Perfect Palak Paneer

Pearlescent white cubes floating in an emerald sea, the appearance of palak paneer is like nothing else. Sometimes the green might be a more muted, or even downright swampy hue, but somehow it still shines all the same. Instantly recognizable in any shade, it’s a dish to win over the fickle hearts of vegetable-haters, packing in a mega dose of dark leafy greens almost by accident. It manages to taste amazing in spite of AND because of the massive quantity of spinach involved.

Hailing from one of the most fertile regions on Earth, it’s not a stretch to imagine farmers throwing pounds of spinach into a pot, trying to wilt down the harvest into a more manageable output. Consider it the Punjabi version of creamed spinach, rich with sauteed onions and coconut milk. Vibrantly spiced without becoming overly spicy in terms of scoville units, you can smell it simmering on the stove from a mile away.

Naturally vegetarian, the protein at the heart of this dish is sometimes described as Indian cottage cheese, but that’s only a fitting description of paneer’s flavor. Mild, soft yet spongy and sliceable, the similarities it shares with tofu are unmistakable. While I’ve successfully swapped the two in the past with minimal adaptation, there’s always room for improvement.

That’s where Sugimoto shiitake powder comes in, building incremental umami flavor to enhance the cheesy notes of the nutritional yeast, creating a more impactful savory taste that could rival that of curdled dairy. The magic is in that marinade, disarmingly simple and undeniably savory.

How much spinach does it take to make palak paneer?

If you’ve ever cooked fresh spinach, you already know it takes a truckload to yield a single forkful once it touches the heat. That’s why I typically like to start with frozen spinach in this recipe, which only needs to be drained of excess liquid before it’s ready to use. Otherwise, here are some basic guidelines for spinach usage:

  • 1 Pound Fresh Spinach = 10 Ounces Frozen Spinach
  • 1 Pound Fresh Spinach = About 10 Cups
  • 1 Pound Fresh, Steamed Spinach / 10 Ounces Frozen Spinach, Thawed and Drained = 1 1/2 Cups

That means for this recipe, you’ll want to start with a little over 19 ounces (let’s round it to 20 to be safe,) or about 20 cups in volume. That said, there’s no such thing as too much when it comes to spinach here. Feel free to add more if you have it.

What’s the difference between palak paneer and saag paneer?

All palak is saag, but not all saag is palak. “Palak” means spinach in Hindi, whereas “saag” can refer to any sort of leafy greens. Saag might include one or many of the following:

  • Arugula
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens
  • Collard greens
  • Bok choy
  • Chard
  • Beet greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Fenugreek
  • And yes, spinach!

To brown or not to brown?

Once marinated, the tofu paneer can be enjoyed as is, without further cooking. In fact, I like keeping mine in the fridge until just before serving for a cooling contrast to the hot spinach curry. It’s just as enjoyable with a gentle sear on the outsides, crisping and caramelizing the edges for more textural contrast instead. You can pan fry or air fry the cubes very briefly using high heat without adding more oil.

How can you serve palak paneer?

Enjoy palak paneer, hot with basmati rice, roti, naan, or chapati. On particularly sweltering summer days, though, I happen to think this is a great dish to enjoy cold, straight out of the fridge. Like all curries, the complex blend of spices continues to develop, blend, and bloom over time. Leftovers are unlikely for this recipe though, so you may want to preemptively double it. There’s no such thing as too much spinach when you have such a crave-worthy formula for palak paneer in your recipe arsenal.

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Holy Sheet! It’s a Book Release!

From pandemic pet project to printed and published, it’s been quite a journey bringing my ninth cookbook into the world. Born at a time when life came to a screeching halt, when the very future of cookbooks in general was in jeopardy, it seemed like the absolute stupidest thing to pursue.

Between supply chain issues, shortages, and grocery delivery mishaps, I couldn’t even count on having adequate ingredients to follow a simple recipe, let alone develop another hundred of my own. Let’s not forget that dinner parties were off the table, so there was little need for large format meals generally set to feed anywhere from 6 – 12 at a time.

The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet: A Plant-Based Guide to One-Pan Wonders

Still, I persisted. Not out of optimism that things would get better or some greater vision of the future, but for a lack of it. In a time of unprecedented tragedies one after another, this was all I knew how to do, the only thing that provided any modicum of comfort. By cooking, crafting photos, creating my own narrative, I could escape that reality just outside my kitchen door.

