Palak paneer with a few twists

palak-tofuPalak paneer is a traditional Indian dish made with spinach and a fresh cheese (paneer). But in preparation for the 30 day easy vegan challenge in November (I registered yesterday!), you’ll see mostly vegan (and gluten-free) recipes here over the next couple of months.

The ‘veganisation’ of this dish was inspired by the recent vegan cooking and yoga retreat I went to with my mum. At the retreat we made saag with wild mustard weeds, lotus seeds, cauliflower florets and coconut cream. Yes, you read right: weeds. Alexis, the retreat’s very knowledgeable vegan and wholefoods chef, is quite the weeds connoisseur. By the way, that was one interesting (and yummy) dish!

While the recipe here is really my own, the saag did prompt its creation. And no, there are no weeds.


Serves 3–4

Don’t be scared off by all the prepping work. It’s actually not that bad!


  • 250 g organic tofu
  • 1 large bunch spinach, washed & roughly chopped
  • 1 cup (250 mL) coconut milk
  • 1 tsp stock concentrate
  • tamarind pulp or use juice of half a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 brown onion, peeled, halved & thinly sliced
  • small knob ginger (~10 g), grated with skin and all
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 2–4 cloves garlic, peeled & very finely chopped
  • 2 tsp black mustard seeds, roughly ground
  • 2 tsp freshly ground coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp freshly ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground fenugreek seeds (methi)
  • 1/4 small pumpkin (~250 g), peeled & chopped into small cubes
  • sea salt, to taste


Tofu prep

Chop 250 g organic tofu into 1.5 cm cubes.

In a frypan heat some coconut oil. The amount should be enough to cover the bottom of your frypan. Once heated, fry the tofu cubes in batches until lightly browned (you will have to flip the cubes around to get an even browning). Tip fried tofu onto a plate lined with a paper towel and set aside. (Alternatively, you can use the cubes without frying them.)

Spinach prep

In a pot, cook the spinach with 1 cup coconut milk, 1/2 cup water (or just use another 1/2 cup of coconut milk) and 1 tsp stock concentrate, until the spinach has wilted. Then blend into a puree using a hand blender. Or you can puree in a bench-top blender. The spinach mixture will be vibrant green. Set aside until needed.

Tamarind prep (optional)

Take some tamarind pulp (about the size of an Aussie 10 cent coin) and soak in 2 tbsp hot water. Once cooled squeeze the pulp with your hands to remove as much of the flesh as possible, then discard any seeds and remaining fibre. What you’re left with is thick ‘tamarind juice’. Set aside until needed.


Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-based pot and add onions, ginger and chilli. Saute for a few minutes then add the garlic. Once the onions are translucent, add the crushed mustard seeds. Continue to saute for a couple of minutes before adding the remaining spices: coriander, cumin, fenugreek and turmeric. You will need to stir continually so the spices don’t burn. Add a little more olive oil, if you find that the spices are catching.

Next, plop in the chopped pumpkin, stirring thoroughly to coat it with all the spicy goodness. Turn down the heat, and place the lid on. You will need to stir regularly, though. Just to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. I find making a little well in the middle and adding a couple of tablespoons of boiled water helps – once the water evaporates, I give the pumpkin a good stir.

Once the pumpkin is cooked (soft, but still keeps its shape), add in the spinach puree, tofu and tamarind juice if using. (If you’re using lemon juice, hold it off until the end of the cooking process). Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the spinach darkens in colour, and thickens in consistency. If using lemon juice, add it now, and season with salt.

Enjoy with carbohydrate of choice – I had mine with brown rice.