A Spicy Perspective

Authentic Paneer Tikka Masala (Vegetarian!)

Paneer Tikka Masala Recipe – This classic Indian favorite is a delicious vegetarian dish that features fresh paneer cheese in a rich, creamy and flavorful tomato sauce.

paneer tikka masala recipe made in only an hour with wholesome ingredients

Fact: You do not need to be a vegetarian to enjoy vegetarian food.

With trends like #MeatlessMonday leading the way, more and more omnivores are incorporating plant-based dishes into their regular meal plans. Not only is it good for you and the planet to cut back on meat, but there are also a fabulous array of vegetarian and vegan recipes you might otherwise be missing!

From hearty soups to classic comfort foods, it is amazing the depth of savory and umami flavors you can enjoy – no meat needed. For instance, we love classic Chicken Tikka Masala. However, this vegetarian Paneer variation is just as delicious and happens to be gluten-free. It is even easy to make keto-friendly!

overhead view of pot with paneer tikka masala, two bowls with rice and paneer

Authentic Vegetarian Paneer Tikka Masala

What is paneer? Paneer is a firm white Indian cheese, with a similar texture to tofu. But while tofu has a rather neutral taste, paneer cheese is a bit more decadent… It is not salty like most cheeses, and has a mildly sweet and nutty flavor that goes well with vibrant seasonings.

The firm and mild cheese pairs perfectly with deep Indian flavors, like garam masala, turmeric, and tomatoes. Fresh paneer is marinaded in a luscious blend of yogurt and spices, then pan-seared, and gently simmered with a rich, creamy, and unbelievably flavorful sauce. All of this Paneer Tikka Masala goodness is cooked in only about an hour, so it’s terrific to prepare for Meatless Monday or any night of the week.

PS – If you are not vegetarian, but just want a great tikka masala sauce recipe, this is the one!

And if you aren’t vegetarian, you can also use the yogurt marinade on chicken or lamb and sauté them the same way you would prepare the paneer.

fork with piece of cheese covered in a rich tomato sauce

Ingredients You Need

Paneer and the spices needed to make the tikka masala sauce are all sold at most large grocery chains and international markets. Often the cheese can be found in the freezer section as well as fresh.

To make classic Paneer Tikka Masala marinade you need:

  • Paneer cheese
  • Plain yogurt
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Seasonings – salt, garam masala, ground cumin, ground Kashmiri chili, and turmeric

For the masala sauce:

  • Ghee
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Seasonings – garam masala, salt, turmeric, ground Kashmiri chili
  • Tomato sauce
  • Heavy cream

Plus some fresh chopped cilantro (coriander) to garnish.

Pro Tip: Garam masala is sold in ready-to-use blends, or you can easily make your own Roasted Garam Masala with our great recipe!

blocks of firm paneer cheese on a board

How to Make the Best Paneer Tikka Masala

Step 1 – Marinade the Paneer

The first step is to make the marinade for the paneer.

Cut the paneer into 1/2 inch cubes and place in a bowl or baking dish. Add the yogurt and all marinade ingredients.

cubes of paneer in a pan with yogurt and spices

Gently toss to coat the paneer in the yogurt and spices. Set aside.

cubes of cheese coated in the yogurt and spices

Step 2 – Make the Tikka Masala Sauce

You will be amazed at how easy this authentic tikka masala sauce recipe is. Although it tastes like it’s been simmering on the stove all day, it’s actually ready in under an hour!

To make the vegetarian tikka masala sauce, first set a 4-6 quart saucepot and a large nonstick skillet on the stovetop. To the saucepot add the ghee, diced onion, garlic, and ginger.

Turn the heat on medium-low and sauté for 8-10 minutes to soften. 

Add in the garam masala, salt, turmeric, and Kashmiri chili.

large pan with chopped onions and seasonings

Sauté for another 2 minutes, then stir in the tomato sauce.

pouring tomato sauce into the pot with chopped onion and spices

Partially cover and simmer the sauce for 10 minutes.

Get the Complete (Printable) Paneer Tikka Masala Recipe Below. Enjoy!

tikka masala sauce base with tomatoes and aromatics

Once the sauce has simmered and reduced a bit, scoop the tomato sauce into the blender. Puree until very smooth. You might need to work in batches depending on the size of your blender jar.

Note: If you do not have a high heat blender, you will need to remove the sauce from the heat and let cool a bit before pureeing, so the heat doesn’t damage the jar.

pureed tomatoes and aromatics in a blender

Then pour the puree back into the saucepot and stir in the heavy cream and ½ cup water. Turn off the heat and let the sauce rest.

adding heavy cream to make the tikka masala sauce

Step 3 – Pan Fry the Paneer and Finish the Dish

After the sauce is finished and resting, heat the skillet over medium heat. Once hot, place half the paneer cubes in the skillet. Brown the paneer on all sides.

