Learn how to make Paneer Tikka Masala ~ Grilled or pan fried marinated Indian cottage cheese served in creamy onion, tomato and cashew gravy
I know it’s been few weeks already since this space breathed a new post… As the days are getting longer and nights are getting shorter, my desire to take a break from usual daily grind grew stronger… Summer, well, it is officially here in my neck of wood with soaring high temperature of 27 deg C.
The windows are wide open and the heavy drapes that kept the chill in cold winter days are replaced with white cotton ones that flutter in sun kissed breeze. The borders are decked with colourful flower beds that attract the buzzing bees and all the barren tress are standing tall and proud showing off their beautiful mane of lush green leaves. HD and Lil Dumpling are enjoying the long walks without layers of cloths and thick jackets weighing down and the pair of them are seen hopping around in flip flops and shorts enjoying the sun on their face and light breeze in their hair! The knee high boots on my feet are replaced with strappy sandals through which my otherwise covered toes peep with bright scarlet red painted toenails. Heavy wool jackets are long forgotten and the simple cotton dress feels like heaven against scorching sun. The heady fragrance of roses and lilies perfume the air and senses…
Summer is here for every other person we meet on our way… Every one is smiling and greeting every other stranger they meet on the path. Café and restaurants are flooded with people sitting on the pavement… Usual coffee cups are replaced with a tall glass of chilled lemon tea and ice cream cones. The time spent indoors snuggling under the duvet is dumped for long walks and pottering around the tiny patch of garden! Fresh fruits and a bowl of light salads make regular appearance and the hot bowls of soups feels like the things of the past!
Crumbly, smoky, spicy and stunnigly delicious ~ Paneer Tikka
Summer is here and so is barbequing! We have been using our BBQ for cooking few meals and at the same time enjoying the sunshine in our garden! From store brought burgers to simple homemade grilled vegetables, we have been enjoying the great British summer weather. So on a weekend I decided to try a hand at cooking few Indian recipes in BBQ while making the most of the glorious weather with my much loved ones. And the first thing that popped up in my mind was Paneer Tikka Masala, a vegetarian version of much loved and popular dish of UK, Chicken Tikka Masala! It is so popular that in 2001 then the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook declared it as a true British national food to set and example for Britain’s true multiculturalism!!!
Although the term Chicken Tikka was included in dictionary in 1955, the dish was originally invented some 500 years ago in the Punjab region of present India-Pakistan border! The tandoor oven and tikka goes hand in hand! The story of tandoor clay ovens starts around 5000 years ago in India! But the story of Chicken Tikka, a small bite sized marinated and tandoor baked chicken pieces called Tikka, begun only after the first Mughal emperor Babur conquered the Punjab region in India. Mughal’s were known for their love for rich, regal, creamy cuisine that heavily influenced by Persian and Turkish cuisines. Mughali cuisines are rich with heavy creams, dry fruits, aromatic spices and heavy fat in the form of butter and ghee. When Babur, a picky and finicky eater, got tired of chocking on small chicken bones, he ordered his royal cooks to remove all the bones before cooking them or risk a roasting themselves! Terrified for their life, the cooks chopped the chicken into small pieces and inspected for every small bones before roasting them in tandoor. The dish thus produced was called Joleh, a Persian name for chicken, Tikka.
Britain's favourite national food ~ A vegetarian version of Chicken Tikka Masala
The tale of Chicken Tikka gets more interesting and puzzling from then on… Over time the recipe was tweaked, improvised and developed and the boneless chicken pieces were marinated in aromatic spices and yogurt before baking them in tandoor. While the Indians were fighting for the independence of their country, it is no surprise that no one cared enough to chronicle the sorry tale of chicken tikka! The British who ruled India till 1947, returned to their homeland brining back many features of Indian life, from curries to Kohinoor diamond, and Chicken Tikka was just one of them.
