How To Make Yum Vegan Butter Chicken For Dinner Tonight
The Debrief: Just because you can't have chicken, doesn't mean you can't have chicken butter curry. Sort of.
Photography by Will Eckersley
Possibly the mainstay of chilli-haters and toddlers, butter chicken might sound like tikka masala by another name. But there’s a world of rich, creamy and definitely decadent comfort to be found from a veganised recipe of this 1950s Delhi classic.
Butter chicken came back into my life recently. I had a short, intense affair with the original version in my mid-teens, involving feelings that returned ten-fold when I started planning menus for Poppadom Preach, a vegan supper club I help run in Berlin.
We needed a main course that would stand up against a painstakingly made meat dish, whilst not using anything that was too obviously fake meat and leave our non-vegan guests wondering WTF they were eating (the worst). Seitan, or wheat gluten, is an ideal meat replacement for this dish, as the texture mimics chicken pieces incredibly well, whilst being packed full of protein and calories (more than tofu or tempeh). You can make it yourself from scratch, but for a weeknight dinner I prefer to pick up a few packs from a health food shop or larger supermarkets.
We also needed a dish that did something other than spice. Obviously adding a load of coconut milk to anything will usually wash away any harsh heat, but I wanted a curry that had some depth of flavour and a different texture from the super smooth coconut milk-based curries you can find in nearly any world food restaurant. And then I remembered butter chicken. The fave with anyone a little adverse to heat, but by no-means a cop-out in the flavour stakes.
This curry takes a good hour to prepare, but thanks to the final addition of ground almonds, desiccated coconut and tomato paste, it tastes like you’ve spent all day on it. Making fresh naan bread might also sound unachievable on a weeknight, but if you start by making the dough and leaving it to rise, there’s a 30 minute gap in the curry recipe that’s perfect for frying up eight naans, meaning the whole meal shouldn’t take longer than 90 minutes. By that time you’ll be left with a simmering pot of rich and entirely vegan butter chicken, a sparky curry topping and steaming naans.
Vegan butter chicken with pomegranate and toasted almond topping
For the butter chicken
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 white onions, chopped down small
4 cloves garlic, chopped small
3 tbsp freshly grated ginger- leave the skin on, it's where all the flavour is
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 red chillies, chopped small
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups of vegan yoghurt (soy can work here as the dish is quite sweet)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp garam masala
2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup vegetable stock
360g chicken-style seitan pieces (or allow 90g per person of equivalent meat replacement)
1 1/2 cups of vegan cream, plus a little for serving if you like
1 1/2 tsp tomato paste
3 tbsp ground almonds
3 tbsp desiccated coconut
What to do
1. Heat the oil in a large, wide frying pan or wok. Add in the onions and sweat until translucent. Then add the garlic, ginger and cumin seeds and cook until the onions are just turning brown.
2. Add the cinnamon, tomatoes, chilli and some seasoning, then the chillies, and cook for another 10 minutes until everything has softened down.
3. While that's happening, whisk together the yoghurt, lemon juice, turmeric, garam masala and ground cumin, and then pour into the onion pan, along with the vegetable stock. Bring the mixture to the boil, then turn down the heat so it is just simmering.
4. Cook like this for 30 minutes, remembering to stir at the edges and bottom of the pan now and again so the mixture doesn't burn- but stickier bits will just make this tastier.
5. Now add in the seitan pieces, cream and tomato paste, and leave it for another 10 minutes.
6. Finally sprinkle in the almonds and coconut and stir through. Check for seasoning- you may want to add a bit more lemon juice.
For the curry topping
½ a pomegranate
100g flaked almonds
1 large handful of coriander (leaves only)
What to do
1. Pick out the seeds from half a pomegranate and set aside in a dish.
2. Gently toast the flaked almonds in a dry frying pan until you can smell it cooking and the flakes have started to darken (this burns easily so keep your eye on the pan).
3. Add the almond flakes to the dish with the pomegranate seeds and coriander leaves and save until right before serving- when everyone can sprinkle over the topping right before eating.
Homemade coconut-rolled naans
Naans are great (and incredibly cheap) way of making a meal into a feast. Plus, scooping up curry with homemade bread seems to have a knack of quelling a bad day like no other. Feel free to roll in different flavours - the desiccated coconut here adds a crispy, toasted texture to the naans without competing with the richness of the curry.
Makes eight hand-held naans
200 g self raising flour
150 ml warm water
1 tbsp vegan margarine
1 tsp salt
More vegan margarine for frying
A few tablespoons of desiccated coconut for rolling
What to do
1. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and add the warm water. Add the margarine and salt and mix well. Add some extra water or flour as required.
2. Knead for about 5 minutes on a smooth working surface until you have a smooth dough. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with clingfilm or a damp tea towel, and leave to rise for 1 hour in a warm place.
3. To finish off the bread, heat a large frying pan on the stove for a few minutes with a tablespoon of margarine, until it is red hot.
4. Knead the dough for another 2 minutes and divide into 8 portioned balls.
5. Roll out into little circles or ovals with a thickness of about 1 cm, sprinkling a little desiccated coconut over the dough and rolling it up to incorporate it.
6. One at a time, place each naan in the pan. The naan should start to bubble a little as it rises from the heat. Spread a little more margarine on the up-turned side while it cooks- turning with a fork after the down-turned side has started to harden and brown- if it’s too soft to do this, leave it for a little longer.
7. Place a clean tea towel in a mixing bowl, and stack the naans in the bowl to keep warm as you fry up all eight, before serving straight away alongside the butter chicken.
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Follow Ava on Twitter @Guacandroll or over on her blog Guac And Roll
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