Saag paneer is traditionally made with cubes of paneer cooked in a sauce made of green leafy veggies. A delicious, comforting, vegetarian curry that is better than the restaurant version!
(Please read the entire post for detailed step-by-step instructions and tips)
Few things in life are as satisfying as tucking a piece of naan (here's my recipe for Instant Pot naan bread) into a hearty warm dish of saag paneer. I love the homemade classic version of this dish and stay away from ordering it at restaurants, many of which are guilty of dunking way too much cream than is necessary into the sauce. I don’t understand why so many Indian curries get the ‘heavy cream treatment’ at restaurants!
The beauty of a saag dish is that it lets the flavor of the leafy greens stand out, such as in my saag murgh (chicken cooked in spinach) or in this saag paneer recipe. The combination of the whole spices, subtle addition of spice powders, and tomatoes makes for a beautiful melody of flavors. And the color of the spinach adds to its magnificence, I think!
Ingredients used for making saag paneer
To make saag paneer, we will need:
Fresh spinach: I prefer to use large spinach instead of baby spinach, but you can use baby spinach as well. Frozen spinach is a good substitute as well.
Tomatoes: Use fresh tomatoes rather than canned tomatoes, as canned tomatoes will add to the brown color of the sauce.
Whole spices: Whole cumin
Onions: Use red or white or yellow onions, chopped finely
Spice powders: Turmeric, garam masala
Aromatics: Fresh ginger, garlic and green chili - finely chopped
Step-by-step instructions for making saag (palak) paneer
Start by browning the paneer on the stovetop - this is an optional step, but the sauteed paneer has a lot more flavor and texture compare to plain paneer. The browed paneer is then kept aside for later when it will be cooked with the spinach sauce.
In the Instant Pot, we start making the saag sauce. In Saute mode, heat up cumin and bay leaves in ghee until aromatic. Then add the chopped onions, green chili, ginger, and garlic. I like to add the onions, green chili, garlic, and ginger to a food processor to chop them all up together, finely.
Saute until onions turn translucent. Then add one whole chopped tomato. I find that using canned tomatoes gives the sauce more of a red-brown color, so I prefer to use fresh whole tomato for this recipe instead of canned tomatoes.
After the tomatoes soften, add the washed spinach leaves. Cover the lid and Pressure cook for 1 minute.
After one minute of cooking, the Instant Pot will beep to signal the end of the cooking cycle. Immediately, manually release pressure and take off the lid of the Instant Pot. Use a hand blender to blend up the ingredients.
Here is a tip: I like to throw in 3-4 ice cubes into the pot at this point, which helps to cool down the sauce. This will help in retaining the vibrant green color of the spinach! Blend until the sauce is smooth. Some people prefer the sauce to be chunky - you can make it as smooth or chunky as you like. Finally, add in the paneer cubes and cook for 3-4 minutes on Saute mode.
And that's it, the simplest way to delicious and hearty saag paneer! Garnish with some cream and serve warm with naan or basmati rice.
Commonly asked questions about saag paneer:
What does 'saag' mean?
‘Saag’ is a term used for leafy green vegetables common to India. In the Punjab region of India, saag refers to mustard greens aka, 'Sarson ka saag' which are a winter specialty. Traditionally, saag is a very simple, robust dish made with greens cooked with just some salt, green chilies, and ginger. The greens cook in their own liquids and are served with fresh, homemade butter.
In the absence of mustard greens, commonly used greens for making saag are spinach, fenugreek leaves (methi), collard greens, etc.
What is the difference between saag paneer and palak paneer?
The names 'saag paneer' and 'palak paneer' are used interchangeably, although 'saag' refers to a variety of leafy greens and 'palak' simply means spinach. All palak is saag but not all saag can be called palak!
If you liked this recipe, you might like these paneer recipes as well:
Instant Pot Saag Paneer
- 400 grams Paneer cut into cubes
- 350 grams fresh spinach leaves washed and rinsed (frozen spinach can be used as well)
- 1 large tomato chopped
- 1 inch fresh ginger finely chopped
- 1 green chili finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic finely chopped
- 2-3 bay leaves
- ¾ tablespoon whole cumin
- 1 tablespoon Ghee
- 2 red onions chopped
- ⅓ tablespoon Turmeric
- ½ tablespoon Garam masala
- ½ tablespoon Salt to taste
- Start by browning the paneer. Heat a pan on the stovetop. Add a little ghee or vegetable oil and once hot, add the cubes of paneer. Let the paneer brown gently on one side, then and flip on each side to brown evenly. Once the paneer cubes are evenly browned, keep aside for later.
- In the Instant Pot, add the ghee, and hit Sauté. Once hot, add the bay leaves and the whole cumin. Once the whole spices start turning aromatic (after 1 minute), add the chopped onions, ginger, garlic and green chilli.
- Sauté for 3-4 minutes until onions start to turn translucent. Then add the chopped tomato, turmeric, garam masala. Sauté for a few minutes until the tomatoes start to soften. If they stick to the bottom of the pot, add a tablespoon of water and deglaze the pot. Any residue stuck to the pot can trigger the ‘Burn’ notice.
- Add the spinach leaves. Give it a mix and put on the lid of the IP. Hit ‘Pressure Cook’ or ‘Manual’ mode and set the time for 1 minute. Once the cooking cycle is completed, immediately release pressure and open the lid of the Instant Pot (Quick Release).
- Using a stick blender (hand blender), blend the cooked ingredients up to form the sauce. Tip: add 3-4 ice cubes at this stage to quickly bring down the temperature of the sauce. This helps in retaining the green color of the spinach.
- Add the sautéed paneer, add the salt and hit ‘Saute’. Let the paneer simmer in the sauce for 3-4 minutes. Once cooked, garnish with cream and serve with naan or rice.
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