Here is my Palak Paneer recipe and the destroyed myth. Palak Paneer can be literally translated as “Indian cottage cheese in spinach-based gravy”. It is a classic Indian vegetarian dish extremely popular in the Northern, Western and Central parts of India.
Made with Paneer which is Indian cottage cheese and Palak, that is, spinach, Palak Paneer is believed to be so healthy that it can transform you overnight into a Desi (indigenous) version of Popeye. Or, does it really?
I shall come to the ‘destroyed myth’ part later. Let me first share with you my Palak Paneer recipe which is deliciously decadent while I make no claims about its health benefits:
Palak Paneer Recipe
Palak Paneer Ingredients:
- Paneer- 200 g
- Baby spinach- 150 g
- Cumin seeds- 1/2 tsp
- Green cardamom- 4 nos.
- Cinnamon- 2-inch long broken in half
- Cloves- 6 nos.
- Refined oil- 1+ 1 and 1/2 tbsp
- Green chillies chopped- 3 nos.
- Onions cut into quarters- 120 g
- Tomato pureed- 2 nos. (medium size)
- Ginger-garlic paste- 2 tsp
- Cashew nuts- 15 nos.
- Salt- to taste
- Garam masala powder- 1 tsp
- Kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)- 1 tsp
- Fresh cream- 60 ml
- Red chilli whole- 2 nos.
- Garlic- chopped- 3 cloves
- Ghee- 2 tbsp
How to make Palak Paneer
- If you are using baby spinach, keep the stalks. If not, discard them. Rinse the spinach leaves thoroughly in the water a few times, place them in a colander and allow the water to drain out completely.
- Cut paneer into 2-cm cubes and keep ready.
- Boil onions in water. Do not use too much water. The amount of water should be just enough to cover the onions. Onions should become soft with as little water left behind as possible. This will prevent the flavour of the onions to leach out. Once cooled, make a paste in a blender.
- Heat one tablespoon of oil in a pan and sauté green chillies, spinach and cashew nuts together till the leaves wilt and the raw smell of spinach goes away. Do not overcook.
- Cool the wilted spinach completely and then puree it in a blender. If required, add some water.
- Heat one and a half tablespoons of oil in the same pan. Add cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves and fry them till you can smell the beautiful aroma of the spices.
- Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté until the raw smell evaporates.
- Add the boiled onion paste and cook till the onions blend nicely with the ginger-garlic paste.
- Next, add the tomatoes and a little bit of salt and cook stirring frequently. The tomatoes will become mushy and the oil will start separating from the masala.
- Add the pureed spinach and a few tablespoons of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add paneer and mix well. Season with salt.
- Crush Kasuri methi between your palms and sprinkle on it. Add garam masala powder, mix well and remove from heat.
- Now, here is my twist…… Heat ghee in a small pan to the smoking point. Add chopped garlic and whole red chillies and let them sizzle. You have to be quick; be careful not to allow the garlic and red chillies to burn but to turn the garlic into light golden colour.
- Pour the fried garlic and red chillies along with the ghee on top of the finished Palak Paneer. This tadka (tempering) imparts an amazing smoky flavour to the dish infusing it with the heavenly bouquet of fried garlic and the pungency of red chillies.
- Garnish with fresh cream.
- Serve fresh with chapatis or naan or jeera rice.
Is Palak Paneer healthy?
Now that I have shared my recipe, it’s time to destroy the myth about Palak Paneer. Is Palak Paneer healthy?
Well, there is nothing called “a HEALTHY Palak Paneer recipe“. Those who are saying so are taking you for a ride. Whether it is restaurant-style Palak Paneer or dhaba-style or easy-style Palak Paneer recipe or home-style, rest assured there is not an iota of health in Palak Paneer.
Both spinach and paneer are excellent sources of essential nutrients when consumed independently; but when combined everything goes for a toss.
Paneer is rich in calcium and protein and low in carbohydrates, while spinach, a green leafy vegetable is a rich source of iron, vitamins A, E and K, folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids.
So, the perfect logic should have been that our Desi Popeye gulping down cans after cans of spinach would have done better had he gorged on bowls full of Palak Paneer instead. But my hunch is he is a lot smarter than us.
What happens really when the two are combined?
- The calcium in paneer blocks the absorption of iron in spinach when consumed in combination. Iron absorption in the body, in this case, is less than 5% which is negligible.
- That is not all. It is a double whammy. A high level of oxalate is present in spinach which prevents the absorption of calcium into the body. Therefore 2+2 is not always equal to 4. Here it is 0.
- Do you have high cholesterol? Watch out!! Paneer, though being a rich source of protein comes with a high risk of causing high cholesterol and even if combined with spinach does not make any significant difference.
I can safely say, enjoy your Palak Paneer as it is wickedly good to eat but do not believe a word if someone shrouds it under a blanket of healthiness. Whatever way you make Palak Paneer, you can never make it healthy.
For those of you who are looking for healthy alternatives incorporating paneer and spinach in your recipes, there are innumerable options available but without the two being combined.
Some of the healthy and nutritional dishes that you can make with paneer are:
- Paneer with vegetables like capsicum, onions, broccoli and mushrooms
- Paneer Paratha/Wraps
- Paneer Shaslik
- Paneer Bhurji
A few wholesome and nutrient-rich dishes of spinach are:
- Lentils with Spinach
- Spinach Paratha
- Wilted Spinach with onions and garlic
- Spinach Soup
- Flan a la Florentine/Spinach Quiche
Now, that I have shared my recipe of Palak Paneer the onus is on you whether to answer to the pleasures of your tongue or to that of the rest of your body. Personally, I am guilty of succumbing to the materialistic pleasures of life.
I do not have much faith in the health and wellness preachers anyway. One night they say you are going to die very soon because of your food choices, the following day they make a U-turn saying you might have increased your lifespan another ten years with the same food choices. If you ask me, eat Palak Paneer and indulge in the good things in life. After all, you are not eating it every day. Too much of anything is bad; so is abstinence.