Here’s a master recipe for a gravy you can use to make any kind of “makhani” dish.
If you’ve eaten at an Indian restaurant, you’ve likely come across Chicken Makhani, or Butter Chicken. The reason for Butter Chicken’s immense popularity is its smooth, signature-orange gravy that wraps itself silkily around your tastebuds, and the fabulously buttery flavor that rounds off sparkling notes of spicy, sour, salty, bitter and sweet.
But Butter Chicken is also not, as the name suggests, a healthy dish. It usually includes cream, butter, and — of course, chicken, with all of the accompanying fat and cholesterol. All of which makes it a no-no in my kitchen where the only creatures who wander in are there to eat, not be eaten.
A reader recently asked me for a vegan version of Butter Chicken, which spurred me to cook this delicious dish once more and share it with all of you. This gravy is exactly similar to the one typically used for Butter Chicken, with the exception, of course, that there is no butter or cream here. At least not real butter, but we do need a tablespoon of a good quality vegan “butter” like Earth Balance. It’s really not much since this recipe would easily serve four people, so don’t try to skimp on it because you won’t end up with the desired smooth, rich result.
You can use this gravy with tofu, as I did, or even with meat substitutes and vegetables like mushrooms or eggplant. It is fabulous every which way. Adding tofu to this dish brings it closer to another popular Makhani dish, Paneer Makhani, where paneer, an Indian cheese, is added to the gravy. But tofu has healthy fats, unlike paneer, and it is bursting with good protein. Dal Makhani is a slightly different dish and you can find my recipe here, but you could easily adapt this recipe to make a dal makhani by simply adding boiled and tender lentils at the stage where the tofu gets added to the dish.
I marinate the tofu for extra flavor, and it really helps, so take the time to do it. If you are using veggies or meat substitutes, you can use the same marinade ingredients and brown the veggies or meat substitutes before adding them to the makhani gravy. Add the veggies or meat substitute at the same stage where you’d add the tofu.
Here’s the recipe, then, for an incredibly super and versatile Tofu Makhani. Enjoy, all!
(Makes 4 servings)
Prepare the tofu:
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 block extra-firm tofu. Swaddle the block of tofu in a paper napkin or cheesecloth, place it in a sieve, and place a heavy weight, like a pan, on top. Let the tofu stand for an hour at least so most of the water has drained out of it. Then cut it in half down the middle, and halve again crosswise so you have four slices.
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp red chilli powder
1/8 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt to taste
Mix all the ingredients except the tofu. Now slather the marinade on the slices of tofu you’ve prepared and set aside for about half an hour.
Smear the oil evenly in a nonstick or cast-iron griddle. When it’s hot, place the slices of tofu in the pan without crowding them. Cook until golden-brown on each side, about four minutes per side. Remove to a plate and, when cool, cut into 3/4-inch cubes. Set aside.
Prepare the Makhani gravy:
1 tsp oil
3 green cardamom pods
1-inch piece of cinnamon
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander powder
1/2 tbsp grated garlic
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large tomato, finely chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
2 heaping tbsp kasoori methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
2 tsp grated jaggery or maple syrup (use sugar if you don’t have these)
2 cups vegetable stock, or more (use water if you don’t have this, but stock will add more flavor)
1/4 cup cashew nuts
1 tbsp vegan “butter”
1 tbsp lemon juice
Fresh green coriander for garnish
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the cumin seeds, and when they sputter add cardamom, cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon. Saute for a minute over medium-high heat.
Add the onions and a little salt and saute until the onions start to brown, about five minutes. Add ginger and garlic pastes, kasoori methi, and cashew nuts and saute for another minute.
Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, powdered coriander, turmeric, and chilli powder.
Saute the mixture until the tomatoes turn really soft and melt into the saucepan. If the mixture starts to get too dry before the tomatoes are done, add some water or vegetable stock and continue cooking.
Once the tomatoes are really soft, turn off the heat and let the mixture cool. Pour into a blender and add a cup of vegetable stock. Blend to a smooth paste. (Don’t blend the mixture while it’s still hot because it can be dangerous. If you have a hand blender, this is the time to use it.)
Pour the blended paste back into the saucepan, turn on the heat, add the remaining vegetable stock if the mixture is thick, and bring to a simmer. Now add the tofu cubes and stir them in. Add salt to taste. Let the mixture simmer for about 10 minutes.
Add the vegan butter and turn off the heat. Stir to melt the butter into the sauce.
Add the lemon juice and maple syrup, mix well, garnish with coriander leaves, and serve hot with some boiled rice or naan.
I’ve lapsed on adding nutrition estimates for the past few recipes because of time constraints, but I did calculate them for you this time. As you can see, this dish ends up being quite healthy.
Nutrition estimate per serving: Calories 251, Protein 14.7 grams, Total Fat 16.3 grams, Cholesterol 0 mg, Potassium 529 mg, Carbohydrates 16.1 grams, Dietary Fiber 2.5 grams, Sugar 5.4 grams, Vitamin A 10.9 percent, Vitamin C 18.7 percent, Iron 18.3 percent, Calcium 14.2 percent.