Paneer Tikka Masala
Paneer Tikka Masala (spiced Indian cottage cheese with masala gravy) is a healthy Indian dinner recipe. This is a rich, filling vegetarian masala recipe that anyone can make at home!
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.
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?
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.
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.
Paneer Tikka Masala: Why and How?
Paneer Tikka Masala — Do It For Your Taste Buds (and Your Body and Spirit Too!)
Whether or not you’ve tried paneer, I truly hope you will give this Tikka Masala 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.)
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. Toni has a homemade paneer recipe that looks wonderful.
More Delicious Indian Recipes to Try:
Paneer Tikka Masala
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 can crushed tomatoes — (28 ounces)
- 1 package frozen peas — (10 ounces)
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nutrition InformationAmount per serving (1 (of 6), about 1 1/2 cups, without naan) — Calories: 374, Fat: 22g, Saturated Fat: 15g, Cholesterol: 65mg, Sodium: 518mg, Carbohydrates: 21g, Fiber: 6g, Sugar: 10g, Protein: 23g
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