Saag Paneer with Beet Greens and Horseradish Leaves

In Recipe by Sean19 Comments


With Beet Greens and Horseradish Leaves

When I set out at the beginning of April to write about spring foods from around the world, I was pretty excited to explore my options. One thing I hadn’t really considered though, was the fact that ‘spring’ doesn’t really mean much in many parts of the world. So I was able to explore foods from Scandinavia (and Northern Europe in general), Japan, Italy, France (..ish), Canada/America/Italy (that was a fun one), and a good ol’ universally appealing dessert. But I wanted to stretch myself a little, so I started looking for spring dishes from countries further south. The problem of course is that many warmer countries don’t really have a spring, or they don’t have one so clearly defined. While I was able to find plenty of countries that celebrated festivals early in the year associated with either agriculture or religion (or both), many of these didn’t seem to come with seasonal, ‘spring’ foods. When I’d all but given up hope (April is technically over after all), I had an idea.  And I have Indian food, Slavic food, and my garden to thank for it.

Vaisakhi (or Baisakhi) is an important Punjabi festival commemorating the spring harvest. It’s already come and gone this year (it’s celebrated on April 13th or 14th), but the holiday’s emphasis on sharing food, vegetarian meals, and spring greens got me thinking. Saag paneer is a timeless North Indian classic, and it’s on basically every Indian restaurant menu. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s pretty mediocre – in either case, it’s usually all about the spinach. The thing is, saag just means greens, and within India itself the dish is commonly made with mustard greens, fenugreek greens (methi) and more.  After finding a reference to saag paneer made with beet greens, I was captivated by the idea.  If you’ve never cooked with beet greens before, they’re an amazing ingredient.  They taste wonderful, and they have the same ability to turn foods a vibrant red that you find in the roots.  But beet greens alone just didn’t do it for me this time.  Cut to me inspecting my garden and wondering what to do with my hilariously hardy horseradish plant (seriously, even the cabbage butterflies can’t put a dent in this thing).  I mulled over the idea (which is to say that I fell into a Wikipedia clickstream while researching food), and I realized that I could take the classic Eastern European beet and horseradish sauce and apply it to my greens.

Horseradish greens are not something you find in a lot of stores (horseradish itself is hard enough to find), but anyone who’s ever grown the plant knows that you can get more than enough from your own garden.  They’re delicious, tasting rather like the root itself, only milder and, well, greener.  So I harvested four young leaves from my garden, bought some lovely beets, and decided to experiment.

Now horseradish isn’t very common in India – it tends to like things a little on the cooler side, meaning it really only does well in the hilly mountainous regions.  But that little bit of horseradish worked marvels on this wonderful vegetarian dish.  The bright-but-earthy beet greens just perk right up alongside the distinctive, pungent bite of the horseradish.  The heat commonly associated with the root is entirely lost during cooking, meaning that the final dish is flavourful but mellow.

The unusual greens were my personal contribution here, but they’re only one part of what makes this a great meal.  The key to good saag paneer is attention to the building blocks and spices.  The puree of onion, ginger and garlic is the fundamental flavour base of this (and many) Indian dish, and it can’t be rushed.  You want to cook it until it’s golden and incredibly fragrant.  As for the spices – I realize that Indian meals can look a little intimidating when you see so many ingredients, but these spices are amazingly easy to use, and increasingly easy to find (this dish isn’t even too bad in that respect – a good garam masala does the work of a more diverse array of spices).  Seek them out, experiment with them, and you’ll never look back.  

Recipe Notes

The biggest obstacle here is obviously going to be finding horseradish greens. If you don’t have access to garden horseradish, there is actually a decent possibility that you can find a South Asian replacement. The leaves of the tree Moringa oleifera (commonly called moringa, horseradish tree, or drumstick tree) taste a lot like horseradish leaves, though with a less prominent bite. You can find them frozen in many Indian and Filipino grocery stores, and you might even find them fresh. For an easier substitution, you could swap strong mustard greens for the horseradish greens. Mustard greens are common in East and South Asian grocery stores. The beet greens should be easy to find – just buy a couple of very fresh bunches of beets and save the roots for another use. Of course you could make this entire thing with spinach too, though you’ll want to either reduce or omit the water added in the final stage of cooking as spinach gives up a lot of water while it cooks.

