Perfect Palak Paneer

Pearlescent white cubes floating in an emerald sea, the appearance of palak paneer is like nothing else. Sometimes the green might be a more muted, or even downright swampy hue, but somehow it still shines all the same. Instantly recognizable in any shade, it’s a dish to win over the fickle hearts of vegetable-haters, packing in a mega dose of dark leafy greens almost by accident. It manages to taste amazing in spite of AND because of the massive quantity of spinach involved.

Hailing from one of the most fertile regions on Earth, it’s not a stretch to imagine farmers throwing pounds of spinach into a pot, trying to wilt down the harvest into a more manageable output. Consider it the Punjabi version of creamed spinach, rich with sauteed onions and coconut milk. Vibrantly spiced without becoming overly spicy in terms of scoville units, you can smell it simmering on the stove from a mile away.

Naturally vegetarian, the protein at the heart of this dish is sometimes described as Indian cottage cheese, but that’s only a fitting description of paneer’s flavor. Mild, soft yet spongy and sliceable, the similarities it shares with tofu are unmistakable. While I’ve successfully swapped the two in the past with minimal adaptation, there’s always room for improvement.

That’s where Sugimoto shiitake powder comes in, building incremental umami flavor to enhance the cheesy notes of the nutritional yeast, creating a more impactful savory taste that could rival that of curdled dairy. The magic is in that marinade, disarmingly simple and undeniably savory.

How much spinach does it take to make palak paneer?

If you’ve ever cooked fresh spinach, you already know it takes a truckload to yield a single forkful once it touches the heat. That’s why I typically like to start with frozen spinach in this recipe, which only needs to be drained of excess liquid before it’s ready to use. Otherwise, here are some basic guidelines for spinach usage:

  • 1 Pound Fresh Spinach = 10 Ounces Frozen Spinach
  • 1 Pound Fresh Spinach = About 10 Cups
  • 1 Pound Fresh, Steamed Spinach / 10 Ounces Frozen Spinach, Thawed and Drained = 1 1/2 Cups

That means for this recipe, you’ll want to start with a little over 19 ounces (let’s round it to 20 to be safe,) or about 20 cups in volume. That said, there’s no such thing as too much when it comes to spinach here. Feel free to add more if you have it.

What’s the difference between palak paneer and saag paneer?

All palak is saag, but not all saag is palak. “Palak” means spinach in Hindi, whereas “saag” can refer to any sort of leafy greens. Saag might include one or many of the following:

  • Arugula
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens
  • Collard greens
  • Bok choy
  • Chard
  • Beet greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Fenugreek
  • And yes, spinach!

To brown or not to brown?

Once marinated, the tofu paneer can be enjoyed as is, without further cooking. In fact, I like keeping mine in the fridge until just before serving for a cooling contrast to the hot spinach curry. It’s just as enjoyable with a gentle sear on the outsides, crisping and caramelizing the edges for more textural contrast instead. You can pan fry or air fry the cubes very briefly using high heat without adding more oil.

How can you serve palak paneer?

Enjoy palak paneer, hot with basmati rice, roti, naan, or chapati. On particularly sweltering summer days, though, I happen to think this is a great dish to enjoy cold, straight out of the fridge. Like all curries, the complex blend of spices continues to develop, blend, and bloom over time. Leftovers are unlikely for this recipe though, so you may want to preemptively double it. There’s no such thing as too much spinach when you have such a crave-worthy formula for palak paneer in your recipe arsenal.

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Straight Fire

I’m not crazy about kale. This might be my most controversial unpopular opinion given the meteoric rise in popularity its seen over the years. When it comes to dark leafy greens, kale is hard to beat; it can be eaten raw or cooked, comes in a variety of colors and shapes, offers a potential array of vitamins and minerals, and is readily available at a reasonable price, even if you splurge on organic. That’s an incredible claim to fame for a vegetable previously used only as decoration in deli cases.

Despite all that, kale is never the first type of greenery I’ll reach for in the produce section, or the second, or even the third. I don’t outright dislike it, but I feel like so many other options just suit particular dishes better. Arugula gives me the peppery bitterness I crave in a salad. Collard greens melt into tender ribbons in stews and braises. Spinach is better for adding green color to baked goods since it has a fairly neutral flavor. Boston or Bibb lettuce are ideal on burgers or sandwiches for a juicy crunch. Given such a wealth of choices, kale tends to fall towards the bottom of my list.

Obviously, I’m not an arbiter of taste. Kale remains king on menus across the US, from fast food to five-star, low brow to high end. I can’t fully understand it but don’t begrudge kale’s success one bit. If anything, that repeated exposure has proven its value in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. Case in point: The Fire Kale Salad from Daily Juice.

