Make classic Paneer tikka masala at home, just like the one you get at your favorite Indian restaurant. This paneer tikka masala is super flavorful, delicious and easy to make! With soft melt-in-the-mouth tender chunks of marinated chargrilled paneer swimming in a flavorsome spicy & creamy gravy, it is sure going to be your family favorite. This paneer tikka masala is a fantastic dinner option if you plan on eating something Indian. All you need is some Butter Naans, Roti or Cumin rice to enjoy this.
What is Paneer Tikka Masala?
Paneer tikka masala is a North Indian dish of grilled paneer (Indian cheese) served in a spicy gravy known as Tikka masala. It is a vegetarian version of the world famous Chicken tikka masala. Cooking paneer tikka masala involves 2 main parts. First one is to marinate and grill the paneer tikka and second one is to make the masala gravy.
Traditionally tikkas are grilled in a Tandoor, a cylindrical clay oven which cooks the foods with the heat generated by wood fire. This method of cooking imparts a delicious smoky flavor to the grilled foods.
Indian homes do not have Tandoors so these are limited to restaurants, dhabas and eateries. Indians love the tandoori dishes for their unique flavor and these are the most ordered in any Indian restaurant.
However we can make most of these at home, actually with better results. Since we don’t have tandoor at home, we grill the tikkas either on a griddle/tawa or in the oven or in air fryer.
Making paneer tikka masala is easy but it is not a fast recipe because it takes some time for you to marinate and grill the paneer. Next make the gravy and then finish the dish. If you are an experienced cook and can multi-task between the grilling and making the tikka masala you will finish the dish fast.
But if you are a newbie you can make the gravy ahead and refrigerate. Simply grill the tikkas & reheat the tikka masala on the day you intend to serve it.
This recipe is vegetarian and gluten-free. To make it vegan you can substitute paneer with tofu and use any vegan yogurt. You may also skip the cream and use more cashews or almonds to compensate for the creaminess.
For a nut-free option, you can leave out the cashews completely but you will miss the creamy texture in your tikka masala. So the better option is to substitute cashews with more heavy cream as mentioned in the recipe notes. In India a lot of people use poppy seeds or magaz seeds as a substitute for cashews you may try that as well.
How to Make Paneer Tikka Masala (Stepwise Photos)
1. To a mixing bowl, add the following ingredients:
- ½ cup greek yogurt (hung curd, refer notes)
- 1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon red chili powder
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon kasuri methi
- 1 teaspoon oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
2. Use thick yogurt or hung curd here. If you only have homemade yogurt, then add 1 cup homemade yogurt to a thin muslin or cheese cloth. Squeeze off the excess whey and hang it for few hours. Mix everything well. The consistency of the marinade has to be thick as seen in the picture below. (I forgot to add ginger garlic at step 1 so added it here.)
3. Add cubed paneer to the prepared marinade. Optional – Dice half small onion to 4 pieces & separate the layers. Dice half small bell pepper as well. Make sure the size of onion and bell pepper are almost the same as paneer. Crunchy onions and bell peppers impart a great texture and aroma to the final dish.
4. Mix everything well. Rest aside in the fridge until the tikka masala gravy is ready.
5. Add 1 tbsp oil to a pan. Next add 1 cup chopped onions and saute them until transparent or light golden. Then add 1½ cup chopped tomatoes and 14 cashews. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt and roast all of these until mushy and soft. You can also cover and cook.
6. Then add all the spice powders mentioned below
- 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
- ¾ to 1 teaspoon garam masala
- ¾ to 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
7. Saute for 1 to 2 minutes until it turns aromatic. Turn off the stove, when you begin to get a nice smell of the masala.
8. Cool this completely and add to a blender jar. Pour ¾ cup water. To cut down the cooling time, you can also pour ice cold water to the jar and then add the mixture. But ensure it is not hot.
9. Blend it to a puree. If you prefer a smooth curry, pass it through a sieve/ filter.
Make Paneer Tikka Masala Gravy
10. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan. Optional – You can add any whole spices if you have – 2 cardamom, 1 small cinnamon piece or even 2 cloves.
11. When the spices begin to sizzle, add 1½ teaspoon ginger garlic paste. Saute on a low heat for 1 to 2 minutes, until it turns aromatic & the raw smell goes off.
12. Pour the onion tomato puree to the pan. Be careful it will begin to splash out of the pan, you can partially cover and cook. To adjust the color you can add more red chilli powder at this stage. I did not use more.
13. Pour ½ to ¾ cup water to bring to a desired consistency. Mix everything well and cook on a low flame until the sauce simmers well and thickens.
