Vegan Palak Paneer with Tofu

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Enjoy gourmet restaurant-style Indian food at home with this Vegan Palak Tofu Paneer! A fragrant, creamy spinach curry made healthier with tofu instead of cheese. An easy yet impressive vegan Indian dinner!
Prep 30 mins
Cook 45 mins
Total 1 hr 15 mins
5 from 230 votes

I don’t think there’s any dish that combines health and indulgence quite like this Vegan Palak Paneer with Tofu. It’s not only packed with healthy spinach and protein from tofu, but it’s also so flavorful and tasty thanks to mix of Indian spices. How bad does that sound?

What is Palak Paneer and is it vegan?

Palak paneer is a popular north Indian dish typically made with a spiced yet mild curry or gravy with spinach (palak) and cubes of soft Indian cheese (paneer). The sauce often contains a bit of heavy cream as well. It’s typically served with white basmati rice or an Indian flatbread, such as roti, or naan. It’s flavorful, aromatic, and a good way to eat a lot of spinach.

But, it’s not vegan (hi cheese, hi heavy cream).

vegan palak paneer with tofu in a silver grey serving bowlHow to Make Vegan Palak Paneer

To replicate the texture of paneer, veganized Indian recipes often rely on tofu, as I do in my Restaurant-Style Malai Kofta. Similarly, in this vegan Palak Paneer recipe, I swap out the paneer for tofu, but I give you two different options for how to make the tofu (more on that in the next section).

And the spinach gravy is just as creamy as the traditional, but it’s thickened with cashews, not milk or cream. You won’t miss the dairy, I promise!

This vegan palak paneer tastes indulgent but is actually very healthy. You’re eating a ton of spinach, there’s a minimal amount of oil, and it’s made with wholesome ingredients. If you do want to add a bit more decadence, feel free to add some full-fat coconut milk or coconut cream into the spinach gravy when you add the tofu.

Watch! How to veganize Palak Paneer

VEGAN PALAK PANEER | incredible Indian recipe
VEGAN PALAK PANEER | incredible Indian recipe

Two ways to prepare the tofu

When I first tested this recipe, I tried it with baked tofu, primarily because I love crispy baked tofu. It was delicious and very flavorful (I tossed the tofu with spices), but as Max remarked, it didn’t taste/feel that much like paneer, which is the soft, slightly chewy Indian cheese typically used in this dish.

vegan palak paneer with crispy baked tofu on top

So, I retested this recipe, using boiled tofu instead. To be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for this method because I figured boiling tofu would be quite sad. But I was wrong! I love being wrong when the result equals delicious food!

Boiling the tofu keeps the tofu soft but brings a chewiness to the tofu, akin to the texture of paneer. Think of it as chewy-yet-soft tofu. And if you generously salt your boiling water, it adds even more chewiness to the tofu!

vegan palak tofu in bowl (boiled tofu)

I think both versions of this Vegan Palak Paneer are delicious, which is why I provide both tofu methods in the recipe. Here’s how to decide which version you want to make.

Use the Boiled Tofu Method if:

  • You want a more authentic-tasting palak paneer where the tofu really mimics the texture of the paneer

  • You want a shorter prep and cook time for the tofu (you don’t need to press the tofu and it takes just 2 minutes to boil)

  • You want to minimize the amount of oil in your cooking (the baked tofu is coated in a bit of oil)

Use the Baked Tofu Method if:

  • You prefer your tofu to be crispy

  • You want two different, distinct textures in this dish (creamy spinach curry + crispy tofu)

  • You want to add extra flavor (the tofu is coated in spices and then baked)

How to press tofu

If you opt for the baked tofu method, you will need to press the tofu to remove all the excess water; otherwise, it won’t crisp up in the oven. Place the tofu on a cutting board lined with paper towels; place more paper towels on top of the tofu and weight them down with a heavy cookbook or a heavy skillet filled with a few cans of beans. Let sit for 20-30 minutes to remove excess water.

baked tofu palak paneer in a bowl with rice and other fixings

Ingredient Spotlight: Spinach (aka Palak)

Palak paneer is typically made with fresh mature spinach. That said, if you can’t find regular spinach, you can substitute baby spinach (though it is more expensive) or frozen spinach. If you use frozen spinach, you don’t need to blanch it because it’s already been blanched or boiled, but you will want to thaw it.

