Cold weather calls for warm spices and recipes that leave us feeling hugged and snug. Few genres of cuisine fit the task so beautifully as Indian food. Tofu Tikka Masala is ideally poised to be the exact dinner recipe we need right now. You’ll realize it as soon as you take a bite!
I am smitten with this masala recipe (and Indian food in general) right now for several reasons.
The obvious: it’s totally delish, healthy, makes for excellent leftovers, and even though this recipe is easy, it will leave you feeling ultra impressed with your culinary skills after you make it.
The less obvious: Tofu tikka masala is comfort food that doesn’t leave me feeling like I need to rush into my sweatpants, curl up, and hibernate until April (or whenever it’s warm enough outside for salads to start sounding appetizing again).
While I am certainly an eager participant in a solid, food-coma-inducing dinner especially during the winter months (hi, carbs!), it’s not the kind of dinner I can eat every night.
At the same time, however, I crave recipes that leave me feeling warm, happy, and fully satisfied in appetite and in spirit.
The perfect bridge between healthy and homey: Indian food!
This tofu tikka masala is deeply flavored and richly textured—you’ll find more than enough of both to qualify it as comfort food—but it will also leave you feeling light enough to continue on with your evening (or at least to make it to the couch for a comfortable round of Netflix).
Tikka Masala – A Quick Overview
Tikka masala is general term used to describe an Indian dish consisting of a protein cooked in a thick, creamy, and richly spiced tomato curry sauce.
- The “tikka” refers to the protein. Traditionally it is pieces of boneless, marinated, skewered meat (usually chicken or lamb) that’s roasted in a hot clay oven, called a tandoor. Heard of tandoori chicken? That’s where the name originates.
- The “masala” refers to the gravy/sauce. The recipes for it vary, but most include a tomato base, garam masala (a blend of a slew of spices like cumin, coriander, cardamom, and more), and a creamy element like yogurt or coconut milk.
If you’ve never had Indian food, the flavor of tikka masala is tricky to describe. The spices are intense and warm, but not “spicy” in the sense of “hot,” and there’s a subtle, welcome underlying bit of tang that adds refreshing brightness.
Why Tofu Tikka Masala
- Much of India is vegetarian by religion, so they’ve had generations to nail meatless cooking. I spent three weeks in India and Ben lived with a vegetarian host family there for a full summer, and we both agree that the vegetarian recipes are our favorites.
- I love the frugality of vegetarian eating, and the way it celebrates how humble ingredients like chickpeas, paneer, or tofu can be elevated into something sublime.
- We go meatless a few days a week. If you are looking to add more plant-based meals to your diet, whether it’s for health, environmental, or another reason, vegetarian Indian cooking has a world of recipes waiting to delight you.
Today’s tandoori tofu tikka masala recipe is a based off of my favorite Paneer Tikka Masala. Paneer, a mild and firm Indian cheese that tastes so much better than it sounds, is a popular vegetarian protein in India, but in the states, it can be more challenging to find. My goal was to come up with a vegetarian tikka masala that uses a more widely available plant-based protein. Enter, tofu!
How to Make Great-Tasting Tofu
Tofu on its own tastes bland and spongy, which is why if you’ve tried it and haven’t enjoyed its flavor or texture, chances are it wasn’t cooked properly.
- When handled well, the mild flavor of tofu is actually ideal for fully flavored recipes like tikka masala. It will act like a sponge and soak up the flavors you add to the recipe.
- With proper cooking technique, tofu can be delightfully crisp on the outside and pleasantly firm, while still giving way to a tender interior.
This tasty tofu tikka masala is tofu at its best.
- It’s pressed to remove excess liquid, which starts it on its way to an optimal firm texture.
- It’s marinated to infuse flavor.
- Last, it’s baked until golden and crisp on the outside and firm (but tender) on the inside. It won’t lose its shape, and it certainly does not taste mushy. The baking creates the tikka tofu affect, mimicking the approach of tandoor cooking.
How To Make Tofu Tikka Masala
The long list of spices in Indian recipes can be intimidating. I’ve streamlined them as much as possible and selected only ones that are easy to find at most grocery stores. I also cut down on prep time to make this tofu tikka masala as quick as possible, without sacrificing authentic flavor. Still, you might look at some of these ingredients and think “oh, I don’t own that” or “that’s a lot of steps” and move on.
My advice: invest in these spices. They’ll last you a long time, and you’ll open yourself to a whole world of delicious, invigorating recipes like this Slow Cooker Butter Chicken (and Instant Pot Butter Chicken), and this Instant Pot Lentil Curry that you might otherwise have skipped. As far as the steps: the tofu bakes while you make the masala sauce, meaning this recipe is faster than it appears at first glance.
- Tofu. We’ve covered many of the reasons why I love using tofu in this recipe, but I should also mention that it’s packed with every crucial amino acid that your body needs. It’s also low in calories, high in protein, and budget-friendly.
