Saag tofu (vegan saag paneer)

Saag tofu (vegan saag paneer)

saag tofu ready

The cold is biting back again and I cannot wear enough layers and drink enough hot beverages to keep warm. I also crave healthy comfort food so my today’s recipe is my vegan take on a classic Indian dish – saag paneer. It’s a staple on Indian restaurants’ menus but in case you haven’t come across it, it’s a spinach and paneer cheese curry that hails from Punjab, the northern region of India.

Although I have not grown up on it myself, in a funny way it reminds me of my childhood and my childhood nemesis – creamed spinach, which I was forced to eat on a regular basis as an anemic child. Like I suspect most kids, I just had to endure it in order to get my hands on the dessert (some things have not changed 😉 ), but now the taste of this curry – which is a more delicious take on creamed spinach in my view – makes me weirdly nostalgic and brings me comfort.

One of the key components of this dish – known all over the world as saag paneer (although palak paneer is more exact, palak = spinach) is paneer, which is a type of firm cheese made out of dairy milk. As this component is obviously out of limits for a vegan, I sought to mimic paneer with tofu. I used firm, well pressed tofu to approximate paneer’s texture. I marinated it in a blend of seasonings, aromatics and spices to banish the blandness and give it flavour. It is obviously not the same thing, but I am really happy with how the finished dish has turned out and we’ve been enjoying it a lot lately.

It is also quite quick to make. The marinade only takes seconds to put together and the spinach sauce, in contrast to many dishes of this type, doesn’t require prolonged simmering. In fact, I only cook it for about 10-15 minutes to retain as much nutritional value of spinach as possible. It benefits from being made a day in advance, but if you don’t have that luxury of time, it’s absolutely fine too. I hope you will give it a try and that you’ll enjoy it if you do.


TOFU: Firm tofu serves to substitue paneer in this traditionally vegetarian recipe. For maximum flavour, I marinate the tofu in a blend of seasonings, spices and aromatics overnight so that all the flavours get absorbed. If you wanted to prepare it in advance, you could marinate it even longer, up to 3 days.

LEMON JUICE: I used lemon juice to give tofu a bit of a cheese-like tang and some more to season the spinach sauce. Apart from adding flavour, lemon juice also helps our body to absorb non-heme iron in spinach.

NUTRITIONAL YEAST: Nutritional yeast, which is a staple vegan seasoning made out of inactive yeast, helps to flavour tofu with a slight cheese-like flavour.

CUMIN SEEDS: Cumin seeds are used to flavour the oil that is the base of the curry sauce and to marinate tofu.

TURMERIC: Turmeric is another spice to that key in this Indian dish. I used a little to flavour the tofu and some more to flavour the sauce.

GARAM MASALA: Garam masala, which is a warming spice blend commonly used in Indian cuisine, is used in the sauce in two ways. I add some to the sauteed aromatics and toast it off very gently before adding in liquid and sprinkle a little more at the end to finish the dish off. I also use a small amount of this blend to flavour the tofu.

GARLIC & GINGER: Garlic and ginger need no introduction, I am sure. They belong to a group of vegetables referred to as aromatics and form the backbone of most savoury dishes all over the world. Garlic and ginger are true staple of Indian cuisine (alongside onion and fresh chillies) and so they are used here to flavour the curry sauce and I also added threw a bit of them into the tofu marinade to help me banish its blandness.

SPINACH: Spinach is the key ingredient of the sauce although traditonally mustard leaves were often used. As this dish became a staple on Indian restaurants menus all over the world, mustard greens got replaced by a more readily available spinach. I used fresh spinach, but frozen spinach works just as well. There are two options when it comes to texture. If you like the sauce to be smooth, process the spinach in a blender. I personally prefer a bit of texture to this curry sauce, which is why I only pulse a few times it in a food processor instead. If you dislike spinach, why not go back to this dishe’s roots and use a drifferent dark leafy green veg? Mustard leaves and kale would both be a fine substitute, but beware that each of them will bring their own unique flavour to this dish.

