Indian food (as made by Westerners): it is full of delicious spices and vegetarian-friendly, and much of it takes the form of a stove-top stew-like thing that can be poured over rice or naan or eaten alone, and if you put it in the fridge and reheat it the next day, it still tastes pretty good. I make forms of it a lot (especially chana masala, which, if you ever need a gluten-free vegan recipe, should be your go-to. That or a good vegetarian chili, or a tagine. Basically beans, tomato sauce, spices, and other vegetables in some combination. But I digress).
Palak Paneer is great because it combines spinach, which is insanely good for you but which I prefer cooked to raw, and cheese, which is not good for you physically but is otherwise the best of all foods. If you are adventurous, make your own paneer! It’s not too hard and I did it once, back when I was a college student on summer vacation and not someone with a job. Also back when I lived in a house with other people who would use up the rest of the whole milk before it spoiled.
The other shortcut I use is frozen chopped spinach (of the fancy organic nature), because then I don’t need to worry about extra spinach going bad, washing massive amounts of spinach, chopping it, cooking it down, or really anything. I have made palak paneer with real spinach and I actually like the frozen spinach version better because spinach takes forever to fully wilt and also I’m too lazy to chop it small enough. To those complaining about nutrients and stuff: if I weren’t making this I’d probably be eating mac and cheese-topped pizza. If you’re following along here, saute the spinach on its own first and set aside.
Made your cheese and/or spinach, people with endless free time? Good. Go chop an onion and saute it in the neutral oil of your choosing. When it’s soft but not quite done, add garlic and ginger.
Sidebar on garlic and ginger: fresh garlic and ginger are great and you should really only use garlic powder if you need no discernable pieces of garlic whatsoever/are being super lazy. Pre-minced garlic or ginger in oil isn’t quite as great, but if chopping things into super-tiny pieces is your least favorite part of cooking, go for it. I also usually either grate frozen ginger if I don’t have the jarred stuff, and I always press garlic, never mince. I haven’t really seen any problems with this. I won’t win Top Chef, but I wasn’t really going for that.
Add other spices that seem to be appropriate for Indian food. I usually have garam masala around, which is a spice blend of pepper, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom, so you can also add extra of any of those spices to taste. I also usually add curry, and a little salt. I usually undersalt vegetable dishes where you don’t need to sweat the onions and just add salt later–there isn’t a big difference I can see, the way there is when you salt meat. Palak Paneer seems to eat up salt–unlike some of my other dishes I always have to add salt to the individual portions.
While the onion is finishing cut the paneer (or other fresh cheese that will hold its shape) into small cubes. I used about 4 ounces (half the block of cheese) but it’s pretty flexible depending on your desired cheese to spinach ratio.
When the onion smells awesome, is coated in sauted spices, and is translucent, you can take one of two choices. One is to add a little bit more oil as needed and fry the paneer, then set aside, make the spinach sauce, and add back in. The other is to make the spinach sauce, add the paneer, and let the paneer cook in the sauce. I’m going to do the latter. The former method gives the paneer a more fried taste (obviously) and it’s good, but I prefer a more slow-cooked paneer. Also you don’t burn cheese onto the bottom of the skillet.
Add about a half cup of chopped tomatoes (canned with juice is great. If you have access to fresh tomatoes, it is better, but if you live in a region that’s already seeing snow in October, good quality canned tomatoes are going to be better than the sad ones in the grocery store) and let cook a minute or so, then add your milk or cream. I use evaporated milk, because milk just goes bad if I look at it sideways and because while I have no qualms about using butter in cooking I feel weird about using cream and evaporated milk is a good substitute. I think I used about 3/4 of a cup.
Add the spinach and mix into the liquid ingredients, then add the paneer and let simmer for 5-10 minutes (or more, if the heat is low enough; just don’t let it dry out or anything like that).
You’re done! Serve over rice or naan, or plain, and probably add salt.