As the granddaughter of a landowner and farmer from the heart of Punjab, India, I implore you, please do not refer to Punjabi Palak Paneer as simply Saag Paneer. The word saag has become interchangeable in the West to mean cooked, spiced, and pureed spinach with cheese. While the word saag refers to greens cooked and mashed down, this dish when cooked with spinach is referred to as Palak - the Hindi word for spinach. Saag typically refers to a dish that includes other kinds of leafy greens like mustard greens. Typically, this kind of saag does not include paneer, i.e. Sarson ka Saag (Pureed Mustard Greens).
I have now perfected Palak Paneer in the Instant Pot. I added two ingredients (dried fenugreek and cornmeal) that we traditionally add to our mustard greens to thicken it up a bit. While I do add a bit of heavy dairy or cashew cream now to my palak paneer, keep in mind we typically add no cream - that's more of a classic restaurant tweak.
This recipe has been adapted from page 128 of my first book that was updated in 2019, 'The Indian Slow Cooker'.
Instant Pot Palak Paneer, Curried Spinach with Paneer *
Pressure Cooker Size: 3 quart or larger
Warm Up: 7 minutes
Cook: 0 minutes
Cool Down: Manual release plus 3 minutes on Saute at the end
TOTAL: 10 minutes plus manual release time
Makes: 2 cups before adding paneer and cream
2 teaspoons oil or ghee
1 pinch hing (asafoetida) (optional)
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 small yellow or red onion, roughly chopped
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, cut in small pieces
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ - 4 Thai or serrano chiles, stems removed and chopped
1/2 cup water
4 cups fresh spinach (4.5 oz.), tightly packed, trimmed and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons methi, dried fenugreek leaves (optional), gently crushed in one hand to release flavor
2 teaspoons cornmeal (optional)
1 small tomato, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted tomato paste
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon red chile powder or cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups diced paneer, add later
2 tablespoons heavy cream (dairy or alternative), add later
1. Place the inner cooking pot in your Instant Pot. Select the SAUTE setting and adjust to MORE. When the indicator flashes HOT, add the oil.
2. Once the oil is hot, add the hing and cumin. Mix well and cook for 40 seconds until the seeds are reddish brown. Because the oil pools to the sides, push spices into the oil along the border of the inner pot so they can cook fully.
3. Add the turmeric. Cook for 30 seconds and stir.
4. Carefully add the onion. Stir well and cook for 1 minute.
5. Add the ginger, garlic, and fresh chiles. Cook for 1 minute, stirring.
6. Press CANCEL. Carefully remove the inner pot and place on a heat-resistant surface. Add the water and stir well, scraping off anything stuck to the bottom of the pot. Let the pot sit and cool for 5 minutes. This prevents a BURN warning later.
7. Return the inner pot to your Instant Pot and add the spinach, methi, cornmeal, tomato, tomato paste, garam masala, coriander, red chile, and salt in that order. Do not stir. If the contents goes slightly above the maximum fill line, just push them down with the back of a spatula.
8. Lock the lid into place. Make sure that the pressure release valve is set to the sealing position (upwards). Press the PRESSURE COOK button and then press the PRESSURE LEVEL button until your panel reads LOW. Adjust the cook time to 0. The zero cook time works because the warm-up time is sufficient to cook this dish.
9. Once the cooking is complete, release the pressure manually. After the float valve drops, open the lid and stir well. Use an immersion or regular blender to process until smooth or leave a little texture – your choice. If using an immersion blender, you may need to tilt the pot so the contents don't splash.
10. Select the SAUTE button again and adjust to MORE. Immediately add the paneer - there is no need to wait for the indicator to flash HOT, as your pot is already warmed up. Cook for up to 3 minutes, with the lid on the pot slightly ajar so that you avoid splashes. This step helps to cook the paneer.
11. Add the cream and stir well. Serve over basmati rice or with Indian bread like roti or naan.