My creamy, velvety Instant Pot Vegan Butter Chicken with Tofu is a quick and easy spin on an old favorite, without losing the flavor. This gluten-free recipe can be nut-free and oil-free.
Of all the Indian restaurant recipes I’ve posted on this blog, one of your top favorites has been my Tofu Makhani, a silky orange gravy flavored with spices and herbs. Today I have for you an easier and quicker version of this recipe: My Instant Pot Vegan Butter Chicken with Tofu.
Going vegan does not mean giving up the foods you love, and that’s the reason why I veganize so many recipes for you that I once ate and enjoyed as an omnivore. And it’s especially easy to get rid of the meat when you have a spicy, flavorful makhani gravy or curry that you can simply remove the chicken from and replace with tofu or chickpeas or even lentils.
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.
Here are the ingredients used in this recipe that impart those flavors:
- 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 on how to make the best Instant Pot Vegan Butter Chicken you’ve ever eaten — and make it your own:
- 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 1/4 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.
Whew. Okay, so now that I’ve got that stuff straightened out for you, let’s dive into this recipe for an Instant Pot Vegan Butter Chicken. You’ll truly be amazed by how simple it is.
Serve this Instant Pot Vegan Butter Chicken hot with naan or 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.
- 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 1/2-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
- 1/2 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 1/4 cup water or vegetable stock into a smooth paste and set aside.
Blend the onions, garlic, ginger and the paprika with 3/4 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.