This restaurant-style paneer tikka masala recipe delivers all the delicious flavors and melt-in-your-mouth texture you love, made right in your own kitchen. The creamy, tomatoey curry is filled with spices and rich aromatics with cubes of Indian cheese mixed in for a flavorful vegetarian dinner everyone at the table will enjoy.
🍅 What Makes This Recipe So Good
- A vegetarian version of the popular chicken tikka masala dish, paneer tikka masala contains all the incredible flavors you’d expect. Instead of chicken, though, the star of this dish is a soft, creamy Indian cheese made from curds of boiled milk. That means this recipe is naturally meatless, but you can easily make it vegan if needed.
- This dish is well-spiced, but don’t worry – it’s not spicy, at least not in terms of heat. If you’re particularly heat-sensitive, know that the gravy does call for 1 serrano pepper. Serranos are similar to jalapeños, but they’re a decent bit hotter, ranking anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 Scoville units as opposed to a jalapeno’s 2,000 to 5,000 Scoville units. The other ingredients temper the pepper’s heat well, but feel free to use less or omit it altogether if you need to.
- We take ZERO shortcuts with this recipe! I’m all about getting the best, deepest flavors possible, which means simmering marinated paneer tikkas in a thick, tomato-based masala sauce. It’s a little more involved than say, a Crockpot recipe, but trust me – it’s totally worth the effort!
👩🏼🍳 Chef’s Tips
- Cut the paneer into cubes of any size, whatever you prefer. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to pan-fry the paneer in two batches. If you do, keep in mind that the second batch likely won’t need to cook as long as the first since the pan will already be good and hot!
- Love hot food? You can make your paneer tikka masala hotter if you like! The recipe calls for 1 serrano chili without seeds, which will give you a fairly mild temperature. One serrano chile with seeds will give you a medium temperature, but for a hot temp, use 2 serrano chiles and their seeds.
- Be careful not to overcook your paneer tikkas. It’ll end up being hard if you do! Homemade paneer should only need 2 to 3 minutes, while store-bought can handle 4 to 5 minutes.
🥘 More Indian-Inspired Recipes You’ll Enjoy
- How to Make Paneer (Indian Cheese): Step by Step Guide
- Instant Pot Basmati Rice
- Instant Pot Dal
- Beef Vindaloo
- Indian Meatballs Recipe with Creamy Sauce (Whole30, Paleo)
- Whole30 Indian Saag Chicken (Paleo Indian Saag Chicken)
- Palak Paneer (Restaurant Style)
- Easy Chana Masala
- Vegetable Korma (Vegan, Gluten Free)
- Indian Butter Chicken
- Whole30 Indian Butter Chicken (Lactose-Free)
For the Paneer
For the Tikka Masala Sauce
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- half of one medium white onion diced, approximately ½ cup
- 1 serrano chile pepper stem and seeds removed, pepper minced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 medium green bell pepper stem and seeds removed, pepper sliced into strips
- 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon neutral-tasting oil avocado oil, refined coconut oil, etc.
- 1 ¼ – 1 ¾ cups heavy cream at room temperature
- 1 medium lemon quartered
Serving Suggestions (All Optional)
- steamed basmati rice or cauliflower rice
- warm naan
- chopped fresh cilantro
- Large mixing bowl with lid, or plastic wrap to cover
- 2 large skillets
- Large wooden spoon
- Large plate
- Add 3 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon turmeric powder, and ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder to large mixing bowl. Whisk ingredients together until well combined.
- Add 16 ounces paneer cubes to bowl. Gently stir until paneer is completely coated with spice mixture. Cover bowl with lid or plastic wrap and set aside.
- Heat large skillet over medium heat. When pan is warm, add 2 tablespoons ghee and let melt, tilting pan occasionally to distribute ghee across surface.
- Add half of one medium white onion (diced) and stir to incorporate. Sauté onion until softened, approximately 5 minutes.
- Add 1 serrano chile pepper, 3 cloves garlic, and 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger to skillet. Stir to incorporate, then reduce under skillet to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture develops rich toffee color, approximately 20 minutes. Note: If mixture sticks or begins to dry out, stir in drops of water periodically as needed, being careful not to add too much.
- Once desired color is achieved, add 1 ½ teaspoons garam masala and ½ teaspoon paprika to skillet. Stir well to incorporate spices and cook mixture until fragrant, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Note: Add more water in small increments as needed if mixture sticks.
- When fragrant, stir in 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce, then remove skillet from heat and let mixture cool slightly. Transfer mixture to blender and blend until completely smooth. See Notes for tips to safely blend hot mixtures.
- Return completely smooth sauce mixture to skillet and return skillet to medium-low heat. Add 1 medium green bell pepper, 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir until incorporated.
- Simmer mixture over medium-low heat 5 to 10 minutes or until caramelized and paste-like. Mixture will be thick and slices of bell pepper will be softened.
- While mixture simmers, heat second large skillet over medium heat. When pan is warm, add 1 tablespoon neutral-tasting oil and swirl pan to distribute oil across surface. Continue heating skillet until oil is hot and shimmering.
- When oil is hot, add seasoned paneer to skillet and sprinkle 1 large pinch salt over paneer cubes.
- Pan-fry paneer until golden brown on 2 to 3 sides, approximately 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer paneer to plate and set aside. Note: homemade paneer will need less cooking time. Store-bought paneer can handle 5 minutes.
- Remove skillet with sauce mixture from heat and let mixture cool slightly. Add 1 ¼ – 1 ¾ cups heavy cream to skillet and stir until cream is fully blended into sauce. Taste sauce and adjust seasonings as desired.
- Return skillet to medium-low heat. Add pan-fried paneer to sauce mixture and squeeze fresh lemon juice from 1 quarter of medium lemon over top of paneer. Gently stir until paneer is well coated.
- Taste sauce again and stir in additional lemon juice if desired. Divide paneer tikka masala into desired portions and serve immediately over steamed basmati rice (or cauliflower rice) with warm naan and plenty of chopped fresh cilantro.
- Make it Vegan: Instead of heavy cream, use a plant-based half-and-half, like Ripple Plant-Based Half & Half. Use firm tofu instead of paneer and plant-based butter instead of ghee.
- Make it Keto: Skip the onion and use a keto-friendly tomato sauce. Pass on the naan and use cauliflower rice, or serve the paneer tikka masala on its own.
Tips for Blending Hot Mixtures in a Traditional Blender
- Fill the blender no more than halfway. Work in batches as needed to avoid overfilling.
- Let the mixture cool slightly before blending.
- Always blend hot liquids with the center cap removed from the blender lid. Cover the lid with a dish towel and hold it down tightly to keep the lid on the blender and to keep the mixture from splashing out.
Number of total servings shown is approximate. Actual number of servings will depend on your preferred portion sizes.
Nutritional values shown are general guidelines and reflect information for 1 serving using the ingredients listed, not including any optional ingredients. Actual macros may vary slightly depending on specific brands and types of ingredients used.
To determine the weight of one serving, prepare the recipe as instructed. Weigh the finished recipe, then divide the weight of the finished recipe (not including the weight of the container the food is in) by the desired number of servings. Result will be the weight of one serving.