Delicious, restaurant-style Vegan “Paneer” Butter Masala. Crispy pan-fried tofu is dunked in a creamy luscious gravy made with butter, tomato, homemade cashew cream, and bursting with spices. Served with fluffy basmati rice and pillowy naan or roti bread, it will take you to the extraordinary culinary scene of Northern India. This creamy and aromatic heaven of a recipe calls for an equally spicy and exuberant wine. Enters Gewürztraminer, with its aromas of fresh roses, litchi, and saffron. Can you imagine a better flavor match?
What is Paneer Butter Masala?
Paneer Butter Masala (also called Paneer Makhani) is a vegetarian specialty from Northern India. Makhani means “buttery” in Hindi, evoking the creaminess and richness of a gravy made with butter, tomato, cashews, and spices. As for paneer, this is a fresh, unfermented, non-melting cheese that is commonly prepared with a wide variety of vegetable-based gravies. Here, I kept all the flavor markers of Paneer Butter Masala but made the recipe plant-based, replacing paneer with extra-firm tofu and butter with vegan butter. However, I also slipped some instructions to make the traditional vegetarian version!
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The ingredients you’ll need
- Extra-firm tofu – has the perfect texture to replace paneer, plus it’s full of protein.
- Good quality tomato pulp – for the acidity and vibrant flavor.
- Onion, garlic, and fresh ginger – to prepare the most aromatic paste.
- Unsalted vegan butter – because this is what this dish is all about!
- Spices: ground coriander, red chili powder (I used Kashmiri chili), and garam masala – to add an incredible flavor dimension to the gravy.
- Black cardamom pod (optional) – is sometimes used in India to deepen the flavor of gravies.
- Vegetable oil – to pan-fry the tofu.
- Flaky sea salt – to season.
- Cilantro, to serve – for freshness and delicious vegetal fragrance.
What is Garam Masala and how to use it?
Garam Masala is a blend of ground spices originating from Northern India and commonly used in different cuisines of the Indian subcontinent. Recipes of Garam Masala differ regionally, but the most common blends are usually made of cumin, green and black cardamom, nutmeg, mace, clove, black peppercorn, fennel seeds, and bay leaf.
Unlike other spices, Garama Masala is made of toasted spices. For this reason, Garam Masala does not need to be fried in hot oil or butter (a cooking technique called “fry” meant to make spices taste bolder, fresher, and more intense). In Northern India, Garam Masala is usually added at the end preparations, to taste the freshest and brightest. It is also sprinkled on raw vegetables like cucumber, onion, or tomato that are served as appetizers.
This is why Garam Masala is added at the end of this recipe and not with the other spices!
Variations for making traditional vegetarian Paneer Butter Masala
If you wish to enjoy the traditional vegetarian version of Paneer Butter Masala:
- Replace tofu with paneer cheese (you can find it in the refrigerated section of most Indian grocery stores).
- Substitute vegan butter with unsalted dairy butter or ghee (clarified butter that can be found at Indian grocery stores too).
Then follow the recipe as written. Easy peasy!
How to make Vegan Paneer Butter Masala?
This recipe comprises two main steps: pan-frying the tofu and making the butter masala gravy.
A quick note before getting started: no need to wash the skillet and chopper after each step. Both skillet and chopper are going to be used for different preparations. This is okay if there are some unscraped bits of the previous preparation left, as everything will be combined in the final dish. So, keep them aside without washing them! Way less hassle!
To pan-fry the tofu:
- Remove the excess water from the tofu by pressing it and patting it dry with some kitchen paper. Cut into ½ inch cubes.
- In a sauté pan or pan-stick pan, heat 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of vegetable oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cubed tofu and ½ teaspoon of salt.
- Sauté the tofu for 10 minutes, shaking/flipping occasionally to cook evenly, until the tofu has a slight crust on each side and is beautifully golden. Set aside.
To prepare the Butter Masala gravy:
- In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon (10 g) of unsalted vegan butter over medium heat.
- Add the sliced onion and sauté until slightly golden, stirring regularly.
- Transfer the sautéed onion to a chopper with the cloves of garlic, the piece of ginger, and ¼ cup (50 ml) of water and mix until very smooth.
- To the very same skillet (I told you it was going to be used a lot!), heat 2 tablespoons (20 g) of vegan butter over medium heat.
- When the butter is melted, add the ground coriander, red chili powder, the optional pod of back cardamom and stir until the mixture becomes fragrant and foamy (about 30 seconds). Be aware that ground spices can burn easily (which can give a bitter taste to the masala). Don’t fry the spices for too long.
- As soon as the spices start to smell, add the onion-garlic-ginger paste to the skillet. Stir and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Keep the empty chopper aside, you’ll need it again.
- Add the tomato pulp and sea salt and let simmer gently (over low heat) for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make a quick cashew cream :
- Cover ½ cup (70 g) of raw cashew with boiling water. Let it sit for 5 minutes and drain.
- Add the soaked cashew to the chopper with ¾ cup (180 ml) of water and blend until very smooth (about 2 minutes).
To finish the gravy:
- After 10 minutes of simmering, add the garam masala and cashew cream to the gravy and stir until well combined.
- Add the crispy tofu cubes and stir until all the cubes are well coated. Adjust the salt seasoning if need be (if you like your food with a lot of heat, to could also drop some extra red chili powder at this stage). Cook for another 5 minutes, or until the tofu cubes are heated.
It’s ready! Topped with a generous handful of fresh cilantro and serve piping hot with some fluffy basmati rice on the side, naan or roti, and a chilled glass of Gewürztraminer!
Nim Keys – Useful Tips
- In this recipe, you will need a chopper, food processor, or some kind of mixer that will be used for different preparations. No need to wash it between each preparation, as the flavor are all mixed in the luscious sauce. A great time and washing-up saver!
- When adding the ground spices to the hot melted butter, stir well and be careful not to burn the spices. 30 seconds should be enough frying time.
- Depending on the water content of the tomato pulp you choose, the consistency of the butter masala may vary. Adjust the final consistency with a bit of water if need be.
- Regarding heat🔥, this recipe is pretty mild. If you like your food with a lot of heat, feel free to adjust the red chili powder quantity.
🍷 Wine Pairing for Vegan Paneer Butter Masala
An overall amazing match for Indian food!
This grape variety produces wines that are extremely fragrant. They usually display an intense aroma of fresh rose, litchi, and ginger with saffron undertones.
Gewürztraminer wines often have some sweetness to them. It is what we want here, as sweetness balances the heat of chili. You can find them in a range of different sweetness levels. For this recipe, you can choose anything from off-dry to sweet (often labeled Late Harvest or “Vendanges Tardives” in French). As your wine shop is you are not sure which is which!
Gewürztraminer’s concentrated and complex flavors will bring out the ginger, garam masala, and coriander while balancing the heat of chili and garlic with its sweetness.
Serve it chilled: take it out of the fridge 15 minutes before serving to let it warm up ever so slightly.
WINE APPELLATION SUGGESTIONS
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container and kept in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Yes, but only the butter masala sauce. Just let it cool down completely and store it in a freezer-safe container for up to 2 months. When you are ready to enjoy, reheat in a skillet until bubbling. Adjust the consistency with a bit of water if need be. I recommend frying and adding the tofu at the last minute, for a better texture.
To make this recipe nut free:
– you can substitute cashew cream with 1 cup (230 ml) of full-fat coconut cream.
– for a non-plant-based version, you can add 1 cup (230 ml) of heavy cream.
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Let me know in the comments if you made this recipe!