This vegan butter chicken recipe uses authentic Indian butter chicken spices to make a delicious and fragrant restaurant-style sauce that can be served over your favourite plant-based protein.
When veganizing recipes from other cultures I try to do it as close as possible to the original by searching out recipes made by people from there rather than just adapting recipes from other American bloggers.
So for this butter chicken recipe I went straight to Indian YouTube and found this recipe from Kunal Kapur on which to base my vegan version.
This is not a short-cut recipe. There are a few steps and it calls for some spices that you may not have in your spice cabinet at this very moment.
But you will be rewarded with the most delicious restaurant-style vegan butter chicken that you have ever tasted!
What spices for butter chicken are we talking about?
The most important spice is Kashmiri chili powder, and Kunal emphasizes in his video that you MUST use Kashmiri chili powder for butter chicken!
It’s a moderately spicy chili powder that’s slightly smoky and it’s vibrant red colour is what gives butter chicken its distinctive colour.
Next is cardamom. You’re probably familiar with the green cardamom pods that this recipe calls for but you may not have heard of black cardamom.
Since making this recipe for the first time, black cardamom has become one of my favourite spices.
The pods are larger and harder than green cardamom and have an amazing smoky aroma thanks to being dried over fire. They are very strong and one pod is enough to pack a flavour punch.
Finally is fenugreek powder. Fenugreek, either dried leaves or powder, was an ingredient included in every Indian recipe that I checked.
I find the taste hard to describe because the raw powder is bitter before cooking but when added to a dish in combination with other spices it adds a sort of bitter-sweet flavour.
The only other spices you’ll need are cinnamon and cloves.
All these spices can be found in an Indian grocer, online or even in a supermarket with a well-stocked spice aisle.
What type of protein for vegan butter chicken?
My favourite type of plant-based protein for vegan butter chicken is chickpeas. Because this recipe makes a lot of sauce, chickpeas are probably the most economical option as well as being delicious!
However, there was recently a sale on a vegan chicken alternative at my local grocery store so I picked up a few packs and tried it out in this recipe.
The brand pictured is called Heura but you can also use chick’n strips from Gardein, Tofurky, Sweet Earth, MorningStar Farms or whatever as long as they are unseasoned or lightly seasoned.
I have also seen recipes using extra-firm tofu. My favourite way to prepare tofu is to place cubes in a container with some cornstarch and shake it up to coat. Then I fry it until golden brown on all sides.
Other options are cauliflower, soy curls, tempeh, potatoes or lentils.
How to make vegan butter chicken
So the technique for this recipe is quite a bit different from every other vegan butter chicken recipe you have seen.
All the ingredients for the gravy are simmered together in a pan for 20 minutes to soften the spices and bring out their flavour.
The advantage to this is that you don’t risk accidentally burning the spices, which if you’ve ever done that like I have then you know how terrible it is!
All the contents of the pan are transferred to a blender and blended into a sauce.
Then the sauce is strained to remove the tomato skins and any bits of spices that didn’t fully break down.
For an extra punch of spice, a green chili and some ginger are fried in a couple tablespoons of vegan butter.
You want to choose a good vegan butter that actually tastes like butter in order to get the whole “butter” part of this recipe.
Don’t use margarine because it doesn’t taste like anything.
Pour in your strained sauce. If your sauce came out a bit too thin, you can let it simmer for a bit to thicken up. If you want it a bit thinner, add a few splashes of water.
Finally, add the remaining spices and seasonings, something creamy like coconut milk or vegan cream and your protein of choice.
Let it simmer for a couple minutes to heat through and it’s ready to serve!
How to store
Since this recipe makes a lot and there are only two of us we usually have leftovers.
It keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 – 4 days.
You can also freeze it for up to 3 months.
It can be reheated in a pan on the stove or in the microwave.
For the sauce
- 4 medium tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
- 1/4 of a medium onion, sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 0.5 oz (15 grams) ginger, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
- 15 whole cashews
- 1 tablespoon Kashmiri chili powder*
- 3 pods green cardamom
- 1 pod black cardamom*
- 3 cloves
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter*
- 2 cups water
For the chick’n
- 4 cups (640 grams / about 2.5 cans) chickpeas or 2 - 3 packages of your favourite meatless chick’n strips
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter
- 1/2 tablespoon chopped ginger
- 1 spicy green chili pepper, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek powder*
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/2 cup coconut milk or vegan cream (such as Oatly)
Prepare the sauce by placing all the ingredients in a large pan with a lid. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Transfer the contents of the pan to a blender and blend, with the lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape, until smooth.
Transfer to a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl. Use a spoon to help push the sauce through until you are left with only the tomato skins and any bits of spices that didn’t break down in the sieve.
Moving on to the chick’n. Drain and rinse the chickpeas, if using, or prepare the meatless chick’n strips according to the manufacturer’s directions. (Mine said to fry it in a pan before adding to stews).
Rinse out the pan and place it over medium heat with the 2 tablespoons of vegan butter. Once melted fry the ginger and green chili until tender.
Pour in your strained butter chicken sauce. If it’s too thick for your liking you can add a few splashes of water. If it’s too thin, let it simmer down for a few minutes.
Add the fenugreek powder, salt to taste, and the chickpeas or meatless strips. Bring to a simmer to heat everything through then stir in the coconut milk or vegan cream.
Serve over rice and garnished with cilantro, if desired.
This recipe is an adaptation of a non-vegan butter chicken recipe by Chef Kunal Kapur. For that reason I don’t want to offer substitutions for some of the more exotic spices. You can find them at an Indian grocer, online or even at a well-stocked supermarket. If you can’t get a hold of them I recommend choosing a different recipe rather than substituting and getting unexpected results.
Choose a vegan butter that actually tastes like butter since the flavour is important to the dish. Don’t use margarine.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 189Total Fat: 16gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gSodium: 592mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 3gSugar: 4gProtein: 3g
Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and is approximate only.