The base of this dish is a North Indian classic. Palak Paneer is the original version of this dish, ‘paneer’ being Indian cottage cheese. The cheese is either soaked in water or lightly pan-fried before it is added to the spiced and creamed spinach puree. However, my variation uses pressed tofu, which I marinate in plant-based yogurt, spices, and nutritional yeast, and then bake. The step of marinating and baking the tofu is actually optional, so if you would like to save some time and make this dish quicker, I offer a faster variation on preparing the tofu down below (see Notes). If you do wish to follow my marination steps, I recommend planning for this recipe one day in advance by marinating the tofu overnight. However, this is completely optional.
- 250g firm tofu, drained and pressed
- 60g (1/4 cup or 4 tbsp.) thick vegan yogurt of choice (e.g. soy yogurt, coconut yogurt, or almond yogurt)
- 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. ginger-garlic paste (recipe to my Ginger Garlic Paste)
- 1 tsp. garam masala
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp. dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi), crushed
- 1/4 tsp. sea salt or pink rock salt
- 1/4 tsp. (or to taste) cayenne powder*
(*Keep in mind how spicy you will have chosen to make your spinach base to determine whether to add more spice and how much.)
Spinach (Palak) Base:
- 400g fresh spinach
- 1 medium-sized cinnamon stick
- 5 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
- 5 cloves
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste (recipe to my Ginger Garlic Paste)
- 1 or 2 green bird eye chilies, minced**
(**Keep in mind that if you do not have any tolerance to chilies, this chili may be very spicy for you. If your tolerance is low or you simply prefer less/no spice, you may choose to use only one, or even skip this altogether. You may also choose to only use the ground cayenne pepper. I like to add both.)
- 2 small tomatoes (about 220g total), roughly chopped
- 1 tsp. coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp. cumin powder
- 1/4 - 1 tsp. (or to taste) cayenne powder***
(***Again, keeping your spice tolerance and preference in mind, you may choose to skip this altogether, or add the amount accordingly. If you are omitting the bird eye chili, you may wish to add more of this accordingly.)
- 2 tbsp. dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
- 2 tsp. sea salt or pink rock salt
- 125ml (1/2 cup) my Simple Savory Cashew Cream or store-bought plant-based cream, plus some extra for garnish
- My Vegan Cast Iron Naan or basmati rice
- Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F), line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper, and lightly brush the mat/paper with some cooking oil.
- Cube the pressed tofu into 2 cm pieces.
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the plant-based yogurt, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, ginger-garlic paste, garam masala, turmeric, fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi), salt, and cayenne powder (if using).
- Add the tofu cubes to the marinade and mix thoroughly. Tip: For the tofu to absorb maximum flavor, marinate the tofu overnight. However, this is completely optional, so you can still proceed with using the tofu at this stage.
- Line the tofu cubes onto the baking sheet, ensuring that no pieces overlap. If there is any remaining marinade, pour this evenly over the tofu.
- Bake for 20 minutes.
Spinach (Palak) Base:
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, add all the spinach. After adding the spinach to the pot, due to a drop in temperature, the water may stop boiling. If so, wait for the water to return to a boil. Set a timer for exactly 3 minutes. Once the water is boiling with the spinach in it, start the timer.
- After 3 minutes, drain the spinach in a colander and immediately run cold water over the spinach to prevent it from cooking further. Alternatively, you can also shock the spinach by placing it into an ice-bath immediately after you have drained it.
- Transfer the spinach to a blender and set aside.
- Heat a large pot on medium-high heat with about 2 tablespoons of oil. To make it oil-free, simply use water. Once hot, lower the heat and add the cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and cloves. Mix into the oil (or water) and cook for about 30 seconds to one minute, or until fragrant and just starting to reach smoke point.
- Add the cumin seeds, and continue to cook for another 30 seconds to a minute.
- Add the onions, and allow to cook for a few minutes, on low-medium heat, until translucent (It usually takes me about 5 - 7 minutes).
- Add the ginger-garlic paste and the chilies (if using), and cook for another minute or two.
- Add the tomatoes, followed by the coriander, turmeric, cumin, cayenne (if using) powders, and the dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi). Mix thoroughly until the spices have fully incorporated with the rest of the ingredients. Continue to cook on medium-low heat until the tomatoes have softened (It takes me about 5 - 7 minutes). I do not advise rushing through this process -- it is very important that this step is followed, as it sets the foundation of this dish. Once cooked, turn off the heat.
- Fish out the cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods (I like to remove the seeds from the pods and leave the seeds in the dish), and cloves. Discard these. Then transfer this mixture to the blender with the spinach.
- Blend the mixture until smooth. At this point, you should have a thick, vibrant green puree. Pour this mixture back into the pot over low heat.
- Add the cashew cream and stir it into the dish. This is my favorite part. I love seeing the colors blend into each other.
- Add the tofu and give the mixture one more good stir. Once the dish is warm, turn off the heat.
- Plate the palak tofu with some of my homemade vegan naan or some basmati rice. Drizzle some more cashew cream to garnish and serve warm.
• If you would like to skip the step of marinating and baking the tofu, either to save time or to keep this dish simpler, I recommend simply adding your pressed and cubed tofu into a mixing bowl, along with 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast, 1 tsp. lemon juice, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix to evenly coat the tofu. From here, you can choose to simply use it as it is, or lightly pan-fry the tofu with a few tbsp. of oil for a few minutes until lightly browned and slightly crisp.
• Running the spinach under cold water or shocking it in an ice-bath immediately after draining it helps the spinach retain its dark green color, which will affect the overall color of the dish in the end.
• Do not forget to scoop out the cinnamon sticks, cardamom, and cloves. However, if you have a very high-speed blender, it may be able to handle blending these spices.
• I highly advise against rushing through the spinach base procedure. The onions need time to cook, and so do the tomatoes. These steps set the foundation of this dish.
• When considering how much spice to use, keep in mind that the cashew cream will mellow the spice level slightly. As I mentioned in the ingredient list, spice tolerance is personal, so adjust accordingly.