I’m not even sure if vegan tofu makhani is the right name for this dish. In India, they have more names for dishes that look and taste quite the same: makhani, (butter) masala, lababdar, lasooni. I really can’t make the difference. But I do know one thing: these dishes are absolutely delicious!
I can understand why westerners gave to all dishes one name: curry :).
What is makhani or butter masala?
Basically, it’s a very flavorful and buttery tomato cashew based gravy with paneer / veggies / meat.
Paneer is an Indian traditional cheese, while makhani means “with butter”. Now it’s easy to understand why tofu is on my ingredients list :). Sometimes paneer is marinated with curd or mustard oil and a few spices, then fried or grilled.
Regardless how they’re called, these Indian gravies require 2 or 3 frying steps. Sometimes oil is replaced with ghee (clarified butter). And that’s a bit too much for me. That’s why I’ve tried to simplify the process a little bit and also to use less oil / butter.
Vegan tofu makhani ingredients
In this paragraph you’ll find general information about used ingredients, their role and possible substitutes. Details about needed quantities and step-by step preparation can be found in the recipe card at the end of the article.
- 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;
- tofu – not only a very good replacement for cheese, but it’s protein packed also; use firm tofu, that doesn’t break apart into the gravy;
- cashews – to give this gravy a rich texture;
- ginger, onions & garlic – a common combination in Asian cooking; it’s best to use shallots for this dish due to their nice texture and the sweetness they add; yellow onions work too, I’ve tried a few times using half of the required amount;
- red chilis – I used 2 really spicy chilis (with seeds), but feel free to use less; you can also remove the seeds for less spiciness;
- vegan butter – to bring creaminess to the gravy;
- spices – lots of spices actually: coriander powder, garam masala, bay leaves, cardamom seeds, cumin seeds, dried fenugreek leaves; it is not Indian food if it doesn’t have at least 5 spices :).
How to make vegan tofu makhani
Gingered tofu preparation
In a small bowl, add the tofu cubes with turmeric powder and julienne cut ginger. Combine gently 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 or fry the tofu pieces for about 5 minutes, until they become crisp.
Tomato gravy (butter masala) preparation
While the tofu cubes are resting, prepare the gravy ingredients. Roughly chop onions and tomatoes and remove the stems.
Heat the oil in a large skillet or a wok and add cumin seeds, chilis, and cardamom seeds and fry for 1-2 minutes until flavors are released. Fried or roasted spices give a very nice flavor to any dish. And this is actually the reason I wouldn’t skip this frying step.
Add onion, garlic and ginger and sauté for about 4-5 minutes, until soft.
Bring in tomatoes, cashews, salt, turmeric, coriander, garam masala and bay leaves. Add 100-200 ml water, depending on how juicy your tomatoes are. Combine well and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes.
When all ingredients are soft enough, turn off the heat and allow to cool a little. Remove the bay leaves and process with an immersion blender until smooth.
Turn on the heat, add butter and stir until it melts in. If the gravy is too thick, add water. Check if salt or other spices are needed (I added some garam masala and cardamom powder). Stir in fenugreek and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Then add tofu, combine gently and turn off the heat.
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.
I ate it in a very traditional way: no cutlery, just hands 🙂
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 changes texture when frozen, but you can keep the gravy in the freezer up to 3 months. You can also make two batches of this gravy, freeze it and use it for a quick week night dinner.
Other Indian recipes
- Sweet potato, cauliflower and chickpea curry
- Palak tofu – spinach curry with tofu
- Tofu vegetabls curry
- Savory zucchini and corn semolina pancakes
*This article was published in September 2020 and updated in September 2021. Text an photos were improved. The cooking method was slightly changed.
If you like this vegan tofu makhani recipe, please rate it or leave a comment below. And, if you prepare it, you can share a photo and tag Choose Tasty either on Instagram (#choose_tasty) or on Facebook (#choosetasty). I’d love to see your creations.
Vegan Tofu Makhani | Indian Butter Masala
- 250 g firm tofu cut in cubes
- 1 small ginger knob (3 cm) cut julienne
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tbsp avocado oil
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2-3 dry red chilis or less (or skip if you don't like spicy food)
- 2-3 green cardamom seeds
- 2 medium shallots very roughly chopped
- 4-5 garlic cloves
- 1 small ginger knob (1-2 cm)
- 500 g tomatoes cut in big chunks
- 30 g cashews
- 1 tsp salt or to taste
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1-2 bay leaves
- ½ tsp red chili powder optional
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp dried fenugreek
- 30 g vegan butter
- Put tofu cubes with turmeric ginger and avocado oil in a small bowl; stir gently until all tofu pieces are coated in turmeric powder; set aside and let it rest for about 10 minutes;
- Fry the gingered tofu cubes for about 4-5 minutes, until they become fragrant; put the tofu pieces on a plate and set aside;
- Heat the oil in a large skillet or a wok and add cumin seeds, dry chilis and cardamom pods when hot; fry for 1-2 minutes until fragrances are released;
- Add onions, garlic and ginger and cook for 4-5 minutes until soft;
- Add in tomatoes, cashews, bay leaves, garam masala, coriander, turmeric, chili powder (if using), salt, and 100-200 ml water (depending on how juicy the tomatoes are); combine well, cover with a lid and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes;
- Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaves and process with an immersion blender until smooth;
- Turn on the heat and add the vegan butter; stir until it melts; pour in some some water if too thick; stir in the fenugreek and check if salt and other spices are needed; simmer for 1-2 minutes;
- Gently stir in the tofu cubes and turn off the heat;
- Transfer to serving bowls and enjoy it with naan and / or basmati rice.
- Feel free to replace fresh tomatoes with canned tomatoes.
- Indian food quite spicy, but the level of spiciness can be adjusted to your own taste..
- Feel free to skip the spices you don’t like. Or just use smaller quantities.