Palak Paneer is another one of those famous North Indian dishes you’ll find all over India and all over the world wherever Indian food is being made and served. It’s another of my favorites (yes, yes, I have many favorite Indian dishes). It’s also known as Saag Paneer and often found with fried potatoes instead of cheese or tofu under the name Palak Aloo or Saag Aloo. Technically, Saag and Palak are different leafy greens; for our purposes spinach will be fine.
I learned to make countless variations of this recipe while living in Amravati, India. It took a lot of experimentation to get it right. Strangely, most of the recipes I found online and even in printed cookbooks for vegan versions with tofu were usually much less than exciting. So I had to do something about it!
Pressing and marinating the tofu is essential to making this an interesting curry. The tomato is sort of a secret ingredient in this one. I can’t tell you how many years I was cooking Palak curries and they just never tasted right… until I figured out about the tomato! A touch of nutmeg (usually in most garam masala spice mixes) brings out the flavors nicely. But don’t overdo it! Once I used too much jaiphal (nutmeg flower) while experimenting in my kitchen in India and ended up with a dinner that tasted more like a chai than a curry!
Get creative with your spices. Use this recipe as a starting point and then explore. Almost every household in India has a different way of cooking almost everything. Now… find yours. And be sure to tell us all about it!
Palak Tofu Paneer
serves 2 / time 45 min
- 7 oz / 200 g tofu pressed (see below)
- 2 Tbs lemon juice
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbs nutritional yeast or chickpea flour
- 2 Tbs cornstarch
- 2 Tbs coconut oil or vegetable oil for frying
- Press the block of tofu (about 1/2 of package) wrapped in dish cloth with plate or book on top to remove excess water. After 20 min, unwrap, cut into medium cubes.
- Combine lemon juice, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, cornstarch in bowl. Add tofu cubes, mix well, coat all pieces.
- Heat oil in a sauce pan on medium high. Fry battered cubes evenly until golden brown, about 5 min. Remove, drain, set aside.
Palak (Spinach) Curry:
- 4 cups / 5.5 oz / 150 g fresh spinach, finely chopped
- 1 large tomato chopped
- 1/2 cup / 120 ml soy milk or almond milk
- 1 Tbs oil
- 1 clove garlic finely chopped
- 1 small red onion chopped OPTIONAL
- 1/2 in / 1 cm fresh ginger finely chopped
- 3-4 curry leaves
- 1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp coriander seeds ground
- 1/2 tsp cumin ground
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1/4 tsp turmeric ground
- pinch asafoetida (hing)
- 1 small green or red chili OPTIONAL
- 1/2 tsp sugar or agave syrup
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Blend tomato and soy milk in a blender or small food processor until smooth.
- Heat 1 Tbsn oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add mustard seeds, wait until they start to pop (about 30 sec).
- Add garlic, onion, ginger, curry leaves, coriander, cumin, garam masala, turmeric, hing, sugar. Fry, stirring constantly until onions and garlic begin to brown, about 2-3 min.
- Pour in puréed tomato and soy milk mix, stir well, return to low simmer, reduce to low heat.
- Simmer about 10-15 min, sauce will go from yellow-pink to red-orange.
- Add spinach, mix well, return to low boil. Simmer until spinach has shrunk and is cooked, about 7-8 min.
- For a smoother palak tofu paneer curry, turn off the heat, blend briefly with an immersion blender. A few pulses will do it! Alternately, you could transfer the curry to blender to purée.
- Set pot to medium low, add fried tofu paneer pieces to curry. Add salt.
- Cook for about 5-7 min, stirring regularly. Continue to simmer, reduce, until your sauce is desired consistency.
- Serve in a bowl along with basmati rice, chapati or naan bread, or on top of rice.
Coconut milk or soy cream (and 1-2 Tbs water) can be used instead of soy milk if you want a thicker, creamier curry. If you don’t do soy, just use nut milk for the sauce and fry up some potatoes instead of tofu. Other wild variations include mushrooms or cauliflower florets instead of tofu paneer cubes or potatoes. Another way to make a richer curry is to add 1 Tbs tomato paste to the spices when frying.