Cauliflower Is the New Cream: How to Make Rich, Savory Vegan Creamed Spinach

The Food Lab

Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt. Video: J. Kenji López-Alt and Vicky Wasik]

Did you try making the vegan saag paneer recipe I just published? You did? And you liked it? Woohoo! I was so darned happy with the results, it struck me that adapting the technique to make a vegan version of creamed spinach was the logical next thing to do, so that's what I did.

To get my saag paneer truly creamy, I bound the wilted greens with a creamy cauliflower purée. Turns out that I like cauliflower-creamed spinach even more than I like dairy-based creamed spinach. It has all the same creaminess and richness, but because dairy can mute flavors, cauliflower-creamed spinach actually tastes more spinach-y than regular creamed spinach.

How do you like that!

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To make it, I start by steaming some cauliflower florets in a pot with a little nut or grain milk (almond, cashew, rice, and soy all work fine) before puréeing them into a smooth, creamy liquid. Next, I rinse out the pot and sauté some onions in it.

One of the keys to really rich creamed spinach is to use the right fat. Vegetable oil works okay, but coconut oil, with its higher saturated fat content, produces a richer-tasting result.

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Once the onions are tender, I hit the pot with a little garlic and a big shower of nutmeg before adding well-washed spinach a handful at a time, letting each handful wilt before adding the next. Mature curly spinach works best for creamed spinach, but if you can't find it (as I often can't out here on the West Coast), then mature flat-leaf spinach will do just fine. Avoid baby spinach, which turns mushy and papery when cooked.

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Once the spinach is wilted down, I add the puréed cauliflower back to the pot and let the whole thing simmer until the spinach is completely tender and the sauce is thick and creamy.

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Finally! A celebratory side dish worthy of a space next to your Vegetables Wellington!

No matter how many times I cook it, I'm always shocked by the extent to which spinach wilts down. You start with a pile bigger than your head, and you end up with enough spinach for only four to six people. Oh, well, I guess that just means you'll have to make more.

PS: Quick bonus recipe I devised when trying to deal with an excess of creamed spinach: Add three cups of water or vegetable stock to the creamed spinach, then hit it with the hand blender and season with salt and pepper to make a deliciously creamy spinach soup.