For a healthy vegetarian dinner, try this Paneer Tikka Masala recipe. Featuring a creamy, warmly spiced curry, this paneer tikka masala with fresh vegetables is a flavorful escape to India you can make in your own kitchen.
I spent a month after college traveling through India, a country whose colors, people, and cuisine still captivate my memory and imagination.
Paneer tikka masala is one dish I still crave regularly (along with Potato Curry).
Since I can’t pop back over to India any time my craving strikes, I have to try and bring the flavors of India to life in my kitchen.
I don’t have easy access to a mega-market of Indian spices (or the time to toast and grind the whole spices like in an authentic paneer tikka masala recipe), so this is my adaption.
That said, it is DELISH and is about as close as it gets to a paneer masala restaurant style at home.
It stays true to the authentic recipe’s spirit and core flavor profiles (as does this Instant Pot Lentil Curry) but with ingredients easily found in most supermarkets.
5 Star Review
“Closest recipe I’ve found to our favorite Indian restaurant we no longer live close to.”— Melinda —
If you’re new to Indian food, it’s a delightful, enriching cuisine to explore.
This easy paneer tikka masala is the ideal place to start (follow up with this Instant Pot Butter Chicken).
Paneer tikka masala is not spicy in the sense of “hot.”
In general, Indian cuisine is deeply spiced, but it’s not necessarily “spicy” in a way that will leave you panting. Some dishes can be, but this paneer tikka masala is not one of them.
What Does Paneer Tikka Masala Mean?
Before we talk about how to make paneer tikka masala step by step, let’s talk about exactly what this dish 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.
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.
- I almost feel like the name “cheese” doesn’t apply here because paneer doesn’t taste cheesy.
- Like tofu (as seen in this Tofu Curry), paneer takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with, making it ideal for adding to rich, flavorful sauces like masalas and curries.
Dishes made with paneer are usually vegetarian. However, vegans cannot eat paneer because it is a dairy product.
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
Masalas are like any well-loved recipe that gets passed down through the generations. Everyone has their version…and people tend to think their version is the best.
Thus, you shouldn’t be surprised when I say this is the BEST paneer tikka masala you can make at home.
- 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).
- Combine the paneer with the marinade ingredients.
- Marinate the paneer.
For best results, let the paneer hang out for at least 20 minutes or overnight for maximum flavor.
- Arrange the paneer on a foil-lined baking sheet.
- Bake until lightly golden at the edges. Remove and set aside.
- Sauté the vegetables and aromatics over medium-low heat until tender.
Do not let the onion brown—if it starts to turn brown, reduce the heat and continue cooking until soft.
- Add the tomato paste and spices to the vegetables.
- Stir to combine and cook until tender.
- When fragrant, add the crushed tomatoes. Simmer.
- Stir in the cooked paneer and peas.
- Remove from medium heat, stir in the remaining yogurt, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Top with cilantro and serve with roti, naan or steamed brown rice. ENJOY!
Paneer tikka masala has a marvelously saucy consistency and begs for something to mix with it. Pick your vehicle of choice:
- Naan. Fluffy, delicious Indian bread is prime for mopping up all that tasty masala gravy. You’ll love this simple Homemade Naan recipe.
- Brown Rice. Simple and always a tasty option (as is this Turmeric Rice). Instant Pot Brown Rice is an easy way to make it.
- Cauliflower Rice. If you’d like to make this tikka masala low carb. Remember, the recipe already calls for cauliflower, so you’d be doubling up.
- Quinoa. A high protein option.
- For white rice, both Jasmine and Basmati rice are popular.
- 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.
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.
Breathe new life and excitement into your weekly dinner routine with a little taste of India. (Then try this Chicken Tikka Masala next!)
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.
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.
While I’ve read that you can pressure cook this, I have not tried it myself. I have made Instant Pot Chicken Tikka Masala in the pressure cooker with great success!
Paneer Tikka Masala
For the Paneer Tikka:
- 12 ounces paneer* cut into 3/4-inch cubes (see note)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic about 1 large clove
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon garam masala** (see note)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 5 tablespoons 2% plain Greek yogurt*** (see note)
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 degrees 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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