This saag paneer recipe is a delicious vegetarian curry made with creamy paneer, aromatic spices, and beautiful leafy greens.
Saag paneer is a very popular Indian curry, and I totally get why. It’s vibrant, mildly spiced, and oh so comforting. Scoop it up with naan or roti, or eat with hot, steamy basmati rice. Perfection.
If you’re not a fan of leafy greens, I promise this saag paneer recipe will change your mind!
I love saag paneer. Anytime I go to an Indian restaurant I already know I’m going to order it. I knew I needed to learn how to make it and I’m so glad I could put this recipe together to share.
Packed with antioxidants like beta carotene, vitamin c, and iron, saag is a dish you can feel good about eating.
What is saag
In Hindi the word saag means “leafy greens” and is any curry dish that has cooked greens as the star ingredient. Mustard greens, spinach and fenugreek leaves are traditionally used but any bitter green works.
Saag originated from Punjabi, a state in northern India that has fertile soil and lots of farmland. Mustard greens are commonly grown there and used in their saag, called sarson ka saag.
Saag can be cooked by itself but also combines well with all kinds of meats- like lamb saag, chicken saag, or shrimp saag- or vegetarian ingredients. Vegetarian versions can include aloo saag (potato) or chana saag (chickpea). You can also think of this like a Spinach Soup.
We planted swiss chard in our garden and have a boatload of it, so we figured why not try it in a saag dish. Swiss chard is not common in Indian cuisine but this leafy green makes for a great saag paneer.
Saag paneer vs palak paneer
Saag paneer and palak paneer may be used interchangeably but they are two very different dishes. Palak translates to ‘spinach’ in Hindi while paneer refers to cheese.
Palak paneer is an authentic Indian dish made of spinach puree, whereas saag paneer is made with different greens like mustard greens, collards, spinach, radish leaves, and fenugreek leaves.
How to make saag paneer
Let’s talk cheese. Making paneer from scratch isn’t difficult and only requires whole milk, lemon juice or vinegar, and a cheese cloth. Homemade paneer really has a beautiful texture.
Your girl, however, was lazy and I did not make homemade paneer. I went to my local Indian grocery store and bought some. If you don’t have access to an Indian market, halloumi will work also.
I use a skewer end (or you could use a fork) to poke small holes in the paneer. This helps it absorb more flavor.
Lightly fry the paneer in ghee until light golden brown. It browns pretty quickly, so once it’s done set aside and sprinkle with salt.
Prepare the swiss chard by removing the leaves from the thick stems. From there, you will add the swiss chard leaves to a pot of boiling water and cook for a couple of minutes.
This helps soften the swiss chard making it easier to blend. If you’re using other tough greens like kale or mustard greens, treat them in the same manner. If using spinach, blanch quickly, for about 30 seconds.
Transfer the leaves to a blender and use a little water as necessary to make it smooth. If you add too much water, don’t worry. You can cook it off later.
Now that your greens are ready, it’s time to start the gravy base for your dish. Get some ghee melted and cook the cumin seeds, onion, ginger, garlic and serrano.
Once the onions are cooked, add the tomato and cook down for a few minutes. You will then add a little bit of water and bring to a simmer. Allow to thicken and make a gravy.
Stir in your spices and seasoning. And then it’s saag time. Add your blended greens, tasting and adding salt and pepper as needed.
After that’s come together, add your tasty paneer and let it simmer a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and add your cream. Feel free to add more or less depending on your personal preference.
- Can’t find paneer or don’t feel like making it? No problem. You could use halloumi instead. It will be a bit chewier but still delicious.
- Veganize it. It’s really easy to make this saag paneer recipe vegan. Swap out paneer for firm tofu and substitute the ghee for vegan butter or a neutral oil. Additionally, substitute the cream for coconut milk or cashew cream.
- Don’t be afraid to use whatever greens you have. Pretty much any greens will work, other than lettuce or arugula. A combination of mustard greens, kale, spinach, radish greens, and collards all work.
- 1 Saute Pan
- 1 Pot
- 12 oz paneer
- 12 – 15 Swiss chard leaves (or other tough leafy green)
- 1 cup spinach (or other green)
- 2 tb ghee
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
- 1 serrano, minced (remove the membrane and seeds if you don't like spicy)
- 4 garlic cloves
- ½ large tomato, diced
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp coriander
- ½ tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp red chili powder
- 3 tb heavy cream
- kosher salt and pepper to taste
- Once the greens have cooled, add them to a blender with about ¼ cup of water (or however much is needed for it to blend smooth).
- Cut the paneer into ¼ or ½ in thick rectangles. Poke a couple small holes in each piece.
- Melt ghee in pan over medium heat. Once hot, add paneer and cook for roughly 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove from pan and sprinkle with salt.
- Add ghee to pan over medium heat and once melted, add cumin seeds. Once they start to pop, add the chopped onion. Once translucent, add ginger, serrano, and garlic and couple for 2 minutes or until fragrant.
- Next add chopped tomato and cook for another 2 minutes. Add about 2 tb of water. Allow to simmer so the onion and tomato make a gravy.
- Next, stir in all the spices- turmeric, red chili powder, garam masala, salt, and coriander.
- Add the paneer and allow to simmer for 2 – 3 minutes so paneer can soak up some flavor. Turn off the heat and add cream.
- Serve hot with roti, naan, or basmati rice.