Saag Paneer and Palak Paneer are both vegetarian Indian curries that can be prepared quickly for a weeknight meal. But the ingredients used and the different preparation make a huge difference between these two dishes! If you have heard the same dish called by both names, this article can help you understand the true differences.
Saag Paneer and Palak Paneer are both green, vegetarian, Indian curry dishes and sometimes the names are used interchangeably. But the truth is that these dishes are very different from one another.
Both are quick to make, call for no meat, and make for an excellent lunch or dinner. To the naked eye, both dishes look very similar as well. Green sauce covers cubes of creamy paneer, an Indian cottage cheese.
Palak Paneer is a curry made with spices, tomatoes, and blanched spinach all pureed together and poured over cubes of paneer cheese. “Palak” in Hindi or Punjabi means “spinach”.
Saag Paneer is a curry made with plenty of spices and a mixture of leafy greens, combined with the same paneer cheese. “Saag” in Hindi means greens.
The most obvious difference between the two is the ingredients used to make them, but that simple difference is just the beginning.
Saag Paneer and Palak Paneer look very similar, but the difference starts at the very beginning with the preparation of the dish.
This Palak Paneer (like this Instant Pot Palak Paneer Recipe!) features spinach or baby spinach as the main ingredient. To preserve the bright green color of the leaves, the fresh spinach leaves are blanched before being added to the dish.
Spinach can, at times, become bitter. To prevent this, some heavy cream is added to a Palak Paneer recipe to help balance out the flavor.
To serve, Palak Paneer can be accompanied by pickles, onions, and green chiles.
Saag Paneer can be made with any combination of greens and leafy vegetables. It may include fenugreek leaves, mustard leaves, collard greens, spinach, dill leaves, kale, amaranth leaves, or radish greens. It is common to use whatever is in season at the time.
There is typically no cream in Saag Paneer.
Both dishes do contain a mixture of spices. These strong spices are what makes these dishes a true curry. The spices may include garam masala, turmeric powder, paprika, red chili powder, coriander, or whole spices like cumin seeds, cinnamon, or cloves.
The spices depend on the chef preparing the dish and their preferred spice level. In general, Palak Paneer and Saag Paneer are not considered very spicy dishes but, like most Indian cuisine, they do have some kick!
Both dishes do come together quickly. It takes just minutes to cook down the greens and puree them with an immersion blender into a spicy sauce. You could even make them in an Instant Pot! Both dishes are popular options for breakfast, lunch or dinner because they are nutritious and easy to make.
Saag Paneer and Palak Paneer are both green curries, but their appearance is different.
Saag Paneer tends to be darker in color than Palak Paneer. The leaves of the greens are not blanched, to preserve as many nutrients as possible, so their color turns much darker.
Palak Paneer also includes cream which helps to lighten the color significantly. The blanched spinach leaves are also bright green.
You can find Palak Paneer on the menu in many Indian restaurants in India and even in the US, but it’s a bit rare to find Saag Paneer.
Saag Paneer has always been considered a dish of rural people and it has stayed mostly in homes, prepared with fresh ingredients.
It is considered a seasonal dish in the region of Punjab, mostly prepared during colder months when the greens are in season. It’s a perfect dish for families because they can use what they have on hand, let nothing go to waste, and create a nutritious and delicious meal in less than 30 minutes.
Palak Paneer is actually believed to have come from Saag Paneer, though the recipe was adjusted to be more appealing to a more modern and urban palette.
Palak Paneer is a dish that is available year-round. Many chefs will use frozen spinach if fresh is not available.
There is an abundance of delicious recipes made with Paneer. Check out this article on the best Paneer Side Dishes!
What Is Paneer?
Paneer is Indian cottage cheese. It’s a fresh cheese, made from milk and acidic lemon juice.
Many people make their own paneer at home. They simply heat the milk, add the acid and collect the curds. This Indian cheese takes just a couple hours to come together and be ready to use.
Paneer can also be purchased ready-made.
One of the unique features of paneer is that it does not melt. It is formed in heat and because of this process, heat only causes the protein within the cheese to draw closer together, rather than melting and separating.
This makes paneer an ideal cheese for these recipes because it has a mild, milky cheese flavor that works perfectly with pureed greens but it won’t dissolve into the sauce. The paneer cubes are a perfect meat substitution.
Many people like to sear the paneer cubes until golden brown before adding to the sauce. This gives them even more texture in the dish.
Both Saag and Palak Paneer can be enjoyed with bread, jeera rice, basmati rice, plain rice, naan, roti or kulcha.
They are also delicious when served with pickles, raw onions, plain yogurt and a bit of coconut or cashew cream.
You can easily make either of these meals vegan. Simply replace the homemade paneer with extra firm tofu.
If you are making Palak Paneer, you can replace the cream with any vegan creamer of your choice like cashew cream or coconut cream.
With plenty of green veggies, vitamin C, and Indian spices, Palak Paneer and Saag Paneer are both considered healthy options. It is important to note that paneer is a cheese and, as such, it does contain lactose and fat. Too much of it can leave you feeling bloated, but when enjoyed in moderation, it is a great alternative to meat.
Did you enjoy learning the difference between these two foods? Check out these other articles, too!