Although the Indian curries were loved by the British people, the tandoor ovens didn’t catch their fancy. So the chicken tikka was almost forgotten till a flood of immigrants from Indian subcontinent came to UK after the World War II. In and around 1950s, many Indian immigrants opened Indian restaurants across the nation, and made British people fall in love with Indian curries. Although the Chicken Tikka was an instant hit and is indeed an Indian recipe, the Masala (in this case, a thick tomato based gravy) is invented here in Britain for a British people who found the Tikka to be too try and demanded for the gravy to be served along! The angry chef out of desperation or some weird inspiration, decided to create gravy by dumping a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, a dollop of yogurt and some spices. And lo, behold, the British national dish was born and over 23 million portions of Chicken Tikka Masala are served in Indian restaurants all over the UK!!! Since then many chefs, from Scotland to London in UK to Delhi in India, have claimed the dish to be originated in their restaurants and the battle still continues! The Britain’s favourite food is now lapped by many around the world!
Today the Chicken Tikka Masala is not made using canned soup (thank heavens!) and it is little more complex and regal than that! Authentic recipe, by accident or by the result of angry and insulted chef getting his revenge on ignorant client, is still a mystery and questionable! There are many variations to this British born dish but none are actually authentic! Look into internet, cookbooks, magazines, family recipes, restaurants and every where, you will always end up with a recipes that are different from one another! A survey among 48 top Indian restaurants came up with a result that the one and only ingredient common in the recipe to be chicken! Yes, you read it right! So looking for authentic Chicken Tikka Masala is like finding a unicorn in your back garden!
Not really authentically Indian but seriously irresistible ~ Paneer Tikka
The vegetarian version of this Chicken Tikka Masala uses Paneer, an Indian cottage cheese. The Paneer Tikka Masala may not be as popular as Chicken Tikka Masala but the soft, crumbly paneer is marinated in spiced yogurt and then grilled in tandoor oven till golden, thus giving it a wonderful and distinctive smoky flavour is one of my most favourite food to eat with freshly baked Butter Naan and a slices of onion drizzled with freshly squeezed lemon juice. The Tikka Masala gravy is sweet and sour with onion and juicy tomatoes and a creamy due to cashew nut paste. There are many versions of Paneer Tikka Masala and this is what I call my tried and tested and loved version of Paneer Tikka Masala over the years! Don’t get scared by the look of one lengthy ingredient list as the recipe is pretty simple and straight forward. The marinated paneer is pan fried or barbequed and cooked in creamy tomato gravy.
You don’t have to follow my recipe to T as mine too is a result of many trials and errors over the years! And this method of trial and error is your best friend in creating your own signature Paneer/Chicken Tikka Masala! Go with your instinct by starting with a basic ingredients and simple recipe. As you move on, make it a fun learning by playing with the ingredients. Take ideas from other recipes and build upon them. My first time was a disaster when I made Paneer Tikka Masala to impress new person in my life, my hubby! So don’t get discouraged and fall at the first hurdle as in the end everything will come to you and you will be a proud creator of your own version of Paneer Tikka Masala that will leave everyone licking their fingers clean and still craving for one extra helping! Trust me, you will succeed in creating your own perfect and signature Paneer Tikka Masala in the end as authenticity of the dish cant not be questioned here as there is no such thing as an authentic Paneer Tikka Masala! :)
Soft and crumbly paneer for Paneer Tikka Masala
Aromatic spices and yogurt for marinade
Paneer Tikka Masala (Grilled or pan fried marinated Indian cottage cheese served in creamy onion, tomato and cashew gravy)
Prep Time: 10 mins
