Paneer Tikka Masala
Why You’ll Love This Vegetarian Paneer Tikka Masala
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 is 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!
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! Paneer Tikka Masala has the same savory, flavorful gravy as chicken tikka masala but with creamy chunks of paneer instead of the chicken!
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.
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 – make your own at home or get it at the store!
- Plain yogurt – or plain Greek yogurt
- Seasonings – salt, garam masala, ground cumin powder, ground Kashmiri chili, and turmeric
For the masala sauce:
- Seasonings – garam masala, salt, turmeric powder, 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!
How to Make Paneer Tikka Masala
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.
Gently toss to coat the paneer in the yogurt and spices. Set aside.
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.
Sauté for another 2 minutes, then stir in the tomato puree.
Partially cover and simmer the sauce for 10 minutes.
Get the Complete (Printable) Paneer Tikka Masala Recipe + VIDEO Below. Enjoy!
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.
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.
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.
Lastly, stir in a bit of the chopped cilantro (if using).
Serve homemade tikka masala warm with a side of basmati rice and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro.
Tips & Tricks
- If you can’t find Kashmiri chili, you can replace it with paprika and a bit of cayenne pepper. It is a simple red chili powder with a mild spice!
- Can’t find paneer at the store? Try making it at home! Or, replace the paneer with tofu!
- Use an immersion blender if you have one for ease!
Frequently Asked Questions
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, that 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.
This recipe is Keto-friendly as-is if served with cauliflower rice!
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 paneer tikka masala a day or so ahead.
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.
If you prefer to make a classic tikka masala, simply replace the paneer in this recipe with chicken! I recommend cutting the chicken into uniform bite-sized pieces and then marinade them and sauté them just as you would the paneer. Traditionally, the chicken in chicken tikka masala is cooked by grilling first for some smoky flavors, but you can skip that part and still have a super delicious chicken tikka masala!
Looking for More Delicious Vegetarian Dinner Recipes?
- Creamy Saag Paneer Recipe
- Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers (Broccoli Cheese!)
- Best Vegetarian Pot Pie
- Spicy Vegan Ramen
- Crockpot Chickpea Curry
- Butter Chicken
Paneer Tikka Masala Recipe (Vegetarian) + VIDEO
For the Paneer and Marinade –
- 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