Vegan Cauliflower-Creamed Spinach Recipe

Cauliflower-creamed spinach
Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt. Video: J. Kenji López-Alt and Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Puréed cauliflower forms a creamy base to bind the spinach.
  • Eliminating dairy means the spinach flavor comes to the forefront, bright and clear.

Did you try making the vegan saag paneer recipe I 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 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!

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 into a smooth, creamy liquid. Next, I rinse 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.

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.

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.

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

Vegan cauliflower creamed spinach in a casserole dish, with spoon, and a whole nutmeg and microplane next to it.

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.

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Recipe Facts

Active: 30 mins
Total: 45 mins
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

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Ingredients

  • 6 ounces cauliflower florets (170g; about 1/3 of a small head)
  • 6 ounces almond, soy, rice, or cashew milk (2/3 cup; 170ml)
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) coconut oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 8 ounces; 225g)
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 pound (450g) mature curly or flat-leaf spinach, washed well and roughly chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Combine cauliflower and milk of choice in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, cover, reduce heat to lowest setting, and let cook until cauliflower is completely tender, about 10 minutes. Using an immersion blender or countertop blender, blend into a smooth purée. Set aside.

    A photo collage: the first is steaming cauliflower in vegan milk. The second is a hand opening a lidded pot with condensation. The third is checking the steamed cauliflower for doneness by inserting a knife. The fourth is using an immersion blender to puree the cauliflower.
  2. Heat coconut oil over medium heat in a large saucepan until melted. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add nutmeg and stir to combine. Add spinach one handful at a time, stirring and folding until each handful of spinach is wilted, before adding the next.

    A photo collage of finishing vegan creamed spinach: the first is sautéing diced onions in a pot. The second is a hand grating a whole nutmeg on a microplane. The third is sautéing spinach in a skillet while stirring with a spoon. The fourth is mixing in the pureed cauliflower.
  3. Add cauliflower purée to spinach mixture and stir to combine. Bring to a bare simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach is completely tender and mixture is creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Special equipment

Immersion blender or countertop blender