This is my new favorite thing.
I already harvested nettles once this spring, and stocked my freezer with this year’s batch of addictive nettle pesto. But this recipe has me wanting to go back out this week for more nettles and freeze them blanched and ready for future batches of nettle saag paneer. The time to harvest nettles is NOW, while they’re still young. I go for the short ones, about eight inches or shorter.
Saag paneer, also called Palak Paneer is an Indian dish of mildly-spiced, creamed, puréed spinach with cubes of paneer cheese, which is firm and mild.
Full credit for the idea of nettle saag paneer goes to my brilliant friend Karyn, who came up with it while we were out harvesting nettles. She also made a batch, and made her own paneer, a step I skipped in favor of some paneer from Appel Farms. [Note to Karyn: I just noticed that name!] It turns out nettles make amazing saag paneer. They have a darker, richer flavor than spinach, and I think the dish tastes more interesting with them.
There are all kinds of ways to spice saag paneer; use the approximations I give below, or find your own recipe online.
Nettle Saag Paneer (Nettle Palak Paneer)
- About 2 cups of nettles, measured after blanching. I’d guess this is somewhere between a quarter and a half a pound.
- Water for blanching
- Gloves or tongs
- Half a pound of paneer cheese, bought or homemade
- One medium onion
- Five cloves of garlic or to taste
- Cream – about a half pint or to taste/consistency preference
- Fresh ginger
- Whole cumin seeds
- Garam masala
- Ground coriander
- Ground or fresh turmeric
- Ghee, butter, or your preferred cooking fat
- Fresh cilantro or sorrel for garnish (optional — I found some nice sorrel in my yard)
- Rice or riced cauliflower for serving (optional)
1. Harvest nettles carefully or buy them from a forager. They sting, of course, so either wear gardening gloves or gather them with a scissors or tongs. Some people swear by tricks for grasping them just so they don’t sting. I have no patience for that, but props to them if it works for them.
2. Heat a pot of water to boiling. Using gloves or tongs, put the washed nettles into the water just long enough to wilt. Remove immediately with tongs. You can save the water and use as a broth or tea. Let the nettles cool a bit and then run them through a food processor briefly, just for a few pulses. Leave them in there.
3. Cut up half a pound of paneer into cubes or rectangles. Dust with turmeric, coriander, and a bit of salt. In a large frying pan, preferably something thick like cast iron, heat ghee or other fat. Fry the paneer, turning the pieces side to side so they get golden-brown. Take them out of the pan and set aside.
4. Add more ghee/other fat to the pan, leaving bits of spice residue from the paneer in it. Add the cumin seeds, wait a few seconds, and then add the onions and garlic and stir. Cook slowly on medium heat until the onions soften fully and start to brown a very little bit.
5. Take the garlic and onion mixture out of the pan and add it to the food processor. Pulse again a few times.
6. Add the whole mixture from the food processor back into the pan and set to medium heat. Slowly add cream until the consistency is somewhat liquidy but also thick. The mixture should bubble lightly but not boil. Add spices to taste, including plenty of fresh ginger grated in. Adjust salt. I tend to like the flavor heavy on the garam masala and ginger.
7. When the flavor is right, add the paneer back in, stir, and let it simmer a few moments. Serve, with optional rice or riced cauliflower, and with garnish of cilantro or sorrel.