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Packed with Vitamins and protein, my vegan palak paneer – a mild and creamy spinach and tofu curry – is really easy to make, takes around 35 minutes to cook, and makes for a perfect weeknight meal!
Do you like spinach?
My granddad loved spinach, and we grew loads of it in our garden. He would always tell me that it would make me grow up big and strong, like Popeye. Trouble was, I never liked Popeye, and I liked spinach even less. Especially the way my gran cooked it!
That deep green flaccid pile of soggy vegetable matter on my plate was something to be endured, rather than enjoyed. But my granddad was a wise man. He taught me to be grateful for the food on my plate, and thankful that someone loved me enough to want to cook for me.
Even though I never liked it, I still ate it all because it would have broken my heart to upset my grandparents. I still can’t bear soggy spinach but I have come to love it in other forms. In salads, quiches, soups, smoothies, samosas, falafel, lasagne, frittata, stir-fries etc. And in curries too.
Palak paneer recipe
My vegan palak ‘paneer’ (AKA saag paneer) is one such spinach curry. And it’s one that wasn’t actually taught to me by Usha!
I did, however, learn to make it when I lived in Fort Kochi, and once again, I learned two very important lessons.
- Even in India, some restaurants make bad spinach dishes.
- There is no excuse for making palak paneer badly because it’s basically foolproof!
I make no claims as to the authenticity of my palak paneer (c’mon, I use tofu, not cheese!) but this is more or less how my local greengrocer taught me to make it. I know not whether it’s his mother’s recipe or his wife’s but it’s a family recipe nonetheless.
Vegan palak paneer
Of course, I’ve made a few adjustments to make this spinach curry vegan – using tofu instead of paneer (in India, I just omitted it altogether, and it made zero difference to the taste), coconut oil instead of ghee, and cashew milk and cream instead of dairy.
As long as you fry the tofu before adding it to the spinach gravy, I can more or less guarantee you won’t be able to tell much difference between it and home-made paneer.
Is this the same as you’d get from your local curry house? Possibly not. Is it better? Definitely, IMNSHO!
My vegan palak paneer can be made with basic store cupboard and spice box ingredients.
- chickpea flour
- cashew milk & cream
- coconut oil
- garlic & ginger
- lime juice
- herbs and spices (red chilli, cumin seeds, Indian bay leaf, curry leaves, turmeric, salt & pepper, garam masala, fenugreek leaves)
How to make vegan palak paneer
Although it seems like a lot of steps, making this curry is actually really, really easy.
- Drain, rinse, and press the tofu.
- Make a batter with the chickpea flour and some cashew milk batter.
- Blitz the spinach, chilli, and some cashew milk in a blender to make a coarse purée.
- Splutter the seeds and curry leaves in a little hot oil, then fry the onion, garlic, and ginger, plus the chilli powder for a few minutes, and then add the turmeric and some pepper.
- Next into the pan goes the spinach purée, the rest of the cashew milk, and the batter. Season with salt and a pinch of sugar, give it all a good stir, and cook for 15 mins.
- While that’s cooking, cut the tofu into cubes, and fry until golden.
- Mix the cashew cream into the spinach gravy, then stir in the tofu.
- Finish by adding the fenugreek leaves and a dash of lime juice, and then serve!
- If you can get it, tofu in salted water is ideal for this recipe. If you can’t, not to worry, you can add a little salt when you’re frying it.
- You can use a different plant milk if you prefer but the cashew milk makes this dish really creamy, which is why I prefer it.
- It’s entirely up to you whether you use virgin or refined coconut oil. Virgin will impart a slight coconutty flavour, which I actually really like but if that’s not your thing, use refined, which is flavourless. If you’d rather use a different oil, go ahead – just don’t use olive (it just does not taste right in Indian food).
- Leftovers can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. I haven’t tried to freeze this curry but I’m not convinced it would be suitable.
If you can’t get curry leaves, leave them out. If you can get them, fresh are best but dried will work too. Curry powder is not ground curry leaves!
- Some people advocate removing the seeds and pith from chillies (the pith is where the heat is) but that’s depriving yourself of so much of the flavour. Better to keep them intact, and use less chilli if heat is a problem. Or use a milder chilli pepper.
- Kashmiri chilli powder is very mild, so I use about a teaspoon but you may wish to use less, especially if making this for people who aren’t used to chilli. I also prefer to grind my own from dried chillies, as it’s fresher that way.
What is the difference between Indian bay and Mediterranean bay?
Indian bay (cinnamomum), or tej patta, is not the same as Mediterranean bay (laurel), or bayleaf, so if you don’t have it, or can’t find it, just omit it. It will make a subtle difference to the taste but it won’t be a disaster. Don’t use Mediterranean bay, the two are not interchangeable.
Indian bay leaves have vertical veins running from the top to the bottom of the leaves, whereas Mediterranean bay’s veins run diagonally from the centre out to the sides.
Be aware that some sellers market the cheaper Mediterranean bay as tej patta.
Do check out these other Indian recipes too!
- Aloo gobi masala
- Malai kofta
- Masala chai
- Paneer butter masala
- Butter ‘chicken’
- Aloo masala
- Dal fry
I normally serve this with a dal and a dry curry, such as aloo masala, plus naan but it’s great with rice too. If I’m feeling lazy, I’ll just eat it with some hot buttered toast – it’s fab comfort food! Enjoy!