VEGAN CREAM: Cream is the final ingredient in this simple curry sauce. I used vegan single cream by Oatly, but any vegan single cream product will work just as well. Alternatively, you can make your own cream by blending soaked cashews with a small amount of water or, of coconut flavour doesn’t bother you, use full fat coconut milk in the place of vegan cream.

saag tofu marinated baked

Traditionally, this dish is made with paneer – a firm type of dairy cheese, but since I wanted to make this dish vegan I decided to mimic paneer using tofu. I pressed it, cubed it and then marinated it in a heady concoction of spices, seasonings and aromatics overnight to give it maximum flavour. I then baked it in a hot oven to make it firmer, crispier and to intensify the flavours of the marindade. Another option – if you don’t mind using a bit more oil – is to coat it in potato starch after marinating and pan-fry it in hot oil until crisp on all sides.

saag tofu wilting spinach

To prepare the spinach, add a splash of water to a warm pan and then pile on as much spinach as you can. Move it around all the pan using kitchen tongs so that no leaves get scorched. Add more spinach as soon as some of the first portion wilts. Switch of the heat as soon as spinach is almost all wilted and let it finish off in the residual heat.

saag tofu spinach tofu

Once all of the spinach has wilted, lift it off the pan with your kitchen tongs and add to a food processor. Pulse until it’s minced quite finely. You could also blend it in a food processor (with or without aromatics that are fried in the next step), but I personally prefer some texture in this dish.

saag tofu whole spices

Pre-heat a medium size pan, add oil and once the oil starts to shimmer, add whole cumin seeds and I also used a good pinch of chilli flakes (you could use fresh green chilli instead, if you do that add it in later, with garlic and ginger). After a few seconds, add onion and sautee it on low-medium heat until almost translucent. Stir often.

saag tofu aromatics

Next, add in garlic and ginger (and fresh chilli if using) and carry on sauteeing until both are softened and fragrant. Next add in dry spices and allow them to toast gently (make sure your heat is low) with the aromatics. Stir the whole time.

saag tofu spinach sauce

Finally, add in minced spinach and cream. Simmer for about 15 minutes and your spinach sauce is ready. Serve with baked (or fried) tofu, over rice or/and with a vegan naan bread.

saag tofu bowl

30 min
45 min
30 min
45 min

  • 400 g / 14 oz firm tofu, pressed
  • 60 ml / ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • ¾ tsp fine salt
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ¼ tsp mustard seeds
  • ½ cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp garlic powder or 1 clove finely grated
  • vegetable oil, for baking (or frying)
  • 2 tbsp potato starch or cornstarch (fried option)


  • 30 ml / 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • a pinch of chilli flakes or fresh green chilli (optional)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped ginger (thumb-size piece)
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • chilli powder to taste
  • 1 tsp garam masala, divided
  • 400 g / 14 oz fresh (or frozen*) spinach
  • 180 ml / ¾ cup vegan single cream
  • 10 ml / 2 tsp lemon juice, adjust to taste


  • 360 g / 2 cups basmati rice, cooked or vegan naan
  • fresh corinader / cilantro


  1. Cut pressed tofu into into uniform, bite-size pieces. My were 2.5 cm / 1″ squares.
  2. Combine all of the remaining ingredients (apart from oil and potato starch) and 120 ml / ½ cup of water in a medium-size, flat bottomed dish/box. Arrange tofu pieces on top and spoon marinade over the tofu with a spoon.
  3. Place the tofu in the fridge. Marinate for as long as you can, ideally overnight. Give the tofu a stir now and again to all pieces are evenly coated.
  4. BAKED OPTION: Pre-heat the oven to 200 C / 390° F. Lift tofu out of the marinade and arrange on a paper lined baking tray. Bake for 15 minutes, after 15 minutes coat dried tofu pieces in 1 tbsp (15 ml) of oil and return to the tray, bake for further 15-20 minutes.
  5. FRIED OPTION: Lift tofu out of the marinade and coat it in potato starch on all sides. Heat up a few tablespoons of oil in a frying pan, once the oil is hot, arrange tofu in the pan. Pan-fry on low-medium heat, flipping the pieces regularily, until golden brown and crispy.


