A well-loved staple of the northern Indian repertoire, saag paneer makes a sensational side dish for a feast that includes, say, tandoori meats; it is also a spicy, nutrient-packed vegetarian supper in its own right.
In Hindi, saag translates loosely as “greens” and the paneer (also spelled panir) is cheese. Unlike many Western cheeses, paneer is not aged and fermented; it is a fresh unsalted cheese, easily made at home so long as you plan ahead. It needs plenty of time to drain and set; weighting it with a plate in the fridge is essential to ensure that the cheese develops sufficient firmness to allow you to fry it without falling apart.
A critical thing for this dish is to avoid the temptation to use the bagged baby leaf spinach widely sold in supermarkets—it simply doesn’t have the flavour or texture that saag paneer demands. Look instead for whole bunches of English spinach—it requires thorough washing to remove sand and mud but its velvety texture and intense flavour really deliver.
That aside, this is one of those dishes for which there are as many recipes as there are home cooks and restaurants. If you want to up the spice quotient, feel free to add a teaspoon of garam masala (try the TMix+ recipe from our 2015 spring-summer issue) or some chopped, seeded green chilli. When it comes to finishing the spinach, you have the choice of blitzing it into a smooth puree or serving it with a little more textur—both ways are perfectly acceptable and you’ll see that Lesley Russell’s recipe gives directions for each.