This Vegan Tikka Masala is a delicious plant-based version of the beloved Indian curry. It uses tofu instead of chicken for protein and swaps coconut cream for dairy. Its rich, creamy, and spicy tomato sauce has an authentic restaurant-quality taste but is budget-friendly and ready in 45 minutes. For a complete Indian feast, pair this Vegan Tikka Masala with flavorful Brinjal Bhaji, a traditional dish made with aubergines and aromatic spices.
What Is Tikka Masala?
Tikka masala is a beloved dish in Indian cuisine and has gained immense popularity worldwide. It typically consists of ‘tikka,’ which refers to pieces of meat (commonly chicken) marinated in spices and yogurt, then grilled or baked to perfection. The ‘masala’ part refers to a mix of spices used in Indian cooking, often including garam masala, cumin, coriander, and turmeric. These spices are combined with a tomato-based sauce, often enriched with cream, to create a rich, flavorful curry.
Veganizing Tikka Masala
Our vegan version replaces the traditional chicken with extra firm tofu. Tofu is an excellent plant-based protein that absorbs flavors well, making it a perfect stand-in for chicken in this dish. We marinate the tofu in a blend of spices and coconut cream, then grill it to achieve the characteristic smoky flavor of tikka. For the masala sauce, we combine tomatoes, onions, garlic, and the same traditional Indian spices. Instead of cream, we use coconut cream to make a creamy sauce without dairy.
Where Is Tikka Masala From?
The origins of Tikka Masala are unclear. However, legend has it that Indian restauranteurs in Britain developed this famous curry back in the 1960s. Supposedly, the British found chicken pieces were too dry to enjoy alone with naan bread, so the chef quickly made a creamy masala sauce to put the chicken pieces in. Who knows if that story is really true, but no matter where it originated from, Tikka Masala is undoubtedly one of the most popular curries and a menu staple at Indian restaurants.
Tikka Masala vs. Butter Chicken
According to Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible, Tikka Masala is very much like the Indian tandoori in butter tomato sauce, which is now better known as Butter Chicken. They are both, in essence, marinated and pre-grilled protein simmered in masala sauce. However, there are some differences:
- Tikka Masala protein is typically skewered before cooking it on a grill.
- The tikka’s tomato-based sauce uses yogurt to add creaminess.
- Meanwhile, when it comes to butter chicken, it is not cooked on a skewer. The marinade uses Kashmiri red chili powder to add a vibrant red color to the protein.
- Butter Chicken’s masala sauce also has chopped tomatoes as a base. It also has cashew nuts and heavy cream.
- Butter chicken uses a greater variety of spices and herbs, i.e., fenugreek leaves (methi), cardamom pods, etc.
Why You Should Make Tikka Masala at Home
- To learn how to create delicious Indian meals, making tikka masala at home gives you a culinary experience of Indian cooking by experimenting with spice mixes, marination, and cooking techniques. So you’ll understand the importance of every step of the cooking process.
- Customized Flavor: You have complete control over every ingredient and adjust the spiciness, creaminess, and saltiness levels. You can ensure total personal preference for the result.
- Cost Effective: Cooking at home is considerably cheaper than dining out. Especially when you want to make restaurant-style dishes. You can cook larger portions and save the leftovers for later use, which makes it more budget-friendly
How To Make Tikka Masala
Here’s how to make a delicious Tofu Tikka Masala. You can find more detailed instructions and ingredient quantities in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Step One: Prepare your protein
Press extra firm tofu, then slice into 1-inch cubes. Prick the pieces with a fork, then transfer to a large mixing bowl. Coat with salt and lemon juice. Marinate for 20 minutes.
Add all remaining marinade ingredients to the tofu and coat well. Use your hands to rub the seasoning into each piece. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 6, but up to 24 hours in advance – the longer, the better! It allows more time for the tofu to absorb the flavors.
