Palak Paneer Sandwiches
Okay I admit, the title might be slightly misleading. These aren't straight up palak paneer sandwiches, rather they're palak-paneer-inspired sandwiches. There’s a distinction, as you’ll soon find out.
Following on from my paneer-making weekend two weeks ago, I was thinking of things to have the cheese with. Having paneer on its own is good and all, don't get me wrong, but it was quickly getting boring. Naturally, with the amount of Indian food I've been subsisting on in KL (Ganga and Aunty Manju’s are my life), palak paneer immediately came to mind. This common North Indian dish literally translates to “spinach cheese”, but for those unacquainted with Indian cuisine, no it isn’t a weird, spinach-infused cheese (though that might actually be nice), it’s actually a dish of stewed, roughly pureed spinach, with little cubes of paneer cheese thrown into it. It’s robust, spice-laden, and all kinds of comforting, kinda like being hugged by an Indian aunty.
Along with that dreamy thought of palak paneer, a separate but equally attractive proposition came to my mind as well – halloumi sandwiches, but instead of halloumi, paneer. Without skipping a beat, my mind somehow combined the two thoughts, and that's how I ended up with this weird mash-up of palak paneer sandwiches.
I envisioned having the paneer seared like you would halloumi in a halloumi sandwich, and the ‘palak’ would be worked into a pesto spread. (Because in my head, cheese + pesto just clicked.) Topped off with a bit of caramelised onions, tomatoes, arugula, and some quality sourdough toast, and I got myself a sandwich worthy of sandwich Saturdays, a.k.a. my newly-coined 'sarniedays' (said with a thick Southern drawl, it could almost sound like Saturday).
The star here though, I think, is the pesto. It's glorious and chunky in all the ways a good pesto should be, with the sweetness of the palak (spinach) mellowing out the stronger basil flavour. Adding a bit of garam masala to it definitely amped up the Indian notes in it too. Side note: In hindsight, I should’ve added some paneer INTO to pesto. Since pesto usually have cheese in it, paneer would've been a great substitution in lieu of the traditional parmesan, making it that bit more Indian! (D’oh!) Ah well, maybe next time!
Regardless, even without the paneer, it's still a really solid pesto recipe. Though I definitely think the addition of paneer would've given it a whole other, creamier dimension. I’d validate this myself, but wouldn’t it be more fun if you tried it and let me know? 😉
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Palak (Paneer) Pesto
makes ~250g of pesto, enough for 4-6 portions of pasta, or 10 sandwiches
20g basil, leaves only, thai basil works too!
4 garlic cloves
½ a lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon (5g) salt
½ teaspoon (3g) garam masala
¼ teaspoon (2g) ground black pepper
100ml olive oil
30g firm paneer cheese, optional (I didn’t add it in but I imagine it’d be a great addition! Here's how to make it at home.)
- In a blender, add everything but the oil. So there's the spinach, basil leaves, walnuts, garlic, lemon zest and juice, salt, garam masala, and pepper. Add the paneer cheese at this point too if you’re using it. (You should!)
- Pulse everything together in the blender, slowly drizzling in the olive oil as you blend to help the pesto come together. Depending on your desired consistency, be careful with how long you blend the pesto for. I like mine on the chunkier side as opposed to silky smooth, which took all but 20 seconds of blending on medium-low speed. Of course, this also depends on your blender itself. (I used a Vitamix, which can blend like there's no tomorrow, but any ol' blender would do the job for a rough pesto.)