Many Indian recipes call for you to cook the onions first, then add the garlic and ginger. You can do this, but I personally like the results I get from cooking them all at the same time. Regardless, you want to make sure that you cook the onion mixture over low enough heat to keep it from burning while still allowing it to become a deep brownish or golden colour. Don’t rush the process – it takes time, but it’s worth it. If you do scorch your onions, remove what you can from the pan or start over, as burnt onions will add a bitter and very sour taste to your final dish.

Garam masala is a very commonly used spice blend, added toward the end of cooking to add warm spice notes. Make sure you buy a good, fresh blend (or make your own – it’s not too tricky).

It’s common for saag paneer to be very, VERY creamy (though it’s not always obvious).  But overdoing it on the dairy at the end is a little disappointing; it makes the final meal very rich, but a little bland (not to mention really high in fat).  Instead, I used a wonderful plain yogurt – it tempers and mellows the spices while adding a tangy element and keeping the fat WAY down. If you want to, you can use an equal volume of cream, or a mix of the two.

Nutrition Facts
Saag Paneer with Beet Greens and Horseradish Leaves
Amount Per Serving
Calories 215 Calories from Fat 144
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 16g 25%
Saturated Fat 11g 55%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.5g
Monounsaturated Fat 1g
Cholesterol 51mg 17%
Sodium 207mg 9%
Potassium 335mg 10%
Total Carbohydrates 8g 3%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Sugars 3g
Protein 12g 24%
Vitamin A 59%
Vitamin C 22%
Calcium 40%
Iron 14%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutritional Summary

Fairly low in calories, and very nutrient-dense, this is a great, healthy, and relatively protein-rich vegetarian dish. As with most Indian dishes, this is meant to be eaten with a host of other sides, pickles, etc. If you have a particularly large portion, adjust the nutritional information accordingly.

As with any dairy-heavy meal, the saturated fat content is a little high. Fortunately the meal as a whole is quite healthy.

Ingredient Pages

No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

Pantry Pages

No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

  • Vegetarian
  • Gluten free

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Saag Paneer with Beet Greens and Horseradish Leaves -
Saag Paneer with Beet Greens and Horseradish Leaves
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Rate this recipe!
Servings Prep Time
8 people 10 minutes
Cook Time
40 minutes
Servings Prep Time
8 people 10 minutes
Cook Time
40 minutes
Saag Paneer with Beet Greens and Horseradish Leaves -
Saag Paneer with Beet Greens and Horseradish Leaves
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Votes: 0
Rating: 0
Rate this recipe!
Servings Prep Time
8 people 10 minutes
Cook Time
40 minutes
Servings Prep Time
8 people 10 minutes
Cook Time
40 minutes
Servings: people
  1. Combine the turmeric, oil, pinch of salt, and paneer in bowl. Toss to combine and set aside.
  2. Mince onion, garlic, and ginger in food processor. You'll probably need to add a splash of water to make it puree more easily.
  3. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add the ghee and allow it to melt. Once the ghee is very hot, add the paneer to the pan, trying not to crowd the individual pieces too much. Brown the paneer, then flip and brown the opposite side. Remove the paneer from the pan and set aside, leaving as much of the ghee in the pan as possible.
  4. Add the pureed onion mixture to the pan and fry over medium heat. Continue to stir and saute until the mixture is a light golden colour. You may need to add an occasional splash of water or bit of ghee to the pan to help keep it moist and to prevent scorching. Don't rush this stage, as it's essential for building flavour in the final dish.
  5. While the onion mixture is cooking, combine the beet and horseradish greens in a food processor and pulse to chop very finely. If you prefer a very sauce-like consistency, you can add some water and puree the mixture more finely. If you don't have a food processor or you prefer to work by hand, you can very finely chop the vegetables with a knife.
  6. Once the onion/garlic/ginger mixture is cooked, add the spices, stir, and fry for about 45 seconds. Add in the chopped greens and approximately 1/2 cup of water (see note below). Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the greens are soft and well cooked.
  7. Add the cooked paneer to the pan and stir to combine. Add in the yogurt and stir once again, then let sit for 1 minute or so. Add salt to taste. Garnish with a little extra yogurt and cilantro (if you like), and serve warm with rice, chutney, pickles, naan/roti, etc.
Recipe Notes

If you decide to substitute any of the greens for the more commonly used spinach, you'll want to cut the added water or eliminate it all together, as spinach releases a lot of water on its own.