Thread the tofu pieces onto skewers. Brush with oil and fry on a griddle iron or barbeque for a smokey flavor. Alternatively, you can also bake or air fry until lightly charred. However, it will taste less smokey.
Step Two: Make Masala Sauce
Saute brown onion, then add ginger and garlic. After 1 minute, add spices and a dollop of coconut cream. Allow the coconut cream to absorb the spices, then continue to gradually add dollop after dollop until all the coconut cream is added.
Add chopped tomatoes and cook until soft and pulpy. Break the tomatoes into smaller pieces with your wooden spoon, then add vegetable stock. Simmer until thick; add in garam masala and taste test. Add salt if desired. Try mashing them with the back of a wooden spoon.
Step Three: Combine Tofu and Masala
Add cooked tofu to the masala sauce and let it simmer for a minute or two. Serve immediately, and garnish with chopped cilantro (coriander).
- Press the tofu: Don’t skip this step! It allows the tofu to absorb as much flavor as possible from the marinade.
- Marinating Time: Marinate the extra firm tofu pieces for at least 6 hours, ideally overnight, to soak up all the flavor.
Serve Vegan Tikka Masala with Indian flatbread, such as naan bread or chapati, to mop up the sauce. It’s also delicious and served simply with plain white Basmati rice. To add more flavor, top it with vegan yogurt raita and chutney.
Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
You can freeze this dish for up to 3 months. However, please note that the tofu texture will be spongier once thawed, but the sauce will help mask any changes in texture.
Tikka Masala can be reheated in the microwave or on the stovetop. Discard any remaining leftovers.
I hope you enjoy this Vegan Tikka Masala recipe! It would be delicious served with fresh garlic naan bread and steamed rice. Check out my Dhal Curry and Thai Chickpea Curry if you want more curry-style recipes. Let me know your thoughts on this Tikka Masala in the comments below.
This article originally appeared on Pink When.
Vegan Tikka Masala
- Kitchen knife
- Chopping board
- Mixing bow
- Baking tray
- Cooking pot deep frying pan, or karahi
For the Tofu Tikka:
- 2 blocks extra firm tofu pressed, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp ginger minced
- 1 tbsp garlic minced
- 1 tbsp cumin ground
- 1 tbsp paprika powder
- ½-1 tbsp Red Kashmiri red chili powder or cayenne pepper
- ⅓ cup coconut cream
- ½ tbsp garam masala
For the Masala:
- 4 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 onion finely sliced, medium brown
- 1 tbsp ginger minced
- 2 tbsp garlic minced
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- ½ tbsp turmeric powder
- ¾ tbsp Kashmiri red chili powder
- 2 tbsp paprika powder
- 2 tomatoes medium size, chopped
- 12 vegetable broth fluid ounces
- ¼ tbsp salt
- ½ tbsp garam masala
- cilantro A handful of chopped fresh
For the Tofu Tikka:
- Press tofu for 10 minutes or up to 1 hour. You can do this by placing the tofu like a sandwich between clean kitchen towels and a heavy object, like a large pot or book. This step will help give the tofu a firmer texture and better soak up the marinade.
- Place the tofu pieces in a mixing bowl. Add lemon juice and salt, mixing well. Let it marinate for about 20 minutes.
- Add ginger, garlic, cumin, paprika, chili powder, coconut cream, and garam masala to the tofu.
- Ensure all pieces are well-coated. Refrigerate for at least six hours.
- When ready, arrange tofu pieces on a baking tray. Cook in a preheated oven, air fryer, or grill at 350°F (180°C) for about 12-15 minutes until lightly browned.
For the Masala:
- Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Fry the onion slices until golden.
- Add ginger and garlic, frying until aromatic. Then, add coriander, turmeric, chili, and paprika powders. Stir for 15 seconds.
- Add chopped tomatoes to the spice mixture, cooking until soft and pulpy.
- Pour in vegetable broth and salt. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens.
- Stir in garam masala. Adjust seasoning if needed.
- Combine the grilled tofu with the masala sauce. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve with basmati rice or naan.