This vegan tofu makhani is obviously inspired by the Indian paneer makhani. You may also know it as paneer butter masala, which is the vegetarian version of the famous butter chicken masala. And, if the Indians made it vegetarian, why not taking it to the next level and make it vegan?! ?
What is makhani or butter masala?
Basically, it’s a very flavorful and buttery tomato cashews based curry with paneer chunks dip in it.
Paneer is an Indian traditional cheese, while makhani means “with butter”. Sometimes the paneer is marinated in curd or mustard oil mixed with a few spices, then fried or grilled.
The original recipe clearly calls for a lot of ghee (Indian clarified butter), cream, oil and frying, which makes this dish so delicious, yet not quite healthy. And since I like it so much and I prepare it often enough, I decided to make some adjustments which involves less frying and turning it into a vegan dish. So, I replaced paneer with tofu and ghee with vegan butter. Still, it’s a makhani gravy in which butter is the signature ingredient. So, make sure you don’t skip that vegan butter. And I also add some vegan cream usually.
Anyway, paneer makhani is one of the most popular dishes in Indian restaurants. And, vegan or not, trust me, once you’ve tasted it, you’ll definitely crave for more ?.
Vegan tofu makhani ingredients
- tofu – a very good replacement for cheese and it’s protein packed also; use firm tofu, that doesn’t break apart in the gravy;
- ginger – this star ingredient in Asian cooking, will give a sharp pungent flavor to those tofu pieces;
- turmeric powder – adds a warm flavor and a vibrant color to the dish;
- vegetable oil – for frying the gingered tofu cubes (optional).
- tomatoes – as always, using fresh juicy tomatoes is the best way to prepare this or any other sauce; but when they’re out of season, canned tomatoes will also do the job;
- cashews – the richness of this gravy comes for the cashew nuts;
- ginger, onions & garlic – a common trio in Asian cooking; it’s best to use shallots for this dish due to their nice texture and the sweetness they add to this gravy; yellow onions work too, I tried a few times and it was fine;
- red chilies – I used 2 really spicy chilies (with seeds), but feel free to add less; you can also take out the seeds;
- vegan butter – it’s not really a “makhani” gravy without a little butter in it;
- spices – lots of spices actually: coriander powder, garam masala, red chili powder, cardamom, dried fenugreek leaves; it is not Indian food if it doesn’t have at least five spices ?;
- for extra creaminess you can add a little bit of vegan cream too at the end; and the sweetness of oat cream works perfectly.
As you may see, this sauce is meant to be quite spicy. I used both fresh red chilies and red chili powder, like the original recipe requires. But if you’re not keen on spicy food, use only one of these two and / or reduce the quantities. Anyway, the spiciness will be diluted a little bit when served with a side dish.
How to make vegan tofu makhani
Gingered tofu preparation
In a small bowl add the tofu cubes together with 1 tsp of turmeric powder and the julienne cut ginger. Mix them carefully until all tofu pieces are covered with turmeric. Then set aside for 10-15 minutes to allow spices flavor to wrap up and infiltrate into the tofu cubes.
You can either grill the tofu pieces or fry it with vegetable oil in a frying pan for about 5 minutes, until it becomes crisp.
Tomato gravy (butter masala) preparation
While the tofu cubes are resting, start preparing the sauce. Cut tomatoes into quarters and remove the stems. Then put the tomato chunks into a medium pot together with 1 cup of water, onion, red chilies, garlic and cashews. Simmer for about 15 minutes over medium heat. Let it cool a little then blend with an immersion blender or transfer to a blender and purée until smooth.
Melt the vegan butter in a large skillet or a wok over medium heat. You can add now the red chili powder and fry it for a few seconds to give the gravy a stronger red color. Then add the tomato sauce with all spices, except for the fenugreek. Simmer until the gravy thickens. The sauce will begin to splash immediately so, you need to use a lit.
Add the gingered fried tofu and cook for a few more minutes then add the fenugreek leaves, give it a stir and turn off the heat. Pour in the vegan cream, if using, then transfer it to serving bowls.
How to serve tofu makhani
Traditionally this type of dish is served with fluffy naan, paratha or roti (Indian types of bread). But if you want to make it gluten free, it goes very well with plain basmati rice too.
How to store tofu makhani
If you can’t serve this dish immediately, you can store it in an air tight recipient in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. If you want to keep it for longer, I would advise storing in the freezer only the tomato gravy. Tofu doesn’t look good after being frozen, but you can keep the gravy in the freezer for 2-3 months. You can also make two batches of this gravy, freeze it and use it for a week night dinner.
If you’ve tried this vegan tofu makhani, don’t forget to rate it and share your impressions here. You can also follow me on Instagram and Facebook to be up to date with my latest recipes.
Vegan Tofu Makhani | Indian Butter Masala
- 250 g firm tofu cut into 1 cm cubes
- 1 small ginger knob (3 cm) cut julienne
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil or vegan butter to fry the tofu cubes
- 500 g tomatoes cut into quarters
- 30 g cashew nuts
- 2 small onions cut in halves
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 small ginger knob (1-2 cm)
- 1-2 fresh red chilis or less (or skip if you don't like spicy food)
- 1 tsp salt or more if you want
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp red chili powder optional
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- ½ tsp cardamom powder
- 1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves
- 2 tbsp vegan cream optional
- Cut the tofu into 1 cm cubes; put them in a bowl and add the turmeric powder and julienned ginger; stir carefully until all tofu cubes are all coated in turmeric; set aside and let it rest for about 10 minutes;
- Add the vegetable oil to a frying pan and fry over medium heat the gingered tofu cubes for about 4-5 minutes, until they become fragrant; when all tofu pieces are cooked, put the on a plate and set aside;
Tomato makhani gravy
- Chop the tomatoes and remove the stems;
- Put the tomatoes in a pot over medium-low heat; add 1 cup of water, cashew nuts, garlic, onions, fresh red chilies and ginger; simmer for 15 minutes;
- Turn off the heat, allow to cool a little then puree it with an immersion blender until you get a smooth paste;
- Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet or a wok;
- Add the tomato puree and all spices but for the fenugreek leaves; cover with a lit and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce thickens;
- Bring in the fried tofu and stir carefully;
- Add the fenugreek leaves, give it a stir and simmer for another 2 minutes;
- Turn off the heat and pour in the cream, in case you're using;
- Put the tofu makhani in bowls and serve it with flat bread or basmati rice.
- Feel free to replace fresh tomatoes with canned tomatoes.
- I made this tofu makhani quite spicy, but it’s not really necessary. Feel free to make it less spicy.
- If you don’t have all the spices, it’s fine to skip one or two; also, if your taste buds are not used with so many spices in one dish, maybe you’d like to add them gradually and check what “flavor level” is acceptable for you first.