Marinating Time: 30 mins to 2 hours
Cooking Time: 20-25 mins
Recipe Level: Intermediary
Spice Level: Medium
Serves: 5-6 people
Shelf Life: Best served fresh but can be refrigerated up to 3 days
Serving Suggestion: With any Indian flat breads (Whole Wheat Naan or Butter Naan or with any stuffed parathas) or plain/flavoured Basmati rice
For Paneer Tikka:
225 gms/2 cups Paneer/Indian Cottage Cheese cut into 1 inch squares of 1 cm thickness (Approx 2 cups)
1-2 tbsp Oil
For Yogurt Marinade:
1 cup thick Yogurt (Preferably Greek Yogurt/ Hung Curds)
1 tsp Tandoori Masala (Optional but recommended)
½-1 tsp Garam Masala (Adjust acc to taste)
½ tsp Kitchen King Masala (Optional)
1 heaped tsp Dhania/Coriander Powder
½ tsp Jeera/Cumin Powder
½ tsp Amchur/Dry Mango Powder (Can be substituted with ½ tbsp Lime Juice)
½ -1 tsp Deggi/Kashmiri Chilli Powder/Paprika (Adjust acc to taste)
¼ tsp Haldi/Turmeric Powder
1 tsp Sugar (Optional but recommended)
½-¾ tsp Salt (Adjust acc to taste)
For the Tikka Masala:
For Onion Paste:
1 large Onion, peeled and quartered
3-4 Dried Red Chillies (Byadagi/Kashmiri or any mild variety, adjust acc to taste)
1 tbsp Dhania/Coriander Seeds
1 tsp Jeera/Cumin Seeds
For Tomato-Cashew Paste:
3 large Tomatoes, halved
10-12 Cashew nuts
1 tsp Ginger-Garlic Paste
1 tsp Garam Masala (Adjust acc to taste)
½ tsp Kitchen King Masala (Optional)
1 heaped tsp Sugar (Optional but recommended)
1 tbsp Kasuri Methi/Dried Fenugreek Leaves (Optional but recommended)
1 heaped tbsp Tomato Paste (Optional)
1-2 tbsp Oil
Salt to taste
Smoky Paneer Tikka served in creamy Tomato Masala
For Paneer Tikka:
- Whisk the yogurt to remove any lumps and then mix all the spice powders listed under for yogurt marinade.
- Add paneer and mix them well. Make sure each piece is coated well with yogurt. Cover and keep it in refrigerator for at least half an hour to 2 hours.
- Once the paneer is marinated, heat a griddle/tawa on medium flame drizzled with a tbsp of oil.
- Arrange the paneer pieces in single layer (do it in batches of 6-8 pieces) and let it fry for 2-3 minutes on low to medium flame till it turns golden brown in colour. Flip it gently and let it pan fry for another 2 minutes or till it turns golden brown.
- Transfer to the plate or bowl lined with kitchen towel. Repeat until all the paneer pieces are pan friend to golden brown.
- Alternatively you can grill or broil them in oven at 150 deg C for 3-4 minutes on each side. Arrange the paneer in a baking tray lined with parchment drizzled with oil or with cooking spray.
For the Tikka Masala:
- Grind the ingredients listed under onion and tomato paste separately without adding water and keep them aside. Heat oil in a pan and add onion paste and ginger-garlic paste to it. Fry them till their raw smell disappears and the paste becomes little dry and forms a lump, about 5 minutes. This is a crucial step and don’t be in a hurry as the uncooked or under cooked onion paste can make the curry taste bitter.
- Next add crushed kasuri methi, garam masala, kitchen king masala and sugar, if using, and fry them for a minute.
- Add tomato paste and give it a good mix. Let it cook for 2 minutes, stirring continuously.
- Mix in tomato paste, salt to taste and about 1½ - 2 cups of water. Let the curry cook for 8-10 minutes on medium flame for all the flavours to blend well.
- Add Paneer Tikka to the gravy and let it cook for another 3-5 minutes.
- Serve this absolutely delicious, creamy Paneer Tikka Masala with any Indian flat bread or flavoured on plain Basmati Rice and enjoy! This delightful Paneer Tikka Masala tastes even better on next day. So make sure you have some leftovers to indulge.
Pure Indulgence ~ Paneer Tikka Masala
- Cashew nut used in Paneer Tikka Masala is optional.
- Tandori Masala used for marinating the paneer gives it a distinct smoky flavour. It is available in any Indian grocery stores.
- The Paneer Tikka can be served without any masala or gravy as a starter or finger food and even as a stuffing in sandwich, pita bread, tortilla or chapatti with few salad leaves, a drizzle of your favourite dips (my favourite is thick Greek yogurt and sour cream) as a healthy meal option. Paneer Tikka is great for barbeque and it sure is a crowd pleasure!