Chickpea Pan Pie

The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet is a genuine pandemic baby, venturing forth into the wilderness of civilization for the first time with wide eyes. For all the delays, near misses, gambles, and standard publishing frustrations, I think the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Now that we’re gathering together again to break bread, these are the recipes I subconsciously created as a victory lap. This book could only exist in this particular moment.

Low-Country Broil

Getting down to the brass tacks here, The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet is a down to earth guide for turning out complete plant-based meals using a standard, no-frills sheet pan. Blending nostalgia with a taste for adventure, wholesome ingredients with indulgent flavors, easy prep with stunning results, it’s everything I craved but couldn’t otherwise find. Veganism is finally taking off as a mainstream movement and sheet pan cooking is all the rage, but why had no one combined the two yet? I took that personally.

Nacho Mamma Loaded Tortilla Chips

Thank you for everyone that made this possible. Book #9 is every bit as incredible as book #1, given the particularly volatile nature of the publishing industry these days. Who knows if this will indeed be the last, but even so, I’m proud of everything inside these pages. I hope they can bring comfort and joy to your table, too.

Cucumber Confessional

I love cucumbers. Full stop. People profess their love to many types of foods, saying they could eat them everyday and never get bored. I actually do; everyday, I’ll eat at least one whole cucumber, sprinkled with just salt and pepper, or dipped in hummus, or chopped up in salad. Tiny Persian cucumbers, large English cucumbers, plain pickling cucumbers- I love them all.

Why hasn’t this obvious obsession factored more clearly into my writing or recipes? It’s not interesting, quite frankly. I’m not doing anything exciting with them, just eating them in mass quantities. Even this idea that I’m here sharing today is far from earth-shaking. Barely the tiniest twist on a time-honored classic, surely it’s been done before. However, it’s good enough that it bears repeating: Make shirazi salad while summer produce is at its peak, but replace the tomatoes with watermelon.

That’s it, that’s the whole recipe. Adding a whole recipe card with formal measurements is really overkill when so much of the dish is based on the produce itself and personal taste. If I can be honest and break down that fourth wall for a minute, the recipe card is for Google. For you, I trust you can figure it out.

Consider the chopping an opportunity to practice your knife skills, to meditate, or simply revel in the aroma of summer. The minute you slice into a cucumber or watermelon, that aroma floods the air, setting the mood like candles for a romantic evening, only with notes of whimsy, sunshine, and a cooling breeze.

To anyone complaining about the amount of liquid leftover at the bottom of the bowl: Congratulations! You completely missed the point. That heavenly elixir, my friend, is a beautiful meeting of the worlds, the best parts of fruits and vegetables, sweet and savory, existing in harmony as one. Don’t you dare dump it out. When you pick up the mostly empty bowl, the only option is to bring it to your lips and drink every last drop.

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Jam Session

Tomatoes are the calling card of summer. Plump, red orbs growing heavier on their vines with every passing day, they tease in shades of green and yellow as they slowly ripen. Gradually darkening like rubies glistening in the sun, suddenly, they’re all ready for harvest at once. It’s now or never; grab them by the fistful or regret your mistake for another year. If you don’t take advantage, hungry critters stalking your garden surely will.

That’s how even a modest plot of land can drown a single person in tomatoes. Big or small, standard or heirloom, it’s sheer bliss for the first few days. Then, after a couple rounds of tomato salads, tomato soups, tomato sauces, and tomato juice, tomatoes may begin to lose their shine.

Don’t let it get to that stage. Take your tomatoes while they’re still new and fresh, concentrate them down to a rich, umami-packed tomato jam and you’ll never grow tired. Burning through two whole pounds right off the bat may feel like a sacrifice, but it’s a wise strategy in the long run. There’s going to be plenty more to come to enjoy every which way, without ever reaching your upper limit of enjoyment.

What Does Tomato Jam Taste Like?

A little bit sweet, a little bit savory, I do use sugar in my recipe but not nearly as much as with berry or other fruit jams. It should be just enough to balance and heighten the other inherent flavors. A touch of jalapeño adds a subtly spicy bite, which you could omit or double, depending on your heat-seeking sensibilities.

How To Make Tomato Jam Your Own

  • Use half or all tomatillos instead of tomatoes
  • Increase the garlic; there’s no such thing as too much
  • Instead of jalapeño, use sriracha, smoked paprika, gochujang, or harissa to spice things up
  • Swap the apple cider vinegar for balsamic or red wine vinegar

What Can I Use Tomato Jam On?