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  1. It’s always so interesting to read your explanation on a recipe, Sean! And I’d definitely love this vegetarian dish. Never cooked with those “unusual” greens, myself, and maybe even Loreto, who is more of the ethnic guy. Glad that you reduced the fat using a plain yogurt. I’m sure it worked like a charm! Two thumbs up on a not so easy recipe!

    1. Author

      Thanks Nicoletta! I’m glad you like it – and I’m glad you enjoy my explanations. It was a great meal to make, and all-in-all, it worked better than I could have imagined.

  2. Paneer is a staple in our house. Have you ventured and tried to make your own? It was an easier process than I imagined but I wasn’t happy with the consistency of mine!

    Anyways, this dish looks (and I imagines smells) just lovely!

    1. Author

      I haven’t made my own yet, but it (and cheese making in general) is VERY high on my to-do list. I’m really excited to try it out. Thanks for your comments (and compliments!).

  3. What a dish! You never fail to impress with your imagination and flavor combos, Seanski. Your posts, recipes, and blogs ~always stand out. This sounds and looks divine. WOULD EAT (all of it).

    1. Author

      Thanks Dana! I almost feel the photo doesn’t do it justice. They way the beet greens turned everything ruby-red was so cool, and certainly very different from the usual saag paneer look. I’m glad you approve 🙂

    1. Author

      Thank you Justine! I’m so glad to hear that you’re enjoying the recipes and the writing!

  4. So unique! And strangely enough the hardest ingredient for me to find right now are beet leaves. It is quite early in the season but I am definitely book marking this to try once leaves are available.

    Have a fantastic weekend Sean!

    1. Author

      Hopefully once the fresh beets are in season you’ll have more greens than you could know what to do with. Let me know how it works out!

  5. This recipe is so inventive!! As always I learn so much from your posts – horseradish leaves I had no idea.

    And the dish, well it looks so delicious!!! Dish me up a BIG bowl Sean 😉

    1. Author

      Thanks Meaghan! I have a bit of a fondness for odd greens (and odd veggies in general), but I have to say, horseradish leaves were a surprise winner.

  6. Would never think in a million years to come up with this combination of produce and spices, That being said, it looks absolutely delicious. Learned so much once again from your very well written and informative post.

    1. Author

      Thanks Julia! It was fun to make, and once you start familiarizing yourself with Indian spices you become more and more comfortable playing around with them. As for the greens – well, it just seemed like the thing to do! I’m glad you enjoyed it – thanks for commenting.

  7. Saag paneer is one of my favouritest Indian dishes, and I’m loving this inventive twist you’ve come up with here. This one’s going right to the top of my must-make list… we eat a lot of roasted beets, so I’m always looking for new ways to use beet greens!

    1. Author

      I’m a big big fan of root-to-shoot (or top-to-tail, or whatever you want to call it) cooking, so I too am always looking for ways to use the odds and ends from my veggies. I hope you have fun with this one!

  8. Beet greens are one of my favourite garden treats. I’ve not tried to grow horseradish yet, but I wonder if radish leaves would work in this, too. They have a bit of peppery-ness about them. Wonderful recipe!

    1. Author

      I know exactly what you mean – beet greens are incredible, and it always makes me a bit angry to see them get wasted. I bet radish leaves would work quite well – I love the peppery bite they provide (though it would probably fade a bit with cooking). Let me know how it goes if you decide to give it a shot! Oh and for what it’s worth, if you do decide to grow horseradish, it’s ridiculously hardy. Seriously, it is GIGANTIC in my garden right now.

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