First, wash the spinach thoroughly. Spinach is quite dirty and sandy, so it’s important to rinse it a few times. Otherwise, you’re likely to bite down on some sand, which is never a pleasant experience.

Next, blanch the spinach in boiling water and then immediately submerge it in an ice bath until it has cooled down. The blanching serves a few roles. It softens the spinach, so your sauce is smooth and creamy and doesn’t have raw bits. It also removes the bitter flavor of spinach (mature spinach is quite bitter in contrast to mild baby spinach). And blanching, as opposed to just boiling, also helps retain the spinach’s vibrant green color.

I’ve seen recipes that don’t call for blanching/boiling the spinach, and honestly, it confuses me. I tried just sautéing the spinach once and it tasted *so* bitter that I had to add several spoons of sugar to calm down the bitterness (and I’m not even someone who’s that sensitive to bitter food…I love me some radicchio)!

After blanching, squeeze out as much water as you can from the spinach. I usually let it dry out a bit on a paper towel or clean kitchen towel while I do any other prep work.

Then, make the spinach sauce. Add the blanched spinach to a blender with raw soaked cashews, garlic, ginger, serrano peppers, tomatoes, water, and salt. Yes, this is an incredibly healthy sauce! Blend until creamy and completely smooth. If you’re using a high-powered blender like a Vitamix, you can go easy on the prep work and not do too much chopping, as the blender will do it all for you.

After you cook the aromatics, pour the spinach sauce into the pan and let it cook for about 5 minutes. This helps slightly thicken up the curry, allows the flavors to meld together, and mellows out the somewhat intense grassy flavor of spinach.

Close up shot of finished dish

Tips for making this weeknight-friendly

Work efficiently and multitask! While your cashews are soaking, start on everything else: prep, cut, and cook your tofu; clean and then blanch spinach; chop up the aromatics for the masala and spinach sauce.

To save extra time, as noted above, stick with the boiled tofu method. It doesn’t require you to press the tofu for 20-30 minutes and the boiling takes just 2 minutes. Plus, you can use the same saucepan to boil the tofu and blanch the spinach (fewer dishes to wash!).

If you have a powerful blender, such as a Vitamix, you won’t have as much chopping to do for the spinach sauce because the Vitamix will pulverize all the ingredients for you.

By following these steps and working quickly, you can make this meal in 45 minutes. If you work more slowly or take a break to have an evening glass of wine (always a good thing), it’ll take about an hour.

overhead shot of finished dish

Serving Suggestions

I like to finish this vegan palak paneer with a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice—which helps brighten up the cooked spinach flavors—and a garnish of chopped cilantro. If I have coconut yogurt at home, I like to little add just a few spoons of that into the finished dish for a nice tangy balance.

And as mentioned above, if you want to make this dish more indulgent, add a few splashes of full-fat coconut milk or a scoop of coconut cream to the spinach gravy when you add the tofu.

To make this dish a full meal, serve over a bed of white basmati rice (or brown rice) or serve with an Indian flatbread such as paratha, roti, or naan (keep in mind that most store-bought naan breads are not vegan).

baked tofu resting on top of spinach curry

If you give this recipe a try, be sure to tag me on Instagram with your recreations and please comment with your feedback below!

Vegan Palak Paneer with Tofu

5 from 230 votes
Enjoy gourmet restaurant-style Indian food at home with this Vegan Palak Tofu Paneer! A fragrant, creamy spinach curry made healthier with tofu instead of cheese. An easy yet impressive vegan Indian dinner!
Prep Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 45 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 15 mins
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Indian
Diet Vegan
Serving size: 4

Ingredients

Tofu

  • 1 (14-ounce or 16-ounce / 400-454g) block of extra firm tofu

For the Baked Tofu Method

  • 4 teaspoons neutral-flavored oil, such as grapeseed oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon garam masala
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)

Spinach Sauce*

  • 8-10 ounces (225-285g) spinach, washed well and tough stems removed
  • ½ cup (70g) raw cashews, soaked in boiling water for 1 hour (if your blender isn’t high-powered, I recommend soaking in cool water overnight or for 8 hours)
  • 1 ¼ (300 mL) cups water
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
  • 1.5 inch (~3.5 cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 serrano pepper, stem removed (remove seeds and membranes for a mild heat)
  • 2 small tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt

