This is a mildly-spiced vegetarian Indian curry that I learned when I did a cooking class in India. It’s a really simple dish that comes together very quickly, so making it a great weeknight meal. In fact, if you prepare the ingredients ahead of time, the whole cooking process only takes about 15 minutes, tops. Butter Masala (also known as Makhani) uses tomato puree, Kashmiri Chili Powder and Dried Fenugreek Leaves (Kasuri Methi) to flavor the sauce. Kasuri Methi can be found in any Indian market, and even some supermarkets.
Traditionally, butter, cream and almonds are oftentimes used in this sauce, and although I am still using the butter, I have substituted a little coconut milk and some cashew cream to provide that creaminess. I think it works really well, and the dish ends up being rich, but still light and not at all cloying.
First off, gather all your ingredients. I have used paneer, but you could easily make this a vegan dish by substituting tofu for the cheese, and using a vegan butter for the dairy. If you’re taking that route, I would choose to add a little more coconut milk to add back some richness to the dish.
For the cashew paste, simply take 3 Tablespoons of raw, unsalted cashews and grind them to a fine powder. Mix the powder with the same amount of warm water until you have a thick paste. This will be stirred into the sauce later in the cooking process.
Heat the butter, plus a teaspoon of ghee or vegetable oil to help prevent the butter from burning, in a heavy-based pan or wok. Add the chopped onions and fry over a medium heat until the onion begins to brown. Give a stir from time to time, and keep a close watch after about 5 minutes as the onion can go from gently browned to overly brown very quickly, especially if you’re using a cast iron pan as I did!
Once the onion has a little color, add the ginger garlic paste and fry over the same heat for about 2 minutes. Next add in the chili powder and mix briefly to combine. The chile powder I’m using here is the one recommended by the teacher for this particular curry. It provides a great red coloring, but it’s also not that spicy a chile powder. You can easily find it in any Indian market. I usually like my curries very spicy – however, this particular sauce has such a delicate flavor (from the methi), that I like to leave it at a mild/medium spice level. Feel free to play around with the spice level to suit your own preference.
Add both the tomato puree and the sugar and cook for about 3-4 minutes, until starting to look dry. You can use either a tomato paste or a puree here – don’t use fresh tomatoes in this recipe as you just won’t get that rich tomato flavor and color that you’re after.
Now, turn down the heat to low and add in 1 1/2 cups of water, the salt and the cashew paste. Stir gently starting at the middle of the pan and continuing outwards, until all the paste and water are mixed in and you have a smooth sauce. Turn up the heat until the sauce begins to bubble away, give a final stir and let the sauce cook down for around 5 minutes or so until it has thickened somewhat.
Gently fold in the paneer and crumble in the Kasuri Methi and stir once more, turning the heat down to simmer. Kasuri Methi are the leaves of the fenugreek plant. They have a distinct flavor and are usually added to butter panner, tandoori masala and kofta dishes. They have a completely different taste to the seeds or powder, which are very aromatic and bitter. Make sure you use the leaves and not the seeds, as you will get a completely different flavor.
At this point, taste the sauce and see if you need more seasoning. I’ve found this sauce can often take quite a lot of seasoning. To finish off the sauce, take the pan off the heat, and gently stir in the coconut milk.
Serve the curry with basmati rice and bread. I can also recommend serving this dish with either a fresh mint or coriander chutney and some pappads/poppadoms. It is a very soothing, and rich dish, perfect for any time of the year.
To convert measurements to UK equivalents, I really like this website!
- 8 oz paneer, cut into bite-sized cubes
- 3 T unsalted butter, plus 1 t ghee or veg oil
- 2 small onions, finely chopped
- 1.5 t ginger garlic paste (or 1 t fresh grated ginger & 2 cloves garlic, minced)
- 3 T raw cashews, ground and mixed with 3 T water to make a paste
- 1 t kashmiri chili powder
- ½ cup (115g/4oz) tomato puree/tomato paste
- 1.5 cups ( 12.5 fl oz) water
- 1 t sugar
- ¾ t salt
- 1 T kasuri methi leaves (dried fenugreek leaves)
- 3 T coconut milk (from a can, not the beverage)
- Fresh coriander, for garnishing
- Heat the oil and butter in a heavy based pan, or wok.
- Add the onion and fry over a medium heat until just beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes.
- Add the ginger garlic paste and fry 2 minutes.
- Add the chili powder and stir into the onion garlic mixture.
- Add the tomato paste/puree and the sugar and cook for 3-4 minutes until mixture becomes a little dry.
- Turn the heat down to low, add the water, cashew paste and the salt. Gently stir, starting at the center of the pan and working outwards, until all ingredients are incorporated.
- Turn the heat up to medium until the sauce begins to bubble. Keep the mixture on a gentle simmer, allowing the sauce to reduce for about 5 minutes.
- Turn the heat down to a simmer once more and add the kasuri methi, crumbling it between your fingers as you add it. Now gently fold in the paneer cubes, and continue cooking on low until the cheese is heated through.
- Check the seasoning, adding more salt if needed.
- Take the pan off the heat and gently stir in the coconut milk.
- If you'd like a thinner sauce, simply add in a tablespoon more or so of the coconut milk, or some water.
- Plate the curry and sprinkle with chopped, fresh coriander if desired.