I am a little embarrassed to admit that I have turned to YouTube to teach myself to make curry. Despite having Sri Lankan-Indian heritage, I’ve always been more comfortable with Western recipes than I have with South Asian ones – largely because I’ve found Western cooking much more approachable with easy to follow step-by-step recipes.
My grandmother’s generation cooks by touch and feel; watching, tasting and balancing flavours. It’s great for experienced cooks, but for a novice like I was – I could never understand why my curries never tasted like grandma’s.
But back to self-learning and cooking curries. The single resource I’ve used the most is in my quest for restaurant-style Chef Sanjay Thumma’s YouTube Channel Vah Chef. With over 2.1 million subscribers, his videos cover every Indian dish I can think of and then some.
So, while I wish could say that this delicious restaurant style palak paneer is my recipe – it’s really adapted from Chef Sanjay’s recipe from over 12 years ago – just documented here for easy reference.
I’ve made a couple of tweaks here and there – swapping out whole spices for garam masala powder (because accidentally biting into a whole clove is thoroughly unpleasant), and using frozen spinach for ease. Fresh spinach is great when it’s in season, but does have some downsides, for instance, it often has need careful washing to remove dirt, and it needs to be carefully blanched then cooled to preserve the bright green colour.
There’s a couple of secrets to a good palak paneer. For starters, a good palak paneer needs a generous amount of garlic. Understandable I guess – spinach isn’t the most exciting thing on it’s own.
Make sure to cook the onion and tomato until soft and jammy to give your curry depth and richness (yup – at least 10 minutes!). And the last thing – as any curry cook will tell you – don’t skimp on the oil as it carries the flavours.
Spinach and paneer curry (palak paneer)
- 1 pack 250-350g frozen spinach
- 4 tbsp oil
- 200-300 g paneer cut into thick slices
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 4 cloves garlic finely diced
- 1 medium brown onion finely diced
- 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste equal parts ginger and garlic, blended or crushed in a mortar and pestle
- 1 medium tomato diced
- ¼ tsp ground tumeric
- ½ tsp garam masala powder cardamom, clove and cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- ½ tsp fenugreek leaves
- ½ green chilli halved and sliced (optional)
- 100 ml cream or 30g butter optional
- Blend the frozen spinach. If you don’t have a particularly good blender, allowing the spinach to defrost first will make it easier to blend.
- In a large frypan, heat half the oil and fry the slices of paneer on both sides until golden brown. I find it easier to fry whole slices of paneer, then cut them into dice – it saves a lot of time individually turning each cube. Remove paneer from saucepan and cut into large dice.
- Using the same frypan over medium heat, add remaining oil and fry cumin seeds until aromatic.
- Add garlic, onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook until the onions are soft and turning golden brown at the edges – at least 10 minutes, stirring often so they don’t burn.
- Add ginger-garlic paste and cook until the raw smell disappears.
- Add turmeric and stir.
- Add chopped tomato and cook until the tomatoes are very soft and jammy – at least 5-7 minutes. You’ll notice water come out of the tomatoes at first, and they will eventually cook down – you can add a splash of water if it’s getting too dry.
- Add garam masala powder, cumin, coriander and chilli powder and cook for 20 seconds, taking care to ensure that the curry powders do not burn.
- Add fenugreek leaves by rubbing between your palms to crush.
- Add chopped green chillies, if using.
- Add blended spinach and cook until the spinach darkens a little, but is still a deep green – be careful not to overcook the spinach. (Frozen spinach will need to be cooked for longer as it’s raw, whereas fresh spinach is usually blanched before blending). Taste and season with extra salt as needed.
- Add paneer and stir through to warm.
- Finish with cream or butter, if using.