This vegan butter chicken (murgh makhani) is a delicious lightly-spiced combination of tangy yoghurt and sweet tomatoes, with butter and cashew cream to add a decadent richness. It's definitely not an everyday recipe... but it's perfect for celebrations and special occasions!
I recently made this show-stopping, protein-packed curry for my oldest friend, Sue, when she recently came over to stay with me. A confirmed omnivore and self-confessed foodie, she absolutely loved this!
Do you remember a little while ago I mentioned in my bagels post that when I was 18, I did some photoshoots with a photographer called Anita Corbin? Anita is currently following-up her 1981 Visible Girls exhibition, with Visible Girls Revisited (the new exhibition is touring Europe for the next three years), and wanted to come over to Slovenia to re-shoot me. Since the VG shoot we did 36 years ago also involved Sue, she came over to Slovenia as well.
Because I've been moving around a lot, although we'd kept in touch, Sue and I hadn't actually seen each other for around 24 years!
I know, right!
As soon as the doors opened in the arrivals lounge, the past 40 years melted away, and we were our teenage selves again. It was brilliant! We had four days of shooting and hanging out, and I have to tell you that it was the best.
What is Butter Chicken?
This Punjabi dish is essentially tandoori chicken to which a rich and creamy, buttery tomato-based gravy has been added.
Although tandoors (bell-shaped clay ovens, sunk into the ground) have been used to cook food since the time of the Mughal dynasty (1526-1707), it took one enterprising restaurateur, Kundan Lal Gujral, to put the now world-famous tandoori chicken on the global gastronomy map.
Gujral is also credited with inventing butter chicken at his Moti Mahal restaurant, in Delhi, shortly after the partition of India in 1947.
There are plenty of amazing vegan substitutes around for chicken and dairy, so if you don't want to make your own butter or chikkin (as I shall henceforth be calling it!), there are plenty of options available in supermarkets and online.
I actually wrote this recipe almost 20 years ago – or rather, the tandoori marinade part - when I was volunteering at a primary school in Britain.
The upper school (years 5 & 6) did a world food project one summer, and each of the three classes studied a different part of the world; African countries, India, and The Caribbean. At the end of the summer term, each class dressed in a manner representing the country they’d studied, and performed games, music, dances, and plays relating to each one.
We invited parents, helpers, and school governors on each of the last three Fridays of term to come and sample some typical food. This is one of the recipes I devised... although at the time, it didn’t involve seitan, it was for chicken. It proved to be a great hit with pupils and adults alike, and the kids loved cooking it too.
Obviously, this is a scaled-down version – the original was for 120 people! I’ve also updated it to reflect my somewhat more authentic knowledge and experience of cooking Indian food.
Making Vegan Murgh Makhani
It may look like a lot of ingredients and steps but like all Indian food, this vegan butter chicken is actually incredibly simple to make, although it does take a little bit of time to prep.
If you’ve made any of my other Indian recipes, however, you’ll know that the basics don’t really change much. The main difference with this dish is that the chikkin is marinated and grilled before being added to the gravy, which is really what takes the time. But it’s mostly inactive time, not time you need to spend slaving over a hot stove!
If you like this vegan butter chicken recipe, why not check out these other Indian yums while you're here?
Vegan Butter Chicken
- packed with protein
- full of vitamins
- easy to make
- incredibly more-ish!
Everyone I've ever cooked this for loves it - I bet you will too! Why not serve it with some of my vegan naan?
Enjoy this vegan butter chicken!
Vegan Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)
For the marinade:
- 250 g plain dairy-free yoghurt
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 2 cloves garlic smashed
- 5 cm piece ginger root, chopped
- 1 large green chilli chopped
- 6 green cardamom pods seeds only
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp jaggery chopped
- 1 Indian bay leaf (tej patta)
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- 500 g seitan chikkin (recipe below)
Make the marinade:
- In a blender or food processor, blitz together all the marinade ingredients for a few seconds, until you have a smoothish cream. It doesn't matter if it has a few bits in it.
- Cut the chikkin into bite-size pieces, and add to the marinade, mixing well to make sure that every piece is well-coated.