Masala

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil, or oil of choice
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • ½ tablespoon fenugreek leaves, also known as kasoori methi (optional)

For Finishing

  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice or lime juice
  • Chopped cilantro
  • White rice or Indian flatbread such as roti, naan, or paratha

Instructions

  • Soak the cashews in boiling water. If you’re using a Vitamix-style blender, 20-30 minutes is enough time. Otherwise, soak at least 1 hour. Then drain.
  • Prepare tofu - baking method only. Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Drain the tofu and press it (“how to press tofu” instructions are in the blog post). Chop the tofu into cubes.
    1. In a bowl, gently toss the tofu cubes with the 4 tsp oil, 1 tsp kosher salt, 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp garam masala, 1/4 tsp cayenne, and 1 TBSP nutritional yeast (if using).
    2. Bake on the prepared tray for 20-25 minutes, or until crispy and browned.
  • Prepare tofu - boiling method only. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drain the tofu and pat with paper towels to remove excess water. Chop the tofu into cubes.
    Add the cubed tofu to the boiling water and boil for 2 minutes. Use a strainer to remove the tofu from the water and drain immediately. Set aside.
  • Blanch the spinach. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (use the same pot if you boiled the tofu). Meanwhile prepare an ice bath (a large bowl of ice water). Submerge the spinach leaves in the boiling water and blanch for 2 minutes, or until wilted yet still bright green. Immediately transfer to the ice bath to stop cooking. Once the water is cool, squeeze out as much water as you can. Transfer spinach to a clean dish towel to dry out while you prepare any remaining ingredients.
  • Make the spinach sauce. Add the blanched spinach to your blender with the soaked and drained cashews and all remaining Spinach Sauce ingredients. Puree until totally smooth, scraping down the sides as needed.
  • Make the masala. Heat a large deep pan over medium heat with the oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the cumin seeds and fry for 1 minute, or until a bit darker and very fragrant, tossing frequently. Add the onion and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1-2 minutes until golden. Add the turmeric, coriander, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, a black pepper to taste, and bay leaf (if using). Cook for 30 seconds, stirring the spices into the onions.
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low. Pour in the Spinach Sauce and cook for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the sauce appears to be drying out.
  • Stir in the garam masala and, if using, crush the fenugreek leaves into the gravy. If using boiled tofu, add that now Stir gently to combine and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture is heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper and squeeze a little lemon or lime juice on top. If using baked tofu, serve it on top of the spinach curry at the end.
  • Add cilantro to garnish and serve with white rice or Indian flatbread.

Notes

*If you have a powerful blender like a Vitamix, you can soak the cashews in boiling water just 20-30 minutes. You can also do very little chopping of the ginger, pepper, and tomatoes and let the blender do most of the work.

Calories: 268kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Sodium: 1042mg | Potassium: 826mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 5791IU | Vitamin C: 27mg | Calcium: 129mg | Iron: 5mg

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394 comments on Vegan Palak Paneer with Tofu

  1. Ashly

    5 stars
    What a lovely surprise ~ !! I was a bit skeptical but it was seriously sooo yummy I can’t wait to make it again! Thank you so much for sharing this great recipe ^_^

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We’re so glad you put your trust into this recipe and it paid off, Ashly! You’re very welcome :)

  2. Pam C

    5 stars
    Made this tonight with the baked tofu. It was wonderful. Husband agreed this is a keeper. Did take almost 1 1/2 hours to make so might be best on the weekends. We will try it with the boiled tofu next time to compare.

  3. Emily

    5 stars
    This dish was amazing! It’s so full of flavor that even my meat-loving boyfriend said it was good. I thought it would be complicated but it really was pretty easy. I made it with frozen spinach and did the boiled tofu method. I will definitely be making this again!

  4. Rita D

    5 stars
    The spinach sauce is so delicious, I honestly didn’t expect it to taste as good as it did. Highly recommended!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Wooohoo, we’re happy to hear you found the palak paneer delicious!

  5. Cynthia

    5 stars
    I am very glad this came up with the Vegauary challenge. I would not have tried this otherwise and we really loved it! I hunted down the kasoori methi and followed all instructions for toasting the spices. So worth it!!I’ll be making this again!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Cynthia!

