This vegan butter chicken is a spice lovers dream. Get ready for layers of flavor married with a creamy red sauce and succulent mushrooms. Sure, you can use tofu to replace the chicken, but it is no match to oyster mushrooms. Meaty oyster mushrooms have their own rich and delicious flavor which elevates this classic Indian-inspired dish. Not to mention they are incredibly easy to prep and cook. I hope you’re hungry because vegan butter chicken has never been better!
Like so many of my favorite Indian dishes, I thought I’d given up butter chicken when I became vegan. As plant-based as Indian cooking often is, dairy maintains a prominent spot in the kitchen. Luckily it is possible to replace dairy with equally delicious and creamy plant-based alternatives. With the right ingredients we can recreate even the richest and creamiest recipes.
What Is Butter Chicken anyways?
If you’re new to butter chicken get ready for a treat! Butter chicken is a traditional Indian curry made with tomatoes, spices, and––you guessed it––butter! Like many Indian dishes this one starts with a blend of aromatic spices: coriander, cumin, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, chili pepper, and cinnamon. To achieve a creamy dreamy texture without butter and cream I use coconut milk and a little bit of vegan butter. Traditionally the marinated chicken is cooked in a clay oven, called a tandoor, before being added to the red gravy. Butter chicken is served piping hot over fluffy basmati rice and/or with buttery naan flat bread. It’s the ultimate Indian comfort food; and thank goodness we can make it vegan.
You’ll love it if you like
- Food with a lot of spice; but it isn’t spicy
- Creamy rich tomato sauces
- Meaty mushrooms
- Indian food
How is vegan butter chicken different?
No chickens or cows were harmed in the making of this butter chicken. Instead we replace chicken with tender yet meaty oyster mushrooms that are spiced to perfection and cooked in a cast iron skillet. To make it creamy without dairy butter, we use coconut milk and vegan butter. Coconut milk is high in medium chain triglycerides, a type of fat that has anti-inflammatory, weight loss, and cognitive benefits. Cashew cream is also a good dairy-free substitute for cream in this recipe––and are often used in traditional butter chicken. Of course, the spices are the same because spices are almost always vegan. Like a traditional butter chicken, this vegan version requires that you sauté minced aromatics then toast the spices before adding the tomato sauce and coconut milk. Despite tasting so gourmet, this is actually an easy recipe that doesn’t require too much prep. For example, I use the food processor to mince the onions and garlic in seconds. The final result is a deeply aromatic and delicious feast for the senses.
The Mushrooms Make It
I’ve seen vegan butter chicken made with tofu, chickpeas, store-bought vegan chicken, and cauliflower, but none of those are a match for the sheer perfection of oyster mushrooms. Not only is the texture of oyster mushrooms meaty, it is a tender delicate kind of meaty similar to chicken. In addition to great texture, oyster mushrooms have natural umami flavor and a subtle sweetness that pairs wonderfully with the other ingredients in this dish. The best mushroom replacement for oyster mushrooms would be maitake, also known as Hen of the Woods mushrooms. After that I would recommend using king oyster mushrooms––which are even meatier and can be shredded to mock chicken. Portobello and baby bella mushrooms would technically work, but the flavor and texture is inferior to oyster mushrooms.
How to make it
The first step of this vegan butter chicken recipe is to measure out the spices. This small step is essential in Indian cooking because all of the spices are toasted together. Get this out of the way then prep all of your other ingredients: mince the onions, garlic, and ginger in a food processor; ready the coconut milk and tomato sauce, etc.
PREP THE MUSHROOMS: Oyster mushroom caps are held together at their base by a tough partially edible stem. Use your fingers to identify where the stem feels toughest and use a sharp knife to remove that portion without slicing all of the caps off. If you are unsure, simply remove the bottom 1/6″ of the stalk.
Sauté the onions, garlic, and ginger in a bit of vegan butter. Once the onions are slightly golden and fragrant, stir in the spices and let them toast with the onions for about 30 seconds. Be careful not to burn the onions or the spices in this step.
Add the tomato sauce, coconut milk, sugar, and salt and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and gently simmer on low for 20-30 minutes.
While the sauce is cooking you can cook the mushrooms in a cast iron skillet or large frying pan. Please refer to the note I made under step one for tips on prepping the mushrooms. Melt 1/2 tablespoon of vegan butter in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the large mushroom slices cap side down then place a heavy skillet, flat lid, or bacon press directly onto the mushrooms. Cook for five minutes before removing the weight and seasoning the mushrooms. Place the heavy weight back onto the mushrooms and cook for 20 minutes on medium-low heat, flipping 12-15 minutes in.
The mushrooms will release a lot of water which will help them cook down. The juices will eventually evaporate helping the mushrooms become meaty and tastier.
Season the butter chicken sauce to taste with salt, then add the cooked mushrooms. If you have planned to make vegan naan, ready your flat bread now. Serve the hot vegan butter chicken with fluffy rice and/or vegan naan. Garnish with black pepper, fresh cilantro, and lime juice and zest.
Tips for making the best vegan butter chicken
- Look for garam masala, Kashmiri chili powder, and the other spices at your local Indian grocery store or online.
- Measure your spices before you begin
- Cook the sauce in a dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot if you have one
- Mince the onions, garlic, and ginger in a food processor rather than hand mince. This will make an almost paste-like texture that will give the final sauce a silky texture. You can use a blender to pulse the onion mixture too, but it isn’t ideal because you risk unevenly minced veggies and an overly wet consistency.
