Vegan Saag Paneer

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Vegan Saag Paneer with Saffron Brown Basmati Rice, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Few days ago, I shared my recipe for Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala that uses young jackfruit as a substitute for chicken, and slow cooker as a substitute for using ghee to enhance the flavor, as well as huge time and effort saver. Since then I decided to tackle another jewel of Indian cuisine, Saag Paneer. Saag is a traditional Indian dish made of leafy green vegetables, which is a vegan friendly part of this equation, and paneer is soft, white cheese very common in South Asia, a vegan less friendly ingredient. Putting green leafy vegetables, like spinach, together with cheese, spices and cream is a no-brainer, so it is no surprise that Saag Paneer is very popular.

In order to build a vegan version of Saag Paneer, I focused on transforming extra firm tofu into paneer. This turned out to be easier than I expected. First of all, texture of extra firm tofu and your average paneer are very similar. Additionally, they both have mild flavors and creamy consistency. So far so good!

You do need some time and patience with this one though. I prepped tofu the way I usually do by leaving it in the sieve in the fridge overnight. You can use any other method of getting rid of the excess moisture – I prefer the sieve because it requires no work, cans and paper towels are tedious and a bit wasteful, and I am yet to invest in the tofu press. The next morning I cubed the tofu, and let it “marinate” in the dry spice mix for 4-6 hours.

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Vegan Paneer, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Even after sitting in the spice mix, the tofu paneer is not quite ready. Although you can use it, I strongly recommend that you first roast the tofu for 20-30 minutes. This roasting step locks in the spices and adds slight crunchiness that makes every bite a treat.

Few additional tips that will help you put this dish together are to do with spinach. I use frozen chopped spinach, as it is ready to go. The traditional Saag Paneer recipe uses quite a bit of cream to make the spinach nice and creamy. I use coconut milk to add a bit of creaminess to it, and the coconut milk adds a bit of its own nutty flavor that I enjoy. But, I don’t rely on coconut milk alone and have discovered some time ago that stick (also known as hand or immersion) blender is indispensable for creating spinach that’s beyond creamy! If you don’t have a stick blender, you can use a blender or a food processor to purée your spinach.

Once the spinach is puréed, it is ready to meet the tofu paneer, and after about 15 minutes of simmering the Vegan Saag Paneer will be ready to meet your taste buds!

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Vegan Saag Paneer, before the final mix. Via Eat the Vegan Rainbow

Vegan Saag Paneer

What you’ll need:

For tofu paneer

14 oz. (400 g) extra firm tofu

1 tablespoon garam masala

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

For creamed spinach

2 lbs (1 kg) frozen, chopped spinach

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

7 fl. oz. (200 mL) coconut milk, reduced fat

Cooking spray

What you’ll do:

  1. Place tofu into a strainer and leave in the refrigerator to drain overnight. Then pat dry with a towel and cut into 1 in/2.5 cm cubes.
  2. In a ziplock bag mix dry spices (garam masala, ground cumin and garlic powder) and add tofu cubes to it. Zip the bag and toss gently to coat the tofu pieces evenly. Leave in refrigerator for 4-6 hours.
  3. Heat the oven to 425 F (220 C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and space tofu cubes evenly with some room between the cubes. Don’t brush the spice mix off, just roast the tofu pieces as is for 10-12 min, then go in and flip them over and put them back for another 10-12 min, so that they roast on all sides and get golden brown.
  4. On the stove top, spray the bottom of your pan with cooking spray and heat to medium high. Add minced garlic (I prefer the jar variety that taste great in a dish like this and requires no work), and let it start to develop the aroma for about 1-2 minutes. Next add the tomato paste, and let it mature for 1-2 minutes.
  5. Add frozen spinach. Cook with occasional stirring for 15-20 minutes. Let cool for 15-20 minutes, add coconut milk, and then purée with a stick blender until smooth.
  6. Add roasted tofu and mix gently until tofu is well incorporated. Simmer for 15 minutes. Enjoy with a piece of naan bread, or with Saffron Brown Basmati Rice.

Note: please note that unlike most Saag Paneer recipes I do not add spices to spinach. The flavor intensity comes from tofu paneer, so it is important that your tofu is well coated with the spice mix and nicely roasted until golden brown.

Copyright © Eat the Vegan Rainbow, 2017

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