Paneer Tikka Masala is the vegetarian equivalent of what is probably the most popular Indian dish in America: chicken tikka masala.
A major Indian food manufacturer in the U.S. told me that their chicken tikka masala product accounted for 70 percent of the company's sales!
You could say Paneer Tikka Masala is a fancy name for a mildly spiced, flavorful tomato sauce, dotted with cubes of paneer cheese.
It is usually eaten with basmati rice and a flatbread, such as naan or roti. The overall taste is a little sweet, which is likely one of the reasons everybody likes it.
Another reason I think a lot of Westerners love this dish is because ... errrr ... we invented it—or should I say the British, India's former colonial rulers, invented it.
It is natural to adapt flavors to suit one's own tastes. Westerners tend to love garlic, and tikka masala is made with garlic. This may not be notable, except that garlic is generally not used in Indian cooking.Paneer Tikka Masala is the vegetarian equivalent of America's most popular Indian dish: Chicken Tikka Masala. Click To Tweet
Another interesting fact is how this dish is loved by children. At first this was surprising to me.
Dassana Amit, of the blog, “Veg Recipes of India,” recommends this dish for children. Contrary to our understanding that children don't like spicy food, there is the issue of exposure, and apparently children love many flavorful foods if given the opportunity to try them.
Lisa Sohanpal, co-founder of the Canada-based award-winning Nom Noms World Food, a manufacturer of world cuisine for children, explained to me a couple of years ago that children love variety. Who knew?
Tikka Masala Paneer
Paneer Tikka Masala is just one of hundreds of Indian dishes made with the unripened Indian cheese known as paneer.
Sometimes compared to cottage cheese, paneer's texture is firmer. It's high in protein and combines well with all kinds of vegetable dishes.
You can purchase paneer online, or at an Indian store. I have seen it at Whole Foods, so it may also be available at other natural foods stores. It is also simple to make at home.
All you do is separate the milk curd from the whey by adding a bit of lemon juice to hot milk. Then you press the curds into a block. It could be the simplest cheese on earth. Brilliant!
And for my vegan readers, or those who don't have easy access to paneer, simply substitute the paneer with tofu. The butter in this Paneer Tikka Masala can also be substituted with olive oil.
Healthier Tikka Masala Sauce: Cashews Instead Of Cream
In addition to butter, a tikka masala is traditionally made with cream. In this recipe, cashews are used to create a creamy consistency.
I always like it when I can incorporate nuts into my dinner, because nuts are a quality saturated fat, and a source of vegetable protein.
Although saturated fats have been shunned for many years, it is now more widely understood that saturated fats are necessary for brain development, liver health, immunity, and healthy hormones. What is key is to obtain quality sources of saturated fats, and consume them in moderation.
Many sources of saturated fats are also filled with nutrients and minerals. Such sources are particularly important for vegetarians. Raw cashews are high in protein, fiber, copper, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, thiamin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin K, iron, potassium, zinc, and selenium.
Oh, wow! Please excuse my cashew tangent! It continues below. Feel free to just skip to the recipe if you like 🙂
About cashews, I recently dined with a gentleman from Brazil who enlightened me to the way cashews grow. I did not know, and at first, I did not believe him!
This picture shows the proof! Those are cashews growing out of the end of that fruit!
Cashews grow on a tropical evergreen tree native to northeastern Brazil. The cashew is actually the seed of an edible fruit, and the seed protrudes out the bottom. The cashew is inside a shell and needs to be processed to be edible.
The fruit is known as a cashew apple, or cashew fruit. The large fruit is sweet and slightly astringent. In Brazil it is used to make liquor and fresh juice.
India is also a major producer of cashews, but the cashew apple is seldom used. The fruit goes to waste because it is highly perishable without refrigeration, and rural India lacks refrigeration.
I read that India’s scientists and entrepreneurs are working to find ways to unlock the potential of the cashew apple. Talk about a potential food source! I will definitely be watching for this, and waiting for the day I can get my hands on a rare cashew apple.
... End cashew tangent.
Thanks for reading to the end. I hope you will try out this recipe. I worked hard on this one to get the balance of flavors just right, and I think you will enjoy it.
Recipe For Healthy Paneer Tikka Masala With Cashew Cream
Start the tikka masala sauce
- 2 tablespoons butter, (for vegan, use coconut oil)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced
Add to the tikka masala sauce
- 1 28-ounce can of tomato puree
- ¼ teaspoon red chili powder (substitute with cayenne pepper), to taste
- ½ teaspoon Himalayan pink salt, or to taste
- 20 whole cashews, soaked and blended into a paste
- 2 green chilis (substitute with jalapeños), sliced on the diagonal
- ½ cup water
To sauté the paneer
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 150 grams paneer, about 1 ½ cups cubed, (for vegan, use tofu or mixed vegetables; see notes)
- Soak cashews in ½ cup of water for 1–2 hours. Grind in blender or mini chopper with soaking water into a smooth paste. If you didn’t have time to soak, you can still make the paste. It just won’t be quite as smooth. Set aside until needed.
- Peel the ginger and garlic, and grate or finely mince with a knife. Set aside until needed.
- Slice your green chiles on the diagonal. Set aside until needed.
- Chop paneer into ½-inch cubes and set aside until needed.
Make the tikka masala sauce
- Heat butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add bay leaves and sauté for 10–15 seconds, or until you can smell the aroma.
- Add the garlic and ginger, and sauté until it is just starting to brown, about 1–2 minutes.
- Add the tomato puree, red chili powder, and half the salt, and stir well. Simmer until the butterfat starts to separate from the tomato (about 5 minutes) and an oil sheen develops on the surface. (If the tomato is too thick, add a bit of water.)
- Add the cashew paste, green chilis, and water, and stir well. Simmer until the masala begins to thicken, about 20 minutes.
Sauté the paneer
- Meanwhile, sauté the paneer cubes in vegetable oil in a medium skillet. The paneer will release some liquid at the beginning. Careful once the liquid dries up, as the paneer will burn easily. Turn frequently to brown the paneer, and then set it aside until the masala sauce has thickened.
- Add the paneer cubes to the tikka masala sauce and cook for 2–3 minutes. Do not overcook at this stage, as the paneer may harden if overcooked.
Finish the paneer tikka masala
- Add kasoori methi and garam masala. Stir, taste, and make a final adjustment for salt. If you feel it needs it, add a little bit of raw organic sugar to balance the flavors.
- Garnish with fresh chopped coriander leaves.
- Serve paneer tikka masala hot with an Indian flatbread (such as naan) for dipping, and/or basmati rice.