RECIPE: Pantry staples transform Palak Paneer into a quick vegan meal

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Palak Paneer is a popular vegetarian Indian dish made of cubed paneer — a mild, milky cow’s milk or buffalo milk cheese — in a spiced spinach gravy. Paneer has a dense texture that goes beautifully with the strong flavors used in many classic Indian dishes. Because it won’t melt like other cheeses, chunks of it can be stirred into soups or curries and remain intact.

Sounds similar to extra-firm tofu, doesn’t it? Tofu is a vegan ingredient that can be swapped for the vegetarian paneer. Like paneer, tofu retains its shape and soft texture when simmered in liquid, and absorbs the bold flavors of the gravy. Both paneer and tofu are excellent sources of protein, but tofu is lower in saturated fat and calories, and provides more calcium than the cheese.

The greatest benefit of exchanging tofu for cheese is that it can make the dish a “pantry-freezer” meal from ingredients you can easily have on hand. No stopping at the store or worrying about what is in the refrigerator. I keep a block of tofu in my pantry and blocks of frozen spinach at the ready!

Jarred curry paste is a great one-stop dollop of flavor, packed with aromatics, herbs, and spices. It’s a great shortcut to add to your global pantry. You can also use it to add flavor to soups, marinades and salad dressings. Frozen spinach is the easiest way to keep any quantity of spinach readily available. It takes a truckload of fresh spinach to cook and wilt down into a decent size cooked portion.

Palak Tofu