Creamy, buttery, rich, exotic flavours.
When I was a teenager and I used to work at the mall, there was this Indian fast food restaurant in the food court that was so good–they always had a lineup! Every day on my lunch breaks I would run over there to try and beat the rush, and the only thing on the menu that I never got sick of ordering was their butter chicken on rice with a side of warm naan. Mmmmmm.
Oh. Em. Gee.
It was a foodgasm, every single time.
But making traditional Indian food is not in my wheelhouse. I’m half Italian and half French Canadian so I’ll stick to what I know–the three P’s: pasta, pizza, and poutine!
In the years that I was vegan, that’s when I would start to get a little more adventurous with experimenting with new recipes. I would try to “veganize” international classics all the time because I just saw it as such a fun thing to do and I liked seeing how close I could get to the real deal.
While I’m no longer fully vegan anymore, I still really enjoy that challenge of trying to veganize the classics. I’d never attempted a vegan butter chicken before, but once I had, I realized it really wasn’t as hard as I’d thought it would be.
The key with butter chicken (vegan or not), is the spice blend!
Garam masala, onion, garlic, salt… they all play together with the creaminess of the butter (in my case Earth Balance – a great vegan substitute).
And I remember thinking this all the time when I used to order it as a teenager – it’s not the chicken itself that tasted so good, it was how it was flavoured. (The big aha moment).
So I know, I know, a lot of people will say “you can’t call it butter chicken if there’s no chicken in it” – which is why you always see things written like “chick’n” or “cheeze”. But I was trying to find the best substitute I could to use in this mock dish.
In my opinion, the true best most authentic substitute you can use would be seitan, however, it can be really hard to find in grocers, and it’s a bit of a process to make your own. So another good meat-free alternative that I went with is tempeh. It’s a little nuttier in flavour, and it breaks apart nicely and kind of blends in with the Indian flavours of the butter chicken.
All that to say, seitan would likely be the best option to go with, but both tempeh and tofu make for good alternatives, too!
How to make this homemade vegan butter chicken:
Easy Vegan Butter Chicken Recipe
I love this vegan butter chicken recipe, it's easy to follow and has the same traditional flavours and textures from the classic.
For the tempeh:
- 1 package of tempeh
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic finely minced
- 1 tsp cornstarch
For the sauce:
- 4 tbsp vegan butter (Earth Balance)
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 yellow onion finely diced
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger finely minced
- 2 large cloves garlic finely minced
- 2 tbsp garam masala
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 can 13.5oz of full fat coconut milk
Cut your tempeh into ½ inch sized cubes, roughly.
Over medium-high heat in a fry pan, bring your olive oil and minced garlic to a light sizzle (don’t let the garlic burn) and add your cubed tempeh. Mix and rotate the cubes every 2-3 mins until browned.
In a separate fry pan over high heat, add your vegan butter and tomato paste, and sautee your onion, ginger, and garlic until lightly golden. Stir occasionally and cook for about 5-6 mins before adding your spices; garam masala, coriander, cayenne pepper, and salt. Mix well using a wooden spoon. Once the spices have coated everything and are well mixed, add in your can of full fat coconut milk and reduce heat to medium. Let cook for 5 additional minutes, stirring occasionally.
Turn off the heat from your cooked tempeh cubes and add them to the larger fry pan, mix well so that cubes are fully coated. Cook for another 3-4 mins (until bubbles start to surface), then turn off heat and get ready to serve.
I served this dish over white rice because I love the flavours of the dish on their own. You can serve it over flavoured rice, chickpeas, or simply have it on it’s own with a slice of bread or naan to dunk in it!
Let me know if you make this dish in the comments below or by tagging me in your posts on Insta! @inspiredbynick #inspiredbynick