Paneer Tikka Masala

My craving for Paneer Tikka Masala ignited a city-wide ingredient hunt. I called every grocery store in a 25-mile radius in desperate search for the dish’s star ingredient, paneer. As it turns out, the store that carries it not only has an entire refrigerator case full of paneer, but it’s also located less than two miles from my house.

An easy, healthy recipe for the popular Indian restaurant dish Paneer Tikka Masala (spiced Indian cottage cheese with masala gravy). A rich, filling vegetarian dish that anyone can make at home! Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

Have you ever wandered around your house looking for your cell phone only to realize that it’s been in your pocket the entire time? If yes, you know the sensation.

My “pocket” turned out to be an Indian deli located right down the street from our home.

Not only does this store stock more types of paneer than I knew existed, they have all manners of spices and products that I haven’t seen since I traveled through India myself nine years ago.

I completely food-geeked out. The cashier actually asked me if something was wrong when he caught me sending photos of Indian prepacked cookies to the friend who traveled through India with me. I tried to explain that I used to eat these on long cross-country Indian bus rides, but I’m still not quite sure he understood the reason for my enthusiasm. It must have been like watching someone lose their composure over Oreos.

OK, now that I am three-fifths of the way into this blog post, I should probably address an important point.

What is paneer?

Healthy Paneer Tikka Masala – one of the most popular Indian restaurant dishes! High protein paneer (spiced Indian cottage cheese) cooked in a rich and flavorful masala gravy. Loaded with veggies and delicious reheated for lunch and dinner. Serve with rice or naan. Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

For as wildly common and popular as paneer is in India, it’s almost unknown in the United States. Essentially, paneer is a firm, mild, and pleasant cheese that tastes way WAY better than that description sounds. It’s a bit like a block of feta or halloumi, but it’s firmer and far less briny. It’s easy to cook, fairly inexpensive, and high in protein.

I almost feel like the word cheese is unfair, because paneer doesn’t taste cheesy at all. For the most part, it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with, making it ideal for adding to rich, flavorful sauces like masala.

Now that we’ve tacked paneer, let’s talk about “tikka” and “masala,” since you might be wondering about those terms too.

Tikka means “bits” and “pieces.” We have bits and pieces of paneer. Easy!

Tikka dishes can be either baked at a high temperature or cooked over hot coals. For max at-home ease, we’re going the oven-baked route.

Paneer Tikka Masala – a popular Indian restaurant dish that anyone can make at home! Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

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 that’s used to make a rich masala gravy (a.k.a. sauce).

This is the point in writing this post when I realized that the definition of masala sounds eerily 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.

Pause while Erin does some primary research checks Wikipedia.

OKAY. Here’s the deal:

Curry and masala are both blends of spices. Both are frequently used to make thick, yummy, aromatic sauces that taste delicious when mixed with chicken, veggies, paneer, and the like.

The resulting dishes are casually referred to as “masalas” or “curries.” The main separation between the two blends is the list of spices, which are different. And long.

Kind of like this post.

I’ll cut the explanation here and leave any additional questions to your own wiki-adventure.

DELICIOUS Paneer Tikka Masala. An easy version of the popular Indian restautant dish that anyone can make at home!

Whether or not you’ve tried paneer, I truly hope you will give this recipe a chance. It’s deeply flavorful, healthy, and packed with veggies and lean protein. If you don’t cook Indian food regularly, it will also breathe new life and excitement into your weekly dinner routine.

To further its case, Paneer Tikka Masala is also an excellent excuse to buy naan, a super fluffy and delicious Indian flatbread that you can find in most grocery stores. (Ali also has a homemade naan recipe if you want to try making it from scratch.)

Paneer Tikka Masala recipe – a rich, filling, and healthy vegetarian meal! Recipe at wellplated.com | @wellplated

As far as finding paneer: I was able to locate it in a suburb of Milwaukee, so I have faith that you will be able to track it down. Start with any Indian grocery store or deli, move to other ethnic grocery stores, and lastly, check specialty grocers. You could even try calling an Indian restaurant to see if they have any ideas. If you are feeling particularly ambitious, you could even try making your own homemade paneer (this recipe looks promising).

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Paneer Tikka Masala

An easy, healthy recipe for the popular Indian dish Paneer Tikka Masala. A rich, filling vegetarian meal that anyone can make at home!

Yield: 4–6 servings

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

For the Paneer Tikka:

  • 12 ounces paneer*, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 1 large clove)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoons garam masala**
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons 2% plain Greek yogurt***

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 minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 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 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt***
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • For serving: naan (Indian flatbread—my fave!) or prepared brown rice

Directions:

  1. Prepare the paneer: 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 degrees F.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and place an oven-safe baking rack on top (I use a cooling rack that is oven safe). Coat the rack with nonstick spray, then 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.
  3. While the paneer bakes, prepare the masala (sauce): 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 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.
  4. 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.
  • *Paneer is an Indian cheese that is high in protein, mild in flavor, and absolutely delicious! There are not any direct substitutes, so I really 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.
  • **Garam masala is an Indian spice blend that can be found in most grocery stores. You can also purchase it online here.
  • ***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.
All images and text ©/Well Plated.

