This Vegan Butter Chicken is luscious and creamy, with a mildly spiced tomato gravy and crispy chunks of Tandoori Tofu. This dish is both kid-friendly and oil-free. It comes together quickly enough for a weeknight but feels special enough for a big weekend meal.
I used to love butter chicken, but since it's one of the few Indian restaurant dishes that doesn't seem to be offered with a vegetarian counterpart, I knew I'd need to start making it at home. Thankfully, it's a fairly easy dish to veganize. You simply use tofu in place of the chicken and coconut milk in place of the dairy. I also decided to use cashew butter instead of vegan butter to keep this WFPB. This recipe includes Tandoori Spice, which is an important, often forgotten, ingredient that helps this Vegan Butter Chicken dish stay as close as possible to its roots.
You'll love this Vegan Butter Chicken Recipe because it's:
- Creamy & Delicious
- Vegan / Vegetarian
- WFPB (Whole-Foods Plant-Based)
- Simple & Straightforward
- Full of amazing flavors
What is butter chicken?
Butter Chicken, aka Murgh Makhani, originated in Dehli, India, in the 1950s. As the story goes, Kundan Lal Gurjal, a worker at a tandoori restaurant would mix the leftover tandoori chicken and spices with butter, cream, and tomatoes to create the gravy, and the dish we know as butter chicken was born. I veganized it by using tofu and coconut milk in place of the meat and dairy.
Can this be soy-free?
Definitely! To make this vegetarian butter chicken soy free just swap out the tofu for chickpeas. Drain a can of chickpeas and toss with 1 tbsp of tandoori spice and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Place of a baking sheet and roast for 15 to 20 minutes at 400F or 200C. Make the butter chicken sauce as directed, stir in the chickpeas at the end, and serve.
Can this be nut-free?
Sure! To make this vegan butter chicken nut-free, just swap out the cashew butter for sunflower-seed butter. Alternatively, you could leave it out altogether. This would take away from the creaminess a little, but you could add a dollop of soy or coconut yogurt when serving to make up the difference.
Can I make the tandoori tofu in an air fryer?
Yes! I tested this tandoori tofu in the air fryer and it turned out great. Just follow the same instructions for breaking the tofu into chunks and folding it into the paste. Preheat your air fryer to 400F or 200C and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, stopping halfway to shake the basket. For more tips, check out my post on air fryer tofu nuggets.
- 14 oz super firm tofu (or extra firm tofu, pressed) --Super-firm tofu is vacuum sealed with little extra water. If you are using firm or extra firm tofu you will need to add 20 to 30 minutes to press the tofu.
Tandoori Paste Ingredients
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tbsp vegetable broth powder -- For a touch of chicken flavor.
- 1 tbsp tandoori spice -- Tandoori spice keeps this dish connected to its origin.
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch --This will help the tofu crisp up.
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
Vegan Butter Chicken Sauce
- 1 onion
- 15 oz crushed tomatoes -- I use unseasoned canned tomatoes for this dish; they are the right consistency and always in season.
- 4 cloves garlic grated
- 1 tbsp grated ginger
- 2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves -- Crushed, dried fenugreek leaves add a delicate but integral component to the dish.
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- 1 tbsp tandoori spice -- This is really a key spice to maintaining the integrity of the dish.
- 1 teaspoon cardamom -- This is a subtle flavor that I love, but if you don't have it at home, the dish will still work without it.
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg -- I don't usually measure this, I just grate a little nutmeg over the top using a Microplane.
- 1 tbsp lemon juice --For an acidic touch.
- 1 tbsp maple syrup -- For sweetness
- 2 tbsp cashew butter -- This will replace the butter of the original while keeping this dish WFPB.
- 15 oz low fat coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper -- If you like it with a kick of spice!
- fresh cilantro
- You can substitute chickpeas for the tofu to make this soy-free (see more instructions in the FAQ above).
- Use sunflower-seed butter in place of the cashew butter to make this nut-free.
- You can use powdered ginger or granulated garlic in place of fresh.
- While I don't recommend changing the spices, if you only have curry powder on hand, you can try making it with that, but it will change the flavor quite a bit. (It will taste more like a typical curry.)
- Start by making the Tandoori Tofu. If you are not using super firm tofu (if you are using firm or extra firm), you should press the tofu for 20 minutes. (Take it out of the packaging, wrap it in a towel and place a heavy object like a cast-iron skillet on top.)
