One of my favorite Indian dishes is Palak Paneer (Spinach and Indian Cheese, or Saag Paneer, Greens and Indian Cheese). Whenever I go to a new Indian restaurant, I always order Palak Paneer–I’ve had it so much that it is almost kind of an indicator as to whether I will like the restaurant or not. Of course, when I have a favorite dish, I just HAVE to try it at home.

I’ve attempted this dish with different recipes many times before, but it just kind of tasted like spinach puree with blocks of cheese. The lessons I learned: use fresh spinach, use fresh tomato (if the recipe calls for it), and make your own garam masala. It makes all the difference.

I found a Palak Paneer recipe on the Veg Recipes of India website and I was intrigued that they had a home style recipe and a restaurant style recipe. I didn’t even know there was a difference!

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There were a few key differences with these two recipes. One is that the home style uses tomato and the restaurant style doesn’t (although it does say to add tomato if you like tang). Two, the home style did not first fry the paneer whereas the restaurant style did. And three, with the restaurant style, author Dassana Amit explains the dhungar method.

Say what?

Basically you take a piece of red hot natural charcoal, place it on top of the sauce in either a small metal bowl or bed of onions, close the lid, and let it smoke.

Fortunately when I was making this it was chilly out and the wood burning stove was still going so I took a small piece of beech and tested out this method. I can imagine if you are using a charcoal grill outside and was using natural hardwood lump charcoal (not the briquette kind!) you can take a small hot piece of charcoal and utilize it for this method as well. I bet wood meant for smoking would give extra smoky goodness!

And the result? You can really taste the smokiness! The thing is, I wish these two recipes were combined somehow. I like frying the paneer even if it is an extra step, and I do like the slight tang of the tomato. I also liked the spice ratio in the home style one but I did also like the smokiness of the dhungar method.

So what is one to do? Follow the home style Palak Paneer recipe, fry the paneer, and do the dhungar method! Problem solved!

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