Before I went vegan, one of my favorite Indian dishes was palak paneer. I loved this richly spiced and smooth-textured dish, and always ordered it with a heavy dose of hot pepper, garlic naan and a Kingfisher. I had a random and intense craving for it the other day, so I used this recipe which I had bookmarked months ago but had forgotten about. I made minimal tweaks here and there to veganize it, and it produced a palak paneer that reminded me of the authentic version I used to enjoy many years ago. This dish was easy to make, smelled amazing and has just the right amount of richness and spice. Adapted from Indian Simmer.
1 can of full-fat coconut milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp coconut vinegar
1 block of extra-firm tofu, pressed very well and cut into dice-sized cubes
small red onion, chopped
5-6 cloves garlic
1 TB fresh ginger, chopped
1 TB vegetable oil
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
pinch of ground cloves
1 tsp fennel seeds
1-4 thai green chilis, chopped (optional)
7 oz. canned tomatoes
16 oz. bag of chopped frozen spinach
fresh cilantro, chopped
salt, to taste
basmati rice and vegan naan, for serving
Combine the coconut milk, salt and coconut vinegar into a small and deep glass pyrex dish. Throw in the tofu cubes and stir gently to ensure they are all coated. Cover with saran wrap and place into the refrigerator for a few hours to marinade.
Preheat your oven to 350.
Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper and remove the tofu cubes very gently from the thick marinade, being careful not to squash them. Reserve the leftover marinade.
Place the tofu cubes out into nice even rows onto the silpat or parchment. It’s fine to have the marinade kind of pooling around the tofu cubes, Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until to slightly browned, rotating them every 15 minutes to prevent scorching.
Place the onion, garlic and ginger into a food processor and grind into a paste. Transfer to a medium-sized pot with the vegetable oil. Allow to slightly caramelize over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring a few times to prevent overbrowning. Decrease the heat to low, then add a few dashes of salt and the next four spices and chilis (if using), then allow to simmer for a minute or two. Throw in the tomatoes and stir to combine.
In another pot, throw in the frozen spinach with about a cup of water. Simmer over medium-high heat until the spinach is completely heated through. Transfer the spinach to a food processor and puree until smooth, then transfer it to the pot with the onion and spices and stir well.
Allow your saag to simmer in the pot over low heat while you wait for your tofu to finish baking. Once it’s ready, pick the silpat up like a taco, and dump the contents into the pot, being sure to scrape in the the little bits of caramelized marinade and oil and stir well to combine. Add in the rest of the reserved coconut marinade (about 1/3 cup). Garnish with the fresh cilantro.
Serve with basmati rice and vegan naan. These curried chickpea and onion fritters would be a perfect appetizer to go along with this dish.