It lingered in my memory long after my first visit to Austin despite being a rushed grab-and-go meal at the time. Prepacked in a plastic clam shell, it fit the bill for something fresh and healthy after days of indulging, as one does while traveling. While I quietly wished it was made with romaine or mesclun or just about anything else, I forgot about the kale entirely after one bite.

This kale was tender but still held up to the creamy cashew dressing, standing firm where other weaker greens would have wilted into a watery lump. The whole thing glows red from a final dusting of paprika on top so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. The warm heat from blended jalapeños is apparent up front, growing stronger and brighter over time. Crisp cucumbers provide a cooling foil, a refreshing relief right when it’s needed most. That added layer of crunchy texture harmonizes beautifully with the handful of toasted cashews tumbling between the frilly leaves. Such a simple combination simply works.

Normally, I’d rattle off a list of alternate greens to swap in, but kale is really the one for the job here. You could go with purple kale instead of plain green, but that’s about it. Everything that usually disqualifies it from my other recipes is exactly what makes it perfect in this one. Whether you love it or hate it, this kale salad is straight fire.

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Land of Plenty

Have you ever tasted arugula so crisp, so impeccably fresh, that it could only be described as “juicy”? Voracious salad eater that I am, I was sure I had exhausted every variant of leafy fodder available on the market, until I forked into the baby greens from Plenty.

Before this moment, brand name vegetables or plain packaged produce in general always seemed like a marketing gimmick to me. Wasn’t this the same stuff you could buy in bulk, now dressed up with designer graphics and enhanced pricing to match? Granted, that’s exactly what drew my attention when I first spotted these shapely clam shell boxes, but the quality far exceeds shallow aesthetics.

Vertically grown indoors, using 99% less land and 95% less water than conventional methods, without any pesticides, they’re as sustainable as they are genuinely flavorful. In short, Plenty is making the tastier choice the one that’s more affordable, accessible, and eco-friendly, too. It’s hard to explain how revolutionary this is without it coming off as a sales pitch, but trust me, these aren’t empty promises coming from a far removed PR mill! It’s rare to find a company that really lives up to such high standards without sacrificing in one department or another, which is why I’m proud to partner with them to spread the love of all things leafy, well beyond the salad bowl.

If you struggle to get your greens in, you’re not alone. Raw roughage may be difficult to digest, both literally and figuratively, for the pickiest eaters, but there’s more than one way to get your daily dose.

Believe it or not, even children will beg for a second helping of this verdant Matcha Milkshake, infused with velvety baby kale. Harmonizing with the natural, satisfying bitter edge of ceremonial matcha powder, the concentrated, zero glycemic sweetness of stevia balances out the blend without refined sugars. Cashews are the magical ingredient that makes everything rich and creamy, no milk nor cream needed. This recipe is based on my formula for cashew milkshakes in Real Food, Really Fast, infusing the decadent drink with a virtuous serving of vitamins A, C, and K. To fool a kale critic, you can easily explain the color with the green tea addition.

For those who like a bit of spice in their life, that bold baby arugula has just the right subtle peppery twist, further accentuated by the warm breath of fresh jalapenos in a steamy bowlful of Pozole Very Verde. Tangling amongst tender bites of hominy and pinto beans, this nontraditional broth comes together in mere minutes, bearing the rich flavors of a long-simmered stew. You could very well double up on the leafy quotient, since it melts down so effortlessly into the piquant brew.

When the heat is on and you’re trying to keep your cool, though, I’ve got the perfect all-purpose, all-day kind of meal for you. Avocado toast, the ubiquitous millennial favorite, but with a heartier bite than your basic bread. Meaty portobello slices turn into a shockingly convincing alternative to bacon, crisp and savory, redolent of the earthy, smoky notes you’d expect from cured pork, but made from plants. Refreshing crispy lettuce cradles thickly sliced heirloom tomatoes in a tender embrace typically reserved for starcrossed lovers. Part open-faced sandwich, part tartine, you get more of the good stuff with this BLT Avocado Toast and less carb-heavy filler.

Cheap, greasy Chinese takeout does tempt even the most disciplined healthy foodies, but you can beat those eateries at their own game. Skip the deep frying for this flash-in-the-pan Salt & Pepper Tofu Stir Fry, dazzling with whole peppercorns, including the mouth-numbing Sichuan variety. The more timid of tastes might want to pick around those powerful flavor grenades, though I think those intermittent fiery bites add to the overall experience. As if designed with exactly this dish in mind, the diverse mizuna mix can withstand the blaze, folded in at the very last minute to tenderize the baby bok choy without making any of the more delicate leaves go limp. Switch up the protein with seitan, soy curls, or even tempeh if you’d like to branch out beyond predictable bean curd.

