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 181 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 181 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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317 comments on Vegan Palak Paneer with Tofu

  1. Zoey

    5 stars
    This is the recipe I have been looking for for years. Have already made it twice and will keep it in my regular dinner rotation

  2. Connor

    Thoughts on a nut free version? I was thinking just coconut milk. Part of me is curious in blending sunflower and or pumpkin seeds (but that’s just crazy talk) Tough being vegan and severely allergic to nuts! Look forward to trying it!

    1. Connor

      5 stars
      I ended up just using coconut milk. Used a little less water. Also added some chickpeas and cauliflower because they were in the fridge and why not? DELISH. Loved this dish!

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Thanks for sharing, Connor!

    2. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      From Nisha: “Hi Connor, coconut milk is a great substitute. Many folks have done the same thing with good results. I tend to think sunflower seeds have a particular taste, but perhaps when blended with all the other spices, it won’t be noticeable. But coconut milk would be my first substitute suggestions.”

  3. kajsa

    5 stars
    What an extremely impressive and delicious recipe!! I will definitely be making this a stable in my meal repertoire
    I also used frozen spinach to reduce the cost and it worked really well
    Thank you for this amazing recipe!!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Kasja!

  4. menon

    Great recipe! How much is a serving?

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi, Menon! We haven’t measured the total volume, but it typically makes 4 servings.

  5. Harleen

    5 stars
    Made this yesterday night and it was delish! The conversion of tofu to paneer (boil) has been the best kept secret of the century!!! Thanks Nisha. ❤️

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  6. Rose

    5 stars
    Palak paneer was my gateway into the amazing world of Indian cuisine; it was the first Indian entree I ever tried and my favorite takeout order as a kid. I’m so glad this wonderful vegan version exists — it brings back so many happy memories! :) I used chickpea/Burmese tofu and it came out splendidly.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Rose!

  7. Vanessa

    5 stars
    Honestly, this turned out 1000 times better than I was expecting!!! It tastes JUST like what I used to order from an authentic Indian restaurant (non-vegan!!!). Sooooooo good!!!!!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  8. Samantha Amato

    5 stars
    This recipe is absolutely DELICIOUS. My husband and I, plus our one year old daughter, all really enjoyed this meal.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Samantha!

  9. Lori

    5 stars
    Nisha!! I could not believe I actually cooked this dish. It has seemed like an unachievable dream to make authentic tasting palak paneer, and yet I did it with your help! I literally ate the whole thing at almost every meal in two days. (Probably won’t do that again.) The fact that it’s vegan as well just makes my heart sing! Thank you 💖

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Aw, thank you for the lovely review Lori! We are thrilled you enjoyed the Palak Paneer :)

  10. Maria

    Hi Nisha!!! Well first I have to tell you that I love my Mexican food :) but Indian Cuisine is my next. Around here (Rio Rico, AZ) there is no Indian restaurants, so I HAVE to cook my own and I follow you for some time now and I have cooked a lot of your dishes, all delicious.
    Today I cook the Palak Paneer and I love it!!!! Super delicious!!! thank you for this wonderful recipe which I follow to the letter and turn out perfect. I have to eat all by myself since my husband doesn’t eat tofu ha! lucky me :) Definitively I’ll cook it again!!! Thank you again!!!!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Maria, we’re thrilled to hear you enjoyed this recipe! Thank you so much for the lovely review :)

      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!

  11. Aimee

    This looks incredible. One question, the nutritional info is per serving or just the whole thing? Thank You.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Aimee, for one serving! Enjoy!

  12. Bushp

    5 stars
    I had given up on Indian cooking, it never tasted just right and I had tons of spices getting old in my pantry that I bought just for the recipes… reluctantly at first I have tried yours now, bit by bit, and I live for my husband’s face when he takes a first bite and can’t believe how well rounded it tastes, every single time!
    We are very picky when it comes to Indian, out of the dozens of restaurants in our area there’s really just one that we go to regularly because the chef(actually Indian) just gets it. Not mellowed down for the European palate, but also no weirdly dominant single spices that overpower the entire dish. Glad I can copy this at home thanks to you 🤩

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Bushp. Thanks for the lovely comment and for taking the time to review! :)

  13. Matt

    5 stars
    I made this tonight after watching your YouTube video and it was phenomenal! Had it with white rice and garlic naan. Flavorful, satisfying and it wasn’t super difficult to make. Thank you!!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  14. Amanda

    5 stars
    Love this!! The baked tofu almost didn’t make it into the bowls, it was so good I couldn’t stop snacking haha.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  15. Rumy

    5 stars
    Great food! I love the recipe – it took me more than half an hour to prepare everything but the result was worth it!
    Thank you for creating and sharing it!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  16. Katie

    5 stars
    This recipe was absolutely delicious!! I had never had this before, and I was a little intimidated by boiling tofu, and not sure that this meal would be my favorite. I am so glad that I made this, as this recipe was absolutely incredible! I don’t usually write reviews, but time and time again I am truly blown away and so grateful for these recipes. Rainbow Plant Life is my go-to for delicious vegan food. Thank you so much for this!!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Katie, So glad to hear you love the recipes! Thank you for sharing!

  17. Lyndsay Barwell

    5 stars
    That was really lovely, I was initially doubtful a sauce full of spinach would be so tasty. As a non-vegan I might enjoy it with paneer even more but we enjoyed the tofu. I also used only a cup of water and found it still looked more liquidy than yours. The sauce was delicious though so having a bit extra was fine.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Good to hear you enjoyed the recipe, Lyndsay!

  18. Rachel Ritman

    5 stars
    I really liked this recipe…! I am a vegetarian so I added less water in the spinachmix and added some cream at the end. I boiled the tofu and gave it a stir fry with some chili pepper, cummin, pepper and salt, cause I like to have some taste in the tofu. I also used frozen spinach since I hadn’t fresh spinach in my fridge. It turned out wonderful and very delicious! Thanks a lot for great tips in the recipe….

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Rachel! So great to hear you loved the recipe.

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