Dish of the Week: Saag Paneer, or Indian Spinach with Cheese

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re sharing an easy recipe that you need to add to your weeknight repertoire: saag paneer.

Saag paneer is a popular Indian dish that is a combines saag, a dish made with spinach, mustard leaf, or collard greens, and ginger, coriander and garam masala (a dry spice blend of cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cumin).

In this version, paneer, an unaged curd cheese common in South Asia, is incorporated. Other variations include saag aloo (with potato) and saag gosht (spinach and meat). The dish is often served with rice or hot flatbreads like naan or roti.

Making the dish is similar to cooking creamed spinach, with dairy items like butter, yogurt and cream added to the leafy greens along with the fresh cheese and spices. It makes a perfect meal for "meatless Monday" or any day of the week for that matter.

This recipe from Saveur contains a simple recipe for homemade paneer, but store-bought cheese can also be used. Heavy cream is added to the stewed, cheesy spinach for extra richness, while garam masala, Serrano chile, and cayenne bring a balance of sweetness and spice.

Saag Paneer

For the cheese*
8 cups milk
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
6 tbsp. ghee or canola oil
Special equipment: cheesecloth
*Alternatively, use 7 oz. store-bought paneer

For the spinach
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 serrano chile, stemmed and chopped
6 cups finely chopped spinach
Kosher salt, to taste
6 tbsp. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. garam masala
1/4 tsp. cayenne
One 1" piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
Indian flatbread or rice, for serving


Make the cheese: Line a colander with four layers of cheesecloth, draping it over sides, and set it in a sink. Bring milk to just under a boil in a four-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon to prevent it from scorching. Reduce heat to medium-low, add lemon juice, and gently stir until large curds form, about 30 seconds. Pour milk mixture into colander and gently rinse off under cold running water any foam and residual lemon juice from curds. Gather corners of cheesecloth together and gently squeeze out liquid. Tie opposite corners of cheesecloth together to make a sack, and hang it from a large kitchen spoon suspended over a deep bowl. Set aside at room temperature until excess liquid has thoroughly drained from cheese, about one-and-a-half hours. Transfer the sack to a plate, untie the cheesecloth and loosely drape the corners over the cheese. Place a large heavy pot on top of the cheese, then set aside for 30 minutes to compress it, which squeezes out the excess whey.

Remove the pot and unwrap the cheese. Cut it into one-half by one-inch pieces. Heat ghee in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Working in batches fry the cheese for about six minutes until golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer it to a plate and set aside; reserve skillet with ghee.

Make the spinach: Place garlic, ginger, chiles and a quarter-cup of water into blender and purée it into a smooth paste. Return the skillet with the ghee to stove and heat over medium-high. Add the paste and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the spinach, salt to taste, and cook, stirring often, until the spinach wilts, about one minute. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring often, until spinach is very soft, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cream, garam masala and cayenne.

Add the reserved cheese to skillet, cover and continue cooking until liquid thickens and spinach is soft, about 15 minutes. Serve with warm flatbread or rice.
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Brooke Viggiano is a contributing writer who is always looking to share Houston's coolest and tastiest happenings with the Houston Press readers.
Contact: Brooke Viggiano