Vegan palak paneer - 'cheesy' tofu cubes in a creamy, flavourful spinach gravy. This vegan tofu palak paneer is quick and easy to make, comforting and healthier than the original. You would never be able to guess that the 'paneer' is actually tofu!
Palak or saag paneer was one of my absolute favourite dishes before going vegan and I was pretty much guaranteed to order it whenever we went to an Indian restaurant.
Happily it is actually an incredibly easy dish to veganise, despite that fact that it is made with cheese.
Paneer is a very mild tasting cheese, with a texture that is incredibly similar to extra firm tofu; so it is an easy swap to simply use tofu instead of paneer.
They are actually both made in the same way, paneer by curdling dairy milk, and tofu by curdling soy milk; then pressing the resulting solids into a block.
To get the same texture as paneer, it is important to use a very firm tofu. In the UK I really recommend using the Tofoo brand one, I use two of their XL packs to make this palak paneer.
If you can only find a softer tofu (such as the Cauldron one), then ideally you will need to press it first, otherwise the texture just isn't going to be quite right.
Paneer does have a bit more flavour than tofu does, so to make the tofu a little more 'cheesy', I marinate it in a mixture of nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt, oil and garam masala before baking it.
Using tofu instead of paneer also makes this dish healthier than the original, as tofu is lower in fat and calories than paneer.
What Is The Difference Between Palak Paneer And Saag Paneer?:
Palak paneer and saag paneer are very similar looking dishes and often get confused with each other but they are in fact different.
Saag paneer is made with a mix of greens, often including mustard greens, whereas palak paneer is made just using spinach.
Many restaurants and recipes are guilty of calling it saag paneer when what they are actually serving or providing instructions for is palak paneer.
This vegan palak paneer is made using only spinach, hence why I have called it palak rather than saag.
How To Make Vegan Palak Paneer:
(For ingredients and full instructions see the recipe card below)
Start by marinating the tofu - mix together nutritional yeast, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and garam masala in a large bowl to form a paste. Add the cubed tofu and toss it in the marinade until it is coated.
You can toss the tofu with the marinade ingredients and bake it right away if you are short on time; but I like to let it sit for half an hour or so before I cook it, just to give it time to soak up the flavours.
Once you are ready to cook the tofu, spread it out on a baking parchment lined baking sheet and bake it for 20-30 minutes, turning it halfway through, until it is golden and crisp.
The Spinach Sauce:
In pretty much all cases when cooking with spinach, I prefer to use frozen spinach rather than fresh, and this vegan palak paneer is no exception.
I just find using frozen spinach easier, and it means that I can make this vegan palak paneer on a whim, without having to go shopping first, as I always have a bag of spinach in the freezer, and a couple of packets of tofu in the fridge.
You can use fresh spinach if you prefer but you will need to blanch it before blending it.
You will need to defrost the spinach, I just do this in the microwave. Once it is defrosted, transfer it to a food processor or blender (I don't bother draining off the excess liquid unless it is very soupy) and pulse until it is finely chopped.
To make the spinach gravy, heat cumin seeds in some oil until they are fragrant then add a finely chopped onion and cook until it is soft. Next add ginger, garlic and green chillies, cook for another minute then add garam masala, coriander, turmeric and fenugreek leaves.
Cook for a minute then add coconut cream, the blended spinach, some salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. Simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes, adding a splash of water if it seems too thick, then stir in the baked tofu. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice as needed.
What To Serve With Vegan Palak Paneer:
I love this vegan palak paneer served alongside my vegan naan bread to scoop it up. It also goes great with basmati or pilau rice.
Can I Freeze It?:
Yes this dish freezes well in a freezer-proof container. Allow it to defrost in the fridge then reheat either in the microwave or a pan to serve.
More Vegan Curry Recipes:
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Vegan Palak Paneer
- 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp olive oil (or another oil)
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp garam masala
- approx 900 g (32 oz) extra firm tofu (I recommend Tofoo brand - two XL packs)*
- 600 g frozen spinach defrosted (I microwave it to defrost it)
- 1 Tbsp oil
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 brown onion peeled and finely chopped
- 1 inch piece fresh ginger peeled and grated (or use 1 Tbsp ginger paste from a jar)
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
- 2 green chillies deseeded and finely chopped
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 Tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi) (optional but recommended)
- 150 ml (½ cup + 2 Tbsp) coconut cream (or soy/oat/cashew cream)
- ½ - 1 tsp salt
- a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- Mix the nutritional yeast, lemon juice, olive oil, garam masala and salt together in a large bowl to form a paste. Drain the tofu and cut it into bite sized cubes then toss them in the marinade until they are well coated. Set aside for 30 minutes to marinate. (It can be baked right away if you don't have time).
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°fan/400°F/gas mark 6. Spread the tofu out on a baking parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes, turning it over halfway through, until it is golden and crisp.
- To make the sauce, defrost the frozen spinach (I just do this in the microwave) then transfer it to a food processor or blender (I don’t bother draining off the excess liquid unless it is very soupy) and pulse until it is finely chopped. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large pan over a low heat and add the cumin seeds. Cook for a couple of minutes until they are fragrant then add the finely chopped onion. Cook gently for about 10 minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. If it starts to catch on the bottom of the pan you can add a splash of water to stop it sticking.
- Add the grated ginger, crushed garlic and chopped green chillies and cook for another minute.
- Add the garam masala, ground coriander, turmeric and fenugreek leaves and cook for a minute while stirring.
- Stir in the coconut cream followed by the chopped spinach, some salt to taste and a squeeze of lemon juice. Bring up to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often. If the sauce seems too thick you can add a splash of water but I do prefer it to be on the thicker side.
- Stir in the baked tofu and check the seasoning, adding more salt and lemon juice as needed, then serve.
- *To get the same texture as paneer, it is important to use a very firm tofu. In the UK I really recommend using the Tofoo brand one, I use two of their XL packs to make this palak paneer. If you can only find a softer tofu (such as the Cauldron one), then ideally you will need to press it first, otherwise the texture just isn’t going to be quite right.
- Tofu paneer inspired by: https://www.bosh.tv/recipes/serious-saag-paneer