- Cauliflower. Like the tofu, the delicious and mild cauliflower florets absorb spices magnificently. Plus, cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Garam Masala. Garam masala is a blend of spices. It’s typically made of cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, bay leaves, pepper, fennel, mace, and dried chilies. <—Quite the list. Every spoonful is packed with flavor! A blend like garam masala is also a serious timesaver, because you don’t have to tediously measure each spice individually. Most grocery stores will carry it, but you can also find it online here.
- Additional Spices. I also used turmeric and cayenne pepper, classic ingredients in Indian cooking, to bring additional flavors to the sauce.
- Crushed Tomatoes + Tomato Paste. The base of our deeply flavored and easy masala sauce.
- Ginger and Garlic. They give the masala sauce a backbone of freshness and life.
- Greek Yogurt. My sneaky way to lighten-up this recipe. Greek yogurt provides critical body and creaminess to the sauce. To make a vegan tofu tikka masala, swap the yogurt for a non-dairy yogurt or stir coconut cream into the masala to thicken it instead.
- Vegetables. I added onion and frozen peas to up the vegetable content in this dish.
Prepare the tofu: Press water out of the tofu, and cut it into pieces. Stir together the yogurt, ginger, garlic, and spices in a bowl. Add the tofu and stir until coated. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes (either at room temperature or in the refrigerator).
Lay the marinated tofu in a single layer on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes, flipping the tofu once halfway through.
Prepare the masala: Sauté the cauliflower and onion with ginger and garlic. Once the vegetables are tender, add the tomato paste and more spices. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and broth, then simmer the sauce to thicken it.
Off the heat, stir in the peas, yogurt, and baked tandoori tofu. Serve with cilantro and naan or brown rice (even Turmeric Rice!). ENJOY!
Make-Ahead and Storage Tips
- To Make Ahead. Chop the cauliflower florets a day in advance, and store them in the refrigerator. Refrigerate the marinaded tofu for up to 12 hours prior to baking.
- To Store. Place leftovers in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- To Reheat. Gently rewarm leftovers in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. You can also reheat leftovers in the microwave until hot.
Recommended Tools & Ingredient Tips to Make this Recipe
- Garam Masala. It makes light work of richly flavored Indian recipes. Worth it!
- Rimmed Baking Sheets. The ideal tools for making our crispy tofu pieces.
- Classic Dutch Oven. One of my favorite kitchen tools, and it’s ideal for this recipe.
This healthy, easier, at-home version of tandoor tofu tikka masala is a warm up that won’t weigh you down. May it add just as much excitement to your dinner routine as it has ours.
If you try this recipe, please leave a comment and let me know how it goes. I love hearing from you!
Tofu Tikka Masala
FOR THE TOFU:
FOR THE MASALA (SAUCE):
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil or canola oil
- 1 medium head cauliflower cut into florets
- 1 medium yellow onion diced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic about 3 cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons 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 14-ounce can low sodium vegetable broth or chicken broth
- 1 package frozen peas 10 ounces
- 1/2 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt*
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro roughly chopped
- For serving: Homemade Naan or prepared brown rice
- Prepare the tofu: Wrap 1 block of tofu in several layers of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel and gently press out as much water as possible. Change the towels and press again. Do not squeeze so hard that the tofu breaks apart or loses its shape, but do try to press out a good amount of the water. Repeat with the second block. Cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch pieces. In a large bowl, stir together the yogurt, ginger, garlic, coriander, garam masala, cumin, salt, and water. Add the tofu pieces and stir gently until they are evenly coated. Let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes or refrigerate for longer (up to overnight).
- When ready to bake, place the racks in the upper and lower thirds of your oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly coat the paper with nonstick spray. Arrange the tofu pieces on the baking sheets in a single layer so that they are not touching one another (discard any extra marinade). Bake in the upper and lower thirds for 15 minutes, then remove the pans from the oven, flip the pieces over and return the pans to the oven, switching their positions on the upper and lower racks. Bake for 15 additional minutes, until tofu is deeply golden (see blog photos above). Set aside.
- While the tofu bakes, prepare the masala (sauce): Heat the coconut oil over medium low in a Dutch oven or similar sturdy, deep pot. Once hot, add the cauliflower, onion, ginger, garlic, salt, and black 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 10 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.
- Stir in the crushed tomatoes and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to prevent the sauce from sticking, until it is thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 1 minute. Stir in the peas, then the 1/2 cup yogurt. Stir in the cooked tofu to warm through. Taste and add additional salt and pepper as desired. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve warm with naan bread or brown rice.
- TO STORE: Place leftovers in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- TO REHEAT: Gently rewarm leftovers in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. You can also reheat leftovers in the microwave until hot.
- TO MAKE AHEAD: Chop the cauliflower florets a day in advance, and store in the refrigerator. Prepare the yogurt mixture. Remove water from the tofu, cut into cubes, and coat with the yogurt mixture. Store the tofu in the refrigerator up to 12 hours in advance.
- *Do not use nonfat yogurt (Greek or regular), as it is likely to curdle. Whole milk yogurt is fine. If you do not have Greek yogurt, you can also substitute regular yogurt.
- **Garam masala is an Indian spice blend that can be found in most grocery stores. You can also purchase it online here.
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