Healthier Indian Food: Saag Paneer

I have a weak spot for Indian food and make Big N take me to one of our favorite local places (here and here) about once a week.  It’s the spices that I can’t get enough of.  That, and the fact that nearly every dish is served in a creamy fattening blow-me-away sauce.  I think Big N is on to my trick of ordering way more food than we can possibly eat in one sitting so I can have Indian for lunch (and breakfast, I’m that bad) the next day.

Frying salmon cakes Though I consider myself something of a “spice goddess” in my own kitchen (you should see my spice rack!), I’ll let Bal Arneson borrow the name for her delightful show on the Cooking Chanel. Making chutney   From her show I’ve been learning there are healthier ways to make Indian food at home and she’s inspired me to experiment with my own recipes.  The other night I made her recipe for salmon fish cakes with apple chutney. (But I didn’t have figs or almonds so I used pears and cashews in my chutney, still yummy).  Her recipe called for paneer cheese, and since I was going to go through the trouble of making paneer from scratch, I thought why not serve my salmon cakes with some delicious saag paneer (spicy spinach with Indian cheese)?

Saag paneer If you’ve ordered saag paneer from different Indian restaurants, you know that there is a sliding scale of goodness.  One dish I had tasted like it was made with canned spinach, yuck.  Another version came with paneer that was so dry my teeth squeaked as I chewed.  I prefer the creamier version of saag paneer with a slightly firm but not too dry paneer.  The trouble is most restaurant versions are made with tons of ghee and/or heavy cream.  I wanted to cut some calories from my homemade dish.  After several attempts, I believe I finally achieved a great home version of saag paneer that’s still creamy but not loaded with butter and cream (yogurt is the key).  See my recipe, below.

This dinner took some effort to put together and is definitely not one of your thirty-minute-meals, but it was well worth the extra kitchen duty.

Behold, my healthier Indian meal of salmon cakes with apple pear and cashew chutney and saag paneer, served over basmati rice.

Salmon cakes with saag paneer and rice

Big N loved it, and I think he was happy enough not to be dragged to another Indian restaurant where we always leave smelling like burnt curry and smoke.  Try my healthier version of saag paneer the next time you have a hankering for Indian. 

Saag Paneer: Spinach with Indian Cheese

Serves 2-3
Prep time 2 hours
Cook time 15 minutes
Total time 2 hours, 15 minutes
Meal type Side Dish
Region Indian



  • 4 cups Whole milk
  • 1/4 cup Vinegar (Regular white/distilled)


  • 12 oz Baby spinach (2 small bags)
  • 1/2 medium Onion (finely diced)
  • 1 teaspoon Curry powder (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup Yogurt (Plain or greek style)
  • 1 clove Garlic (finely chopped)

Saag (Optional)

  • 1/2 teaspoon Ginger (fresh grated)
  • 1 teaspoon Garam masala
  • Parsley or cilantro (chopped)


If you don't have fresh spinach, you can substitute 1 16 oz package of frozen chopped spinach. Just let it defrost and squeeze out all of the water.

Also, feel free to experiment with your spices. You can use a combination of garam masala, curry powder, cumin powder, coriander, cayenne, and tumeric (go easy on the tumeric though).  Have fun with it.


1. First make the paneer: boil the milk over medium heat. This takes some time, keep stirring and do not let it burn the bottom of your pot. Make sure it is boiling, not just scalding.
Add the vinegar and stir until the whey separates from the curds. It'll look like this:
Put multiple layers of cheesecloth over a colander and pour the mixture. The whey will drain out, leaving you with the solids in your cheesecloth.
When it's cool enough to handle, twist the ends of the cheesecloth and squeeze out every last drop you can.
Put the cheesecloth filled with your cheese in a bowl or dish (or keep it in your colander with a bowl underneath to catch the liquid that will continue to drain out) and weigh it down (I used pie weights). Let the water drain for an hour or two, or overnight in your refrigerator for firmer paneer.
When it's done, remove the paneer from the cheesecloth and cut it into cubes. The paneer will keep in a covered container for up to five days in the refrigerator.
7. While your paneer is in the fridge, prepare a pot of salted water and boil. Add the spinach all at once, stir. Blanch the spinach for just 1 minute. Pour spinach into a colander to drain and rinse quickly with cold water. When cooled, squeeze out all of the water you can from the spinach. You want it as dry as you can or your saag will be runny. When the water has been squeezed out, place spinach on your cutting board and finely chop it.
8. Heat a pan on the stove and add whatever spices you've decided to use into the dry pan. Toast your spices. You're done when the spices become fragrant (about 1 minute over medium heat). Remove spices from pan.
Next heat about 2 teaspoons of olive, canola, or grapeseed oil in the pan. (You can use ghee or clarified butter too, but oil is healthier). Add the cubed paneer and season with salt. Lightly brown on all sides. Then remove paneer from pan.
Add a little more oil and saute the onions, garlic, and ginger (if using) until onions are translucent. Don't burn the garlic. Add your spinach and the toasted spices and heat until everything is incorporated and hot.
Remove from the heat and stir in yogurt (do this at the very end before serving or the yogurt might start to separate). The mixture will be creamy and thick. Fold in the paneer cubes and season with salt if needed. Serve immediately, garnishing with chopped parsley or cilantro if desired.

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