The only limiting factor is your creativity! A few of my favorite uses include:

  • Avocado toast
  • Sandwiches or wraps
  • Hot pasta or pasta salads
  • Swirled into creamy soups
  • On a cheeseboard
  • As a burger topping
  • Used for dipping alongside or on top of hummus

How Long Will Tomato Jam Keep?

While this jam isn’t properly canned and thus not shelf stable, you can preserve the harvest by storing it in your freezer for up to 6 months.

You don’t actually need to grow your own tomatoes to make tomato jam, by the way. Store-bought tomatoes taste just as sweet- And savory.

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Snow Day in July

Snow is the stuff of both dreams and nightmares. Growing up on the east coast, I could anticipate at least two or three days off from school every year due to impassable, slush-covered, perilously icy roads. In those early days before driving or work deadlines were a concern, snow days were gifts better than any mandated calendar holiday. Something about their randomness made them more special; the element of surprise was part of the fun.

With age came a creeping dread of the unknown, intolerance for the cold, and overall distaste for winter. I spent all of my adult life running from it, moving to the warmest places possible to avoid snow days at all costs. Snow is much more acceptable from afar, enjoyed on a TV screen or within a controlled environment. Case in point: Snow cones will always be welcomed with open arms as the best type of blizzard possible.

Nothing takes the edge off of a scorching summer day like a heaping spoonful of freshly shaven ice, ground as finely as a powdery snowfall. It’s brilliantly easy to make this refreshing treat at home! Special equipment is helpful for the best results, but you can absolutely get by with what you have, IE, a food processor or blender. A shave-ice machine will give you a fluffier texture while this alternative method will create a denser texture, more like a packed snow ball.

How To Make Snow Cones without a Machine

  1. Chill the canister of your blender or food processor in advance to prevent the ice from instantly melting upon contact.
  2. Use at least 2 cups of ice cubes per batch, but no more than 4 cups to make sure everything is evenly ground.
  3. Pulse rapidly to break down the ice into smaller pieces, pausing to quickly scrape down the sides of the canister if it’s not all being incorporated.
  4. Continue until the ice is finely ground and looks like snow, with no remaining lumps. Listen closely because the sound will change from loud clattering to a quieter, more even whirring.
  5. Immediately transfer the powdery ice to a container and stash it in the freezer until ready to use.

The only thing more important than the ice is the flavoring! There’s no limit to the possibilities here, whether you want to work with only fresh, whole fruits or go avant-garde with extracts. Add more flair with natural food coloring, which could come out of a bottle or straight from nature. Just as a brief refresher course…

Quick and Easy Natural Food Coloring Options Include:

  • Beet Powder or Beet Juice = Red
  • Carrot Juice = Orange
  • Turmeric = Yellow
  • Matcha, Powdered Spinach or Kale = Green
  • Butterfly Pea Tea Powder AKA Blue Matcha = Blue
  • Ube Extract = Purple

Bear in mind that any liquid colors should replace an equal measure of water to keep the sweetener ratio accurate. These will also be more likely to contribute stronger flavors, so make sure you’re ready to embrace those vegetal tastes or use stronger extracts to cover them up.

When you want a treat with no added sugar, snow cones are just the thing! Prepared sugar-free syrups are an easy, instant fix. For something homemade, just start with ripe, super sweet fruit, and accentuate the flavor with a touch of stevia or monkfruit as needed.

Is it possible to make snow cones or shaved ice without syrup in the first place?

Don’t let syrups limit your imagination. You can start with a full-flavored base by freezing juice, smoothies, and beyond to use as the finely shaved ice going into your cone. An added benefit to this approach is that the ice crystals stay lighter and fluffier since they’re not weighted down with extra toppings, while melting a little less slowly as well.

Minted Matcha Snow Cone
In this minted matcha snow cone, the solids settled at the bottom of the ice. I think that’s a good thing because it makes a uniquely variegated mixture, so every bite is a little different.

Instead of plain water, try freezing any of the following:

  • Brewed and cooled coffee
  • Matcha
  • Fruit juice
  • Smoothies
  • Drinkable yogurt
  • Non-dairy milk (plain, vanilla, chocolate, etc)

Snow cones are truly the best way to enjoy a snow day. They’re naturally vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free, with easy options for making them sugar-free, keto, and paleo-friendly. Best of all, you can enjoy your flurries while chilling poolside under the warm summer sun.