Move the golden paneer cubes to a holding plate and repeat with the remaining paneer.

Note: If you don’t have a nonstick skillet, make sure to add oil to the skillet so the paneer doesn’t stick.

Once all the paneer is cooked, reheat the tikka masala sauce. Gently stir the pan-fried cheese cubes into the sauce.

cubes of pan fried paneer being stirred into the tikka masala sauce

Lastly, stir in a bit of the chopped cilantro (if using).

overhead view of paneer tikka masala in a large pot with chopped cilantro

Serving Suggestions

Serve homemade tikka masala warm with a side of basmati rice and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro.

Paneer tikka masala is wonderful to scoop up with homemade naan bread or roti. And we love a side of crispy vegetable pakora with kale, too!

side view of plate with white rice and vegetarian tikka

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I make this a vegan tikka masala recipe?

There are a few easy options to make this a dairy-free dish: Swap the paneer for “impossible meat” or tofu, then swap the yogurt and heavy cream for oat cream or homemade cashew cream. (Just note, the dairy cuts the spice quite a bit, so if you remove the dairy you will want to use a smaller amount of Kashmiri chili.) For the ghee/butter, use a plant-based butter instead.

Can I make Keto friendly paneer tikka masala?

This recipe is Keto-friendly as-is if served with cauliflower rice!

Can this paneer tikka masala recipe be made ahead?

Absolutely! In fact, as with all curries and tomato-based sauces, the tikka masala will taste even better on day two! So if you can, definitely make it a day or so ahead.

How long will tikka masala with paneer last?

Transfer cooled leftovers to a sealed container and keep them in the fridge for up to 4 days. Because of the heavy cream, I do not recommend that you freeze.

close up view of the fork with bite of paneer taken to show inner texture

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Authentic Paneer Tikka Masala Recipe (Vegetarian)

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Paneer Tikka Masala is a classic vegetarian Indian dish that features fresh paneer cheese in a rich, creamy and flavorful tomato sauce. Perfect to serve with rice and naan!
Servings: 8 servings

Ingredients

For the Paneer and Marinade –

For the Tikka Masala Sauce –

Instructions

  • For the Paneer Marinade: Cut the paneer into cubes and place in a bowl or baking dish. Add the yogurt and all marinade ingredients. Gently toss to coat the paneer in the yogurt and spices. Set aside.
  • For the Tikka Masala Sauce: Set a 4-6 quart saucepot (and a large nonstick skillet) on the stovetop. To the sauce pot add the ghee, diced onion, garlic and ginger. Turn the heat on medium-low and sauté for 8-10 minutes to soften.
  • Add in the garam masala, salt, turmeric, and Kashmiri chili. Sauté another 2 minutes, then stir in the tomato sauce.
  • Partially cover and simmer the sauce for 10 minutes.
  • Scoop the tomato sauce into the blender. Puree until very smooth. Then pour the puree back into the saucepot and stir in the heavy cream and ½ cup water. Turn off the heat and let the sauce rest.
  • After the sauce is finished and resting, heat the skillet over medium heat. Once hot, place half the paneer cubes in the skillet. Brown the paneer on all sides. Then move the golden paneer cubes to a holding plate and repeat with the remaining paneer. (If you don’t have a nonstick skillet, make sure to add oil to the skillet so the paneer doesn’t stick.)
  • Once all the paneer is cooked, reheat the tikka masala sauce. Mix the Paneer cubes into the sauce, and serve warm with a side of basmati rice and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro

Notes

Transfer cooled leftovers to a sealed container and keep in the fridge for up to 4 days. Because of the heavy cream I do not recommend that you freeze.

Nutrition

Serving: 0.75cup, Calories: 615kcal, Carbohydrates: 11g, Protein: 19g, Fat: 55g, Saturated Fat: 34g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 8g, Cholesterol: 170mg, Sodium: 1072mg, Potassium: 322mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 1139IU, Vitamin C: 6mg, Calcium: 639mg, Iron: 1mg
Course: dinner, Main, Main Course
Cuisine: Asian, Indian
Author: Sommer Collier

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4 comments on “Authentic Paneer Tikka Masala (Vegetarian!)”

  1. I’m obsessed with paneer but I’ve never made it at home. This is going in my recipe box, for sure!

  2. This is so good and I love that it’s a great vegetarian option as well! Everyone in my family loves this one.

  3. Such a great meatless India dish. The flavours are on point and you are right it goes super well with Basmati rice.

  4. This recipe is soooooo good! I don’t even miss the meat!