Feb 27, 2018

Saag Paneer over Turmeric Rice

Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins
Saag paneer is a spinach-based dish combined which combines fragrant spices with paneer, a rubbery Indian cheese.

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I’ve been on a kick of making Indian food recently. I just love the bold flavors of the spices and I find it’s easy to make vegetable-centric meals like this Saag paneer entree. The chilies in this dish help to keep you warm during chilly winter days! Going for meatless Monday or just need an idea for a hearty and (fairly) healthy vegetarian dish? This is your winner.

Saag Paneer over Turmeric Rice

What is Saag Paneer?

Saag paneer is a spinach-based dish combined which combines fragrant spices with paneer, a rubbery Indian cheese. If you can’t find paneer, then halloumi, the rubbery Greek cheese can easily be swapped in its place. Some iterations of the dish serve the spinach whole but I chose to purée it for easier scooping when using warmed naan.

Key Ingredients in This Recipe

Spinach

It’s amazing how much spinach you can put into the pot and the minimal ball that comes out. A pound and a half may seem like a mountain of spinach but after it’s blanched you end up with a mere handful.

Spices

The saag paneer is seasoned with a spice blend of garam masala, coriander and turmeric powder. Garam masala is a spice blend so not all will be the same. The mixture often differs region to region. It’s typically made from a combination of cinnamon, bay leaves, cumin, coriander, cardamom, peppercorns, cloves, chili, nutmeg and mace though the blend can vary.

Thai Birdseye chili

Bird’s eye chilies or Thai chilies are small, pointy chili peppers that pack a punch. They add an intense heat to the saag paneer with fruity flavor to dishes rating between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville units. They can sometimes be difficult to find so I usually buy a large bag of them at my local Asian market. I store them in the freezer in a resealable plastic bag. It’s actually even easier to cut them when they are frozen.

Paneer

Paneer is an Indian cow’s milk cheese made from milk curdled with acid and pressed. This cheese doesn’t melt which makes it great for grilling or pan-frying and it adds texture to the saag mixture. While it can be added raw, I love pan-frying it to give it a bit of a crispy texture. If you can’t find paneer I recommend substituting with halloumi or Panela in this saag paneer recipe.

Ghee

Ghee is clarified butter often used in Indian cooking. The milk solids and water are removed leaving the pure butterfat. In this recipe it can easily be swapped with unsalted butter.

saag paneer in serving bowl with serving spoon

How to Make Saag Paneer

cooked spinach drained
Step 1: Cook the spinach. 

Bring a large pot of water over medium-high heat to a boil. Add the spinach and blanch until bright green and tender. Remove spinach to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain the spinach then squeeze out excess water.

sautéed onions in sauté pan
Step 2: Sauté onion.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and heat through. Add the onion and sauté until tender.

sautéed onions with spices
Step 3: Sauté the spices. 

Add the garlic, ginger and chili and cook for an additional minute, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garam masala, coriander, and turmeric, stirring to cook the spices for just a few seconds.

sautéed onions and spinach with spices
Step 4: Add the spinach.

Lower the heat to medium-low and add the spinach to the pan. Stir the spinach mixture and vegetable stock together. Cook until the greens are soft and deep green and most of the vegetable stock evaporates.

blended saag mixture in food processor
Step 5: Blend the saag paneer. 

Add the mixture to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and pulse until a coarse paste forms (should look similar to pesto).

saag mixture with plain yogurt stirred in
Step 6: Stir in the yogurt.

Return to the pan then stir in the yogurt.

crispy paneer in non-stick skillet
Step 7: Cook the paneer. 

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the paneer and cook until golden brown, then flip the pieces and repeat on the other side. Remove and add to the saag mixture.

onions for basmati rice
Step 8: Season the basmati rice. 

Heat medium saucepan over medium heat, add the ghee and allow to melt. Add the shallot and sauté until tender. Stir in the garlic and sauté, for an additional minute. Pour in the basmati rice and turmeric powder, stirring to coat the rice and sautéing for 30 seconds to toast the rice.

turmeric basmati rice with onions
Step 9: Cook the rice. 

Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover and simmer the rice until the stock has been absorbed. Season with salt and fluff with a fork.

saag paneer over turmeric rice with crispy garlic naan bread
Step 10: Assemble and serve. 