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Rice to Riches

Risotto is an Italian specialty that is a universally comforting dish. Creamy, tender rice simmered with vegetables and a savory stock define the dish, but there’s so much room for interpretation beyond those basics. Proving that point, traditional Japanese ingredients are the secret to making a richer, healthier, and even easier version than the original.

Sugimoto Shiitake are the secret to creating a world of umami that’s completely plant-based. You could just hydrate them and toss in a few meaty chunks to dress up the dish, but with a little finesse, you can bring out the full potential of this key ingredient.

How Can You Maximize Your Mushrooms?

  • For the sake of thrift and flavor, save all of that shiitake-infused soaking water as part of the cooking liquid, just for starters. It should be a crime to toss such savory stock.
  • Once fully hydrated, slowly roast the sliced caps over low heat to concentrate the flavors while enhancing their toothsome, chewy texture. The edges begin to caramelize and crisp while the centers remain lusciously tender.
  • A light dusting of Sugimoto shiitake powder drives the umami bus home. Who needs truffles when you can coax out many of those same woodsy, nutty, and earthy notes from a much more attainable source?
  • Stash those stems away for safe keeping. We don’t need them for this recipe, but they’re ideal for other meals, such as tacos, chopped cheese sandwiches, and more.

The very best risotto blurs cultural boundaries, blending the best of eastern and western cuisine. Risotto was born from Arab influence in the first place, since they’re to thank for introducing rice to Italy during the Middle Ages.

Why Do Japanese Ingredients Work Best in Risotto?

  • Sushi Rice: Rather than more expensive arborio or carnaroli rice, sushi rice is the most affordable short grain I can find. It’s readily available in bulk, but even more importantly from a culinary stand point, maintains a satisfying al dente bite while creating an effortlessly creamy sauce out of any excess liquid. I find it’s less temperamental to cook, demanding less active stirring to yield the same great results.
  • Mirin: Standing in for classic white wine, the base of mirin is sake, which is also fermented from rice and thus more harmonious overall. Sugar is added for a light, balanced sweetness that enhances other flavors without overwhelming the dish.
  • Miso: Subtly funky, salty, and savory, I simply can’t get enough miso. White miso contributes a more delicate flavor to this dish, creating tanmi without even trying.
  • Wasabi: Bright and peppery, bold enough to cut through the richness, wasabi is an optional addition depending on your spice tolerance. You only need a tiny bit for the right touch of contrast.

That’s just talking about the base here. Things get really exciting when you consider the endless seasonal variations that are possible. You could easily eat a different risotto every day of the year and never grow bored.

First, let’s start with spring.

Celebrate the season of renewal with fresh green vegetables, like asparagus, snap peas, green peas, or artichoke hearts. If you forage, look for fiddle head ferns or morel mushrooms. Finish it off with tender young sprouts, microgreens, or delicate herbs like chives and dill.

Summer brings a rainbow of produce…

…but it’s impossible to consider the options without mentioning tomatoes first. Cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, or beefsteak tomatoes; there are no bad tomatoes here. Pair them with sweet corn kernels, zucchini or yellow squash, bell peppers, eggplants, okra, or wax beans. Basil is a must, if you ask me, although hot sauce or pickled jalapeños could be a nice way to spice things up.

When the weather begins to grow colder for fall…

…hardier vegetables come into play. Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, chestnuts, turnips, and beets are at the top of my list. Bear in mind that this roster needs to be cooked before joining the party, so plan on roasting them on a separate sheet pan while the shiitake mushrooms caramelize.

Winter can be tough.

In some cases, it’s a time of scarcity, muted colors, and dampened flavors. Don’t let that outdoor chill take the warmth out of your food! Consider carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and dark leafy greens like kale, collards, and Swiss chard. This is a perfect opportunity to break out the dried herbs to add some soulful rosemary, sage, and/or thyme to bolster that comforting broth. Top it off with toasted nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts, or pecans for a crunchy, satisfying finish.

Even if you just stick with the plain, simple shiitake foundation, you’re in for a heady umami experience. Vegan cheese is optional, though recommended for extra richness, guaranteed to push it over the edge into the realm of everyday decadence. Make a half batch to impress a hot date, double up to serve the whole family, or make it just as is for yourself and relish the leftovers all week.

Risotto is one of my favorite easy meals, and with this recipe, I bet it will become one of yours, too.

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