Nutrition Information

Serving Size: 1 (of 6), about 1 1/2 cups, without naan

  • Amount Per Serving:
  • Calories: 374 Calories
  • Total Fat: 22g
  • Saturated Fat: 15g
  • Cholesterol: 65mg
  • Sodium: 518mg
  • Carbohydrates: 21g
  • Fiber: 6g
  • Sugar: 10g
  • Protein: 23g

Did you try this recipe? I want to see! Follow Well Plated on Instagram, snap a photo, and tag it #wellplated. I love to know what you are making!

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About Erin Clarke

I’m fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. Wearer of plaid, travel enthusiast, and firmly convinced that sweets and veggies both deserve a place at the table. MORE ABOUT ERIN…

27 comments

  1. I LOVE Indian food! I personally haven’t had Paneer Tikka Masala yet, but now I have an excuse to try! ;) My go-to order is usually Chicken Saag, with that delicious spinach and peppers!

  2. I love paneer-can’t wait to try this recipe! I also live in Milwaukee, did you go to the Indian Grocery store on North Ave?

  3. Now I’m wondering where I could fine paneer around here if I ever need it! Hmmm…I need to keep my eyes open! This looks delicious, friend. Invite me over for dinner? :-)

  4. Whenever I order Indian food I always get a side of Paneer, so tasty!!

  5. What a great dinner idea!

  6. Lexi @Lexi'scleankitchen Reply

    This looks SO GOOD! Such a perfect vegetarian recipe!

  7. Meredith Edlhuber Reply

    Hi Erin!
    Thanks for the post! I love Indian food!! If you are still in the Milwaukee area, be sure to check out the Indian Groceries & Spices store on North Ave. by Mayfair! It is awesome! They also have some Indian cooking classes that I have taken there before.

    Cheers!

  8. Love paneer! You’re smart for calling stores, I usually drive around for things like a crazy person :).

  9. This is gorgeous! I am really inspired to make wonderful comforting dishes like this for fall!

  10. Just to add my two cents worth about curry vs. masala.  My understanding is that a mix like garam masala should be used as a finishing spice, where curry is meant for cooking.  I think that is a technical Indian perspective.  I continue to use garam masala as a cooking spice…  I’m not sure I can find paneer here, or at least not on my side of town.  Unfortunately we do not have a large Indian population.  I was amazed when I discovered halloumi, which I still haven’t tried, at my local Sprouts store.  I also want to say that I’m happy to see a recipe using paneer that doesn’t contain spinach.  I hope I’ll be able to find paneer so I can try this.

  11. Paneer if my fav! love this quick dish. One pan perfection my friend. And totally agree about the cheese thing. It’s creamy but not cheesy.

  12. Hi, we sell paneer cheese at Costco in Naperville, IL.  I cannot say if all Costco stores sell it, but it would be worth a phone call.  

  13. This looks so yummy! I love that the recipe made you venture into a new deli to track down the paneer.

    We have had good luck finding naan in King Soopers (which is a Kroger brand in Colorado) as well as Aldi (in the Philadelphia area). It seems to be becoming more popular in standard American grocery stores – hooray!

    • Hooray! It’s such a tasty ingredient, and I’m glad it’s becoming more common. Thanks for the tips on where you’ve found it!

  14. I’ve always felt intimated about making Indian food. Thanks to you, I’ll finally give it a go! I’ll probably be able to find paneer in Minneapolis without much trouble. Trader Joe’s has nice Naan, and I even think they make a frozen version of this dish. Thanks, Erin, for another great looking (and adventuresome) recipe!

  15. I’m amazed by how people like indian food. I’ve tried other versions of paneer or cottage cheese (as we call it) along with paneer tikka masala. Most versatile ingredient in indian vegetarian cooking. I would like to share the method of making paneer at home. Its easy but need to be pre prepared. Boil 2ltr of milk in a pan, add half a lemon or lime juice or yougrt. When it starts curdling n the water remins translucent, strain it in a fine muslin cloth, wash it in running water, so the sour taste goes away. Pack it in same cloth tightly put under something heavy so the remaing water drains out. After an hour or so cut it desired pieces, and its ready to use. It can be frozen in a zip lock bag for 4-5 months. And the water remains can used as stock to cook anything.
    Its the process we use at home so we don’t buy from stores and what’s grate than home made and fresh produce, to make things taste better.

  16. This was absolutely delicious! I served it over rice and had naan too and it was a great, filling, tasty meal. Thank you for this recipe!

    Rating: 5

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