Vegan Tofu Chilli Paneer

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Tofu stands in for the cheese in this vegan version of chilli paneer. Made with a fiery sauce and seared peppers and onions, this spicy Indian-inspired meal will knock your socks off!

I guess I’m a little bit hooked on this whole using tofu in place of paneer thing. It works so well! I’ve done saag paneer and matar paneer, and loved both. And now I’m set on creating vegan versions of all those incredible paneer-based Indian dishes I love. Can you blame me?

I modeled this dish after an appetizer that was served at an Indian restaurant that was a favorite of my family’s when I was growing up. I’ve eaten quite a few dinners at that place with my family, and even though the dish is on the appetizer section of their menu, someone inevitably orders it as a dinner. That’s why my vegan chilli paneer ended up being dinner in my house, along with some naan and salad.

How to To Make Vegan Paneer from Tofu

Tofu doesn’t taste exactly like paneer, but a little lemon juice adds some tang that gets it pretty close.

Also, the restaurant version of chilli paneer that I had was firm — much firmer than the soft cheese you’d get in most paneer entrees, so I knew that even extra firm tofu would be too soft.

With that in mind, I came up with two options for getting just the right texture.

Option 1: pre-bake your tofu. Just brush it with that lemon juice we talked about, and bake it in a 400° oven for about 30 minutes, turning halfway through. This will remove some of the moisture and firm up your tofu.

Option 2: use super firm tofu. Trader Joe’s and Nasoya both make this type of product. There are probably a few other bands I haven’t seen yet as well. They might be labeled “super firm” or “high protein” and are generally packed in sealed plastic with just a little bit of water, so you can actually feel how firm it is without opening the pack. This stuff is just the texture we want for our paneer.

How to Make Vegan Chilli Paneer

Figured out your tofu option? Great! Now onto the dish!

First, mix up your sauce. We’ll be using tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, some sweetener, soy sauce, garlic, chili paste and cayenne pepper.

Now heat up some oil in a skillet. Add your tofu and pan-fry it for a few minutes on each side. If you opted to use super firm tofu, you’ll want to sprinkle your tofu with some lemon juice at this point to make it taste more like paneer.

Take the tofu out of the skillet once it begins to brown.

Now crank up the heat! Add your peppers and onions and stir-fry them for a few minutes. The peppers should become tender-crisp and the onions should begin to brown.

Return the tofu to the skillet and add the sauce. Cook everything for a minute or two, just to heat it up.

Serve your vegan chilli paneer alone as an appetizer, or make a meal of it by pairing it up with vegan naan and/or basmati rice.

FAQ & Vegan Chilli Paneer Tips

  • How spicy is this dish? It’s meant to be pretty spicy. If it were on a restaurant menu, my husband tells me it would have 5 chili peppers (the max) next to it. I disagree and say it would be a 3 (medium heat). Use that information as you will.
  • Feel free to adjust the heat level to your liking. Use less sambal oelek and cayenne pepper for a milder version, more for a hotter version. Not sure how much to use? Add a bit at a time to your sauce, taste testing along the way.
  • For what I consider to be a one chili pepper version, use 1 teaspoon of sambal oelek and ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
  • Want to keep this recipe gluten-free? Just use gluten-free tamari!
  • This dish comes together rather quickly once the tofu goes into the skillet. I recommend having everything prepped ahead of time so you’re ready to add your ingredients at the appropriate times.

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5 from 1 vote Print

Vegan Tofu Chilli Paneer

Tofu stands in for the cheese in this vegan version of chilli paneer. Made with a fiery sauce and seared peppers and onions, this spicy Indian-inspired meal will knock your socks off!

CourseAppetizer, Entree CuisineChinese, Indian Prep Time 15 minutes Cook Time 15 minutes Total Time 30 minutes Servings 4 Calories 310 kcal Author Alissa


  • ½cuptomato paste
  • ¼cupapple cider vinegar
  • ¼cupmaple syrup
  • ¼cupsoy sauce or tamari
  • 2garlic cloves,finely minced
  • 2tablespoonssambal oelek,or to taste (sriracha works as a substitute)
  • 1teaspooncayenne pepper,or to taste
  • 2tablespoonscanola oil,or high-heat oil of choice, divided
  • 1poundsuper firm tofu*,cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2tablespoonslemon juice
  • 1green bell pepper,sliced into strips
  • ½medium red onion,sliced and separated into strips
  • Salt,to taste
  • ¼cupchopped fresh cilantro
  • 2scallions,chopped

US Customary – Metric


  1. Stir the tomato paste, vinegar, maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic, sambal oelek, and cayenne pepper together in a small bowl.

  2. Place a medium skillet over medium heat and coat the bottom with 1 tablespoon of oil.

  3. Give the oil a minute to heat up, and then add the tofu in an even layer.

  4. Cook the tofu for about 8 minutes, flipping once or twice to achieve browning on multiple sides.

  5. Drizzle the lemon juice over the tofu, flip a few times and cook for about a minute more, until most of the liquid has evaporated.

  6. Remove the tofu from the skillet and transfer it to a plate.

  7. Raise the heat to high and add the remaining tablespoon of oil.

  8. Add the bell peppers and onion. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes, until the onion begins to brown and the pepper becomes tender-crisp.

  9. Lower the heat back to medium. Return the tofu to the skillet and stir in the sauce.

  10. Flip everything a few times and cook for about 1 minute more, until the sauce is heated throughout.

  11. Remove the skillet from heat.

  12. Season with salt to taste, and sprinkle with scallions and cilantro.

  13. Serve.

Recipe Notes

*This is a firmer variety than extra firm tofu. Look for brands such as Trader Joe’s and Nasoya. 

If you can’t find super firm tofu, use extra firm tofu. Press it for at least 15 minutes, then prebake it. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut your tofu into cubes and arrange them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Brush the tofu with half of the lemon juice and bake for 15 minutes. Flip the tofu, brush with the remaining lemon juice, and then bake for 15 minutes more. Proceed with the recipe as written, although you may be able to cut down on the cook time in step 4, and you can skip adding the lemon juice in step 5, since you’ve already added it.

Nutrition FactsVegan Tofu Chilli PaneerAmount Per ServingCalories 310Calories from Fat 130% Daily Value*Fat 14.4g22%Saturated Fat 1.7g9%Sodium 1006mg42%Potassium 554mg16%Carbohydrates 29.8g10%Fiber 2.8g11%Sugar 17.9g20%Protein 17.3g35%Calcium 8mg1%Iron 26mg144%* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.« Pasta PomodoroVegan Mango Lassi »

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Hi, I’m Alissa! I’m a former attorney turned professional food blogger. I love creating vegan recipes with bold flavors!

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