To serve, divide the rice among bowls and ladle the saag paneer over the rice. Serve warmed naan on the side (or omit for a gluten free version).

saag paneer over turmeric rice with torn naan bread

Tips and Tricks for This Recipe

Variations on this recipe

  • If I’m trying to add some more vegetables into my diet I try to sneak them in where they aren’t as prominent. That way it works to enhance, not take away from, what I’m eating. I add some riced cauliflower to the rice or use t in place of the rice. It can be easily made by finely dicing florets of cauliflower or buying it pre-made at the grocery store. I typically go for a 50/50 mix as it adds a great texture and the turmeric helps to season cauliflower so it doesn’t taste so… healthy.
  • To make this vegetarian recipe vegan omit the ghee and yogurt and substitute the paneer with extra-firm tofu or diced potatoes.

Easy Swaps

  • For an easy shortcut I recommend substituting the turmeric rice with steamed basmati rice.
  • You can always substitute the fresh spinach with frozen spinach in this saag paneer recipe. Just thaw it and squeeze and excess water from the spinach.
  • The turmeric rice can easily be made in a rice cooker instead of a pot.

Cooking with Turmeric

Be careful when cooking with turmeric, it tends to stain anything white that it touches. If that happens, you can soak the stained items in bleach or, if you want to go for a less chemical method, mix equal parts baking soda and water and let it sit before scrubbing.

Saag Paneer vs. Palak Paneer

While the two are sometimes used interchangeably in the US, palak paneer is a North Indian dish made from a similar spinach mixture puréed until a smooth gravy forms. Saag paneer can also be made with a variety of leafy greens while palak paneer is only made with spinach.

how to make saag paneer

Other Recipes to Try

If you enjoy this saag paneer recipe, I recommend checking out some of these

Saag Paneer over Turmeric Rice

Print Pin
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Serves 4

Ingredients:

For the saag paneer:

  • pounds baby spinach
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 2 small Thai birdseye chilies, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • ½ cup plain whole milk yogurt
  • 6 ounces paneer, cut into ¼” thick, 1” cubes

For the turmeric rice:

  • 2 tablespoons ghee (or unsalted butter)
  • 2 medium shallots, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • cups vegetable stock
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Naan, for serving

Instructions:

For the saag paneer:

  • Bring a large pot of water over medium-high heat to a boil. Add the spinach and blanch until bright green and tender, about 30 seconds.
  • Remove spinach to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain the spinach then squeeze out excess water.
  • Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and heat through. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, ginger and chili and cook for an additional minute, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garam masala, coriander, and turmeric, stirring to cook the spices for just a few seconds.
  • Lower the heat to medium-low and add the spinach to the pan. Stir together the spinach mixture and vegetable stock and cook until the greens are soft and deep green and most of the vegetable stock has been absorbed, about 4 minutes.
  • Add the mixture to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and pulse until a coarse paste forms (should look similar to pesto). Return to the pan then stir in the yogurt.
  • Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the paneer and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute, then flip the pieces and repeat on the other side, cooking about an additional 1 minute.
  • Remove the paneer and add to the saag mixture.

For the turmeric rice:

  • Heat medium saucepan over medium heat, add the ghee and allow to melt. Add the shallot and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté, for an additional minute. Add the basmati rice and turmeric powder, stirring to coat the rice and sautéing for 30 seconds to toast the rice.
  • Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover and simmer the rice until all the stock has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and fluff with a fork.

For serving:

  • To serve, divide the rice among bowls. Ladle the saag paneer over the rice. Serve with warmed naan on the side (or omit for a gluten free version).

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  1. Aloha,
    Love indian dishes.
    Can you help with different basmati rice dishes and cooking tips?
    I adore the lightness and texture, but don’t want to bore anyone with repeat dishes.
    Mahalo ( Thank-you in Hawaiian)
    Kimmie Mele

  2. I have always thought saag paneer was hard to make but this recipe make it easy and SOOO GOOD. Now I make it all the time and it is my go to! Definitely suggest buying enough for leftovers the next day!!!!

    • I’m so happy to hear it! It’s one of my favorites!! And I think this is one of those recipes where it can be even better the next day!