May 21, 2012

Indian Butter Chicken, hold the butter

Congratulations to Stefanie Ng and Marisol Romo!  These new GAW readers will be receiving a copy of Juniper Skinner's Food Allergies and Me or Sandra Beasley's Don't Kill The Birthday Girl.

More than a year ago on Facebook, Michelle T. mentioned that she was making butter chicken, a popular Indian dish, from scratch.  Desire immediately struck me -- I hadn't eaten butter chicken in such a long time!  If you aren't familiar with butter chicken or murgh makhani, it's a dish of tender pieces of chicken drowning in a creamy, spiced sauce.  (Starting to crave this again as I type!)  With yogurt, butter, ground nuts, and peanut oil being common ingredients in Indian cuisine, our family has never been able to buy safe Indian food.  But butter chicken sounded so good at that moment that I just had to figure out a way to make it immediately!

There are a lot of different recipes for butter chicken out there.  All of them use garam masala, a dry spice blend.  (You can make it yourself with this recipe or buy  it ready-made from an Indian market.)  Some recipes call for marinating your protein with tandoori masala before cooking.  The origins of butter chicken are not known for sure but some think that the dish was created by accident when a king's cook accidentally created a creamy sauce to go with leftover tandoori chicken.

After some online recipe sleuthing and testing, changing, and more tinkering with a couple of good contenders, I came up with a recipe to our liking that suits our need for dairy-free/nut-free eating.  I always sneak sliced mushrooms and peas into the sauce to get more veggies into my little guys.  Steamed potato chunks are a good addition, too!

Soy Dream Original is my first choice for cooking.  It doesn't have an overpowering sweetness or vanilla taste when cooked.  Unsweetened plain soy milk (not vanilla) would work fine, too.

I serve this with rice (brown rice, jasmine rice, basmati rice, whichever) and Trader Joe's naan.  Unlike traditional naan or other naan in mainstream markets, Trader Joe's versions are dairy-free.  They do however use eggs and wheat and, truth be told, they aren't as awesome as real naan...but for my milk-allergic and nut-allergic kids, it is good enough for us!  Pita and flatbread might be good alternatives, too.

I recently started using extra firm tofu in place of chicken.  I cut one package (about 14 ounces) of the tofu into chunks and gently toss it in the marinade before refrigerating.  Still delicious!

Indian Butter Chicken...Without the Real Butter
Adapted from Mitchman21's recipe for Chicken Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken)

Chicken marinade:
1 lb. fresh chicken breast, cubed
1/2 tsp grated ginger
2 Tbsp tandoori masala
2 T plain soy yogurt (look for one with as little sugar as possible)
1 tsp cooking oil (if you aren't using the soy yogurt, up this to 1 Tbsp)
a little lemon juice
salt and pepper

1-2 Tbsp cooking oil
1 medium chopped onion
8 oz. package of white or crimini mushrooms, washed and sliced
1/4 cup vegan margarine (I use Earth Balance which sells vegan as well as a soy-free vegan)
2 Tbsp garam masala
1 Tbsp tandoori masala
1 1/2 cup tomato puree (I grind enough organic sugar plum tomatoes in the processor to make 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened plain soy milk or the very lightly sweetened Soy Dream Original soy milk
2 tsp grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp corn starch for thickening, mixed with 1/2 cup soy milk (plus extra cornstarch and soy milk)
1/2 cup frozen peas, optional
salt to taste
  1. Combine cubed chicken breast, tandoori masala, soy yogurt, oil, and lemon juice in bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Marinate chicken in refrigerator.  The flavors really settle in if you can do this for at least 6 hours.
  3. When you are ready to make your butter chicken, prepare tomato puree in your food processor.  Set aside.
  4. In a large saucepan, heat cooking oil over medium heat.  Add onions and cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Add chicken.  Stir chicken and onions occasionally.
  6. Once chicken in thoroughly cooked, add mushrooms to the pan.  Cook for 5 minutes.
  7. Add vegan margarine, masalas, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, and lemon juice.  Stir until margarine melts.  
  8. Add tomato puree and 1 1/2 cup soy milk to the pan.
  9. Stir corn starch and 1/2 cup soy milk until there are no lumps.  Add that mixture, too.  
  10. Stir frequently to ensure even thickening and no lumps. 
  11. When the dish starts to bubble (boil), check if you like the consistency of the sauce.  If the sauce is too runny, add a mix of 2 Tbsp of soy milk plus 1 tsp of corn starch. 
  12. Taste test.  Add salt as needed.  Sometimes I sprinkle in more grated ginger, garlic, tandoori masala and garam masala to deepen the flavors.
  13. Add 1/2 cup of frozen peas and simmer an additional 5 minutes until peas are thoroughly heated.
Serve your butter chicken with rice and/or toasted naan.  Delicious!

Thanks, Michelle T. for the inspiration!


  1. I'm making my version tonight....tho mine will have both butter and cashews! (I recently discovered ground cashews make it creamier!)

  2. Sounds yummy, Michelle! It's too bad Callan is allergic to cashews. I wonder if there is a good ground seed substitute...

  3. Top post. I look forward to reading more. Cheers
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