Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Vegan Palak “Paneer”

Palak paneer is commonly called saag paneer despite the fact that there actually is a difference between the two. Technically, palak paneer is made with spinach and saag paneer is made with mustard greens and spinach, but most restaurants (and home cooks) make their versions with just spinach and call it saag paneer anyway.

My mom, however, has always correctly called her version of it palak paneer (yet another testament to her excellence in the kitchen). I’ve always liked my mom’s version of it better than anything I’ve had at a restaurant, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my mom – she really is an amazing cook.

One of the things that she does differently is that she frequently uses tofu in place of paneer – she’s been doing this for at least 10 years, mostly because tofu is healthier than paneer in that it is lower and fat and higher in protein. I’ve become so used to this that I also make it this way – and it also helps that tofu is available in every supermarket these days whereas paneer either requires a trip to the Indian grocery or that you make it yourself.

We normally use frozen chopped spinach for this, but I had just purchased a big bag of fresh spinach from the Waverly market so of course I had to use it. Either one is fine, but I’m partial to fresh spinach from the market (but not the bagged stuff in the supermarket – I find it to be kind of tasteless so you may as well use frozen).


Vegan Palak “Paneer”
(North Indian Spiced Creamed Spinach with Tofu)
(serves 2-3)

1 ½ pounds fresh spinach (or one 10-ounce package of frozen chopped spinach)
1 7-8 ounce block of extra-firm tofu
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon canola oil
¾ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 small yellow onion
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup 2% or whole milk (or plain rice milk)


Wash the spinach at least two times to remove all traces of grit. Discard any tough stems. Place the spinach into a large microwave safe bowl and cover it with a large microwave-safe place. Cook the spinach on high power for 7-8 minutes, stirring halfway through. [Alternately, boil the spinach for 4 minutes, transfer it to an ice bath to stop the cooking, then drain it.] Let the spinach cool, squeeze out most of the liquid (it doesn’t need to be completely dry), then chop it. If using frozen spinach, thaw it and then squeeze out of most of the liquid. Set the spinach aside.

Cut the block of tofu in half into two slabs that are approximately ¾” thick. Lay the tofu slabs onto a paper-towel lined cutting board or baking sheet, then cover them with more paper towels. Place a large pot on top and weigh it down with a few heavy objects (bottles of wine work well). Press the tofu for at least 10 minutes. Cut each slab into cubes that are approximately ¾” in size and toss them with 1 teaspoon of the oil and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Set a medium-sized non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add the cubed tofu. Cook, turning occasionally, until the cubes are golden brown on most sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer the tofu to a bowl and set it aside.

In the meantime, finely chop the onion. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to a medium-sized pot set over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the chopped onions and ¼ teaspoon of salt and cook until the onions are very soft, about 8 minutes. Add the garam masala and cook for 1 more minute, then add the tomato paste and cayenne pepper, stirring well to combine, and cook for another minute.

Add the chopped spinach, milk, and ¼ teaspoon salt to the pot and stir well to combine. Cover the pot and simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Add the cooked tofu, stir well, and simmer uncovered for another 10 minutes. Add salt to taste and serve warm with basmati rice.


Anonymous said...

This looks delicious, but the milk in it means that it's not vegan just so you know!

Rochelle said...

I had no idea how to make this – it looks so easy! Who needs takeout?!?!

Anonymous, the recipe says you can use rice milk, which is vegan.

jen said...

Your version sounds so much better than the greasy stuff they serve at Indian restaurants. I'm definitely going to try this one.

Alexandra MacArthur said...

Hi there,
I have known about your blog for awhile and have added you to my blog roll. I am still waiting to try out your white bean sauce pizza (it was once featured on food buzz). In any case, I check your site today and you have my absolute FAVORITE Indian dish up...and it's so easy. I live a block away from a organic grocery store.......I'll let you know how it works out!

Anonymous said...

It's a huge pet peeve of mine when people call palak paneer, saag paneer instead.

My Mom also used tofu when it was just immediate family eating it while I was growing up but she was also known to make paneer with low fat ricotta cheese to keep it healthier than the traditional version. The rest of her recipe is quite different from yours but I grew up in a half Bengali / half Punjabi household so our food was always an interesting mish mash of the two.

malini said...

Anonymous, you can also use unsweetened soy milk. Of course the recipe says you can use rice milk, which clearly is vegan!

navin said...

My mom makes something similar at home (palak paneer using tofu instead of paneer). It's a great and very healthy substitute!

Sonia said...

This was my first try at making one of your recipes and I was very pleased. I made this dish vegan so I could share it with my friend, and he said it was delicious. I'm very eager to sample some of your other dishes and drool over your cakes and cupcakes. Thanks for sharing.

* aditi * said...

Hi Roopa - love your blog :) especially the quick and easy version of indian recipes (like the baked samosas). Just a quick note, i've found palak paneer also tastes excellent with yogurt instead of milk, I get a really creamy texture and hint of tartness.

Anonymous said...

I just made this tonight and it was a huge hit with the tasters. I did it with rice milk, which worked brilliantly. I'm really impressed by the simplicity of this recipe, because it certainly doesn't taste simple. Thanks so much!

p.s. I suddently realized I was missing Cayenne, which was anxiety producing. I improvised and for some reason I added a little bit of yellow mustard powder, a flavor I love. It gave it a nice tangy complexity.

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