Our take on this British Indian curry replaces chicken with pan-fried, golden tofu and cream with coconut milk so that vegans and vegetarians can enjoy our slow-cooked tofu tikka masala recipe.
Easy meals are non-negotiable in my house - most nights, there just isn't enough time to cook a complicated, highly involved dinner.
That's why I adapted the classic tikka masala chicken recipe to make it vegan-friendly without compromising on flavor or richness. It still incorporates the essential, distinctive spice blend, garam masala, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, fresh garlic and ginger.
With a bit of preparation in the morning, you can easily pop this vegetarian tikka masala in your slow cooker and leave it to simmer on low. Your house will smell like fragrant coriander and turmeric the moment you walk in the door, and your dinner will be ready to serve.
If you don't have a slow cooker, we've included just-as-simple instructions to whip up this dinner using the stovetop instead.
Let's dig deeper into what exactly tikka masala is and how you can make your own slow cooker tofu tikka masala at home!
What is tikka masala?
Tikka masala is a British national dish, according to former British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook.
How does an Indian curry dish become one of Britain's most well-known foods?
India was a British colony for nearly 100 years, during which many Indians emigrated and settled in Britain.
The large Indian population in London has a massive impact on culture, including cuisine. Chicken tikka is a traditional Indian dish, adapted with tomato and cream-based masala sauce to please Brits, known for their love of gravy on everything.
Tikka masala can vary from recipe to recipe, but it's a curry that always contains chicken, tomato sauce, and a masala spice blend.
What is vegan tikka masala sauce?
We've removed the chicken from the original recipe and replaced it with vegan soy protein, tofu. It adds some weight to the dish and vital protein without compromising the flavor.
Instead of cream or milk, we added full-fat coconut milk into the masala sauce for a sweet richness that compliments the strong, aromatic spices common in Indian cuisine.
The essential garam masala blend contains cinnamon, peppercorns, mace, coriander, cumin seeds, and cardamom. Turmeric, ginger, and garlic are usually included, along with chili peppers for some heat and cayenne, which gives the sauce its signature orange color.
Tikka masala has a hint of spice, but it won't burn all of the taste buds off your tongue. This dish is more about a robust, spiced flavor rather than heat.
How to make vegan tofu tikka masala
For the garam masala spice blend
- 1 Tbsp garam masala
- 1 tsp coriander, ground
- 2 Tbsp paprika
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 tsp fine sea salt
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp turmeric, ground
For the vegan tikka masala
- 1 12 oz package of extra-firm tofu
- 1 Tbsp virgin coconut oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 large cooking onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 2 green chili peppers, finely chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 6 Tbsp tomato paste
- 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 2 cups fresh cherry tomatoes, quartered (or 1 14-oz. can of diced tomatoes, drained)
- 1 can full-fat coconut milk
- 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp coconut sugar or brown sugar
- Fine sea salt, to taste
- freshly-squeezed lemon juice to garnish
- chopped fresh cilantro to garnish
Prepare the tofu
- Remove the extra firm tofu from the package. Place the tofu block in your tofu press to drain for 15 mins. I used this press from Tofubud.
- Remove the tofu from your press and chop into 1-inch cubes.
Build the garam masala sauce
- In a small mixing bowl, combine garam masala, ground coriander, paprika, black pepper, sea salt, cayenne and turmeric. Stir until well combined and set aside.
- Heat the virgin coconut oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion and a pinch of sea salt. Cook the onion, occasionally stirring, until it becomes translucent and lightly brown, approximately 4 to 6 mins.
- Add your cumin seeds and cook for 1 min more.
- Add the minced garlic, fresh ginger, and chili pepper and cook for another minute.
- Stir in all of the garam masala spice blend and cook, frequently stirring, about 45 secs, until fragrant.
- Add the diced bell pepper, nutritional yeast, and tomato paste. Cook for 2 mins while stirring frequently.
- Add the cherry or canned tomatoes and stir well, scraping the pan's bottom with your spatula.
- Cook for 3 or 4 mins, or until the cherry tomatoes start to soften. Remove from the heat.
Assemble and stew the vegetable tikka masala
- Lightly grease the bottom of a slow cooker and toss in the tofu pieces. Add the coconut milk, wine vinegar and coconut sugar to the slow cooker. Stir well to combine. Use a spatula or spoon to scrape all of the masala mixture from the skillet.
- Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 4 to 6 hours. Alternately, you can also set the cooker to high and cook for 2 to 3 hours.
- After cooking, season and garnish with additional sea salt and fresh lemon, and fresh cilantro.
- Enjoy your tofu tikka masala vegetables served over a generous scoop of steamed jasmine rice!
Nutrition Information - Tikka masala tofu
Serving: ¼ recipe
Calories 383; Fat 26g; Sodium 74mg; Carbohydrates 23g; Fiber 7g; Sugar 10g; Protein 18g.
Tofu tikka masala recipe - Tips and FAQ
How healthy is tikka masala?
Chicken tikka masala has a bad rap - it's full of heavy cream, which skyrockets the dish's fat and calories.
Our vegan masala is much healthier. The coconut milk we've used in place of heavy cream is still high in fat and calories, but the quality of that fat is much different. Coconut milk contains medium-chain triglycerides, a fatty acid that can aid in weight loss and increase good cholesterol levels, helping to protect heart health.
Lauric acid in coconut milk can boost the immune system, along with vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and iron.
By switching chicken out for tofu, we've kept protein levels high while adding antioxidant-rich soy protein, full of essential minerals and vitamins.
Again, this dish is still relatively high in fat, so eat this tikka masala in moderation. You can also substitute low-fat coconut milk to cut calories, but remember that your resulting masala will be a little more watery.
Cashew cream substitution
You can use cashew cream instead of coconut milk to make this recipe even tastier. I often skip this step if I'm short on time, but try it out if you have the time and ingredients on hand.
To make cashew cream, soak ¾ cup raw cashews in 1 & ½ cups water at room temperature for 10-12 hours. Drain, then add ½ cup water and 2 tsp lemon juice. Place in a blender and process until smooth.
Can I cook this tikka masala on the stovetop?
No slow cooker, no problem. You can quickly cook this on your stovetop instead.
Once you've cooked your spiced veggies in the skillet, assemble all the recipe's ingredients in a saucepan. Bring your masala mixture to a boil, then reduce to simmer the tikka masala covered for 25-30 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking and burning.
Final notes: tofu masala curry
This vegan version of satisfyingly spiced tofu tikka masala is going to knock your socks off.
A few things to remember:
- Substitute cashew cream or low-fat coconut milk for the full-fat version we used;
- Cook the tikka masala on the stovetop if you don't have a slow cooker on hand;
- Substitute any vegetables out as you please; and
- Amp up or dial back the heat by adjusting the amount of cayenne and chilis you include.
I hope you love this vegan curry as much as we did!