Taking the dairy out of this vegan Paneer Butter Masala, a Punjabi classic, does not take away from its mindblowing flavor or its authenticity or its deliciousness. Give this gluten-free recipe a try and you’ll be hooked for good.
If you love Indian restaurant-style dishes that are deliciously flavored yet not too spicy, you should put my vegan Paneer Butter Masala on your list of recipes to try.
Paneer Butter Masala is a popular dish often served at dhabas, makeshift, salt-of-the-earth eateries that are a common sight along north India’s highways.
Dhabas originated as food and rest stops for tired truckers hauling cargo up and down the dust-smothered roadways and the food, meant to satisfy their lusty appetites hungry for the flavors of home, was hearty, rustic, spicy, and inordinately tasty.
Because Punjab, billed in Indian textbooks as the land of milk and honey, is also a prolific producer of dairy, the offerings at dhabas were more likely than not to be drenched in some milk product or other, including butter, ghee, cream and buttermilk..
Most Indian restaurants here in the United States and in other parts of the globe tend to lean rather heavily on north Indian cuisine of the kind you’d find in a dhaba, and you are likely familiar with many of these foods. For instance, if you’ve had a lassi or a Palak Paneer or a Dal Makhani, you’ve eaten dhaba food.
A favorite dhaba — or restaurant — offering is Paneer Butter Masala. The name of this dish leaves little to the imagination, and it really is what it claims to be: cubes of paneer, an Indian cottage cheese, in a sauce of spices (or masalas) with butter adding creaminess and richness.
As you can imagine, it’s quite vegetarian friendly, but all that cheese and cream and butter makes it a no-no for a vegan.
Cut to the modern vegan kitchen, where paneer and butter and cream are easily substituted, meaning this dish has to cut out nothing but the unwelcome cholesterol.
My vegan Paneer Butter Masala is a dish to fall in love with. The cubes of tofu are perfectly coated by a flavorful, creamy, visually appetizing orange-red cashew sauce. Scoop it up with pieces of naan or roti or mix into some white or brown rice for a delicious food experience right in your own home.
What you’d also likely appreciate is how easy this dish is to make. And no matter when you make it, or for whom, it’s sure to disappear within minutes of serving.
Tips for making the perfect vegan Paneer Butter Masala:
- Whether you’re vegan or not, try subbing out tofu (super firm, if you can find it) for the paneer. Tofu, like paneer, is rich in protein, but it’s better for you, and you’ll hardly notice a difference.
- Your sauce comes together quickly, but take a couple of minutes to blend it for best results. The masala sauce needs to be really creamy — the creamier the better. Some cooks strain the sauce after blending — I don’t, but I’ll leave that to you.
- Use a vegetable stock rather than water. This is not necessary, but it helps build layers of flavor into your dish.
- The Paneer Butter Masala sold in restaurants is a deep orange because the cooks add food coloring to make it appear more appetizing. You’ll get a really nice, rich orange color with the tomatoes and paprika alone, and that’s the route I prefer to go. But your homemade butter masala will likely not be as deep orange as what you’d find in the restaurant.
- This recipe is a much healthier version of what you’d find at a restaurant, but I do use a couple of tablespoons of vegan butter to give it that authentic flavor and mouth-feel. Do use it for best results.
Ingredients for the tofu paneer masala:
- Vegan butter
- Raw cashews
- Coriander powder
- Garam masala
- Kasoori methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
- Super firm tofu (or extra firm, drained)
Looking for more restaurant-style Indian vegan recipes?
- Chana Masala
- Navratan Korma
- Vegetable Biryani in 30 minutes
- Vegan Tofu Palak Paneer
- Instant Pot Vegan Butter Chicken with Tofu
Vegan Paneer Butter Masala Recipe
Vegan “Paneer” Butter Masala
- 2 tbsp vegan butter
- 1 large onion (finely chopped)
- 4 cloves garlic (crushed into a paste)
- 1 inch ginger (crushed into a paste. You can do this along with the garlic)
- 3 medium tomatoes (chopped)
- 1/4 cup raw cashews
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- 2 tsp paprika (or Kashmiri chili powder)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 2 tbsp kasoori methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 10 oz super firm tofu (cut into 1/2-inch cubes)
- 2 tbsp cilantro (chopped, for garnish)
- Heat 1 tbsp butter in a saucepan.
- Add the onions and garlic and saute, stirring frequently, until the onions turn translucent.
- Add the tomatoes and the cashews. Cook, covered but stirring frequently, until the tomatoes have reduced to a pulp. Add the coriander powder, turmeric and paprika and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- Carefully, taking care not to burn yourself, ladle out the tomato-onion-spice mixture into a blender. Or, if you have an immersion blender, use that. Add a cup of water or preferably vegetable stock and blend into a very, very smooth paste.
- Pour the sauce back into the saucepan. For an even smoother texture to your sauce, you can strain it.
- Add the kasoori methi and sugar and stir well. If the sauce looks too thick, you can thin it out with more vegetable stock. Bring the sauce to a boil over medium heat.
- Add the cubes of tofu, season with salt, bring back to a boil, and continue to cook, covered for another five minutes.
- Turn off the heat, garnish with cilantro, and serve hot with naan or roti or rice.