For my final trick, watch as I turn three full boxes of leafy love into one glorious grand finale, wrapped up in flaky phyllo like an edible present. Inspired by layered spanakopita, spinach need not apply for the job in this Arugula Spanakopita Strudel. Baby arugula melts down to an almost buttery filling infused with fresh herbs and plenty of garlic. Downright buttery and stunningly cheesy, you’ve never had greens that taste quite so decadent before. Even the Greek Gods would bow down to this contemporary twist on the classic pie.

Getting hungry yet? Ready to go green? Find Plenty greens at a Bay Area store near you by checking the product locator, and start making space in your fridge. While those shapely boxes contain an incredible volume of green goodness, you’ll quickly find yourself craving more.

This post was made possible as a collaboration with Plenty. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Wordless Wednesday: Greens is the New Black

Potato Griddle Cakes with vadouvan and spinach. Served with coconut tamarind chutney, shaved fennel, mint, and lime vinaigrette.

Arugula Salad with charred cauliflower, watermelon radish, avocado, and pumpkin seeds.

Grilled Brussels Sprouts with muhammara sauce, pomegranate reduction, and slivered almonds

Mesquite Grilled Brochettes with mushrooms, Mariquita Farm potatoes, peppers, fennel, sweet potatoes, red onions and Hodo Tofu with chermuoula.

Wild Mushroom and Spinach Phyllo with Moroccan chickpea stew, green harissa, roasted carrots, and maitake mushrooms.

Broccoli Pizza with macadamia cheese, baby arugula, and spicy red pepper pesto sauce.

Blackened Hodo Tofu with Carolina Gold hoppin’ john, cabbage slaw, and golden BBQ sauce

DeVoto Orchards Apple Crisp with ginger streusel and coconut sorbet

Greens Restaurant
2 Marina Blvd A
San Francisco, CA 94123

New Year’s Ball Drop

Wait, where do you think you’re going? The party isn’t over yet! Just when you thought it was safe to crawl back home in a holiday-induced stupor, ready to hibernate for the remainder of winter, New Year’s looms large on the horizon with another round of festive demands. Still recovering from Christmas, and maybe even Hanukkah at that, it can be a challenge to summon enough enthusiasm for the final day of the year. It typically ends in an anticlimactic countdown at midnight and much more booze than food; never a good omen for the start of any resolution.

No matter how worn and weary from this season of relentless merriment, we can still do better. Why just watch the ball drop on TV when you can fortify yourself with balls of a more savory sort?

It’s been many years, if not decades since I last encountered these classic appetizers, yet they come back to me in flashbulb memories of parties past. Was it my mom in the kitchen, rolling up mounds of greens and cheese by the dozen, or someone else entirely? Though the details elude me, I do remember being swayed by their robust garlic flavor, even in my early days of hating vegetables.

Look, I know it’s getting late and we could all use a break, but this last request is an easy one! Let your food processor do the heavy lifting, throw the whole lot in the oven, and finish on a strong note. 2018 has been full of crazy twists and turns, but I can promise you that the conclusion will ultimately be gratifying when these bite-sized balls drop, even if you make it an early night.

Yield: Makes 24 - 30 Balls

Garlicky Spinach Balls

Garlicky Spinach Balls

Robust garlic flavor shines throughout each bite of these crowd-pleasing appetizers.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes

Ingredients

  • 6 Slices (About 7.5 Ounces Total) Sandwich Bread, Slightly Stale or Lightly Toasted
  • 1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts
  • 1/3 Cup Nutritional Yeast
  • 1 Head Roasted Garlic
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 2 Cups (About 10 Ounces) Frozen Spinach, Thawed and Drained
  • 1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley
  • 1/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree or Leftover Mashed Potatoes
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet.
  2. Roughly tear the bread into smaller pieces and place them in your food processor, along with the pine nuts. Pulse until broken down into a coarse meal. Add in all of the remaining ingredients and pulse to combine, chopping the greens especially well but leaving the mixture with a bit of texture. You don’t want a perfectly smooth puree like baby food here.
  3. Scoop out a heaping tablespoon for each portion and use lightly moistened hands to roll them into round balls. Place on your prepared sheet and bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until dark green in color and firm to the touch. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving; enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

30

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 63Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 125mgCarbohydrates: 7gFiber: 2gSugar: 1gProtein: 3g