Palak tofu is a vegan take on Northern Indian palak paneer. It consists of tangy cubes of baked tofu in a luscious spinach sauce.
Back in 2021, I had the honor of photographing my friend Vasudha’s cookbook, The Vegetarian Reset. Obviously the best part of a job like that is getting to eat everything and her food was just incredible (the whole getting-paid-to-do-what-you-love thing is cool, too).
Although the book is globally-inspired, Vasudha herself is from India and it shines through in her cooking. Up until that shoot, my knowledge of Indian food was quite limited. I knew a few curry recipes and had taken a dosa class, but that was pretty much it.
Vasudha’s enthusiastic use of spices to enliven basic ingredients like vegetables and legumes was really inspiring to me (a Ukrainian whose native cuisine’s most interesting spice is black pepper). As a result, I’ve been working on this palak tofu recipe for a while and am excited to finally share it with you. The spinach sauce is loosely based on a Vasudha’s recipe, while the marinated tofu is adapted from Serious Eats.
What is Palak Tofu
Palak tofu is a vegan version of palak paneer, a classic Northern Indian dish of paneer (a firm, salty cheese) in a vibrant spinach sauce (palak is Hindi for spinach). This creamy verdant sauce is savory, warming, and slightly sweet thanks to browned onions and garam masala.
“Saag paneer” and “palak paneer” are often used interchangeably, but traditionally saag refers to a sauce made with various greens as opposed to spinach alone.
How to Make Palak Paneer Vegan
Since this dairy-free version uses tofu instead of paneer, I account for the richness from the cheese by adding coconut milk to the spinach sauce, giving it a creamier texture. And instead of tossing in plain tofu like you would with the cheese – which you totally can do, by the way, if you’re in a rush – I marinate it in lemon juice and miso first to give it a similar tang and saltiness to paneer.
Ingredient Notes + Substitutions
- Tofu: Try to find “super firm” tofu from Nasoya or Trader Joe’s if possible. If you can’t, any extra firm tofu will work.
- Miso: Gives the tofu a funky cheese-like flavor and adds savoriness to the spinach sauce.
- Cumin Seeds: A signature flavor of this spinach tofu curry. You can sub with ground cumin for a slightly milder flavor.
- Garam Masala: Another signature flavor. It’s available in most supermarkets these days.
- Chili Flakes: If you like things spicier, use a green chili pepper instead.
- Onion: Browning the onion makes the sauce slightly sweet.
- Fresh Garlic + Ginger: Don’t substitute with dried.
- Spinach: Palak tofu can be made with fresh or frozen spinach. Fresh gives you a brighter colored sauce, but frozen is more practical and economical.
- Coconut Milk: Be sure to shake the can, or give the milk a good stir, before measuring it.
Palak Tofu Step-by-Step
Step 1: Marinate the tofu.
(If using extra firm tofu, press it before cubing; if using “super firm”, there’s no need to press it.) Cube up the tofu and marinate it in miso, lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper for about 15 minutes.
Step 2: Bake the tofu.
Arrange the tofu in a single layer on a parchment-covered baking sheet and bake until lightly golden, about 20 minutes.
Step 3: Start the sauce.
Sauté the onion with the cumin seeds until golden brown. Then add the rest of the spices and cook for just about 30 more seconds to avoid burning them.
Step 4: Simmer the sauce.
Next, add the frozen spinach, water, and coconut milk. Simmer until the spinach is completely softened. (If using fresh spinach, wilt it into the liquid after it comes to a boil).
Step 5: Finish the palak tofu.
Add miso and lemon juice to the sauce. Using an immersion blender, purée until smooth. (See recipe card below for upright blender instructions.) Season to taste with salt and pepper, toss in the tofu, and serve.
How to Serve Palak Tofu
Vegan palak “paneer” should be served with rice, naan or another Indian flatbread, or cauliflower rice. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. I don’t advise freezing it since the tofu will lose its texture.
More tofu recipes…
Let me know if you try this recipe! Give it a rating below and leave a comment, and don’t forget to tag @thenewbaguette on Instagram with your creation.
The Full RecipePrint
For the Tofu
- One 14-ounce block super firm tofu* (see note below)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon white miso
- 2 teaspoons avocado oil or another neutral-tasting oil
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Sauce
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil or another neutral-tasting oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds*
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes*
- 1 1/2 cups water
- Half 13-ounce can full-fat coconut milk (just shy of 1 cup)
- One 10-ounce package frozen spinach (or 2 bunches of mature spinach, about 12 ounces)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon white miso
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
- If using “super firm” tofu, skip this step. If using extra firm, press it in a tofu press or: place it on a plate, then top with another plate or cutting board, and weigh it down with something heavy, like a couple of cans, to squeeze out as much water as possible. Let stand for about 15 minutes, periodically draining off the excess water.
- In a medium bowl, make the tofu marinade by whisking together 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon miso, 2 teaspoons oil, and pinches of salt and pepper.
- Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes and add to the marinade. Gently toss to coat and let stand for 15 minutes, tossing once or twice more while marinating.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the tofu in a single layer. Bake for 20 minutes.
- While the tofu does its thing, start the sauce. Heat a large high-sided pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, and cook until the seeds are dark brown and fragrant, about 1 minute. Then add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Add 3 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon minced ginger, 1 teaspoon garam masala, and 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes, and cook just for 30 seconds to avoid burning the spices.
- Add 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 can coconut milk, and the frozen spinach. Cover and bring to a boil. (If using fresh spinach, wait to wilt it in until after the liquid is boiling.)
- When the spinach is totally soft, turn the heat off. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon miso. Using an immersion blender*, purée until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Stir baked tofu into the sauce. Serve with rice or naan.
- Look for “super firm” tofu from Nasoya or at Trader Joe’s. If you can’t find it, extra firm tofu will work.
- Cumin seeds can be subbed with ground cumin and added in step 7.
- If you like things spicier, sub the chili flakes with fresh chili pepper.
- If using a standard upright blender, purée in two batches. Remember to take out the removable center of the lid beforehand and cover the opening loosely with a kitchen towel while blending. If the steam gets trapped inside, the lid will blow off, potentially staining your kitchen and causing skin burns.
- Serving Size: 1/6 of the recipe
- Calories: 300
- Fat: 21.1 g
- Carbohydrates: 10.1 g
- Fiber: 5.2 g
- Protein: 20.9 g