Growing up, I loved eating paalak paneer at parties. We did not eat it often at home because paneer--a type of non-melting fresh cheese--is not particularly healthy. Yet, that is exactly why I loved eating it as a child! In fact I would often pick out the paneer and eat it by itself, leaving the paalak (spinach) untouched.
As I got older, my mother began making paalak paneer at home more often because we discovered that baked tofu is an easy replacement for paneer! It has a similar consistency, and can be cut into cubes just like paneer. My mother's recipe is simple, easy, and well balanced: you get protein from the tofu, iron and other vitamins from the spinach and tomatoes, and spices have been shown to have many health benefits.
First, cube the tofu into bit-size pieces because they will need to bake in the oven. Keep in mind that the tofu will shrink in size when you bake it--so cut the cubes bigger than you actually want them to be at the end. Once you cube the tofu, place it on a foil sprayed with cooking oil and place in the oven at 425 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. You want to bake the tofu until it is firm and slightly golden brown.
While the tofu bakes, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Cut a cross shape into the tops of the tomatoes and then boil them. Set a bowl of ice water near the pot where the tomatoes are boiling; you will move the tomatoes from the boiling water into the ice water to help them cool down.
While the tomatoes boil, mince the green chili and garlic, and grate the ginger. You can add more or less chili, garlic, and ginger, depending on your tastes.
Once the tomatoes have boiled and the skins appear to be coming off, move them into the bowl of ice water. Once they cool, you will be able to remove the skins very easily using your hands.
Next, combine the baby spinach and water and boil on low heat. The spinach will reduce in volume significantly and fairly quickly. Do not over-boil the spinach; just enough so that the spinach is cooked.
Drain the water out of the pot, and then puree the spinach using a hand blender or regular blender. Then, puree the boiled and peeled tomatoes in a separate bowl.
Once the tofu is done baking, remove it from the oven and pick the pieces off of the foil if they are sticking at all.
Now that all the ingredients have been prepped, heat the cooking oil in a saute pan over medium heat and add the cumin seeds. Once the seeds turn a golden brown color and the oil begins to crackle, add the garlic, ginger, and chili.
Cook the garlic, ginger, and chili for about a minute until fragrant. Then add the turmeric and stir to combine.
Add the spinach puree and stir to combine with the spices. Then lower the heat to medium-low and cover the pan to prevent the spinach from splattering.
After five minutes, add the pureed tomatoes, tofu, and salt.
Voila! Serve and enjoy this healthy, nutritious, vegan dish!
Ingredients (serves 2):
- 1 9-oz pack fresh baby spinach
- 3 medium-sized tomatoes
- 12-oz pack firm tofu (roughly 1.5 cups before baking)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/4 inch piece of ginger (roughly 1 tbsp when grated)
- 1/2 green chili (roughly 2 tsps when minced)
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 1/4 tsp cumin (jeera) seeds
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup water, plus more for boiling tomatoes
Recipe (serves 2):
- Cube the tofu and place on an oiled baking sheet lined with foil. Bake in the oven at 425 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown and firm.
- Cut a cross shape into the tops of the tomatoes and then boil. Fill a bowl with ice water and keep the bowl near the pot of boiling tomatoes.
- Mince the garlic and green chili and grate the ginger.
- Once the skin starts coming off the tomatoes, remove them from the boiling water and into the ice water. Once they cook, remove the tomato skins with your hands and place the peeled tomatoes in a bowl with high sides.
- Combine spinach and 1 cup water and boil on low heat until the spinach reduces in size.
- Drain the water from the pot, and then puree the spinach with a hand blender or regular blender.
- Puree the tomatoes with a hand blender or regular blender.
- Heat the cooking oil in a saute pan and add the cumin. Once the cumin is golden brown in color, add the garlic, ginger, and chili. Saute for a minute or until fragrant.
- Add the turmeric and stir to combine. Then add the spinach and stir to combine. Cover with a lid to prevent splattering and cook on medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, tofu, and salt, and stir.