Growing up, our family would eat at Taj Mahal, our favorite Indian restaurant in south Houston quite often. In fact, my mother craved Taj while she was pregnant with me. So, you could really say I’ve been enjoying Indian food my entire life.
Taj Mahal closed down several years ago, much to our sadness. Can you imagine driving 30 minutes to a restaurant, ready to dig in to vegetable korma, saag paneer and soft, hot naan just to find your favorite restaurant closed? Like closed closed. Like not opening again, ever. I was down right mad that they didn’t personally inform me that they were thinking of closing. I mean, I get it, you might want to retire or something. But, at least hand over the recipes!
We ate at Taj so much over the years that I gauge all other Indian food by what theirs tasted like. Admittedly, this vegan saag paneer is not quite there. But, then again, does anything match up to the built-up perfection in our minds?
I’ll tell you what this vegan saag paneer is, though. It is fresh, spicy, creamy and delicious.
Let’s talk about veganizing it
Saag paneer is a creamy spinach dish that traditionally contains cubes of pan fried Indian cheese. So, what do I have on hand that can mimic the texture and flavor of paneer? Tofu is the answer. Now, if I had added the tofu straight out of the box to cook with the spinach, it would fall apart. So, you have to bake it first to firm it up. Voila! Vegan paneer. This vegan “paneer” is cubed tofu that has been baked at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.
Now, onto the creaminess. Traditionally, heavy cream is added. I’ve chosen to add coconut milk instead of cream. It does impart a slight coconut flavor, which I like. I’m brainstorming other solutions, so if I change it in the future, I’ll let you know.
We’re trying to eliminate most added oils from our diet, so the vegetable oil used to roast the whole cumin seeds and the vegetables has been removed. Instead, I dry roast the whole cumin seeds for a few minutes, then add the onions. There’s no need to add oil to the pan when sautéing onions. If they start to stick, just add a tablespoon of water and stir. But, when cooking these onions, that wasn’t even necessary.
Everything else about this traditional North Indian saag paneer is already vegan and plant-based, so we’re good to go.
I recommend serving this craving-satisfying vegan saag paneer over basmati rice. I hope you enjoy it!
Inspired and adapted from Allrecipes.
- 1 package firm tofu, cubed
- 2 pounds spinach
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 can coconut milk (or plant based milk)
- salt to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 F. Bake cubed tofu on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat for 20 minutes, until it is just browning on the outside.
- In a stockpot, boil 4 cups of water and add spinach until just wilted. Drain the spinach well in a colander by pressing the spinach with the back of a spoon to remove most of the liquid. Add to a food processor and pulse 3-5 times and set aside.
- In a stockpot or pan, dry roast cumin seeds over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
- Add onions and cook until translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
- Add tomatoes, garlic, ginger, garam masala, turmeric and cayenne for 5 minutes.
- Add spinach, baked tofu, coconut milk and salt and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Serve over basmati rice.