14. When the gravy is done, it turns thick & you will see some specks of oil separating on top of the gravy. Add kasuri methi (optional). Continue to cook for another minute. Taste test and add more salt if needed. Set this aside.
16. You can grill the paneer while your gravy is simmering. Option 1 – For the paneer tikka on stovetop : Heat 1 tsp oil in a wide pan on a medium high flame, place the paneer cubes coated with the marinade in the pan.
17. Flip them to the other side and cook on a high flame till all the marinade dries up and the paneer turn golden. This takes only 2 to 3 mins. Set aside. Do not over fry them, as the paneer turns hard.
Optional if using veggies – In the same pan, Coat the veggies with the marinade and place them on the griddle. Cook till the marinade dries up. The veggies should look partially charred. Do not overdo else they lose the crunch.
18. Option 2 – If you have an air fryer you can also grill these in the air fryer at 390 F or 200 C for 5 mins. Brush them with the leftover marinade and then air fry for another 2 mins. The timings vary if lesser skewers are placed. Reduce the total time to 5 mins for 3 to 4 skewers. Also space them apart slightly so they don’t stick.
19. Option 3 – To grill tikka in oven, put them on to skewers alternately paneer, onion and capsicum. Bake in a preheated oven at 430 F or 220 C for 8 to 10 minutes. you may need to adjust the timing as needed. It depends on the size of cubes and oven too.
20. You may need to flip the skewer and then grill again if your oven does not have a fan.
21. Add the grilled tikkas to the gravy. Gently mix. Make sure the gravy is thickened before adding paneer.
22. Pour 3 tablespoons cream and stir.
Garnish with fresh chopped coriander leaves and slit green chilies. Serve paneer tikka masala hot with butter naan, roti, plain paratha or jeera rice.
Dungar (Smoking The Dish)
To give a smoky flavor to the dish try following this dhungar method using charcoal. Please note that it could be dangerous doing on a gas stove. I suggest doing it out of the kitchen, using another source like a large candle.
- Place a steel bowl in your curry so it is not immersed in the curry.
- Burn a small piece of natural wood charcoal over direct fire holding it with a tong until red hot. Make sure it burns well so that it can release the smoke.
- Take it away from the candle – place it inside the bowl. Add 1/2 tsp ghee or oil.
- Immediately it begins to emit smoke.
- Make sure charcoal is not touching the food. Cover the pan with a lid immediately. Leave it for 5 to 6 minutes. This infuses a smoky flavor to your dish.
Tikka Masala is a spiced gravy in which chunks of grilled foods are simmered.
Yes it is moderately spicy. Though plenty of spices are used in the preparation, it is not too spicy because yogurt & cream cut down the spiciness.
Paneer tikka is an appetizer of grilled paneer skewers whereas paneer tikka masala is a curried dish of grilled paneer in a spicy tikka masala gravy.
Ingredients (US cup = 240ml )
For Tikka Marinade
- 250 grams paneer (cubed to 1 by 1 inch pieces)
- ½ cup Hung curd (or Greek Yogurt, Refer notes)
- 1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste or crushed ginger garlic
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon Kashmiri red chili powder or smoked paprika (less spicy kind)
- ½ teaspoon garam masala or tandoori masala
- ¼ teaspoon Kasuri Methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
- ⅛ teaspoon turmeric (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice (skip if your yogurt is sour)
- 1 teaspoon oil
- ½ small bell pepper (diced capsicum, optional)
- ½ small onion (diced & layers separated, optional)
For masala gravy
- 2 tablespoons oil (divided 1 tbsp. + 1 tbsp.)
- 1 cup onions cubed (2 medium)
- 1½ cup tomatoes ripe chopped (3 large)
- 1½ teaspoon ginger garlic paste or crushed ginger garlic
- 14 cashew nuts or almonds (For a nut-free option refer notes)
- ¾ to 1 teaspoon red chili powder (or paprika) less spicy kind
- ¾ to 1 teaspoon garam masala (adjust to taste)
- ¼ teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
- 1 teaspoon kasuri methi (optional) (dried fenugreek leaves)
- 3 tablespoons Heavy cream (Whipping cream or cooking cream)
- 2 tablespoons coriander leaves (cilantro chopped finely)
- Firstly add ½ cup yogurt, ¼ to ½ teaspoon red chili powder, 1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste, ½ teaspoon garam masala, ⅛ teaspoon turmeric, ¼ teaspoon kasuri methi, 1 teaspoon oil, 1 teaspoon lemon juice & ¼ teaspoon salt to a mixing bowl.