- Preheat the oven to 400F or 200C. (If you prefer to use an air fryer, see instructions above.)
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together the tandoori paste ingredients. This will form a thick paste.
- Break the tofu into jagged, thumb-sized chunks over the paste bowl.
- Gently fold the tofu into the paste until all of the chunks are evenly coated.
- Carefully place the tofu chunks onto a lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the tofu is crispy and nicely browned.
Butter Tofu Sauce
- After the tandoori tofu is in the oven or air fryer, start making a sauce.
- Dice an onion and add to a skillet with a pinch of salt over medium-high heat. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the onion is aromatic and starts to go translucent.
- Add the grated garlic and ginger, along with all of the sauce spices to the skillet. Stir to combine and cook for about one minute.
- Add the tomatoes to the skillet and stir to combine. Remove the skillet from the heat.
- Add the contents of the skillet, cashew butter, maple syrup, and lemon juice to a high-speed blender. Blend until smooth.
- Return the contents of the blender to the skillet. Turn the heat to medium. Add the coconut milk and gently stir to combine.
- Simmer the sauce for 10 to 15 minutes, or until it reaches a thick, gravy-like consistency.
- After the tandoori tofu is finished cooking, add it to the reduced sauce. Gently fold the tofu chunks into the sauce.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve right away with basmati or jasmine rice.
How to serve
Serve Vegan Butter Chicken alongside white or brown basmati or jasmine rice. Garnish with fresh cilantro. For some additional vegetable matter, I like to serve it with steamed, oven-roasted, or air-fryer broccoli.
Can I make it ahead?
Definitely! In fact, the flavors will deepen even more. To make this ahead, follow all of the instructions but don't mix the tofu into the sauce. Store the tofu and sauce separately. To reheat, add the sauce and tofu to a microwave-safe dish or skillet. Warm everything together and serve.
How to store
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days or freezer for up to 3 months.
- When reheating, you might need to add a tablespoon or two of water to help with the consistency.
Vegan Butter Chicken with Tandoori Tofu
- 14 oz super firm tofu (or extra firm tofu, pressed)
Tandoori Tofu Paste Ingredients
Vegan Butter Chicken Sauce
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- fresh cilantro
- Preheat the oven t 400F or 200C (see instructions in the blog post above if you prefer to use an air fryer.)
- In a large mixing bowl add the tofu paste ingredients: nutritional yeast, vegetable broth powder, cornstarch, 1 tablespoon of tandoori spice, 2 tablespoons of water, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. This will form a thick-ish paste.
- Break the tofu into thumb-sized chunks over the paste bowl. Gently fold the tofu into the paste until all of the chunks are covered.
- Place the tofu chunks on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tofu is crispy and nicely browned.
Vegan Butter Chicken Sauce (Gravy)
- Peel and chop the onion. In a skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onion until it starts to turn translucent (about 3 to 5 minutes.)
- Add the grated garlic, grated ginger, and all of the sauce spices to the skillet and mix to combine. Cook about 1 minute and then add the tomatoes. Stir to combine and then remove from the heat.
- Add the spiced tomato mixture, along with the cashew butter, maple syrup, and lemon juice, to a high-speed blender and then blend until smooth.
- Return the mixture to the skillet. Add the coconut milk and carefully stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the sauce is reduced to the consistency of a thick gravy.
- Add the cooked tandoori tofu to the sauce and gently fold to combine.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve right away with a side of basmati or jasmine rice.
- Super firm tofu is vacuum-sealed and has just a little water. It is much firmer than regular tofu and therefore doesn't need to be pressed.
- If you can't find super-firm tofu, just use extra-firm tofu that's been pressed for 20 to 30 minutes. (Pressing time is not included in the time estimate for this recipe.)
- Do not line the baking sheet with aluminum foil. This could cause the tofu to burn. Use parchment paper or a silicone mat instead.
- If you prefer, you can cook this in a large pot instead of a skillet. If you do this, you can add the coconut milk to the tomato mixture and then blend it with a stick blender. This will save you the hassle of transferring the mixture to a high-speed blender and back again.
- Nutritional info is calculated only for the vegan butter chicken. Rice is not included.
Did you try this recipe? Have a question? Just leave a comment below and I'll get back to you ASAP!