This post was created in partnership with Nuts.com.
Saag paneer was always my number one choice when ordering food at an Indian restaurant. What could be better than spiced, creamed spinach, studded with soft cheese cubes and served over perfectly cooked rice? Heaven. The way I would feel the day after eating it for dinner was the exact opposite of heaven, though. I eventually came to the conclusion that the saag paneer hangovers were not worth it, especially when I realized that I could make delicious saag paneer at home, with tofu replacing the cheese and coconut milk standing in for the heavy cream. Nowadays, I honestly prefer my version. It tastes just as satisfying, but also nourishes me in that energizing, life-giving way that only plant-based food can.
Just a quick note to say that I realize that this recipe is nothing close to authentic, starting with the use of extra vegetables, to the tofu, and even the spices. Saag paneer is more of an inspiration here, a really great one at that, and I definitely don’t mean to offend any real Indian cooks.
This particular recipe is brightened up with the use of seasonal vegetables, mainly because I cannot contain my excitement for all the spring produce around right now. I also figured that tender spring things like asparagus, broccoli, and peas would mingle well with creamed spinach, and they really do. The tofu works very well here, too. The thing I love about tofu is that it’s able to become so many things. It’s particularly perfect as a paneer stand-in because it looks similar and has a similar texture. A quick sear in the pan and a toss in some spices, and it becomes totally irresistible.
Now about the spices. Traditionally, garam masala is the spice blend that’s used to flavor saag paneer. The thing is, I rarely have garam masala on hand, but I pretty much always have curry. So, I use curry in this saag paneer, and it works really well (see what I mean when I say not traditional?). I think the reason it works is because both garam masala and curry are spice blends, and both contain powerful spices like cumin and coriander. Curry has turmeric while garam masala doesn’t, and garam masala is usually sweeter and includes spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, but generally, they are both complex and delicious. Anyways, I point all of this out to say that it’s totally ok to use curry here and generally to work with what you’ve got in your pantry. I’m a big believer in making recipes your own. If you do have garam masala though, feel free to use it in this recipe and maybe adjust the amount if needed.
The curry that I always have on hand comes from our amazing partner, Nuts.com. It’s made with noticeably fresh spices and lasts forever, because I keep it refrigerated. Since curry is a blend of strong spices, it’s basically an express way to flavor, and it’s instantly able to enhance so many dishes, like this tofu saag paneer, as well as soups, stews, sauces, etc. It’s definitely one of my favorite pantry staples. I also used Nuts.com chili powder in this dish for even more complexity.
For other great ways to use curry powder, check out these dishes from our archives: Our Favorite Weeknight Curry, Mango Curry, Curry Coconut Ice Cream, Lemongrass Curry Noodles, Sweet Potato and Brussels Sprout Gratin, Savory Vegetable Crumble.
- 2 tablespoon neutral coconut oil or ghee (not vegan) - divided
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
- 1 large yellow onion - chopped
- 1½ tablespoons curry or garam masala powder - divided
- 1 teaspoon chili powder (optional)
- sea salt
- about 4 packed cups of spinach leaves
- 1½ cups green peas - fresh of frozen and thawed, divided
- florets from 1 small head of broccoli - chopped
- 1 small bunch of asparagus - tough ends removed, sliced, tips separated from stems
- 1 14 oz package firm tofu - pressed/dried and sliced into cubes
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 cup canned unsweetened full fat coconut milk
- juice of ½ lemon
- ½ cup toasted cashews - for garnish (optional)
- 1-2 sliced green onions - for garnish (optional)
- Warm 1 tablespoon of oil or ghee in a large pan or pot. Add the cumin and coriander and stir around for about 1 minute, until fragrant, if using. Add the onion, 1 tablespoon of curry powder, chili powder, if using, and a pinch of salt, and sauté for about 10 minutes, until very soft. Add the spinach and stir it around until wilded. Add ½ cup of peas, toss to combine and remove from the heat.
- While the onion cooks, combine the broccoli and chopped asparagus stems in a food processor and pulse to chop into small pieces. Add the cooked onion, wilted spinach and peas to the food processor and pulse, until the spinach is chopped and evenly incorporated. Alternatively, combine the broccoli, asparagus stems, spinach mixture, vegetable broth, and coconut milk in a blender and pulse to combine into a smooth or chunky mixture, based on your preference.
- Warm the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil/ghee in the same saucepan you used for the onions and add the tofu in a single layer. Cook the tofu for a few minutes on each side, until it's golden and flipping easily without sticking. Sprinkle the remaining ½ tablespoon of curry over the tofu and stir to coat.
- Add the broccoli and asparagus mixture to the tofu. If you used a food processor, add the veggie broth and coconut milk here as well. Stir to mix thoroughly and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, then stir in the asparagus tips and the rest of peas and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Taste for salt and adjust if needed. Pour the lemon juice in and stir to incorporate. Serve the saag paneer right away on its own or with rice, garnished with toasted cashews and green onions, if using.