Vegan Palak Paneer | South Indian Lemon Rice

Palak Paneer with TofuPalak Paneer is a popular North Indian dish that is on the vegetarian menu of just about every Indian restaurant. But for those of us who are vegans, this rich and spicy spinach-based dish comes with a catch – the cubes of deep-fried Paneer, or Indian cheese, puts it on our list of can’t-haves.

Enter the tofu. It is amazing what you can do with this wonder food if you take a little bit of time to prep it. Marinated in the right ingredients, it makes a wonderful substitute for the paneer- a better one, in my opinion- and it comes minus the saturated fats and calories. Unlike the paneer which always seems to take on a tough texture when cooked, the firm tofu that I use in this recipe retains its silkiness and does a great job of absorbing the marinade and the flavors of the spinach. I also don’t deep-fry the tofu as one would the paneer. Instead, I shallow fry it in just about a tablespoon of oil which gives the same golden-brown results.

My Creamy Vegan Palak Paneer is quite delectable and would stand up quite easily to its non-vegan counterpart on any restaurant menu. And what’s more, this dish really is good for you.

To go with the Palak “Paneer” I made the subtle but absolutely delicious Lemon Rice which is a signature South Indian dish. It takes minutes to put together, and is a great way to use up leftover rice.

Vegan Tofu Paneer

Vegan Palak Paneer with Tofu
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Creamy Vegan Palak "Paneer"
Recipe type: Curry
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 6
  • For the tofu "paneer"
  • 1 block of firm tofu.
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp chili powder or red pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp turmeric (optional)
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • Salt to taste
  • For the spinach
  • 2 bunches of spinach, chopped roughly and boiled in about ¼ cup of water until tender, then pureed.
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander seed powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric (optional)
  • ½ tsp chili powder or red chili flakes
  • 1 14-oz can of diced tomatoes or 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 tbsp ginger, grated
  • 1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp cornflour whisked with ¼ cup of almond milk
  • Salt to taste
  1. Swaddle the tofu in a paper napkin and place in a colander. Put a heavy weight, like a cast-iron skillet, on top of the tofu and let all the water drain out, for about half an hour.
  2. Cut the tofu into cubes of roughly one inch.
  3. Make a marinade with the ginger, lemon juice, olive oil, chili powder, garam masala, salt, and turmeric, if using. Put the tofu cubes in it and let it stand about 30 minutes to an hour, turning it a couple of times to make sure all the surfaces absorb the marinade.
  4. In a cast-iron or non-stick skillet, heat 1 tbsp of oil. Add the tofu cubes to the oil once its hot, and let cook until each side is lightly golden. Be gentle as the tofu is delicate! Reserve.
  5. To make the spinach curry, heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the cumin and coriander powders as well as the chili powder and turmeric, if using. Let it warm through for just a few seconds, then add the ginger and, after a few more seconds, add the tomatoes with any liquid.
  6. Let this cook on a medium flame until the juice from the tomatoes is almost evaporated. Now add the spinach puree and salt and let the mixture simmer for about 8-10 minutes.
  7. Now add the almond milk-cornflour paste and mix thoroughly. This will thicken the mixture slightly so you don't have a pool of water floating under the bed of spinach when you serve it.
  8. Add the tofu cubes at the end and wait until it just warms through.
  9. Garnish, if desired, with tomato wedges or caramelized onions and serve hot with puris or rice.
I served this Palak Paneer with lemon rice which is a pretty easy dish to put together if you have all the ingredients. It looks and tastes very special.
South Indian Lemon Rice
South Indian Lemon Rice
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 6
  • 1 cup cooked rice (I used basmati but you could use any long-grain rice or even brown rice. Make sure the grains are separate and not sticking together)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ tbsp canola oil
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds (optional)
  • 1 tbsp cashew nut pieces
  • 2 red chilies, broken into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tsp udad dal (also called black gram and found in Indian grocery stores)
  • 1 tsp chana dal (also called Bengal gram and available in Indian groceries)
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped coriander
  • Salt to taste
  1. Heat the oil. With the stove on medium heat, add the cumin seeds and when they sputter, add the chilies, the two dals, the fenugreek seeds and, finally, the cashew nut pieces.
  2. When everything turns golden, in about a minute or two, add the turmeric and salt and stir. Then add the rice and the lemon juice. Turn off the heat and mix gently, taking care not to mash the rice.
  3. Garnish with coriander and serve hot.

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  1. says

    I’ve tried several vegan versions of palak paneer, as it’s one of my favorite dishes. This looks like another one I need to try really soon!! The lemon rice looks like a wonderful accompaniment as well! I’ve been browsing through some of your recipes and my tummy is growling. I’m married to an Indian and he always appreciates when I cook him Indian food, so I’m copying down several of your recipes to try!

  2. says

    Hi Vaishali :)

    I just want to say that, this past weekend, I tried this creamy palak paneer and I loved it! It was so delicious! The only issue about the spinach is that it shrinks a lot :(, but they’re sooo good!
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. says

    Hi Vaishali!