  1. Heat up a large size frying pan, add a good splash of water and half of the spinach. Using kitchen tongs, move the spinach around the pan. Once most of it has wilted, add the second half and allow it to wilt.
  2. As soon as the spinach has wilted, lift it out of the pan (leaving any moisture behind) and place it in a food processor. Pulse a few times until uniformly minced. You can also use a blender, but I personally prefer it to retain a bit of texture.
  3. Wipe the frying pan clean, then heat up oil in it. Once the oil is hot, add cumin seeds. Allow them to sizzle a little on low heat before adding in finely diced onion and a good pinch of salt.
  4. Saute onion on low heat until almost translucent (about 10 minutes) before adding in garlic and ginger. Saute for another 5 minutes or so stirring frequently.
  5. Make sure the heat is low, before adding in ground spices: turmeric, chilli, half of garam masala, plus more salt and some pepper. Mix spices into the aromatics and carry on pan-frying for another 60 seconds to toast them gently.
  6. Add in minced spinach, vegan cream, a good pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon. Cover and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, then uncover and cook for further 5.
  7. Adjust the seasoning and sprinkle the other half of garam masala on top.
  8. Serve alongside paneer tofu on a bed of rice or with a vegan naan bread. Sprinkle with corinader and extra lemon juice if liked.

*SPINACH: I used fresh spinach, but you can use frozen spinach instead – about 285 g / 10 oz is equivalent to 400 g / 14 oz fresh. Thaw before using.

