I like the Serious Eats approach to vegan cookery. Other comparable food websites have a tendency to roll out one post a year about how 'it's not all tofu and mung beans anymore!', then go back to their barbecued briskets. Serious Eats does barbecued briskets, too, but they explore vegan cookery more often and with more curiosity, figuring out plant-based ways to capture popular omni flavours. I liked their treatment of vegan icecreams, and they've also tried their hand at veganising ramen, chorizo, and carbonara. Their joyous, experimental style even convinced me to try stuffing tofu and rice into my waffle iron.
So when their twitter account teased us with pics of a vegan saag paneer a couple of months ago, I was excited. We waited weeks for the big reveal: it's a recipe where tofu cubes are baked in a miso-lemon marinade to form 'paneer', and the saag base gets its creaminess from cauliflower that's simmered and blended into plant milk. Our twitter buddy Eliza gave her trial a thumbs-up last weekend and we had our shot on the public holiday.
It differs from our staple palak paneer recipes in other ways, too. Where they use the sweetness of tomatoes and garam masala, this one has a more piquant blend of coriander, cumin and turmeric. The green leaves are chopped and wilted but not blended, so the final dish has a lot more substance to it. (I actually like the blending, and reckon I might try it on this recipe in future - it usually means you can sneak the vegetable stems in, too.) The flavour is just as complex and just as pleasurable.
This saag 'paneer' is a bit less labour-intensive than most Serious Eats projects we've tackled, especially with two pairs of hands at work. I prepped the tofu and cauliflower cream, and let Michael take the lead on the big pot of saag. We could even imagine achieving it on a weeknight, though this might change if we started blending the green leaves as well as the cauliflower. Weekend or weeknight, I reckon we will make the time for this recipe again. It's a smart, nutritious adaptation of one of my favourite Indian dishes.
Vegan saag 'paneer'
(slightly adapted from a recipe by J. Kenji López-Alt on Serious Eats)
500g firm, dry tofu
1 1/2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper
2/3 cup almond milk
170g cauliflower florets
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
2 large red chillis, finely diced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 green cardamom pod, smashed
1 bunch English spinach, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 bunch silverbeet, stems removed and roughty chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a baking tray with foil.
Slice the tofu into 2cm cubes. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 'paneer' ingredients. Add the tofu to the bowl and toss them in the dressing to thoroughly coat the cubes. Spread the tofu cubes out across the baking tray, spooning a little more dressing on top of them. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the tofu cubes over. If you have more leftover marinade, spoon it onto the tofu. Bake for a further 15 minutes, until the marinade has dried and the tofu is golden brown. Set the tofu aside to cool.
While the tofu is baking, place the almond milk and cauliflower in a small saucepan. Place a lid on the saucepan and set it over medium-high heat. Simmer the cauliflower until its tender, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the cauliflower to cool down a bit. When it's safe to do so, use a stick or jug blender to puree the cauliflower mixture. I added about 1/4 cup of water to facilitate the blending - you want the cauliflower to be as smooth and creamy as possible. Set the cauliflower aside.
Pour the oil into a large saucepan and set it over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger and chillies; saute them for about a minute, until fragrant. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric and cardamom and cook, stirring, for another 30 seconds. Add the spinach and silverbeet a handful at a time, stirring to wilt the leaves. Give them around 5 minutes to completely wilt. Stir in the cauliflower puree and cook for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the tofu cubes, then the lemon juice and salt to taste. Add a little water if you need to.
Serve over steamed rice.