Delicious & Easy

Nasturtium Saag Paneer

Called Indian Creamed Spinach by some, this dish hailing from the northern Indian region of Punjab always satisfies the palate and is known as a comfort food throughout the world. Literally meaning greens (saag) and cheese (paneer), the nutritious greens are heavily spiced and then cooked down almost into a stew, then built back up with the addition of yogurt or cream in a technique known as bhunao. The addition of fresh paneer cheese adds body while also cooling the palate from the spices in the saag. 

Typically, the name of this dish varies depending on the greens being used. Punjabi’s traditionally use mustard greens and there the dish often goes by sarson saag paneer, while in in the United States, restaurants often use spinach and call it palak paneer or just saag paneer. Any robust green will do, thus common nasturtium—a green with the pepperiness of mustard and the body of spinach leaves—is a perfect adaptation.

Although I’ve cooked this before and developed my own recipe, I used Madhur Jaffrey’s Spinach with Fresh Indian Cheese as a helpful guide. According to my friend Hemraj, an Indian scientist and cook, Madhur Jaffrey is like the India's Julia Child.

Note: Making fresh paneer cheese is easy, but it's also easy to find at Indian and specialty grocery stores or you can use queso fresco in a pinch.

Ingredients for

Nasturtium Saag Paneer

Nasturtium Saag Paneer

10 ounces paneer, cubed

Neutral cooking oil or ghee

2 teaspoon salt (separated)

10 ounces or one large mixing bowl full of nasturtium leaves (reserve flowers for garnish)

1 large tomato, roughly chopped

1 bunch cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves

Pot likker

1 large white onion, diced

1–2 small chilis, seeded and diced

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon garam masala

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon chili powder (optional)

1/4 cup or more of European style or Indian yogurt

3 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)


Instructions for

Nasturtium Saag Paneer

Cube the paneer (preferably flat 3/4 inch cubes. The size doesn’t quite matter but the smaller the cubes, the more distribution, and the longer and more tedious it is to brown).

In a large nonstick pan on medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons neutral oil or ghee, then brown all sides of paneer in batches. Set aside the browned paneer on a paper towel lined dish to drain excess oil.

Bring four quarts water in a 6 quart pot to boil with 1 teaspoon salt. Blanch nasturtium greens for 90 seconds in batches. After blanching, shock each batch in an ice-water bath, then transfer to a colander in the sink to drain for five minutes without pressing out excess liquid. Reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid (pot likker) and set aside.

Add tomato, fresh cilantro, green chili, dried fenugreek leaves to a blender and blend until it forms a smooth paste, adding a little more pot likker if necessary.

Add 2 tablespoons oil or ghee to a clean 6 quart nonstick pot and and set burner to medium heat. Add chopped onion and brown, usually around 7–8 minutes. Add ginger and garlic next, browning all of those for another 2–3 minutes. Once browned, add coriander, cumin, garam masala, turmeric, chili powder, and 1 teaspoon salt, stirring for another minute to release aromatics. (This technique is called baghar in Indian cooking).

Pour the blended tomato mixture and blanched nasturtium into the pot. Add about 1/4 cup of pot likker or a little more if needed to thin the sauce slightly and let cook for 5–10 minutes more stirring occasionally. Then add browned paneer, a 1/4 cup European style, and heavy cream (optional). Stir until the liquid reaches a simmer, then cook on low for 15 more minutes, stirring occassionally. The consistency should be like a thick soup or creamed spinach.

Season with additional salt to taste if needed.

Garnish with nasturtium flowers and serve with naan, flatbread, dal, or basmati rice. 

Optional Ingredient Notes

The heavy cream is optional but I find it gives the saag a little more body. 

The spice level comes from the chilis and chili powder. If you do not like spice, either use mild green peppers in a similar proportion and do not add the chili powder at all.

If it looks too dry, add a little more pot likker or yogurt. If too soupy, pour a little of the likker out or cook for a little longer.

Frequently asked

Questions About This Recipe

What can you substitute for European style yogurt?

Indian yogurt or sour cream will work here, although it's not traditional.


Notes & Thoughts