Every now and then we have a craving for something a little spicy and special. We had an abundance of fresh greens from our garden, so the idea of making the Indian classic Saag paneer came up. The traditional recipe calls for pureed spinach and paneer a type of homemade cheese cubes that typically comes with the dish.
What is nice about saag paneer is that you don’t have to use just spinach, you can use mustard greens, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, even broccoli! I actually prefer using a mixture of them as it creates more complex flavors.
The key is to lightly steam the greens first, then process them gently. If you use kale or collard greens, make sure to de-rib them first. You want to create a smooth creamy texture.
Making Vegan Paneer
When it comes to making paneer, tofu makes the perfect plant-based substitute. It is best to use extra firm tofu but firm tofu will work too. To obtain the light texture, you will need to first press it to remove as much moisture from it. If you don’t have a tofu press handy, just wrap the tofu in a clean towel and place a plate with something heavy on top for 10-15 minutes. A large pot filled with water will do. You do not want to crush the tofu, you just want a little weight on it. Once the tofu is dried a little, you only need to dust it with some nutritional yeast and a dash of turmeric before pan-frying it. You can, if you have time, bake it for 30-40 minutes at 375F. Truth be told, I always fry the tofu, because it takes too long to wait for the tofu cubes to be baked!
One benefit of making this dish compared to let’s say eating it in restaurants, is that it doesn’t cook for a long time. Ever since I became vegan, I discovered that the reason why Indian dishes are often hard to digest is that they tend to cook for a long time with lots of ghee (clarified butter), yogurt etc. So preparing it at home allows you to make a lighter and more digestible version that is just as flavorful. You get the best of both worlds!
Serve with basmati rice and warm naan bread.
Vegan Saag Paneer
- food processor or blender
- clean towel
- clean towel
- frying pan
- 5 oz firm or extra firm organic tofu
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp oil
- 4-5 cups fresh spinach and/or mix of leafy greens
- 1 medium finely chopped onion
- 1 diced tomato
- 2 tbsp oil
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 2 tsp minced ginger
- 1 tsp cumin seeds or powder
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- 1 tbsp garam marsala (optional)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp cayenne powder or chili paste
- 1/2 cup coconut milk (full fat) or cream
Make the Tofu Paneer
- Press the tofu for 10 minutes in a clean towel with a heavy pot on top.
- Cube the tofu. In a ziploc bag mix the nutritional yeast, turmeric, flour and salt. Gently toss the tofu a few pieces at a time with the spice mixture to coat them.
- Heat oil and pan fry the tofu until golden making sure that each side is ligthly done. You can also bake it at 375F for 20-30 minutes. Set aside when done.
Prepare the green curry
- If you are using a mix of fresh greens like spinach, kale, collards you need to quickly steam them first with a little salt until they wilt. Then quickly pulse the greens In a food processor until finely chopped.
- If you are using frozen spinach, just let them thaw off then roughly cut them.
- Heat a little oil in a frying pan, add the cumin seeds or powder, then the minced garlic and ginger and stir.
- Add the coriander, the garam masala (optional), cayenne or chili paste, the sugar and salt and add the greens. Stir well to make sure the spices coat the greens.
- Add the coconut milk or cream and stir. Cook the liquid down a little.
- Taste and season
- Blend half of the greens until smooth and combine with the other half.
- Serve with rice and naan bread.