A North Indian entrée, palak paneer is made out spinach, paneer, and other delightful assortments like onion, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, and, of course, Indian spices.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
8 ounces fresh spinach, washed
6 ounces to 8 ounces paneer (Indian grocery stores generally sell paneer in 12- to 14-ounce slabs)
6 black peppercorns
3/4 cup diced red onions, about 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and grated
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 Thai chile diced (optional)
1 cup diced tomatoes, about 1-inch pieces
1 pinch sugar
4 teaspoons tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 cup cream or 1/2 cup milk (optional)
Step 1Pour 1 tablespoon oil in a thick-bottomed pan and turn the heat to medium. Pour the spinach into the pan. Within a few minutes, the spinach will wilt down. Sauté to avoid spinach sticking to the pan and turn the heat off after 10 minutes. Once the spinach cools down, transfer to a blender or food processor and blend to a purée.
Step 2Boil 2 cups of water and once the water comes to a rolling boil, add paneer slabs. Turn the heat off after paneer has been in the boiling water for 5 minutes and cover the pot with a lid. Let paneer cool in the water, then cut it into 1- by 1/2-inch pieces and set aside.
Step 3Roughly crush peppercorns, cardamom and cloves in a mortar and pestle and throw out the cardamom skin. If using a spice grinder, remove the cardamom skin and use only the seeds (save the cardamom skin for chai).
Step 4Wipe the pan you used for spinach and heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add onions and stir till they get a brownish tinge, then add ginger, garlic, and, if using, Thai chile pepper. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour chopped tomatoes followed by pinch of sugar. Once the tomatoes break down, add tomato sauce and spice mix of peppercorns, cardamom, and cloves. Stir till the liquid evaporates and the onion/tomato mixture starts turning dark, about 9 to 10 minutes.
Step 5Pour in blended spinach purée. Add salt and 1/2 cup water to adjust consistency. You can add a little bit more if you find the sauce is getting pasty.
Step 6Once the spinach mixture boils, gently drop in paneer pieces. Let the paneer soak in the flavors and spices of the spinach purée for about 10 minutes.
Step 7Add garam masala. After 4 to 5 minutes, pour milk or cream. They're completely optional—their sole purpose is to enrich the dish.
Step 8Eat with naan or take it for lunch next day layered over rice (feel free to thin it out with little bit of water the next day). Palak paneer can be made 2 days in advance for a party, too.