- Use fresh mushrooms, not dried. Also, make sure to avoid soggy and beat up oyster mushrooms. Store mushrooms in a paper bag in the fridge when you bring them home from the market.
How to store leftovers
Store leftover vegan butter chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. I reheat the curry in the microwave for one minute. You can also heat on the stove in a saucepan.
You can freeze this vegan butter chicken, no problem. It should stay best in the freezer for up to 2 months. Allow it to thaw on the counter or in the refrigerator before reheating.
Try these other delicious Indian-inspired recipes
Vegan Butter Chicken with Oyster Mushrooms
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 inch knob of fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tbsp vegan butter
- 1 14- oz can tomato sauce
- 1 1/2 cups full fat coconut milk unsweetened
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cane sugar
- 4 servings of cooked basmati rice for serving
- 4 servings of vegan naan bread for serving
- black pepper to taste
- fresh cilantro for garnish
- fresh lime juice and lime zest for garnish
- 1 1/2 lbs oyster mushrooms tough stem removed (See note), or remove the bottom 1/6"
- sprinkle of salt
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
- Don't forget to read through all of the instructions and prep your ingredients before you begin.
- Add the onion, garlic cloves, and ginger to a food processor and pulse until there is a thick paste. Be careful not to over mix it.
- Measure all of the spices for the curry sauce.
- Warm 1 tablespoon of vegan butter in a dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the onion mixture and sauté until fragrant and slightly golden, about 3-5 minutes. Add the spices, and stir. Toast for 30 seconds.
- Pour in the tomato sauce, coconut milk, sugar, and salt and stir well. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, cover the pot, and let it gently simmer for 20-30 minutes.
- To make the mushrooms warm 1/2 tablespoon of vegan butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the mushrooms cap side down onto the skillet and add a sprinkle of salt. Place another heavy pot, skillet, or bacon press directly onto the mushrooms (touching the actual mushrooms) and let it press them down. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes. The mushrooms will start to release water and cook down.
- Remove the mushroom press and season the tops of the mushrooms with garam masala, garlic powder, and Kashmiri chili powder. Place the press back onto the mushrooms and cook on medium or medium-low heat for 20 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender, fragrant, reduced, and golden along the edges. Transfer the cooked mushrooms to the butter chicken sauce, remove from the heat, and cover.
- Prep your serving plates or bowls and garnishes. Serve the vegan butter chicken over basmati rice or vegan naan. Garnish with fresh cilantro and lime juice and zest. Enjoy!
Vegan Naan with Spelt Flour
- 2/3 cup warm water use a kitchen themometer to guarantee that it is between 100°-110°F
- 2 tsp cane sugar
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup spelt flour
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp vegan butter + 3 tbsp for topping the naan
- cilantro for garnish
- 1 clove garlic finely minced
- The first step is to read through all of the steps and ingredients. If you must, read them a few times before you get started. And watch the video for clarity.
- Dissolve 2 teaspoons of cane sugar in 2/3 cup of hot water (between 100°-110°F). Stir to dissolve the sugar, then add 2 teaspoons of active dry yeast. Stir gently. The water temperature must be between 100°-110°F when you add the yeast. Any cooler and the yeast may not activate, any warmer and it may die. Set it aside for 15 minutes to "bloom". The yeast will look like foam on the surface of the water. If there is no foamy activity you are using bad yeast and will need to try this step again.
- Melt 1 tablespoon of vegan butter in the microwave. Microwave for 30 seconds to melt.
- Sift the flours into a large mixing bowl, then add salt and baking powder. Stir well.
- Once the yeast mixture has become bubbly and foamy, pour it into the dry ingredients. Add the melted butter. Stir with a fork or wooden spoon. The dough will be sticky and slightly dry. Once it's all sticking together transfer the dough to a lightly floured workspace and knead.
- Grease your hands with a little of the vegan butter residue or cooking oil. Knead the dough for a few minutes, until it is a smooth ball. You may need to grease your hands again during this process to keep the dough from sticking to them. To knead dough use your palm to slightly flatten the dough, and your fingers to fold it back over itself. You can use one or both hands. Repeat the process of kneading until the dough forms into a smooth ball.
- Transfer the dough ball to a greased bowl and cover with a clean cotton kitchen towel. Place it in a warm area and let it rise for 60-90 minutes. If your kitchen is cold today place it in the oven with just the oven light on.
- After an hour the dough should have expanded to double its size. Press down on the dough to release air and transfer it to a floured workspace and use a pastry cutter or knife to cut the round ball into eight pieces. Form those eight pieces into smaller dough balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicon mat. Cover with the kitchen towel and let rise for another 15 minutes.
- Preheat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Set a small bowl of water next to your workspace. Melt another 3 tablespoons of vegan butter and set next to a serving platter by the stove. Place a kitchen brush next to the vegan butter.
- The dough balls should have expanded once again. Flour a workspace and one by one use a rolling pin to roll the dough flat oval shape (about 1/5" thick). Gently pick up the flattened dough, dampen your fingers, and rub a bit of water onto one side of it. Place it, wet side down, onto the pan. Cook for about a minute, until air bubbles form on top of the flatbread. Flip and cover. Reduce to medium-high heat or medium heat (depending on your stove). Cook for another 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and transfer the naan to a plate or platter. Brush with vegan butter.
- Repeat this step with the remaining balls of dough. Sprinkle the finished naan with some flaky sea salt and minced cilantro. To make garlic naan add minced garlic to the butter before brushing onto the flatbreads.