Saag Tofu (or Paneer) with Whole Spices

Wait, don’t go!

I understand the impulse, believe me. It took me thirty-some years (ahem) to come around to the idea of trying a version of saag paneer, my favorite Indian food, with tofu instead of cheese. It just seemed wrong, too ascetic, the wrong place to skimp. Saag tofu sounded worse than no saag at all. (Kale saag paneer, on the other hand, is amazing.)Of course, you already know how this story is going to end.

Because you know what? It’s great. The tofu has just the right texture and performs its sauce-soaking-upping duty perfectly. Whole spices irresistibly perfume and flavor the dish. And while you can certainly substitute paneer or add a splash of cream at the end for a more traditional saag, this vegan version was great in its own right.

On another note, I love Indian food but I’m a little wary of cooking it at home because I don’t have a tried and true recipe source (and it’s not a cuisine that I can cook improvisationally). Do you have a favorite Indian cookbook or recipe? Please share!

Saag Tofu (adapted from this Indian-Spiced Kale and Paneer): Heat 2-3 Tbs. oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and stir in 2 bay leaves, 5 cardamom pods, 3 dried red chiles, a cinnamon stick, 4 cloves, and 1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds. When spices are fragrant, stir in a finely diced onion and a tsp. salt and saute until onion is tender and browned. Now add a Tbsp. each grated ginger and garlic, a tsp. each ground cumin and ground coriander, and 1/2 tsp. each ground turmeric and ground red chile powder. Stir-fry for a minute or two, then add two diced roma tomatoes (or a cup of diced canned tomatoes) and let them cook down before adding a pound of washed and roughly chopped spinach. Let the spinach wilt and simmer, stirring occasionally. When the spinach is tender, stir in a block of cubed tofu. Simmer for another moment or two, then serve over basmati rice.

Next time I might try adding a little coconut milk at the end, would that be crazy?


12 thoughts on “Saag Tofu (or Paneer) with Whole Spices

  1. tea_austen

    Mmmmm. That looks SO good. And I think coconut milk sounds brilliant.
    I made a version of saag paneer last spring with stinging nettles we had harvested. It was amazing–better than spinach. I’m going to have to try kale now.
    Fire up those spices. It’s going to be a long, dark winter around here.

  2. Robyn

    Can’t wait to try this. I love Julie Sahni. . .I believe she has an all veg. cookbook, too! Her recipes are very easy to follow and I’ve not had a bad one yet!

    xo, r:)

  3. Jeanette

    Thanks so much for sharing. I love Indian food and am a purist (having lived & worked in India for years…), but I’m definitely going to give this a try anyway since you sound like a bit of a purist too:). For great Indian recipes look no further than Sanjeev Kapoors website or his books especially Khana Khazana. Another great Indian cookbook is Neelam Batra’s 1,000 Indian Recipes:)

  4. Sarah

    Hmmmmm…I bet this would be GREAT with the pre-cubed extra firm tofu that Safeway carries. It needs no pressing, just a quick drain. You have my mind tinkering! And yes, coconut milk is always good ;-)

  5. Eileen

    Saag paneer (or, really, palak paneer–it’s always spinach in my brain) is one of my absolute favorites! I have heard the tofu sub before, but never tried it–maybe this should happen soon, then. I have a couple Indian cookbooks–Madhur Jaffrey, obvs, is the big one–but for blog resources, Manjula’s Kitchen is at the top of the list. Lots of videos and excellent results.

  6. ButterSugarFlowers

    This looks wondrous. I love saag paneer but I always feel a little bad for my heart after eating all that cheese. Tofu probably tastes just as good and is surely a better protein. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Somer

    Oh girl, your title and photo had me RUNNING to this post and not from it! I wish I had a huge plate of this right now. I’ve got a cold and could use some tasty warm deliciousness!

  8. savorysaltysweet

    Wonderful! I have to second what tinykitchenstories said: any cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey is great, and the Pushpesh Pant cooking tome is incredible. Pant’s book even includes recipes from my mother’s often overlooked region in India, so I am doubly impressed by it.


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