Paneer Tikka Masala

We need a vacation. Somewhere warm and far away did you say? I’m in! Pull out your spices, turn on some music, and let’s take a trip to India with Paneer Tikka Masala. This healthy vegetarian dinner is a creamy, saucy curry with paneer (if you’ve never had paneer, you’ll love it, I pinky promise), fresh vegetables, and warm spices. No matter where you live, you can easily make Paneer Tikka Masala at home, and the flavors are an enchanted escape unto themselves.

Skillet of Paneer Tikka Masala sitting on a green striped kitchen towel. Serving spoon in the skillet

I spent a month after college traveling India, a country whose colors, people, and cuisine still captivates my memory and imagination to this day.

Since I can’t pop back over to India any time I’m craving a recipe like Paneer Tikka Masala, I enjoy creating versions of the dishes I loved abroad in my own kitchen.

I don’t have access to a mega market of Indian spices (or the time to toast the spices whole, then grind them with a mortar and pestle the way you might with a truly authentic Indian recipe), so these Indian recipes are adaptions. That said, they are DELISH adaptations and ones that I feel stay true to the spirit and core flavor profiles of the originals.

At-home Indian recipes seem to be a hit with you too. Instant Pot Butter Chicken, Instant Pot Tikka Masala, and Lentil Curry are three of my site’s top recipes!

Indian food is deeply and warmly spiced, but it’s not necessarily “spicy” in the sense of “hot.” It’s a delightful, enriching cuisine to explore, and this easy Paneer Tikka Masala is the ideal place to start.

I shared this recipe a few years ago, and because I love it so much, I’ve updated my original post with a Paneer Tikka Masala recipe video, as well as some additional background information on this splendid dish.

Healthy Paneer Tikka Masala in a large skillet

How to Make the Best Paneer Tikka Masala at Home

First, let’s chat core basics to help you become familiar with this healthy, supremely tasty dish.

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 halloumi but is firmer and far less briny. It’s easy to cook, fairly inexpensive, and high in protein.

I almost feel like the name “cheese” doesn’t apply here, because paneer doesn’t taste cheesy. 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. Vegans cannot eat paneer because it is a dairy product.

Where to Find Paneer

For as wildly common and popular as paneer is in India, it’s almost unknown in the United States, which is a pity because it is so simple to cook, versatile, and scrumptious. I’ve heard from a few of you that Costco sells it (YAY!).

Here, I find paneer at local Indian grocery stores, which are more common than you think. Once I started looking, I discovered I lived less than a mile from one in our western Milwaukee suburb, and we have options in downtown Milwaukee too. You could also try calling a local Indian restaurant to see if they have any ideas.

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.

cubes of cooked Paneer on a baking pan lined with a broiling rack

What Does “Tikka” Mean?

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.

Next question:

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 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 complete list of spices, which are different from each other. And long.

Kind of like this post.

For our purposes, I recommend purchasing a premixed masala blend (this recipe calls for garam masala). Remember when I said we were making easy, at-home versions of Indian food? Spice blends are where it’s at!

large Staub brand skillet filled with Indian spiced Paneer Tikka Masala. A slice of Naan bread sits nearby

What Is Paneer Tikka Masala Made Out Of?

Masalas are like any well-loved recipe that gets passed down through the generations. Everyone has their own version…and people tend to think their version is the best.

The main ingredients you’ll find in this version are:

  • Paneer. We’ve covered this.
  • Garam Masala. A blend of spices that will save you oodles of time. Many grocery stores carry it, and you can find it online here.
  • Crushed Tomatoes. These create the masala sauce base.
  • Fresh Ginger and Fresh Garlic. A lot.
  • Greek Yogurt. My trick to making this a healthy Paneer Tikka Masala. It adds body and creaminess without the need for heavy cream.
  • Fresh Vegetables. I add more than is traditional, because I want my Paneer Tikka Masala to be a true all-in-one meal.

Serving Paneer Tikka Masala

Paneer Tikka Masala is marvelously saucy and begs for something to mix with it. Pick your vehicle of choice:

  • Fluffy, delicious Indian bread that is prime for mopping up all of that tasty masala gravy. Many grocery stores carry it (I know Trader Joe’s does). My friend Ali also has a homemade naan recipe if you want to try making it from scratch.
  • Brown Rice. Simple and always a tasty option.
  • Cauliflower Rice. If you’d like to make this tikka masala more low carb. The recipe does already call for cauliflower though, so you’d be doubling up.
  • Quinoa. A high-protein option.

close up image of a skillet filled with homemade Paneer Tikka Masala

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.

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!

homemade Paneer Tikka Masala in a large skillet
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Paneer Tikka Masala

Yield: 4 –6 servings
Prep Time:
20 mins
Cook Time:
25 mins
Total Time:
45 mins
How to make easy Paneer Tikka Masala using ingredients you can find at any grocery store. A healthy version of authentic masala that's rich and filling!

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 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

Instructions

  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.

Recipe Notes

  • *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.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: Paneer Tikka Masala, Vegetarian Tikka Masala

Nutrition Information

Amount 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

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!

This post contains some affiliate links, which means that I make a small commission off items you purchase at no additional cost to you.

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…

52 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!

  17. i was wondering if you have to bake the paneer. my over is brocken

  18. We got two big blocks of paneer from Costco and I found this recipe online searching for recipes to use it. It was delicious! The baking of the paneer really made a difference. My only change: to finish cooking the cauliflower, I needed to cover the pan and cook it on low at the very end. This made it easy to warm up the paneer as well.

  19. I’ve never had masala before….boy was I missing out! I tried your recipe and was sold! Will be making this regularly.

  20. We love Indian food and it’s so fun to make it at home!

  21. I’m trying to make one vegetarian entree each week….and this was so flavorful and delicious!!

  22. I love how flavorful it is! So yummy!

  23. Love soaking up this great sauce with Naan.

  24. Sign me up for this culinary getaway!!

  25. My family loved this dinner- great flavors!

  26. This looks like a burst of different flavors! I haven’t really made an Indian recipe lately so I’m excited to try this out.

  27. That was delicious! I just made it. My husband and I both loved it. Thanks for the recipe!

  28. This was fantastic!!!!! Your recipes are so easy to follow…you are making me look good! ;) Thank you!! :)

  29. It is possible I did something wrong or perhaps my spices were not of a high enough quality (I used mccormick) but this recipe came out terrible for me. I followed the instructions to the best of my ability and it turned out tasting like tomato sauce, much too sweet. I checked to make sure the crushed tomatoes I used did not have added sugar and they did not. I’m not sure what happened with my disasterous masala but the paneer came out great.

    • Hi Sophie, it’s hard to say without being right in the kitchen with you, but it also may be a matter of personal taste. I know it’s disappointing to try a new recipe and not love it, so I truly wish you would have enjoyed this! If you’re interested, you could take a look at this green curry, which has a much different flavor profile: https://www.wellplated.com/chickpea-curry

  30. A friend recently brought me some mexican cheese called panela. it took me two days to figure out why it is so familiar. it is nearly identical to the paneer I had in saag paneer in the indian restaurant across from the house of parliment in nairobi in 1987. you can safely substitute mexican panela directly for paneer. hope this helps.

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