This Paneer Tikka Masala recipe is a flavorful escape to India you can make in your own kitchen! Featuring marinaded chunks of baked paneer in a creamy, warmly spiced curry, this paneer tikka masala uses easy-to-find ingredients and makes a fantastic vegetarian dinner.
Why You’ll Love This Easy Indian Recipe
- It’s Elevated but Accessible. This recipe stays true to the authentic recipe’s spirit and core flavor profiles and gives you a restaurant-style experience, but with ingredients easily found in most supermarkets. If you’re new to Indian food, this easy paneer tikka masala is the ideal place to start (two other vegetarian favorites are Instant Pot Lentil Curry and Potato Curry).
- It’s Nutritious. Packed with an array of vegetables, Greek yogurt, paneer, and beneficial spices, this dish is as healthy as it is delicious. The yogurt and paneer are both excellent sources of protein and calcium, helping to make the dish satisfying.
- It Can Be Served in Multiple Ways. If you enjoy your paneer tikka masala served on its own in a bowl, go for it! If someone else at your table prefers it served over a bed of basmati rice, they can easily do that. Then, there are those that require naan for any saucy Indian dish (me!).
5 Star Review
“Closest recipe I’ve found to our favorite Indian restaurant we no longer live close to.”— Melinda —
About Paneer Tikka Masala
Before we get to the paneer tikka masala recipe with step-by-step with pictures, let’s break down the components of paneer tikka masala to better understand what it is.
- What is Paneer?
- Paneer is a firm, mild, and pleasant cheese, similar to a curd you’d find in cottage cheese. EXCEPT (and this is important), it tastes way, WAY better than that description sounds. Paneer does not taste like cheese.
- It’s a bit like a block of feta (or Grilled Halloumi Cheese) but is firmer and far less briny. It’s easy to cook, reasonably inexpensive, and high in protein.
- Like tofu (as seen in this Tofu Curry), paneer tastes like whatever you cook it with, making it ideal for adding to rich, flavorful sauces like masalas and curries.
- What Does “Tikka” Mean?
- Tikka means “bits” and “pieces.” We have bits and pieces of paneer. Easy!
- Tikka dishes are typically baked at a high temperature or cooked over hot coals. For max at-home ease, we’re going the oven-baked route.
- What Does “Masala” Mean?
- Masala is a broad term that essentially means a mix of spices. Today’s recipe boasts double the masala action.
- There’s a blend of spices coating the paneer before it’s baked, then a second hit is used to make a rich masala gravy (a.k.a. sauce).
- Remember, I said we were making an easy, at-home version of Indian paneer tikka masala (like this vegan Tofu Tikka Masala). Therefore, a premixed spice blend is where it’s at! This recipe calls for garam masala.
How to Make Paneer Tikka Masala
- Paneer. I know paneer is a special item to seek out, and I would never ask you to do that if I didn’t think it was 100% worth it. Paneer tikka masala truly is!
- Garam Masala. Garam masala is a unique blend of warm spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, and more. It provides big-time flavor in every teaspoon. Many grocery stores carry it, and you can find it online here. (Curry powder is another popular spice blend, but it tastes different than garam masala.)
- Crushed Tomatoes. To create a robust and flavorful masala sauce base.
- Fresh Ginger and Fresh Garlic. Don’t skimp on these. Fresh is best in Indian-based dishes.
- Spices. Turmeric powder, ground coriander powder, and ground cumin. Add a little heat with red chili powder!
- Greek Yogurt. While paneer tikka masala with coconut milk (or heavy cream) may be traditional, I prefer to make this healthy paneer tikka masala sauce with Greek yogurt. (It’s also my secret to this healthy Curry Chicken Salad.)
- Fresh Vegetables. I like to make my paneer tikka masala with vegetables such as red bell peppers, peas, and a whole head of nutritious cauliflower to make it truly an all-in-one meal (like my favorite Curried Chickpea Hash with Broccoli and Spinach).
- Mix. Combine the paneer with the marinade ingredients.
- Marinate. Marinate in a large bowl for 20 minutes or longer.
- Arrange. Place the paneer on a foil-lined baking sheet.
- Bake. You want it to be lightly golden at the edges.
- Sauté the Vegetables and Aromatics. Do not let the onion brown—if it starts to turn brown, reduce the heat and continue cooking until soft.
- Cook. Add the tomato paste and spices.
- Stir. Cook until everything is tender.
- Simmer. When fragrant, add the crushed tomatoes.
- Add the Paneer and Peas. Cook until warmed.
- Add the Remaining Yogurt. Serve as desired and ENJOY!
- To Store. Leftover paneer tikka masala can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
- To Reheat. Gently warm paneer tikka masala on the stovetop over low heat until heated through. Do not warm too quickly, or the sauce may separate.
- To Freeze. Stored in a freezer-safe container, paneer tikka masala can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before warming.
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 8 hours in advance, marinade the paneer. Refrigerate until you’re ready to finish the recipe.
What to Serve With Paneer Tikka Masala
- Naan. A side of Homemade Naan is the perfect side dish for paneer tikka masala. (Roti would also be tasty.)