    Today was the first time that I ever cooked with Tofu. I made the “tofu paneer” according to this recipe and stirred it with penne and vegetables in marinara sauce.
    I need some suggestions/advice on cooking with Tofu Vaishali and I really hope u can help me. Altho the marinade tasted great by itself, I felt the tofu did not absorb any flavors.. instead the light crunch on the outside was nice but one bite into it and it tasted as bland as ever. Am I doing something wrong or does tofu not absorb spices at all? Maybe then using it in Quiches, scrambled tofu and sauces is a better option?
    I don’t wanna give up yet. Help! :)

    • Julia says

      I have not tried this specific recipe though the ones I have tried are fairly similar. This time I tried boiling the tofu cubes in a vegetable broth along with the recommended spices to flavor it. Start the broth boiling & continue until the liquid is gone(watch carefully at the end). I like it this way without frying it, but if you want the crunch factor, you could then fry it.

  4. chirolms says

    Made both the palak paneer and lemon rice last night. Both came out great. Better than most restaurants on Devon Street in Chicago. Thanks so much. I can’t wait to try some of your other recipes you have posted.

  5. Anonymous says

    Made both the palak paneer and lemon rice last nice. Both were great, better than many Indian restaurants on Devon Street in Chicago. Thanks so much. Can’t wait to try some more of your recipes.

  6. Anonymous says

    This looks really good, and I’m anxious to try it as I’ve had great luck with all of your other recipes! Just one question: When you say to use 2 “bunches” of spinach, approximately how much spinach is that? (The “bunches” I see in the stores all seem different sizes, and sometimes I used bagged spinach.) Also, can I use frozen spinach instead of fresh and, if so, how much should I use? Thanks so much!

  7. says

    Sudha, vegans don’t need to depend on soy nearly as much as it’s often assumed. An Indian diet of grains like rice and wheat, and legumes like beans and lentils, along with nuts, is more than enough to meet daily protein requirements for most people. I eat tofu perhaps less than once every two months, and I do it only because it’s another option out there. If you use soymilk in cereals and tea and coffee, almond milk is a great, soy-free substitute.

  8. Anonymous says

    Sudha, I am a vegan with a soy allergy! it can be difficult if you’re going out to eat because of the stereotype that vegans substitute what we are “missing” with soy, but if you are cooking at home it is really quite easy! Earth balance has a soy-free butter and the allergy section of the supermarket has frozen pre-made foods (if you dont like to cook) that are dairy, egg and soy free! You can even find some chocolate without soy… but don’t forget that cocoa butter is NOT dairy and in my opinion means its a tastier chocolate bar! :)

    Instead of using tofu, I just omit it. Daiya cheese is also soy-free and veganaise has such trace amounts of soy that it doesn’t affect me. According to veganaise’s website it don’t affect most people with soy allergies but it depends on how severe your allergy is. I make my own almond milk, but if im baking I’ll use coconut milk or store-bought almond milk because of the consistency. Hmm… what other tips can I give a soy-free vegan? I don’t advertise that I’m soy-free on my blog (though maybe I should start…) but I do post some recipes on there too. Good luck, my soy-free friend!

  9. says

    Hi! I just found your blog and absolutely love it! Tonight I made the Palak Paneer and the Lemon rice. They are both delicious. But the dals in the rice are still very crunchy. Is this the correct texture or should I have fried them longer before adding the rice?
    Thank you for so many great recipes!

  10. says

    Hi! I just found your blog and love it! Tried out these two recipes tonight and they are both delicious!
    The dals in the lemon rice are still really crunchy however. Is this the correct texture or should I have fried them longer before adding the lemon juice and rice?
    Thank you so much!

  11. says

    I found a great way to marinate the tofu…put the sauce into a ziplock bag with the cubed tofu and shake around…kind of a ‘shake and bake’ thought! Worked wonderfully…haven’t gotten any further on the recipe but the tofu smells great marinatiing!!

  12. says

    I scored some fresh picked spinach at a roadside stand yesterday, and when I got home, my neighbor handed me two tomatoes from her garden. What perfect timing to make your recipe! It turned out FABULOUS! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  13. Anonymous says

    Hi Vaishali
    I opened this page (bookmarked on my computer) because the spinach in my garden is ready to harvest and this has become my favourite dish in the world. I thought that before cooking it for the umpteenth time I should take the time to say thank you for such a great recipe and amazing blog!
    Thank you :)
    From Rhiannon in Australia <3

  14. says

    Hi Rhiannon, what a lovely message! You made my day. So happy you like this recipe. I wish I could make it with just-harvested spinach, it must be delicious. Unfortunately my thumb’s just not green enough– I never have luck with growingleafies.

  15. ash says

    thanks Vaishali for this blog. is there any other alternative soy free vegan paneer recepie that I can try making at home . I know we can make paneer by adding a pinch of citric acid to the boiling milk and then setting it after draining out water .Do you know if a similar thing would work for almond + cashew milk ?

  16. Abbey Southall says

    Hi, I am planning to make this for friends because it looks so lovely – do you need to soak the dal at all before using? Thanks, Abbey

  17. JN says

    Hi Vaishali, I have tried your recipes and they are great! Have been wanting to making a good tofu palak and I am going to make this tonight. I only have frozen spinach. Is it ok to use it? If so, how much?
    Thanks for posting such wonderful recipes for Vegans like me & making them simple enough to follow. Indian recipes are so hard but you make them seem easy. :-))

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