As the granddaughter of a prominent landowner and farmer from the heart of Punjab, India, please do not refer to Saag as Palak. My family spent our years living in America viciously stringing vacation days together to visit my grandparents in the haweli where my father grew up. To even get to his childhood village, you have to drive your way through fields and fields of bright green and yellow-topped mustard green fields. I've been on a tractor in those same fields and can still smell that freshly-cut aroma from the tender stems. When cooked down with spices and some key ingredients, and then topped with ghee - that is saag. No paneer. Nothing added except maybe other greens on that slightly bitter spectrum - fresh fenugreek or collard greens, etc. Palak, which most people incorrectly refer to as saag in the U.S., is simply spinach. The cooking process is similar, but often we'll eat this dish with homemade cheese or paneer. That's what I have perfected for you in my pressure cooker below. I have added two ingredients (dried fenugreek and cornmeal) that we traditionally add to our saag to thicken it up a bit. While I do add a bit of cashew cream now to my palak paneer, keep in mind we typically add no cream - that's more of a classic restaurant tweak. Totally fine, but for our homestyle tastes - the cleaner the better.
Instant Pot Palak Paneer
Warm up: 7 min. Cook: 8 min. Cool down: 20 min. Cook with Paneer: 15 min.
Total Time: 55 minutes
Yield: 6 cups with the paneer
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
1 pinch hing (asafoetida), optional
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 large onion, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1-2 inch piece ginger, roughly chopped
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 – 6 fresh Thai, serrano, or cayenne chiles, stems removed and chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted tomato paste
¼ cup kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
2 tablespoons cornmeal
2 tablespoons garam masala
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons red chile powder or cayenne
1 cup water
16 cups (1 ½ pounds) fresh spinach (trimmed but no need to chop)
4 cups paneer, cubed (or baked organic extra firm tofu)
¼ cup cream (cashew or dairy), optional
1. Select the Saute mode on your Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker and adjust to More for high heat. Once the indicator flashes HOT, add oil and hing. After a few seconds, add cumin seeds and turmeric powder. Cook about 30 seconds, until the seeds sizzle and turn reddish-brown.
2. Add onion and cook 2 minutes. Add garlic and ginger. Cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes and chiles. Stir and cook another 2 minutes.
3. Add tomato paste, fenugreek leaves, cornmeal, garam masala, salt and red chile. Stir well and cook 1 minute. Add water to deglaze. Stir well.
4. Hit Cancel – turning the pressure cooker off.
5. Add the spinach. Push it down as much as possible. It looks like a lot, but not to worry, it will all cook down. There is no need to stir.
6. Lock the lid in place. Press Pressure Cook and adjust the pressure to 'Normal' for 8 minutes.
7. When the cooking is complete, use the natural release to cool. Unlock and remove the lid. If you want to speed up the process you can manually release the pressure.
8. Blend down the mixture until smooth using an immersion blender or transfer to a blender to puree. If using a blender, transfer mixture back into the pressure cooker after processing. You can experiment with different textures; blend until smooth or leave some chunks for texture.
9. Add paneer and close the lid again. Pressure Cook on High for 3 minutes. While this adds a little cooking time, it does pull your whole dish together beautifully and really cooks your paneer through.
10. Gently stir in the cream and serve with rice or Indian bread. For something different, I enjoy serving a dollop over warm cornbread.