  6. Janet Moga

    5 stars
    This was delicious! I baked the tofu and tossed it into the sauce. I love the bright flavor of the sauce and the color is so beautiful. I will definitely make this again!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Lovely to hear you’re a fan of the Palak Paneer, Janet! Thanks for sharing :)

  7. Ro

    5 stars
    So yummy! I did not miss the paneer. A bit labor intensive for a weeknight but worth it

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Ro, So glad to hear you loved this recipe!

  8. Mariann

    4 stars
    Thank you, Nisha! This was such a wonderful “new” way for us to eat tofu. Hubby and I eat mostly plant-based but I’m often looking for good tofu recipes to expand our tastes. This will definitely be a regular one in our rotation. Yummy!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome! Thanks for sharing, Mariann :)

  9. Rev

    Excellent and very flavorful!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Rev, we’re thrilled to hear you enjoyed this recipe! Next time, would you mind leaving a rating alongside your review? Star ratings are big help to readers who are thinking of making the recipe. Thanks!

  10. Tony

    Are raw almonds an acceptable substitute for the raw cashews in this recipe? I’m not sure if they will yield the same creamy texture in the sauce.

    1. Nisha

      Hi Tony, I would say canned coconut milk would be a better (and easier) swap–maybe start with 1 cup, then adjust accordingly.

      Almonds will need to be soaked overnight to really soften, and even then, they don’t quite have the same creamy texture as cashews. I’d also use blanched almonds too, as you don’t want the skin.

  11. Amanda

    5 stars
    I so miss palak paneer since becoming vegan as it was one of my favorite Indian dishes. So I was more than happy to try this. I really thought my kids would absolutely hate it, but they both actually loved it. We all agreed that while the boil method was easy, it will be worth the effort for making a chewier tofu next time with the oven method. However, I thought the boil method was truly reminiscent of the traditional dish.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Amanda! :)

  12. Katrin

    5 stars
    I could taste the difference of this recipe and my old recipe containing yogurt but the difference is minimal especially under all the garlic and butter lol. Grating the garlic over chopping it makes a big difference.

    1. Katrin

      5 stars
      Woops too many recipes open at once. I was talking about the naan.

      The Palak recipe was also very good. We rough chopped stuff and used and immersion blender in the pot. The boiled tofu really did have the perfect texture but I don’t think I salted it enough. Also added a tiny pit of soy sauce to add more umami to the dish.

      1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

        We’re so happy you enjoyed the palak paneer, Katrin!

  13. Kathy

    Really delicious and easy. I used the baked method for more texture, though may try it with boiled tofu next time.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Kathy, we’re thrilled to hear you enjoyed this recipe! Next time, would you mind leaving a rating alongside your review? Star ratings are big help to readers who are thinking of making the recipe. Thanks!

  14. Meiji

    5 stars
    the 1st time i watched this menu, i already said to myself I’d hard pass: seems complicated to make & a curry with just leaves? nah. but it came up again for the #RPLVeganChallenge, so i had to revisit the recipe & scrutinize it and make it ‘coz I’m joining 😁 and i don’t regret i did! I even made the vegan naan for the first time & it came out delicious & soft with some crunch at the edges and a perfect pair for this sumptuous vegan paneer. definitely making it again & again.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome to hear, Meiji. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  15. Lana C.

    5 stars
    This dish is wonderful. I baked the tofu and I did opt for the nutritional yeast. I had to make a second batch of tofu because I kept eating it on its own it’s soooo good. For the masala, I had coriander seeds and ground cumin so I subbed those for the cumin seeds and ground coriander. I did not use fenugreek and I used lemon juice. I will definitely be making this again 😋

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Lana. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  16. Frank Williams

    5 stars
    I made this after seeing the recipe in the vegan challenge. The most complicated recipe I’ve tried from your site.

    Holy smoke, what a delicious meal! I sat there at the table while eating it, and couldn’t believe I had made this myself, instead of ordering it from a restaurant. It was better than lots of palak paneers I’ve ordered in the past–not greasy, nice and hot and spicy. I made the boiled tofu version with a little basmati rice on the side.

    Another total win for Nisha’s recipes. And if you’re a bit intimidated by the complexity of the recipe like I was, don’t be–the results are so worth it.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We are thrilled to hear you enjoyed the palak paneer, Frank! :)

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