A few months ago I stocked up on Indian spices and curries. I bought a lot of masalas for specific dishes, like paneer tikka masala, but up until now I haven’t used them as intended – none of the masalas are for vegan entrees, so I’ve just been using them for my own creations. A couple of days ago I decided I was finally going to use one of my masalas to make a vegan-ized version the traditional Indian dish it’s intended for. I had a package of firm tofu in my fridge, and a fresh jar of tomato sauce, so paneer tikka masala seemed like the right choice.
If you’re not familiar with Indian cuisine, paneer tikka masala is a classic Indian vegetarian dish, but it is not vegan – paneer is cheese. Tikka typically refers to meat, but in this case, the paneer is the tikka, which is what makes the dish vegetarian. A traditional paneer tikka marinade may also contain yogurt. Firm tofu has a look and consistency that is very similar to paneer – it’s also comparable to chicken – so it seemed like the perfect substitute for vegan “paneer” tikka.
Vegan “Paneer” Tikka Masala Recipe
If you do not want to purchase all of the individual masala spices, you can buy a paneer tikka masala spice blend. You can find this in the ethnic aisle of some grocery stores or at an Indian supermarket. That’s a good option if you’re trying to save time and money. However, the benefit to making your own blend is that you have more control over the exact quantity of each spice in the masala, so you can fine tune it to your taste while also learning a little bit about how masalas are made.
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1/4 cup dry paneer tikka masala or approximately 1 tsp of each of the following (you can adjust the ratios of each spice to suit your tastes):
- red chili powder
- black pepper
- green cardamom
- ginger powder
- garlic powder
You can also add bay leaves and fenugreek leaves for added flavor.
- 1 pkg firm tofu
- 1 cup chopped fresh vegetables of your choice
- 2 tbsp soy milk
- 2 tbsp water
- 2 tsp vegan mayo or vegan yogurt (optional)
- 2/3 cup tomato sauce
- 5 tbsp canola oil
- 1 diced and fried onion
- 2 tbsp dry spice blend
Dry Spice Blend
- Combine all spices together in a small mixing bowl and whisk or stir together until they are evenly blended.
Paneer Tikka & Marinade
- Open tofu package and drain the liquid.
- Cut the tofu in half lengthwise, then slice the tofu into 1/4 inch thick slices.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together 2 tbsp of the dry masala with the soy milk, water, and vegan mayo – I used Vegenaise.
- Add the tofu and vegetables to the marinade and toss them until they are coated evenly. The vegetables I used were tomatoes, green peppers, and carrots.
- Place the tofu and veggies on a greased cooking sheet and broil on high for 10 to 15 minutes, occasionally stirring if needed. If you have access to a charcoal grill, you could grill the tofu and veggies instead, which would be more similar to authentic paneer tikka.
You will likely have a good bit of extra marinade left over. Save this to add to the masala.
- Finely dice onion and fry in an oil coated pan on medium heat until soft and brown.
- Add 5 tbsp of canola oil along with the rest of the masala ingredients and the left over marinade.
- Stir the ingredients together until they are evenly blended, then cover and let simmer on medium-low heat for 15 minutes.
- Add the tofu and veggies, then stir until they are even coated with masala.
Serve over rice or with naan bread.
- If your masala gets too thick, simply add some extra water and stir. If it’s too thin, let it cook until it thickens.
- Cook the tofu and the masala simultaneously to save time.