi’s!

    • I have a simpler one (which has no panir even!) and that is the one that is my fave! Ummm…with lotus root!

      • Never tried lotus root any time🙂 Would love to see this recipe. Is it made with fresh lotus root? May be I can check it in my local Chinese market.

  11. Disqualify? Oooh! Those be fighting words. Do it, I say. Hmmph.

    Since everything in the recipe is optional and that which is not in the recipe is required – e.g. garlic – let’s throw in some ground cashews and make them mandatory.

    Also, why panir and not paneer? Isn’t it written with the long E? Or was that lost in transliteration?😀

    • No offense to purists, but I”m with Manisha on this one: garlic and cashews make it even better. I’ve noticed the cashews also seem to have the secondary benefit of acting as a binding or emulsifying agent to discourage the liquid from separating out from the palak.

      Also, what’s with all the obsessing on the exact number of ingredients? Use the ingredients you want/need to make it right and to your taste and don’t worry about the rest. The recipe police will never be the wiser.

      • N-oooooooooooooooooh! Thin ice… wise and learned people all around!😆
        But they say it all wrong ’cause it is written like that…

      • Truth be told: my daughter loves the “saag” sans paneer at our local Indian restaurant. Sigh. She will eat the one I make if I add ground cashews but will make it a point to tell me that the “saag” (she knows it’s palak but the darned dish is called saag on the menu) at Taj is better. I generally do not add garlic to the palak paneer I make so that was more in jest than anything. However, if you like it, add it.

        We’re obsessing about the exact # of ingredients because it’s Anita’s party with her rules: 6 or less ingredients in the recipe. Oil, salt, water and phodni (tadka) don’t count. And you can sneak in ingredients by calling them optional. So we made all ingredients in this recipe optional. Which, I guess, means that you don’t cook it?😀 Worse still, go get take-out from Taj?😉

      • “Oil, salt, water and phodni (tadka) don’t count.”

        Sooo, then 10 ingredients = 6 ingredients? 9, 8 and 7 (and any other number) also = 6? Aaaaagh — Too much!

        Either an ingredient is used in the dish or it is not. I’d just say, it doesn’t simplify a recipe, for those looking in, to set up such precepts in advance–it makes it more convoluted and baroque.

        Great food is all that matters–no one you serve will care whether there 8, or 5 + 3-optional ingredients. Neither does one make your life any easier than the other.

      • At least it’s up to my favorite number! I love six for some reason.

        But I think it’s good to understand tradition- the pedestal that a culture stands upon- before becoming a casualty of the casualness of mindless fusion.

        Is it PAH-nir or pah-NIR? I can do the “r’s” right; ask Manisha.

      • “But I think it’s good to understand tradition- the pedestal that a culture stands upon- before becoming a casualty of the casualness of mindless fusion.”

        I couldn’t agree more on the importance of understanding and appreciating tradition! It’s also a productive policy, one learns with experience, to guard against becoming a casualty of mindless prejudice… So agreed: Mindless fusion and mindless prejudice–both very bad!🙂

      • Yah!

      • That’s what I was saying too!
        Ditto!

      • Same to same for Parker pen.

  12. Did you use store-bought panir or home-made? I tried some store-bought paneer to make some pulao last time, and it became like cardboard after shallow frying😦

    • I used store bought – Paras – which is quite good.

    • Joyce, don’t fry it for too long. Better yet, don’t fry it at all. I use Nanak paneer and have not had any probs with it.

    • You do want to fry the panir for pulao so that it will hold its shape. It is all in the quality of the panir – good quality panir stays soft even after frying. One of the tastiest ways to serve good fresh panir is to deep fry thick slices and serve sprinkled with salt and cayenne pepper!

      • Let’s go swimming, swimming, swimming…

      • I don’t remember which brand I used.. but I did taste it before cooking and it was OK .. Maybe I should try pulav with homemade paneer? And I guess the storebought variety would be good in your palak panir recipe as there is soaking involved.

        >>On September 25, 2009 at 7:26 am Manisha Said:
        >> Let’s go swimming, swimming, swimming…
        😀

        The party is already rocking.. just getting hungry for the food (drool)

  13. Typo: saap. Before anyone catches it. I ot to no better.

  14. this is such a simple yet great looking take on palak panir( is that how its spelt?)

  15. Finally a Palak Panir recipe that looks authentic. I have always varied the way I cook this dish (i.e. it never turns out the same way twice). I am excited to try this out. The picture is apt too.

    Have I said this before , Okay, I will say it again! I love your blog. Thank you.

  16. love the food blog…first time here..i must say, whenever ive tried palak paneer, its come out better without garam masala or any powders added…just plain the ingredients, green chillies for spice comes out better than after the addition of masalas.
    have u given it a try ever? just try it before adding the spices…this is my fav food evar!!
    i loved ur pictures and will b coming back for more!!

    • I have cooked it without garam masala many times – before I thought about adding it! Besides, I add just a hint, a whiff…that’s all you need for it to work its magic – never more than 1/2 t in any dish; and always homemade.

  17. Aah- now this is how I like my Palak Paneer- sans cream. This looks very similar to the one my mom and I make. Except, she skips the masala and adds a bit of kasuri methi and garlic. I have also tried it with a bit of chole masala and that works too. This veri masala sounds very yummyyy!!

    I never end up liking Indian dishes, served in restaurants, especially north Indian food, which ends up being so greasy and heavy. But there is nothing like eating some hot phulkas with homemade palak paneer (I often make palak without the paneer and it is still yummy- I will try your version once I get my hands on some veri masala).

    Also, is the party still open? (i.e can we still bring some dishes to ‘Express Indian’?)

  18. So I opened my copy of Khana Khazana by Sanjeev Kapoor. And lo! (in Hindi and in English) there was a recipe for Palak PanEEr. With garlic and cream. No ginger. So when did the heavy cream make its first appearance, you think?

  19. Anita, is the party over ? I have something, less than 6 ingreds but time may vary from 30-45 mins. Let me know if it is ok to join

  20. Doobee doobee doo
    *whistles*
    doobee doobe doo ooo ooo

  21. oh gosh anita, your comments page runs longer than the post!..and I think the post ramblings are more interesting..do you cook and post to get such controversial conversations..hahahah…rofl thinking of manisha running being chased by the snake or what is that saap!…

    Congrats on the stats..thats really rocking!

  22. Hi Anita,
    Fabulous recipe. I made it for the 2nd time in ten days!
    Janaki Turaga

  23. Hi Anita,
    I tried this tonight and it was awesome. The panir was really soft and creamy – thanks to the soaking. Thanks a bunch!

  24. Since we’re in the middle of the long easter weekend, we decided to make palak panir and naan for dinner – and of course, had to come looking for your recipe. It was not the 20 minute wonder that yours was, since we made paneer from scratch (using the whey to make the naan dough – supersoft and tender results)and took our time over everything. We used the heeng+garam masala substitution – slightly cooked in butter before the coarsely blended spinach gravy was added back in the pan (non-stick pan, so did not use immersion blender in it!) Clean simple flavors – really enjoyed it. And like all indian gravies, tastes even better the next morning.

  25. […] my friend Pratibha here: A Delhi Summer, Appams with avial, Palak-Panir, and moongre ki sabzi.  She was an irregular reader of this blog but did leave a comment once.  […]

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