- Mix well and taste test it. Add more salt if needed. Add paneer cubes & gently mix well to coat the marinade.
- Optional – If using onions & bell peppers, dice them to the same size as that of paneer. Separate the layers in the onion. Add ½ cubed onion layers & ½ cubed bell pepper and marinate well. Set this aside until the gravy is done.
How to Make Paneer Tikka Masala
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil and add 1 cup chopped onions. Saute them well until transparent or golden on a medium heat.
- Add 1½ cup tomatoes, 14 cashews, 1 teaspoon sugar and ½ teaspoon salt. Saute all of these well until the tomatoes turn mushy and soft.
- Add in ¾ to 1 teaspoon red chilli powder & ¾ to 1 teaspoon garam masala, Saute all of these for 2 mins, until the masala smells good & aromatic.
- Cool this completely and add to a blender. Pour ½ to ¾ cup water and blend to a smooth puree.
- Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan on a low flame. Add 1½ teaspoon ginger garlic paste & saute for 1 to 2 mins, until the raw smell disappears
- Pour the onion tomato puree. (Careful as it may splash). At this step, taste test and add more red chilli powder if you want to achieve a brighter color.
- Pour ½ to ¾ cup water to bring this to a gravy consistency. Cook Covered until the gravy turns thick and you see traces of oil on top. Keep stirring in between.
- Once the gravy is thick yet of a pouring consistency, crush the kasuri methi in your palms and sprinkle it. (optional). Taste the gravy & add more salt if needed. Rest this aside.
Make tikka in oven or tawa
- Option 1 – Grill in oven. Preheat the oven to 430 F or 220 C for at least 15 mins. Line a baking tray with foil. Thread paneer, onion & bell peppers alternately on skewers. Place the skewers in the baking tray & grill for 8 to 10 minutes, turning them to the other side after 5 mins. Remove them when golden and crisp.
- Option 2 – To make on griddle. Heat a tsp oil in a wide pan on a high flame, coat each paneer piece with the marinade & place on the griddle. Cook on a high flame till the marinade dries up and paneer turns golden. Similarly place the bell peppers and marinated onions and fry until the marinade dries up.
- Option 3 – Air fryer. If your air fryer needs preheating, you may preheat it for 5 mins first. Thread paneer, onion, bell pepper on skewers. Air fry the skewers placed in a tray at 390 F or 200 C for 5 mins. Brush them with the marinade and then air fry for another 2 mins. The marinade has to partially dried up. Also adjust the air fryer time as needed.
- Transfer grilled paneer tikka along with veggies & onions to the tikka masala gravy.
- Pour the cream. Gently mix. Garnish with cream and coriander leaves.
- Serve paneer tikka masala with Roti, Butter Naan or Jeera rice
- Yogurt: This recipe needs thick curd also known as Hung curd or greek yogurt which is strained yogurt. If you do not have thick curd make your own by adding around 1½ cups plain homemade yogurt or curd to a thin muslin cloth or a clean handkerchief. Tie it up. Hang it in the refrigerator for about 2 to 4 hours. Use only ½ cup of the hung yogurt for this recipe.
- Runny Marinade: If your marinade it runny, you need to fix it else it drip all over the pan when you grill the tikkas. To fix runny marinade, you may add 1 tablespoon gram flour/ besan or sattu (roasted chana dal flour)
- Nut-free Option: You may substitute the nuts with more heavy cream. Instead of 3 tbsps add 6 to 8 tablespoons cream. Alternately you may skip the nuts completely the dish will still taste good. White poppy seeds, sunflower seeds and melon seeds (magaz) are the close substitutes. Make sure you don’t use rancid seeds as these substitutes go rancid very fast even during their shelf period.
- Onions & Bell Peppers: You can skip onions and bell peppers for the tikka. But grilled onions and pepper lend a nice flavor to the curry.
- Vegan option: Use tofu in place of paneer and add more cashews and skip the cream. Use vegan yogurt for the marinade.
Alternative quantities provided in the recipe card are for 1x only, original recipe.
For best results follow my detailed step-by-step photo instructions and tips above the recipe card.
NUTRITION INFO (estimation only)
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I’m Swasthi Shreekanth, the recipe developer, food photographer & food writer behind Swasthi’s Recipes. My aim is to help you cook great Indian food with my time-tested recipes. After 2 decades of experience in practical Indian cooking I started this blog to help people cook better & more often at home. Whether you are a novice or an experienced cook I am sure Swasthi’s Recipes will assist you to enhance your cooking skills.
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