- Salad. For a hearty salad, this Curry Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Chickpeas and Sweet Potatoes is wonderful. For something lighter, try my Green Goddess Salad.
- Grains. Our go-to side dish! Try Instant Pot Brown Rice, stovetop brown rice, white rice, quinoa, couscous, or cauliflower rice.
- Another Indian Dish. Create a spread to impress and delight! Slow Cooker Butter Chicken and Tofu Curry are delicious options.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Mixing Bowls. This set is the best for sweet bakes and savory dishes alike.
- Sheet Pan. These sheet pans have been a longtime favorite in my kitchen for years.
- Skillet. This high-quality cast iron skillet is well worth the investment. Here is another more affordable option I also love.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Skip the Nonfat Yogurt. Do not use nonfat yogurt, as it is more likely to curdle. Use 2% yogurt or higher (like whole milk yogurt). You can substitute regular yogurt if you do not have Greek yogurt.
- Make Sure to Marinate. The ginger garlic yogurt marinade in this recipe is essential for developing a rich flavor. For the best results, let the paneer hang out in the marinade for at least 20 minutes or overnight for maximum flavor.
- Choose Your Own Veggies. Feel free to add or swap other vegetables you enjoy into this paneer tikka masala recipe. Cubed russet potatoes or sliced carrots are especially nice here, but use whatever you enjoy the most (or have on hand).
Paneer Tikka Masala
For the Paneer Tikka:
For the Masala (Sauce):
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil or canola oil
- 1 large red bell pepper cored and thinly sliced
- 1/2 medium head cauliflower cut into florets
- 1/2 medium yellow onion very finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger minced
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic about 3 garlic cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala**
- 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces)
- 1 package frozen peas (10 ounces)
- 1/2 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt*** (see note)
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro roughly chopped
- For serving: Homemade Naan or prepared brown rice
- Place the paneer in a bowl and toss with the ginger, garlic, coriander, garam masala, cumin, and salt.
- Add the 5 tablespoons of yogurt and stir until the paneer pieces are evenly coated. Let marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes or refrigerate and marinate overnight. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with nonstick spray. Arrange the paneer cubes on top in an even layer, discarding any excess marinade.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the paneer is lightly golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- While the paneer bakes, prepare the masala. Heat the coconut oil over medium-low in a large, sturdy skillet. Once hot, add the bell pepper, cauliflower, onion, ginger, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute, then increase the heat to medium and continue cooking until the vegetables are tender and the onion is translucent; about 12 to 15 minutes. Do not let the onion brown—if it starts to turn brown, reduce the heat and continue cooking until soft.
- Add the tomato paste, garam masala, turmeric, and cayenne. Cook and stir constantly for 30 seconds, until very fragrant.
- Add crushed tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until hot, about 2 minutes.
- Add the paneer and peas, and cook, stirring occasionally, until warmed through, about 2 minutes more.
- Remove from heat and let cool for 1 minute. Stir in the 1/2 cup yogurt. Taste and add additional salt and pepper as desired. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve warm with naan bread or brown rice.
- *ABOUT PANEER: Paneer is an Indian cheese that is high in protein, mild in flavor, and delicious! There are not any direct substitutes, so I recommend seeking it out. Try Indian grocery stores or delis or a specialty foods store. Otherwise, you can substitute diced boneless, skinless chicken, though you will need to adjust the cooking time accordingly. It could also work to swap extra firm tofu that has as much moisture pressed out as possible, though I have not tried either of these swaps myself.
- **ABOUT GARAM MASALA: Garam masala is an Indian spice blend that can be found in most grocery stores. You can also purchase it online here.
- ***ABOUT YOGURT: Do not use nonfat yogurt, as it is likely to curdle. Whole milk yogurt is fine. If you do not have Greek yogurt, you can also substitute regular yogurt.
- TO STORE: Leftover paneer tikka masala can be stored for 3-5 days in the refrigerator.
- TO FREEZE: Stored in a freezer-safe container, paneer tikka masala can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before warming.
- TO REHEAT: Gently warm paneer tikka masala on the stovetop over low heat until heated through. Do not warm too quickly or the sauce may separate.
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Frequently Asked Questions
For as wildly common and popular as paneer is in India, up until recently, it has been somewhat difficult to find in the United States. Luckily, it’s becoming more readily available. I’ve heard from a few of you that Costco sells it, and if you don’t have access to Costco, a quick google search will point you to your nearest Indian market.
If you can’t find paneer, you can go the extra mile and make the best EVER paneer tikka masala by making your paneer from scratch. Celebrated Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor has this easy paneer recipe.
A paneer tikka recipe is made of grilled paneer and no sauce (this is typically served as an appetizer). Paneer tikka masala also features cooked paneer, but it’s in a creamy sauce.
The definition mentioned above of masala may sound similar to another popular term in Indian cuisine: curry. Like masala, curry is also a blend of spices. It’s also used to describe thick, rich sauces. While both are used to make thick, aromatic sauces, they have some distinctive differences in their blend of ingredients that make them unique from each other. Generally, masala is more warming and curry is more earthy.
Yes, this recipe is vegetarian. Dishes made with paneer are usually vegetarian. However, note that it is not vegan (paneer is a dairy product).