Butter chicken is so beloved in Punjab, the north Indian state where it originated, that it is often, jokingly, referred to as its state bird. But this dish is not just revered in the land of its birth: across the world, Indophiles will typically cite this as one of their most favorite of Indian foods, and it's not hard to see why.
The secret is that flaming orange gravy, so creamy and buttery that it coats your tongue with velvety deliciousness. It's a sensation impossible to describe, and one you won't fathom unless you actually taste it. That's why, for you, today, I have my vegan version of a butter chicken that tastes exactly as it should--minus the chicken, of course.
Instead, my vegan and dairy-free butter chicken is made with tofu that's doused with flavorful spices and then baked to create a delicious texture that'll remind you a lot of chicken. All of it is then dunked in the spicy, silky tomato onion gravy flavored with spices and herbs.
The version I have for you today is made in an Instant Pot and it comes together in no time at all. If you want a stovetop version, try out my Tofu Makhani.
What we love about this recipe
- It's as good as the real thing--likely better.
- It's an Instant Pot recipe, so easy peasy.
- It's delicious.
- It's kid-friendly.
- It's SOOO good for you, and you won't feel like you're eating healthy food.
- It's adaptable. You can swap out the tofu for chickpeas or lentils and you'll have a delicious vegan dinner to serve.
The beauty of a makhani gravy -- and perhaps the secret to its popularity -- lies in the fact that it encompasses all of the six flavors: spicy, salty, sweet, sour, bitter and astringent. Balancing those flavors in your gravy gives you a food that's, in two words, perfectly delicious. Beyond imagination.
Ingredients that impart that unique flavor to butter chicken
- Spicy/pungent: Onions, paprika and cayenne
- Salty: Salt
- Sweet: Sugar or maple syrup
- Sour: Tomatoes, lemon or lime
- Bitter: Kasoori methi or dry fenugreek leaves
- Astringent: Turmeric, coriander, garam masala
It takes barely 30 minutes to take this Vegan Butter Chicken from start to finish. Really. And if you cook Indian food with any regularity, you probably already have many of the spices in your pantry.
Tips and tricks
- I use superfirm tofu in this recipe, but you can use other substitutes for the meat. Chickpeas, lentils, and even veggies like cauliflower, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, green peppers, eggplant, squash, or a mix, would work well.
- Use canned tomato puree instead of fresh, if you want to get from start to finish even faster.
- You can make this recipe free of any added oil (not fat-free) by sauteing your tofu in the first step in a couple of tablespoons of cashew cream. In that case, make a little more cashew cream -- you also need ¼ cup of it to stir into the gravy at the end,.
- Use vegetable stock instead of water to add more flavor.
- Whatever you do, do not substitute the cashew cream with coconut milk. There is sometimes a tendency among nut-free vegan cooks to use coconut milk as a substitute in recipes, including Indian recipes. While this is fine in many cases for South Indian recipes, because coconut is eaten liberally in the south, North Indian recipes (including butter chicken) rely on cream and butter for creaminess and very rarely incorporate coconut. Coconut adds a very specific taste that will change the flavor of your butter tofu. If you are nut-free, use a vegan butter instead of the cashew cream. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of it at the end.
- You can make this recipe on the stove top or in a pressure cooker. See recipe notes for how-tos.
What to serve with this dish
Serve the vegan butter chicken hot with a storebought or homemade garlic naan or aloo kulcha or jeera rice, and a few wedges of lemon and onion for a complete, healthful and memorable meal that you'll be asked to make again and again.
Now let's dive into this recipe for an Instant Pot Vegan Butter Chicken. You'll truly be amazed by how simple it is.
More Indian vegan recipes
Vegan Butter Chicken (Instant Pot recipe)
- 1 medium onion (chopped)
- 4 cloves garlic (chopped)
- 1-inch piece ginger (chopped)
- 2 tsp paprika (Kashmiri chili powder is a good substitute)
- 1 cup water or vegetable stock
- 1 16 oz block superfirm tofu, cut into ½-inch cubes (extra firm tofu is fine. Press out all of the water before use)
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 2 cups (or a 14.5 oz can) pureed tomatoes (or puree two large tomatoes)
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- ½ tsp cayenne (use more or less based on your preference)
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp kasoori methi (dry fenugreek leaves -- you can leave this out, but try and use it for the best flavor)
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp maple syrup (or sugar)
- 2 tbsp raw cashews (If nut-free, use 2 tbsp vegan butter instead of the cashew cream)
- 2 tbsp lemon or lime juice
- 2 tbsp coriander leaves (for garnish)
- Blend the cashews with ¼ cup water or vegetable stock into a smooth paste and set aside.
- Blend the onions, garlic, ginger and the paprika with ¾ cup water or vegetable stock. Place the tofu cubes in a bowl and add half a cup of the onion-ginger-garlic-paprika puree to the bowl. Toss the tofu cubes in the puree.
- Set the Instant Pot to the saute function. Add the oil and when it's hot, add the tofu cubes. Saute, stirring frequently, about 2-3 minutes. Then add the remaining onion-ginger-garlic-paprika puree, the tomato puree, coriander powder, cayenne and kasoori methi. Add salt to taste, give it a stir, and put the lid on. Set the Instant Pot to cook at high pressure for 10 minutes.
- After cooking is complete, release pressure manually after 10 minutes. Open the lid.
- If the butter tofu is too thick, you can thin it out with more vegetable stock or water. Stir in the garam masala, cashew cream or vegan butter, maple syrup or sugar and lemon or lime juice. Add more salt if needed. Heat the butter chicken tofu, especially if you added more stock or water, by turning the saute function back on. Once it's warmed through, remove to a bowl, garnish with coriander leaves, and serve hot with naan or roti or rice.
- Make this quick and easy butter tofu in a saucepan. Saute the tofu and the onion-ginger-garlic mixture in oil for about five minutes over medium-high heat, then add the tomatoes, saute until they turn a couple of shades darker and moisture has evaporated, then add spices and proceed. Let the curry cook about 10 minutes, then proceed with step 5.