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Not Your Amma’s Saag Paneer – Vegan Version!

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Not Your Amma’s Saag Paneer – Vegan Version!

The complexity and balance of spices that you get from a plate of Indian cuisine is just healing. It can make you all “kumbaya,” full of peace and serenity. It is the one cuisine for which a long list of ingredients is fitting. Making spice blends does shorten that list a lot! Much of Indian cuisine is vegetarian… making it easy to create vegan versions of your favorite dishes.

This saag is going to be vegan by chance. I have leftover tofu in the fridge, and spinach, and my son wont let me cream his spinach… so no need for dairy. This recipe deviates from the tradition, but all the flavors and textures are still in there. The tofu “paneer” hits your tongue with a crusty spicy intensity, and as you bite into it, you get a soft curdled cheesy texture. Quite good! Even for non-vegans. If you cut your squares a little smaller than one inch, you get a good ratio of surface crust to the creamy inside.

If you make this dish, take your time. Breathe it in. Build your flavors. Enjoy the happiness.

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Not Your Amma’s Saag Paneer

We will be jumping right into spice town! Start by combining turmeric, cayenne, n. yeast, salt, and 1/4 cup oil into a bowl to form a loose paste.

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Cut tofu into uniform-sized squares, one inch or less.

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Gently toss tofu with paste until it is well coated. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients. This gives it a few minutes to marinate.

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A quick word about tofu… because most soy on the U.S. is genetically modified, if you avoid excess pesticide or gmos, it is worth the extra cost to buy organic.

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Chop spinach and set aside to add in last.

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While tofu marinates… build flavors in your skillet.

In an oiled skillet, saute onions until tender.

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Take the time to caramelize these onions. This is key!

Because there are no Fenugreek leaves in this recipe, we are missing that slightly sweet maple flavor. Caramelizing the onion adds a bit of sweetness. If youi really want to sweeten up the dish, you could probably add a bit of maple syrup… I haven’t tried it.

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Add a little water, as needed to allow onions to slowly cook. Let the water cook off.

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Add in chile, if using. Stir.

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Add ginger and garlic. Stir. Cook for a couple of minutes; do not allow garlic to burn.

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Add tomato. Cook for a few minutes, until tomatoes are well incorporated.

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Add spices (garam masala, coriander, cumin). Cook for about another 5 minutes. if you want a creamy texture, you can stir in some coconut milk.

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At this point, you can set this mixture aside and sear your tofu. In a hot skillet, brown tofu on all sides. No need to add oil tot he pan; there is enough in the paste.

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When beautifully browned, remove from pan and set aside.

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Stir in chopped spinach. You can do this in batches. The heat of the vegetables will cook the spinach. Do not overcook the spinach. Add a bit of water or coconut milk if moisture is needed.

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Taste. Mmmm If the flavors are too strong, add more spinach! Adjust seasonings.

You are ready to plate and serve. Either mix in tofu squares, or set them on top.

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A slice of flatbread is sooooooo good with this. 🙂

Not Your Amma’s Saag Paneer

A vegan twist on the tradition, keeping all the traditional flavors. This will stuff two people.

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 t nutritional yeast
  • kosher or sea salt, to taste
  • optional: splash of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup canola oil (preferably nonGMO) or melted coconut oil, plus oil for cooking
  • 7 oz firm tofu (a tub is usually 14 oz; you can double the recipe if you like)
  • 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • optional: 1 large green Serrano chile, finely chopped
  • 1 (1-inch thumb) ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala, (purchased or homemade, see recipe below)
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach (about 10 oz)
  • optional: if you want creamy spinach, stir in 1/2 cup coconut milk

Method

Combine turmeric, cayenne, n. yeast, salt, and 1/4 cup oil in a bowl to form a loose paste. Cut tofu into uniform-sized squares, one inch or less. Gently toss tofu with paste until it is well coated. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients. This gives it a few minutes to marinate.

In an oiled skillet, saute onions until tender. Add a little water, as needed to allow onions to slow cook and caramelize. Add in chile, if using. Stir. Add ginger and garlic. Stir. Cook for a couple of minutes; do not allow garlic to burn. Add tomato. Cook for a few minutes, until tomatoes are well incorporated. Add spices (garam masala, coriander, cumin). Cook for about another 5 minutes. if you want a creamy texture, you can stir in some coconut milk.

At this point, you can set this mixture aside and sear your tofu. In a hot skillet, brown tofu on all sides. No need to add oil to the pan; there is enough in the paste. When beautifully browned, remove from pan and set aside.

Returning to your onion-spice-tomato mixture, stir in chopped spinach. You can do this in batches. The heat of the vegetables will cook the spinach. Do not overcook the spinach. Add water, if needed. Or coconut milk. Your saag is done! Stir in tofu or plate saag topped with tofu.

Serve immediately.

Note: In a traditional ssag, fenugreek is used. Fenugreek leaves have a sweet maple flavor. Without fenugreek, we are incorporating some sweetness by caramelizing the onion.

Garam Masala

This Indian spice mix varies from region to region, and even from cook to cook. Some add in other flavors, like rose, or whatever they happen to like. In its essence this should be a blend of warming spices, those that accelerate the metabolism and wake up your taste buds!

You can purchase a prepared blend, or make your own!

Julie Sahni’s Garam Masala

This beautifully balanced traditional blend is from her book: Indian Regional Classics: Fast, Fresh, and Healthy Home Cooking 

Yield: Makes 1/2 cup

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 3-inch stick cinnamon, broken up
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground saffron (optional)

Method

Put the cumin, coriander, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon and cloves in a dry heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Toast the spices, stirring occasionally, until they turn several shades darker and give off a sweet, smoky aroma, about 10 minutes. Do not raise the heat to quicken the process, or the spices will brown prematurely, leaving the insides undercooked. Cool completely.

Working in batches if necessary, transfer the mixture to a spice mill or coffee grinder and grind to a powder. Stir in the nutmeg and saffron. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to six months.

Enjoy!

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