My tasty Dairy Free and Vegan Palak Paneer recipe is also vegan and nightshade free!
Are you one of those people who gets in to a rut with cooking? I sure am! Even though I’m a recipe developer, I find that for dinner, I really want to just eat leftovers or spend the bare minimum time cooking. This recipe has gotten me out of a recent rut and it only takes 30 minutes active cooking time. It comes together quite easily with no fuss and delivers ultra comfort.
Back when I first started trying foods from different cultures in my late teens, Indian food was one of my faves. I grew up on a “standard Aussie diet” with not a lot of variety, although my Mum was a great cook and we were very well fed. We also enjoyed a few Aussie-fied Chinese dishes that my darling maternal grandmother loved to spoil us with on our visits, but apart from that, my diet was pretty predictable for that era.
Palak Paneer was always one of my favourite Indian dishes back then and I still want to enjoy it, but alas, dairy just doesn’t agree with me – it triggers psoriasis patches on my skin along with gluten. Late last year I developed mild psoriatic arthritis, so I’m currently experimenting with no nightshades. So, while I can’t say this Palak Paneer is authentic, it IS delicious and a close approximation suitable for people like me who have some food intolerances. I adapted this recipe to suit my tastes and requirements from recipes by Dana from Minimalist Baker also also Hetty McKinnon.
History of Palak Paneer
Palak means spinach and Paneer refers to the Indian cheese which has its roots in the Mongol Empire, but may have actually been introduced to India by the Portuguese. Palak Paneer is also known as Saag Paneer and there are many variations of this popular dish across India.
My dairy free and nightshade free Palak Paneer features a vibrant green, flavourful sauce with cubes of tasty tofu. Miso paste lends us the umami flavour that would normally be provided by the paneer cheese and also tomatoes in the sauce. Believe me, you won’t miss either of those in this sumptuous recipe. Serve with black rice or more traditional basmati rice and naan for a memorable meal. The Palak Paneer freezes perfectly with no loss of taste or texture, so it's perfect for stocking your freezer.
What you need to make this vegan Palak Paneer
- Firm or extra firm tofu
- Brown/yellow onion
- Garlic cloves
- Fresh ginger
- Garam masala* and cumin seeds
- White pepper - optional
- Vegetable stock or chicken stock (not vegan)
- Chopped frozen spinach
- Coconut cream or full fat coconut milk
- Gluten-free Miso paste
- Lemon juice
Note: If you are on a strict nightshade free diet, you will need to find a garam masala mix without chilli or cayenne, or you can also make your own. Here is a recipe for garam masala you can use, omit the cayenne.
- Large saute pan or fry pan
- Chopping board, knives, wooden spoon, measuring cup and spoons
- Kitchen/paper towel, baking sheet, heavy pan to weigh down tofu
A beautiful macro shot to whet your appetite
A minor rant about food intolerances
For people who can eat whatever they want – congratulations! I’m very happy for you. Just don’t go gloating all over social media about your gluten-full diet, being able to eat whatever you please. It’s really gross. People do not remove foods from their diet for the fun of it or for attention. We all want to eat whatever we damn please at any time. If you haven’t experienced serious health challenges, then please reconsider gloating about gluten!
As a healthcare professional, I don’t recommend removing anything from one’s diet without good reason and there should always be a plan to try to bring it back after working on gut health if possible. Of course, this doesn’t apply to allergies.
Although I have food intolerances, I know plenty of people tolerate gluten and dairy just fine. I’m not going to push my personal way of eating on to others. I do develop recipes for people with intolerances, because I am one of them and I think this area is underserved. I don’t believe that everyone needs to avoid the same things I avoid and I loathe when others try to apply their personal experience on to others. We all need to place compassion at the centre of how we interact with others, and that applies to food and the judgements we make of others.
Dairy Free Palak Paneer
- 500 g (17.5 oz. or just over 1 lb) firm or extra firm tofu
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large brown/yellow onion
- 6 med-large garlic cloves
- 5 cm (2 inch) piece ginger
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon cooking salt
- ⅛ teaspoons white pepper
- ¾ cup vegetable stock or chicken stock (not vegan)
- ⅓ cup coconut cream or full fat coconut milk
- 500 grams (1 lb.) frozen chopped spinach
- 6 teaspoons gluten free miso paste any kind
- lemon juice
- Defrost the spinach at least a few hours before making this recipe.
- Drain the tofu, then wrap in a double or triple layer of paper towel. Place on a baking sheet and then place a heavy pan on top for an hour. This will remove most of the moisture.
- Cut the tofu so that you have 4 wide, flat pieces. Heat a pan on medium heat with 1 tablespoon of the oil, then brown the tofu on both sides until golden brown. This will take around 10 minutes - keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn.
- While the tofu is browning, prepare the garlic, onion and ginger. Peel and mince the garlic. Dice the onion. Peel and grate the ginger.
- Once the tofu is done, set it aside. Heat the remaining oil in the pan on medium-low heat and add the onion to sweat for 5 minutes. Then add the spices, salt and pepper and mix for a minute. Finally, add the garlic and ginger and stir for another minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- In this order, add to the blender: stock, generous squeeze of lemon juice, coconut cream, spinach, miso paste, onion mixture. Blend for a few minutes until smooth.
- Chop the tofu in to bite sized pieces. Add the sauce to the pan, heat until hot and then add in the tofu.
- Serve immediately. Can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for a month.
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