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 Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 45 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 15 mins
5 from 155 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 155 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
Keyword: gluten-free, tofu
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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271 comments on Vegan Palak Paneer with Tofu

  1. Ellis

    This looks amazing, so excited to make and review this!! Do you know if this would freeze well? I’d love to make a big batch and portion some to bake from frozen for easy weeknight dinners.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks, Ellis! Yes, you can freeze this dish! Just thaw in the fridge overnight and heat as usual. Enjoy!

  2. Jacqui

    5 stars
    Ok wow 🤩 I was so excited to make this and try it for the first time because I always order paneer masala at Indian restaurants and it is my favorite!! I wanted to try the spinach paneer but never got around to it. When I saw this recipe I was so excited to make and it is delicious!! Oh my goodness delicious and actually easy. Don’t be fooled by the long list of ingredients, it really does go quick! The tofu totally mimics the texture of paneer but since I am vegetarian I might try this recipe and just sub the tofu for paneer one time. My boyfriend tried this and he even loved it!! One note I have is that once I added everything together I tasted it too soon and thought it needed more flavor so I went in and added a bit more spice and cayenne to make it spicier. It ended up delicious but came out a little bit spicier than expected!!! I love spicy food but this was a bit too spicy to enjoy regularly, in other words I had to slowly enjoy between gulps of water but that was my own fault!! I would say be sure to let that sauce simmer and all the flavors come together before adding anything else. So so so delicious and will definitely make again.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Jacqui! :) Great to hear you loved the palak paneer with tofu!

  3. Yuvika

    What nuts can be used instead of cashews? Thanks!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Yuvika, you could use blanched almonds – that should work pretty well!

  4. Sumanta Mitra

    5 stars
    From one ABCD to another, you’re awesome, Nisha!

    Including this, I’ve now made four of your recipes, and all of them have been fabulous! You make it so easy and I’ve also applied your techniques to other dishes with great results.

    Look forward to more recipes from you — maybe a baigan bharta, paneer (tofu) makhni, or even a simple aloo gobi?

    Love them all! Keep on trucking’.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Sumanta! We’re thrilled you enjoy the recipes and we’ll pass on the request to Nisha :)

  5. Molly

    5 stars
    Wow, this was so flavorful and delicious. I’ve been vegan for 5 years and was vegetarian for 15 before that and can you believe I’ve never boiled tofu before?! It really does mimic what you would get at an Indian restaurant. Can’t wait to make this again.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  6. eileen

    Wow! I was surprised by how much flavor this packed in. I used an air fryer for the tofu – used less oil and I love the crispness.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      That’s so great to hear, Eileen! 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!

  7. Annie

    5 stars
    Hi Nisha – this recipe is delicious!!! I made it for the first time the other day for my boyfriend and he ate almost the entire batch – don’t worry, I was able to get some too ;)
    I was curious if there was an easy way to find the nutritional content of your recipes – I am trying to lose weight and would love to know how many calories are in your dishes that have become staple parts of my diet. Thank you so much for all of your delicious recipes!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Annie, So glad to hear you loved this recipe! We don’t include nutrition facts on our recipes for a few reasons. If you’d like to read more as to why, you can do so at this link: https://rainbowplantlife.com/welcome/.

      Many of our readers use apps like MyFitnessPal to calculate nutrition facts for their own purposes. Hope that helped!

  8. Lindsay

    5 stars
    I knew this dish was going to be delicious the minute I could smell the tofu baking in the oven! Thank you Nisha for such a well written recipe. I will definitely be making this again!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Lindsay, So glad to hear you loved this recipe!

  9. Krista

    5 stars
    Came out great! I am not a huge fan of spinach but had a lot leftover and I didn’t want it to go to waste so I thought I’d try this and it is yummy! I’ve never had the non-vegan kind so I can’t compare, but very tasty. I didn’t have cashews so I tried coconut cream from trader joes. I figure that would have a more similar consistency to the cashews than coconut milk. I used trader joes brand.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Glad you enjoyed the palak paneer, Krista!

  10. Beth

    5 stars
    This surpassed my expectations!! For a simple and healthy curry I wasn’t expecting it to pack such a deep and delicious flavour! It was nice and quick too, will definitely make again 🤩🤩

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Beth, So glad to hear you loved this recipe!

  11. Becky

    5 stars
    Delicious! I halved the recipe as I was cooking for one. The only other changes I made were using coconut milk instead of cashews and I doubled the serrano peppper, which I found to be a reasonable level of spice but not Indian spicy. Next time I might add a bit of ground red pepper because I do love spicy food.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Becky, So glad to hear you loved this recipe!

  12. Laura

    5 stars
    Loved this! So easy, so tasty and couldn’t stop licking the spoon. I could snack on a whole block of the baked tofu! Served with roti and brown basmati.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  13. Andrea

    5 stars
    Used your recipe in my restaurant. Clients loved it. Thank you.

  14. Anouk

    5 stars
    Love this recipe!! Really delicious:)

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  15. Mireille Maheu

    5 stars
    This dish is perfect. Made it with boiled tofu, used jalapenos and cascabel for peppers cause that’s what I had. So creamy, perfect spice, excellent with a dash of lemon juice

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Mireille! Glad to hear you enjoyed the palak paneer!

  16. Melissa

    Hi – I’m looking forward to trying this vegan version of one of my favourite curries! Your recipe implies that you only add the flavourings to the tofu if you are baking it though, and the boiled one just left plain? Would that not make the boiled version lack the boost of flavour, or am I missing something?

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      From Nisha: “Good question! They’re both very flavorful, thanks to the generously spiced sauce. The boiled version is my preferred version, as it’s more similar to a traditional palak paneer (the paneer is not seasoned before being cooked/added the sauce). The baked version is a great option for those who prefer a more crispy texture to their tofu.”

  17. Kanakapriya

    5 stars
    Love the boiled tofu idea! Have been avoiding tofu in Palak mainly because I don’t like the texture of it . This helps quite a bit

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Great, Kanakapriya! We hope you love it!

  18. paramasivam samanna

    10-27-21. Yes, You are a smart cookie, a good innocent smile added to it. You have a very impressive background, not much left to I can comment on. Good luck and Wishes to you Ms.Nisha. Paramasivam Samanna Vashon Island WA

  19. Jasbir

    Hi Nisha. I have a child who is allergic to nuts. How can I make this without cashews? The recipe is labelled nut-free.

    1. Katherine

      5 stars
      You could probably sub the cashews and water for a can of coconut milk…

      Made this recipe tonight, so delicious and easy! I used the air fryer for the tofu instead of baking and was able to omit that oil.

    2. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Jasbir, you can sub with 1/2 cup of coconut cream, or a full-fat, thick coconut yogurt.

  20. Karen

    5 stars
    This is delicious! I didn’t have the cumin seeds so used 1/2 tsp ground cumin. Also used vegetable stock instead of water. The baked tofu is very flavourful. Thanks Nisha!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Karen!

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