In my early twenties, I worked as an english teacher in South Korea and travelled to nearby countries at every opportunity. I spent several months in India and took some unforgettable cooking classes in the homes of some equally unforgettable locals. My favorite class was with a woman in Bhagsu who needed to work to support the family because her husband had gotten injured and was unable to work. We cooked in her small kitchen, surrounded by her fragrant spice collection and well-worn mortar and pestles, and prepared her family’s favorite Indian dishes. As a visibly queer woman traveling in more socially conservative parts of the world, I didn’t always feel comfortable or safe, but this woman welcomed me with open arms, which allowed us to focus on what was important: the love and hard work that goes into Indian cuisine. I feel really grateful for that intimate, first-hand opportunity.
what is palak paneer? how do you make palak paneer vegan?
Palak Paneer is one of my favorite Indian dishes. It’s bursting with bright green color and spinach flavors – essentially a curry with a spinach, ginger, onion, garlic, and pepper base. In other words, delicious. To adapt it for a vegan diet, you simply sub out the paneer (cheese) with tofu and change out the ghee (clarified butter) with coconut milk. You can pair the vegan palak paneer with Basmati rice or naan. Heads up – naan is not always vegan so be sure to check your ingredients if you’re vegan.
words of vegan palak paneer wisdom…
When you’re making this recipe, make sure you thoroughly wash your hands after cutting the Serrano chili (and don’t touch your face). I wasn’t careful enough and rubbed my nose which was a major mistake. A few hours later, my face finally cooled down, but it was painful enough for me to stick almond milk soaked paper towels up my nose to try to chill it out. You’ve been warned!
If you’re in the mood for other spicy and flavorful vegan dishes, check out this vegan burrito bowl, moroccan chickpea stew, easy chana masala, and banh mi bowl with tofu. If you make this palak paneer, rate it, leave a comment, and let me know how it turned out. I’d also love to see your creation on instagram – tag #plantandvine and tell me what you think!
palak paneer and wine
Spinach is front and center in this vegan palak paneer and the wine choices below pay our green leafy friend a deserved compliment. Go for unoaked whites and light reds to avoid overemphasizing the spice:
- Unoaked Chardonnay: Chardonnay shines with pineapple, yellow apple, and lemon flavors in unoaked bottles. Oaking tends to add a buttery element which hides the crisp fruit flavors and solid body.
- Suggested Regions: Chablis, France or Western Australia
- Beaujolais: If you really want a red, go for a light and fruity Beaujolais. Red currant, sour cherry, and raspberry flavors with high acid and a light body make a refreshing red that pairs perfectly with this dish.
- Suggested Regions: Chiroubles, Fleurie, or Saint-Amour, France
- Pinot Grigio: Lemon, lime, apricot, and peach stand out in this light-bodied white wine.
- Suggested Regions: For a minerally and dry version, look to northern Italy. For a fruity and sweet version, check out Alsace, France.
If you want to learn more about wine pairing, check out my vegan food and wine pairing guide. Additionally, if you have a bottle of wine but don’t know the first thing about decanters, check out the best wine decanters.
Vegan Palak Paneer
Vegan palak paneer recipe that uses crispy, cheesy tofu and coconut milk. Delicious and filling.
- Prep Time: 8 hours
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 8 hours, 30 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings
- Category: Vegan, Vegetarian, Dinner, Meal, White Wine
- Method: Marinate
- Cuisine: Indian
- 1 14-ounce block extra-firm tofu
- 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 14 ounces (about 11 cups) fresh spinach
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 poblano or serrano chili, seeds removed and diced (use poblano for less spicy, serrano for more spicy)
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tomato, roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 dash red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 1 cup Basmati rice, for serving (optional)
- Chopped cilantro for serving (optional)
- To prepare paneer, wrap tofu in paper towel, press between two plates or cutting boards, and cover with cast iron skillet or heavy book. Leave for at least an hour, up to overnight. The goal here is to drain the liquid and create a chewier texture. After sitting, remove paper towels, pat tofu dry, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. Place them in the bottom of a flat, airtight container (it’s OK if the tofu cubes stack up and aren’t fully submerged — occasionally shake the container while it’s marinating. Whisk together the lemon, water, salt, onion powder, and nutritional yeast. Pour this mixture over the tofu cubes and cover the container. Place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
- When the tofu is ready, preheat your oven to 400 F and lightly oil a baking sheet. Bake the tofu for 20 minutes, or until the cubes are golden brown, flipping them halfway through. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and fill a second large bowl with ice water. Submerge the spinach in the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes (until tender). Transfer spinach to the cold water to stop cooking further. When the spinach leaves are cool, drain and squeeze-dry. A lot of water will come out of the spinach during this process – you don’t have to squeeze until all the water is gone but try to get most of it out.
- Transfer the spinach to a food processor or Vitamix and process into a thick paste (see photo). If you prefer a completely smooth palak paneer, you can add additional water (1/3 cup to 1/2 cup) until mixture is smooth.
- Heat the olive oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the pepper and onion for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onion is soft. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant. Add the tomato, salt, garam masala, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, lime juice, spinach purée, and coconut milk. Cook mixture for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture is thickens up. Stir in the tofu paneer. Season to taste with additional salt and red pepper flakes.
- Serve the palak paneer with Basmati rice or naan. Top with cilantro if desired.
- Store in covered container in refrigerator for up to 3 days. Palak paneer’s bright green color will be less vibrant over time but the flavors will meld more.
*Recipe is a guide. Adapt ingredients and measurements as desired. Adapted from Food52’s Palak Paneer.
*If you prefer a saucier palak paneer that is less tofu heavy, either double palak ingredients (spinach, chili, onion, ginger, garlic, tomato, spices, coconut milk) or use less than a full block of tofu.
Keywords: palak paneer, Indian food, vegan palak paneer, naan, basmati rice