If you have Indian restaurants in your area, then you’ll probably be familiar with Palak Paneer (or Saag Paneer), which is spinach with paneer (or cheese) cubes. Well, this recipe adds two variations to that wonderful dish. First, it substitutes tofu cubes for the cheese (though you can still use cheese). And it adds strips of kombu, or seaweed.
I saw this recipe in my local newspaper today and immediately wanted to make it. Today was a chilly, rainy, gloomy day (what’s up with that, Punxsatawny Phil?!). Palak tofu with kombu sounded like just the kind of warm comfort food that would take the chill out of one’s bones. And it did.
You’ll need kombu (dehydrated seaweed), which you should be able to get at, say, a Whole Foods or other grocery store with an Asian foods section; then a 16-ounce bag of frozen chopped spinach (though a brick of frozen spinach is fine); half a block of extra firm tofu (about 8 ounces); one medium Spanish (or Vidalia) onion; three garlic cloves, crushed; one teaspoon each of ground ginger, ground cumin, and ground coriander; 2 tablespoons of butter; about 2 tablespoons of olive oil; 3 to 5 small Thai peppers (I found dried peppers in the Asian food section, too); and then 1/2 cup of either whole milk plain yogurt or half-and-half. (I also made brown rice separately.)
First, get 1/2 ounce of the kombu (about 4 strips) and place them in a large, flat bowl. (I used a pie pan.)
Then pour 1 cup of warm water on top.
While this is sitting (and it will need to soak for at least 10 minutes), pat the tofu dry and slice into small cubes.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. When it begins to shimmer, add 2 tablespoons of butter and let that melt. Then add the tofu cubes and brown lightly on both sides, about 4 to 5 minutes in all.
Remove from the pan to a separate bowl. Add 1 more tablespoon of olive oil, then pour in the crushed garlic and spices, and stir for 1 minute to release the aromas.
Crumble the Thai peppers (being sure to remove the seeds if you don’t want this dish too hot) and add to the pan, then dice the onion and also add to the pan. Stir to combine. Cook until the onions soften, about 5 to 6 minutes.
While the onions are cooking, go back to the kombu. It should have expanded significantly as it rehydrated!
Remove the kombu from the pan, being careful to preserve the water that it soaked in. Cut into thin slices, then add to the onions. Pour in the frozen spinach now, too. (If you bought a brick, you’ll need to have thawed it so that you can break it apart before adding.) Pour in the soaking water, stir, then cover and cook for 5 minutes.
When the spinach is done, gradually stir in the yogurt or half-and-half. (To be honest, I used yogurt because that’s what was in the newspaper recipe, but then I added a splash of half-and-half to make it a little creamier.) Stir well to combine and let cook for another minute.
Add the tofu and gently stir to blend in. Cook this for another minute or two to warm the cubes.
Because this is #winewednesday, we served this with a Virginia red, the 2013 Stinson Vineyards Sugar Hollow Red. Great combination, too!
A few side notes:
- The next time I make this recipe, I’ll tweak it by dicing the onions (instead of slicing them), using half-and-half (instead of yogurt), and slicing the kombu even more thinly.
- You can substitute either paneer cheese or Halloumi cheese for the tofu, if you like.
- And this can easily be turned into a vegan dish by substituting olive oil for the butter and not adding cream.