homemade palak paneer

4:24:00 PM

I’m going to go ahead and admit that I used to eat a lot of frozen meals. Like, basically all through high school and most of college. Life was busy and once in a while I was even under the misguided impression that they were healthy.  But, there are still a couple I think of once in a while, and Amy’s Palak Paneer is one of them. I know, it’s sad and pathetic that the first palak paneer I ever had was a frozen dinner, but I loved it, and I don’t know why it took me so long to make my own fresh, delicious palak paneer at home. 


For those not in the know, this is a scrumptious Indian dish with a soft, fresh cheese simmered in a gravy made out of pureed spinach, tomatoes, onions, and lots of spices. It’s usually finished with heavy cream, though I used coconut cream instead and thought it was delicious. Paneer doesn’t really melt, so you’re left with large chunks of cheese, and it’s particularly delicious if you make the cheese yourself.

When I knew I wanted to make this dish, I was going to buy some fresh paneer at our co-op, but it was expensive - something like $9 for less than the amount needed to make this - so a quick google search led me to very simple homemade paneer recipes. You can certainly use store-bought paneer, but if you have a half an hour and some cheesecloth, it’s crazy easy to make your own.

This gravy is also good with other proteins - a lot of people make this dish with tofu instead for a similar texture, which would also make this vegan.

Paneer recipe is from The Kitchn. They specify to not use UHT-pasteurized milk - this is the extra-processed stuff  that is heated at very high temps for a short time and that makes milk last a long time (so stuff like FairLife milk won’t work here - just use real milk!) 

Lastly, a note on coconut cream - you can buy coconut cream in a can, but I just buy full-fat coconut milk. The cream settles on top of the liquid, so if you don’t shake the can, you can just scoop the cream into a measuring cup. Feel free to sub heavy cream.



homemade palak paneer
serves 4

for the paneer
½ gallon (8 cups) whole milk
¼ cup lemon juice or vinegar
¼-½ tsp salt
cheesecloth
(alternatively, use 10 oz of store-bought paneer)

for the rest
1 tbsp coconut oil (or another oil)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp fresh ginger, grated or minced
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp turmeric 
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp coriander
¼ tsp salt
cup chopped tomato
¼ cup plain yogurt (I use full-fat plain yogurt)
10 oz baby spinach
¼ cup coconut cream 
cooked rice or grain of your choice for serving (I used farro here)

for the paneer
Bring the whole milk to a simmer in a large pot or saucepan (that has a lid) over medium-high heat. It can be a little tricky to know if the milk is ready - if you have a food thermometer, it should be about 190 degrees; if you don’t, you want to make sure it’s at a good simmer before removing it from heat - it should be frothy.

Remove the pot from the heat, then add the lemon juice. Stir well, then cover and let sit for 10 minutes.The curd and whey should be separated. 

Set a strainer over a bowl and line with cheesecloth. Transfer the curds to the strainer - I find this easiest with a slotted spoon. Squeeze the cheesecloth well, and twist it a bit, removing as much liquid as possible. The whey will collect in the bowl, and you can use this as you wish (like in smoothies.) 

Open the cheesecloth and sprinkle the paneer with salt, and stir the curds gently. Then, press the paneer into a rectangle shape: Shape the curds as best you can into a rectangle or square in the cheesecloth, then fold the cheesecloth around the cheese to make a packet. Set the cheese between two heavy dinner plates - not super heavy because you don’t want to crush the cheese, but heavy enough to help it hold its shape.

Let cheese press for at least 15 minutes or up to an hour. I just let it sit while I prepare the rest of the meal.

Cut cheese into cubes.

for the rest

First, cook the spinach. In a large pot or skillet, add ¼ cup water and the spinach and cook over medium-high until spinach is wilted. Remove from pot, place the spinach in a bowl, and set aside.

Wipe out pot and heat 1 tbsp of coconut oil.  Once hot, add the chopped onion, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, garam masala, coriander, and salt. Saute for about 10 minutes, until onions are softened. Stir in yogurt, then add tomatoes. Add the reserved spinach (and any liquid that accumulated) and stir well. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for about 20-30 minutes. 

Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture. You don’t need it to be totally smooth - chunky is good! If you don’t have an immersion blender, transfer about 3/4ths of the mixture to a regular blender. Remove the plastic piece from the lid and cover hole with a dish cloth (to allow steam to escape) and blend, then re-add to pan. 


Lastly, add the cubed paneer cheese and stir gently to combine. Allow to heat through. Serve with rice, naan, or grain of your choice (pictured here with farro.)

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