4 g
20 g
7 g
19 g
18 g
*per 1 out of 4 portions
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12 reviews, 25 comments
My husband and I are Indian and saag tofu is his favorite dish. I’ve tried many recipes, but I think this one may be my favorite. I made this with the tofu baked in the oven after marinating for a few hours (not overnight), fresh baby spinach, and cashew cream. Only change is that I added a tiny bit of sugar to combat a slight bitterness at the end. Also, I don’t have a food processor, so just chopped the cooked spinach on my cutting board. The dish has so many layers of flavor and was a big hit with vegan naan and basmati rice.
    Aw thank you Sonia, I am delighted to hear that you and your husband enjoyed my vegan take on this Indian classic, especially given your Indian heritage - what a compliment, thank you! Ania
This was my first experience cooking a tofu/vegan version. I thought was more interesting than using the traditional paneer! It's a keeper.
    Thanks Cindy, I'm delighted to hear that! Ania
Alison H.:
Deliciously flavorful, even without the cream.
    Thank you Alison, I am delighted to hear that! Ania
Hi Can this be frozen and reheated or prepared the day before and reheated? Thanks
    Yes, absolutely, in fact the sauce tastes better when it's been made a day before and stored the fridge. Tofu is nicer freshly baked, but can also be made ahead at a push. Hope this helps! x Ania
Made this for dinner today - loved it! I actually blended the spinach sauce up before serving it with the tofu, cause I like it creamy :)
Will definitely make this again soon.
    Thank you Melanie! I'm delighted to hear that you enjoyed this dish so much and thank you for taking the time to review – so appreciated. x Ania
Every recipe I have made of yours has been a roaring success and on my repeat list, time and time again. This is my family's favourite Indian Dish to date. Keep on creating as I look to you for continued vegan variety and inspiration. Thank you.
    Aw thank you for your kind words, Kate! That's so nice to hear and very motivating! Thank you for taking the time to write this lovely review - I so appreciate it. x Ania
Sounds, good, but what is "vegan single cream"?
    Hi Jonni,
    It's plant based replacement for dairy single cream. Not sure where you are based, but here in the UK the brands that are commonly available are Oatly and Elmlea. If you cannot find any, you may want to blend some soaked cashews or sunflower seeds (about 1/3 cup) with water to create a homemade cream. Hope this helps, Ania
This was great- I used kale and extra firm tofu, because it's what I had, and only marinated for a couple of hours. Next time I will plan better for a longer marinating time, but my family loved it. I cut back the lemon a bit, which was a mistake, and cooked the tofu, without potato starch, in the marinade over a fairly low flame until it was nice and crisp, which was totally not a mistake. I will be riffing on this forever.
    Great to hear that you enjoyed this dish, DH! I am a lemon fiend myself but I was fairly restrained in this case ;) ... Glad to hear that you are planning on giving it another go and thanks for taking the time to review, I really appreciate it. x Ania
Thank you! Loved it! Had to adjust a bit because I was emptying my fridge/cupboards… So: ground cumin, but fresh turmeric, frozen spinach, cup bio cococream i.s.o oat cream, no time to marinate tofu but prepared it in air fryer with bit of oil, came out really wel all together. Delish with simple cucumber/red onion salad (only marinated in bit of salt and lemon juice) and nut rice! Next time I’ll follow the recipe to the step…
    Thank you, Nina. I'm delighted to hear that you enjoyed it and thanks for taking the time to let me know, I really appreciate it. x Ania
This was delicious but I do have one remark: for me there should be much more spinach. I prepared this for just myself but I only halved the amount of (frozen) spinach because I suspected already that it would not be enough. And it still wasn't. I easily eat 200g of spinach. It's healthy, tasty and your recipe makes this vegetable even more of a treat!
I'll definitely be making this again but with much more spinach ;-)
    Glad you enjoyed it, Els. And yes, of course you can adjust the amount of spinach to your personal preference - I've had a look at a few authentic Saag Paneer recipes and 400 g of spinach for this amount of sauce is not that unusual to be honest. I will pay attention to the amount of spinach next time I make it and update the recipe if it needs a bump. x Ania
Two of the Indian dishes I have most missed in the move from vegetarianism to veganism are saag paneer and mattar paneer. I had tried it using plain tofu in place of the paneer, it was okay. So it was a delight to find this saag tofu recipe.
The whole recipe was very easy for follow, though I used frozen spinach on this occasion. I decided to air fry the tofu which worked really well, brushing the cubes with a little oil once they had started to cook. The marinade really gives the tofu a flavour close to paneer. The resulting dish was delicious and I'll be trying a mattar panner variant very soon.
The dish was part of a vegan thali with recipes from other sources but I also made the vegan naan breads from this site which were also fabulous.
    Thank you, I am so happy to hear that my vegan take on saag paneer has hit the spot and that you are now able to enjoy this curry again. x Ania
    Monica Colvin:
    Would you use frozen spinach again?
very tasty, the children loved it and asked for more! Next time I think I'll just add the marinated tofu to the curry rather than baking it as I felt the texture of the baked tofu didn't quite work for me. thanks Ania!
    Thanks Helen, delighted to hear that this dish went down well with you and your family. If you are not keen the texture of baked tofu, why not try pan-frying it? You can add it straight to the curry if you prefer but the texture will be very soft, without any chewiness (resistance) - unless that's what you like of course. Ania
      yes I think that's what my children are after - chewing is far too much effort!
        hahahaha I they know that the muscles don't use atrophy? ;)
OMG! This was absolutely delicious. I have really missed Saag Paneer since becoming vegan and had tried a couple of other recipes which had not been a great success. I was so excited to see that you had published a recipe as I know that your recipes are always the best!! This is set to become a regular in our house now. Thanks so much Ania x
    I am so happy to hear that this curry has hit the spot, Katie and that you won't be missing out anymore. Thank you for your kind words about my work and for taking the time to review - I really appreciate it. x Ania
My boyfriend and I made this for dinner yesterday, it was the best! Like we had a really nice takeaway Saag Paneer but vegan instead :) We used frozen finely diced spinach, so we could skip the food processor. And we did add the leftover marinade to the sauce as well, this brought out some extra lemony flavour, loved it!
    Aw thanks so much for your kind words, Jeanne! I am delighted to hear that you and your boyfriend enjoyed this recipe so much. Good call on using frozen spinach to limit the workload and I agree, adding the marinade leftovers to the sauce sounds great too. x Ania
This is the BEST saag paneer I’ve ever had! I loved the flavours of the sauce and the crispy tofu is delicious. I marinated the tofu overnight, coated in cornflour and fried it. I didn’t have any vegan cream but used crème fraiche instead. My partner has never tried this dish before and loved it. He wants to sample it next time we have a takeaway but I know he will be disappointed as this recipe is a winner! I’m so happy you’ve shared such a lovely dish, it’s already on the ‘must make again’ list!
    Thank you so much for your lovely words, Jessica! I am so happy to hear that you and your husband both enjoyed my vegan take on saag paneer and that you plan to make it again - so nice to hear! x Ania
I made this recipe and it was delicious! The variety of spices made it very fragrant and tasty! Your directions were very easy to follow and the taste so authentic!
    Aw thanks so much for your kind words, Lena! I'm delighted that you enjoyed this dish so much and found it easy to make too. Thank you for taking the time to review, I really appreciate it. x Ania
I made this today, absolutely delicious! Thankyou! 🙏 Rich, hearty & flavorsome. The recipe will definitely be one to pull out for guests, as it will impress! I did marinate the tofu overnight, then added the leftover marinade to the sauce, it gave it a bit more of a 'cheesy' flavour.
    I'm delighted that this recipe was such a hit with you, Kate and that you are already planning to make it again - that's so awesome to hear. Thank you for taking the time to review - it really helps me out and gives others some confidence to try my recipe. x Ania
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