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Chicken-free tikka masala: Vegan MoFo

So convinced was I of this dish's English origins, that I went ahead and cooked it for MoFo before really looking into it.

That dish is tikka masala – usually chicken, but sometimes veggies, cooked in a thick sauce of spices, tomatoes and yoghurt.

As the name rather gives away, it's an Anglo-Indian dish – an old Indian dish tweaked to make it more acceptable to the English palate. Or that's what I thought, anyway – turns out the origins of tikka masala are both old and twisty.

Depending on who you listen to, it's either a dish that was created for the Mughal emperor Babur several centuries ago (rumour has it he was afraid of choking on chicken bones so had all his meat cut into small chunks – a feature of the tikka), or was invented in the Punjab within the last 50 years.

Others say it was made in the UK when a customer in an Indian restaurant found his curry too dry and asked for some sauce with it. Depending on who you ask, either tomato soup or cream was added, and the tikka masala was born.

There's also much debate about where the sauce-adding miracle occurred: Glasgow has made its case for being the birthplace of tikka masala, as have Birmingham and London. (Being a capital dweller, I'm backing London's bid: apparently, the Gaylord restaurant in Covent Garden had a dish called tandoori chicken masal on its menu in 1968.)

But wherever it came from and however it was adapted to suit British tastes, the tikka masala is pretty much England's national dish. Seriously – politicians have even proclaimed it as such, using it as an avatar of multiculturalism. You can't go into an Indian restaurant without seeing it on the menu, or walk into a supermarket without it taking pride of place on the ready-meal shelf.

Alas, it's always chicken. Clearly, a vegan version is vastly preferable. I used this BBC recipe (chicken, alas), but swapped the meat for Cauldron tofu pieces and the yoghurt for a vegan equivalent.

The recipe's actually not too hard to make: blend up spices, chilli, garlic and ginger to a paste. Fry some onions, add the paste, some chopped peppers, chopped tomatoes and tomato puree, and the tofu, and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. Then stir in your vegan yoghurt, and you're good to go.

When I made this the other half went nuts for it, and I was surprised at how much it resembled the tikkas I remember.

Having made it at home, I can see why this one's a stone cold classic.


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13 comments

  1. Yeah, that's not a dish I've seen over here. I'm sure it exists, but it's not something I seek out on the menu (seeing as it's chicken). Interesting that it's so popular over there! Glad it turned out well, it looks wonderful!

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  2. Huh, now there's a dish I never thought was English. I've seen it around these parts before but haven't had it. It looks super creamy and delicious, nice that it turned out so good!

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  3. Wow, it sounds fabulous! I love curry and tomato flavors together. Glad the second half loved it too.

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  4. I'll definitely be making your version when I go back to London! That seems like the right dish to make to impress people over there with veganism.

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  5. I just always assumed tikka masala was Indian. I guess a lot of Indian food has become part of the British diet. It certainly looks exceedingly delicious, and as I'm very fond of Indian food, I'll visit the recipe site. Maybe we'll be having masala tonight.

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  6. I thought it was Indian too but a toned down version existed for the Brits, similar to butter chicken. There is an extremely spicy recipe for chicken tikka masala in one of my Indian cookbooks I have veganised using either tofu or roasted cauliflower, with half the amount of spices it still has a fair bit of heat.

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  7. Another one I haven't had! Seriously, after Mofo is over I'm going to have to go through all your dishes and test out some of the English food I've been missing out on! I love curries so I bet I'd like this.

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  8. This looks fantastic. Sauces can really make or break a dish! And when it's a good sauce, the more the merrier.
    For some reason yr posts aren't getting updated to my feeder so I feel like I've missed a lot. I'll have to scroll back through.

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  9. This is my husband's all time favorite Indian dish. I've selfishly never thought to veganize it so I'm totally inspired by this post! Are the tofu pieces really dense or left kind of soft? I've never heard of them, but I can already tell that I want some.

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  10. I thought it was an Indian dish but didn't really paid much attention since it's chicken. Regardless of the origins, your vegan version is on my list of must make recipes. :-)

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  11. I'm beginning to get a complex; your home presentation is gorgeous! I'm always pining for the creamy dishes at Indian buffets; this one goes in my "must make" file as well.

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  12. This is seriously amazing. Chicken-free tikka masala?! What an easy recipe!

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  13. that is such a fun history right..:) the restaurants back hom in india had makhani or butter masala more than tikka masalas:)

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