- Cover the bowl with cling film, and leave in the ‘fridge for at least two hours. (I leave it overnight so that the flavours really develop well.)
Grill the chikkin:
- Heat up a grill pan over a high heat until it’s really hot, then cook the marinated chikkin pieces for a few minutes, turning over to char each side.
Make the gravy:
- While the chikkin is grilling, heat the oil in a wok, kadai, or large skillet, and once it’s hot, add the cumin seeds. Splutter for 30 seconds.
- Add the onions, and sauté for five minutes or so, until they start to become translucent.
- While the onions are cooking, pound (or blitz) the garlic and ginger together to make a paste.
- Mix the garlic paste into the onions, and cook - stirring all the time - for another five minutes, until the smell of raw garlic has gone.
- Add the tomato, reduce the heat, and cook for 5 minutes, until the paste begins to come cleanly away from the side of the pan.
- Stir in the passata, and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Mix the remaining chikkin marinade with the gravy, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- If you want, at this stage, you can blitz the gravy to make it smooth, then return to the pan. (I don't but you might like a smoother gravy.)
- Mix in the butter and cashew cream (reserving 1 tsp butter for finishing). Stir until the butter has melted.
- Add the grilled chikkin, and simmer for 5 minutes, to warm through.
- Add the methi by rubbing the dried leaves between your palms over the gravy. Stir in. (Doing it this way releases the fenugreek oil, and adds more flavour and fragrance to the finished dish.)
- Taste, season with salt if necessary, and serve.
- Store any leftovers for up to a week in an airtight container in the ‘fridge.
- Butter chicken is traditionally served with naan or kulcha but it’s entirely up to you whether you have it with rice, roti, paratha, chapati, etc.
- Kashmiri chilli may look fiery but it’s actually quite mild. Its vibrant colour belies its true nature.
- If you don't have jaggery, you can use coconut palm sugar, or dark brown instead.
- Indian bay leaves (tej patta) are not interchangeable with Mediterranean ones, so if you don't have tej patta, don't be tempted to sub your usual bay leaves - just omit from the recipe.
- Yes, this is quite high in sodium. No, it's not an everyday dish.
- If you don't have a grill pan or electric grill, you can char the chikkin under a normal grill (broiler/toaster oven). A George Foreman-type grill also works very well, and it means you don’t have to turn the chikkin pieces over.
- 1 cup = US cup = 240 ml
- 1 tbsp = US/UK = 15 ml
- 1 fl oz = US = 30 ml
How to Make Seitan 'Chicken'
- Press the tofu to remove as much moisture as possible. I find the best way to do this is by wrapping it in plenty of kitchen roll, then using my body weight to press down on it. It doesn't matter if the tofu breaks or starts to crumble.
- Blitz the wet ingredients together in a blender until smooth and creamy.
- Place the dry ingredients into a large bowl, stir together, then add the wet.
- Mix in very well, ensuring there are no pockets of flour.
- Knead for 3-5 minutes to activate the gluten – the dough will feel firm and springy.
- Set aside to rest for 5 minutes.
- Divide into two, shape into logs, and tightly wrap each one in thick aluminium foil, making sure that the ends are well-sealed.
- Steam for 60 minutes. (see notes)
- Remove from the steamer, and without unwrapping, allow the chikkin to cool down to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least three hours, to firm up.
- If you don't have an electric steamer, take a large pan, place a steamer basket (or colander) inside, then add enough water to just touch the bottom of the basket. Cover the pan with a lid, and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat, place the chikkin logs into the basket, replace the lid, and steam on a low heat. I use this ZEAL Silicone Food and Vegetable Steamer, which is lightweight and portable, and fits inside my rucksack. It's been travelling the world with me for years!
- Alternatively, you could wrap the chikkin in some baking parchment or muslin, then wrap the whole thing in cling film. Put a couple of litres of water into a large pan, along with a carrot, an onion, and a couple of bay leaves. Cover the pan, bring the broth to the boil, add the chikkin, and then simmer, covered, for an hour, turning over halfway through.
- 1 cup = US cup = 240 ml
- 1 tbsp = US/UK = 15 ml
- 1 fl oz = US = 30 ml