Butter chicken, or murgh makhani, is a popular Indian dish featuring chicken, butter, tomatoes, and aromatic spices. It’s similar to tikka masala, but more mellow. My plant-based spin on the dish — while not the most authentic — gives the same rich, creamy, spicy characteristics without the meat or dairy. You’ll love this vegan butter chicken because:
- It’s rich and creamy with warming spices and tangy tomato
- You can adjust the spice level to your tolerance threshold
- It’s packed with protein thanks to the plant-based chicken
What Is Vegan Butter Chicken Made Of?
The vegan version of this dish contains largely the same ingredients as the meat-based dish, just with a few plant-based swaps! Here are some of the main ingredients (full recipe further below):
Armoatics: The flavor base of the dish is garlic and fresh ginger. I grate mine on a microplane zester so that the pieces are so small, they melt into the final dish. You want the sauce to be silky, not chunky!
Spices: The main flavors in this dish come from garam masala, a spice blend containing cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper. Additionally, we add turmeric and cayenne for a little bit of heat. Many versions of this dish contain the dried herb fenugreek, although it can be hard to find in grocery stores. I substitute ground mustard, which provides a similar nutty quality — but if you have fenugreek on hand, feel free to use it instead of the mustard.
Tomatoes: A can of crushed tomatoes adds acidity and umami depth.
Coconut milk: Canned, full-fat coconut milk replaces the heavy cream traditionally used in the dish. Notes of coconut flavor do come out in the final dish, but it’s quite delicious!
Vegan chicken: Remember when the only vegan chicken option was crispy breaded nuggets? Don’t get me wrong, I love a nugget. But now there are many delicious unbreaded vegan chicken options available that expand the possibilities of plant-based cooking! I use Morningstar Farms unbreaded chicken in this recipe, but Gardein and Daring brands also make good options.
Cilantro and yogurt: Add these as garnish at the end. Don’t skip them — they add bright freshness. Make sure you buy plain, unsweetened plant-based yogurt.
How to Make This Vegan Butter Chicken
The plant-based version of this classic dish is easier than the meat-based since we skip the marinating step. The vegan chicken absorbs the flavors well when simmered in the sauce.
First, cook garlic, ginger, and spices in some vegan butter over medium heat. The goal is to toast the spices to bring out their aroma, and to get the garlic and ginger nicely cooked down so they’re not as pungent.
Next, add the vegan chicken and stir together with the spices and aromatics to coat every inch of the chicken.
Add the coconut milk, crushed tomatoes, and bay leaves. You’ll bring this mixture to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes to thicken the sauce. The trick is to not boil it for too long at too high of a heat, or else you risk the coconut milk curdling.
Serve garnished with fresh cilantro and unsweet dairy-free yogurt.
My favorite way to enjoy this butter chicken is over rice — either basmati, brown, or cauliflower. If I eat it with cauliflower rice, I also like to add in some fresh, fluffy naan. When I choose basmati or brown rice, I also like to have a vegetable on the side, even if it’s just some simple steamed broccoli or peas.
What else will you make with vegan chicken? Try these recipes next:
Vegan Butter Chicken
- 1 tbsp vegan butter
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 inch fresh ginger (peeled and minced)
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp ground mustard
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 13.5-oz package unbreaded vegan chicken pieces
- 1 14-oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 14-oz can full fat coconut milk
- 2 bay leaves
- cilantro (for garnish)
- plain, unsweetened plant-based yogurt (for serving)
- cooked rice (for serving)
- naan (for serving, optional)
- Heat a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the vegan butter.
- Once melted, add the garlic, ginger, garam masala, ground mustard, cayenne, turmeric, and salt. Sautee this mixture until the spices are toasted and the garlic and ginger have softened, about 3 minutes.
- Add in the vegan chicken and stir to coat all the pieces in the spices.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, coconut milk, and bay leaves and increase heat to high to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil for 5 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Don't boil for too long, or else the coconut milk may begin to curdle.
- Remove from heat and serve over rice. Garnish with cilantro and yogurt, and use naan for dipping, if desired.