This recipe for vegan butter chicken cauliflower is inspired by its predecessor and comes together quickly any night of the week, but is also fancy enough for entertaining. This cashew-cardamom-tomato-based gravy with roasted cauliflower is mildly sweet and sublime and beautifully mimics the flavours of the OG butter chicken
Why Is Butter Chicken So Popular?
Butter Chicken is iconic for a reason, in the late 1950s two migrants who moved to Old Delhi after the partition found a clever way to use up leftover tandoori chicken in their restaurant Moti Mahal. They mixed it with a rich 'buttery' tomato gravy, that became so popular. This dish has gained so much fan following not only in India but around the world. Its legacy also has a lot of cultural significance, it honors techniques and ingredients used in Mughali and Punjabi kitchens.
This concept of cooking once eating many meals was literally invented by them - a trick many Indian home cooks use to this day to avoid food wastage. So every time you scoop the luscious curry with naan or roti know you are stepping your toes into the subcontinent's history.
Why Make This Dish?
- It is Vegan: This butter chicken cauliflower recipe is vegan, but it doesn't skimp on the 'butteriness', richness, or creaminess of the traditional butter chicken. It is so satisfying.
- This butter chicken sauce is incredible: Like the OG butter chicken recipe, this vegan butter sauce is a luscious tomato-based gravy that combines spices like cardamom, garam masala, ginger, garlic, and fenugreek, creating a harmonious blend of tastes. Butter chicken sauce is mildly sweet and I have replicated that with some dates. Also, the butteriness in this version comes from 'cashew cream'.
- It is incredibly easy to make: You can make this any night of the week or bring it out when you are entertaining. It only takes 45 minutes to make this. Both the cauliflower and the gravy can roast and cook simultaneously. My daughters and my friends lick their plates clean every time I serve this dish and we never have leftovers.
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
Like most of my recipes, this one also calls for pantry staples. I have covered everything along with suitable substitutions below, but please see the recipe card for quantities.
- Cauliflower: I have used cauliflower to mimic the tandoori chicken because it chars beautifully in the oven which is delicious in this recipe. And frankly, it is also very budget-friendly and accessible. The other alternative is tofu, I like this recipe from Pick Up Limes
- Jeera Powder: I recommend using toasted cumin powder - one that is toasted and then ground. The earthy tones of cumin pair really well with the sweetness of smoked paprika. This is a pantry staple in most Indian kitchen
- Smoked Paprika: You can use any variety of smoked paprika, this is to mimic the flavours of the tandoor, which a nice smoky taste to the gravy.
- Whole spices - cardamom, whole black pepper, cinnamon - I have used whole spices because when it is toasted in hot oil or butter they release their aroma. Making the gravy so fragrant. Cardamom is quintessential here, it is the dominant flavour of this cauliflower butter chicken sauce recipe.
- Cashew: This is important to the gravy, it gives the gravy a nice creamy richness that is found in butter chicken. Some versions online use coconut milk or cream, but personally, I find it alters the flavour profile and I don't recommend it.
Soak the Cashews and Dates
To a bowl add the cashews and the dates and soak it in warm water. if you have a high-speed blender 15 minutes is fine, but if you are using a regular blender you may need 30 minutes or longer.
Roast / Grill the Cauliflower
On a lined baking sheet toss your cauliflower along with some olive oil and spices. Use your and toss the cauliflower florets to ensure the spices coat all the pieces. Bake at the 425F. You need a high temperature for the cauliflower to char slightly around the edges, I love this flavour in the creamy gravy.
Make the Vegan Butter Sauce
This sauce is magical it is creamy and luscious and so full of flavour. It can be made while the cauliflower is roasting in the oven, so things get done simultaneously and quickly. To save time and cleanup, I recommend blending the cashew and the dates in the blender. Take a few tablespoons out to save for garnish, then add the cooked tomato mixture and blend it all together. Blending the sauce it gives it a velvety, buttery consistency reminiscent of a restaurant-style butter chicken dish. Return this creamy gravy to the pot and reheat, then finish off with kaoori methi, Kashmiri chili powder, and garam masala. Add roasted cauliflower and drizzle the cashew cream and a small bit of vegan butter if you want. Garnish with cilantro and serve with hot naan, steamed basmati rice or rotis.
- 1 large Cauliflower washed and chopped in large florets (about 800g)
- 3 - 4 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon jeera/ cumin power
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri Lal Mirch / paprika
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
Butter Chicken Sauce /Gravy
- ¼ cup cashews soaked in warm water (about 40 grams)
- 2-3 medjool dates soaked in warm water
- 1 table spoon olive oil
- 4 - 6 green cardamom pods crushed using mortar pestle
- ½ teaspoon peppercorns
- 2 cloves
- ½ inch piece of cinnamon
- 3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 inch piece of ginger, roughly chopped
- 5 - 6 Roma tomatoes washed and chopped about 500g
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon Kashmiri Lal Mirch / paprika
- ½ teaspoon garam masala (optional)
- 1 teaspoon crushed kasoori methi/ dried fenugreek leaves
- fresh chopped cilantro for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
in a large bowl toss the cauliflower with olive oil, cumin, turmeric, Kashmiri Lal mirch, smoked paprika (if using), and salt. Ensure the cauliflower is well coated.
Arrange it on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 35-40 minutes
While the cauliflower is baking prepare the butter chicken gravy.
In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil to medium heat
Add the crushed cardamom seeds, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, and sauté till everything is fragrant about 30 seconds. Next, add ginger, and garlic stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Toss in the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, and salt to the aromatics and cook till it is thick and glossy about 6-7 minutes.
Drain the soaked cashew and dates into a blender and blend till is smooth. Remove 2 tablespoons of this cashew cream and set aside. Take the tomato mixture off the heat and add it to a blender. Blend adding about ½ cup of water to form a thick sauce.
Return the tomato sauce to the Dutch oven. Add about a cup of water if the gravy is too thick. Add Kashmiri Lal mirch/paprika, kasoori methi, and garam masala (if using) and let it simmer for about 3-4 minutes. and let it continue to simmer for a couple of more minutes.
When the cauliflower is ready (and if you haven’t eaten most of it already) add it to the gravy and simmer for 5 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Lightly drizzle the cashew cream.
Let it cool slightly and then garnish with cilantro leaves and lime juice.
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