Saag Paneer

When I went to Oregon, Mom had messaged me asking if I’d show her a couple of recipes while I was there, and wanting to know what she should buy for them. Now, I know perfectly well she’s capable of cooking them without me, but it was really nice to spend some time in the kitchen with her. Thanks, Mom.

My mother and sister cannot eat gluten for medical reasons, not some fad diet, so we picked recipes that reflected that. I suggested Pad Thai, with rice noodles, and something I’d never cooked myself, although I have done other Indian dishes, saag paneer. I’ll cover that today in the blog.

We used this recipe for the spinach cheese dish.  I did modify it slightly. Also, this was the first time I’d made cheese, which was pretty nifty. Mom’s an old hand, she keeps goats and makes soft cheese fairly often. Paneer, the Indian cheese used in this dish, is basically the same as Queso Blanco. It’s a very fresh cheese, can be made in mere moments, and it does not melt. In texture it’s firmer than tofu, but like tofu is almost flavorless on its own. With the level of spices in this dish, that’s not a problem at all.


Milk and lemon juice


Soft Curds, draining


Compressed, chilled, now a dense soft cheese

The cheese making went smoothly, starting with 8 cups of regular whole milk (not goat’s milk, Mom’s does are dry at this time of year). Brought to a low boil (high elevations made it hard to bring to a full boil) and addition of lemon juice, which started to curdle, then separate as you see in the top picture.

After this stage, the curds are slowly poured into a colander lined with cheesecloth (Mom corrected me, I was expecting the loosely woven stuff you see at the store, but she says real cheesecloth is basically muslin). She warned me to pour very slowly, or it could slop and burn me. Once the curds were all out of the pot, they are allowed to drain for five minutes, then hung and gently squeezed to drain some more before being twisted up tightly and placed in the refrigerator to chill, with a weight on top. That photo didn’t come out, but I was using two plates with a large tin of pumpkin on for a weight.

We went to my grandmother’s house to finish the recipe as we were eating there. This posed a few logistical problems, as you will see, I put all the spices into a baggie so I didn’t have to pack up multiple containers of spice.

spices to travel

turmeric, cumin, garam masala, and other spices. It smelled so good.

hungarian paprika

You know I’m always telling you to use the good stuff? This is the good stuff.

Once at grandma’s house, I tossed the spices with the cubed cheese to marinate it, and prepped the onion, garlic, and ginger. We used a whole serrano chile, pithed and seeded, but I think a half would have been better. It was spicier than we wanted.

paneer cheese

Cubes of paneer and chopped onion

cooking flavors

Onion, garlic, ginger, and serrano chiles.

saag paneer

Cubes of cheese tossed with the spices to soak up flavors

I did skip the part where she browns the paneer separately due to time and space constraints. I did not skip the part where you carefully caramelize the onion and other flavor components, that is important. Don’t rush it. The brand of frozen spinach Mom picked up for the recipe was pre-squeezed I think, as it was rather dry and I had to add about 1/4 cup of water during cooking. Keep an eye on it during the final stage, so it doesn’t stick and burn. When stirring, do so with gentle folding motions to keep from crumbling up your cheese. Mine held together fairly well.

Saag Paneer-9And there you are! Green cheesy stuff with a huge spicy kick! This was served as a side dish, but it could easily make a meal on it’s own. I’ll have to make it at home sometime soon for the First Reader, who has tasted it and seemed to enjoy at a restaurant.



5 thoughts on “Saag Paneer

  1. Neat! I’ll have to try this, I love all the saag varieties, especially chicken saag. And there was a paneer pakora I had at one Indian restaurant that I never saw again and would like to replicate in a celiac-friendly version. Two thin paneer sheets, somewhere around 1/4″ or 4mm thick, with a thin layer of a mustard and spice mixture spread in between like a sandwich. Then they were cut into right triangles, breaded with a very thin spiced breading, and deep fried. The hard thing will be that mustard is the only spice I was able to isolate; the rest will have to be smell and guess.

    BTW, you have a typo up near the top:
    “Saag, the Indian cheese used in this dish, is basically the same as Queso Blanco.”


  2. Cedar is right, I could have made it myself, but wanted to spend some time with her in the kitchen! Some of the best times we used to have were when we were all in the kitchen working together!

    We enjoyed the saag paneer, and I was glad to find a good use for that type of cheese. I had made it before (calling it queso blanco), but it is awfully bland and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. So now I know — any recipe that calls for tofu can probably use paneer instead! (We don’t eat soy, other than as soy sauce, IOW, fermented.)

    And I agree that half the serrano pepper would have been enough, although the saag paneer wasn’t too spicy to eat with a whole one. I made a different recipe a few days ago with half of one, and that was just right!


  3. P.S. It was delicious! And I didn’t have to do the cooking (although I have cooked a lot, from haying crews on a farm in Oregon to a family of seven in a remote, primitive cabin in Alaska (cooking from scratch, of course)! Food is an important part of family gatherings, and having my daughter and granddaughters here made it extra special.


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