This paneer tikka masala recipe is restaurant-quality vegetarian Indian food, made at home! With tons of authentic flavor, thanks to a couple key steps, this is real-deal takeout… or even better!
What Makes This Paneer Tikka Masala So Good
- This is an incredible vegetarian version of our reader-favorite chicken tikka masala. It’s super easy to make vegan, too – just use firm tofu and swap out the heavy cream for a vegan half & half!
- Serve your paneer tikka masala on a bed of basmati rice (or cauliflower rice) with naan for a filling, satisfying, delicious meal you’ll want to make again and again.
- No shortcuts! We’re all about getting the best flavors possible and that means simmering marinated, pan-fried (or grilled, or air-fried) paneer in an incredible, thick, tomato-based masala sauce.
Key Ingredients for Paneer Tikka Masala
Garam Masala – You’ll find this spice blend in a variety of Indian dishes, and for great reason… IT’S AMAZING. It’s a blend of cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, cumin seeds, mace, peppercorns, and bay leaves, ground into a fine powder.
Paneer – The star of paneer tikka masala! This Indian cheese is made from the curds of boiled milk. It’s soft, but doesn’t really melt, which makes it great for grilling or pan-frying. Store-bought works great in this recipe, or you can make your own! I’ve got a super easy-to-follow how-to guide on the site – How to Make Paneer (Indian Cheese): Step by Step Guide – which will give you quite possibly the creamiest paneer you’ll ever eat.
- 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 in step 9. 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
- Best Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe (Restaurant Style)
- Instant Pot Dal
- Vegetarian Chickpea Tikka Masala
- 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)
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Paneer Tikka Masala
- Large bowl
- Large skillets (2)
For the Paneer
For the Sauce
- 2 tablespoons ghee or butter, ¼ cup
- ½ of one medium white onion diced
- 1 serrano chile seeded, minced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger grated
- 1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 green bell pepper seeded, sliced into strips
- 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil
- 1 ¼ – 1 ¾ cups heavy cream see Notes for vegan
- 1 lemon quartered
- basmati rice or cauliflower rice
- fresh cilantro chopped
- In large bowl, thoroughly combine oil and spices for paneer. Place paneer in bowl and coat completely with oil-spice mixture. Set aside.
- Heat ghee in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, approximately 5 minutes.
- Add serrano chile, garlic, and ginger. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture achieves a nice toffee color, approximately 20 minutes. Add drops of water periodically as needed if mixture starts to dry out or stick.
- Add garam masala and paprika. Stir well. Cook until fragrant, approximately 3-5 minutes. Add more water as needed to reduce sticking.
- Stir in tomato sauce, then transfer mixture to blender. Blend until smooth, then return sauce to skillet.
- Add sliced bell pepper, fenugreek, and salt.
- Simmer mixture until caramelized and paste-like, approximately 5-10 minutes on medium-low heat. Mixture will be thick and pepper slices will be softened.
- While mixture simmers, heat 1 tablespoon oil in another large skillet over medium heat.
- When oil is hot, add cubed paneer to oil and sprinkle a big pinch of salt on top. Pan-fry until golden brown on a couple of sides, approximately 3-5 minutes. Homemade paneer will need less time, store-bought paneer can handle 5 minutes. Transfer cooked paneer to plate.
- Add cream to sauce mixture and stir until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
- Add paneer to sauce and squeeze juice of one lemon quarter on top. Stir well. Add more lemon juice to taste.
- Serve over basmati or cauliflower rice with naan. Top with plenty of chopped 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.
- 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.
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Cheryl Malik is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind the healthy, flavorful, family friendly recipes at 40 Aprons. She’s been a blogger for 10+ years and is known for her delicious recipes and detailed recipe instructions. Cheryl is a mom of three who lives in Memphis, TN.