This Diwali We’re Making Vegan Butter Chicken Sauce

We’ve perfected a dairy-free butter chicken sauce that will have you forgetting all about your favourite banquet hall shahi paneer and makhani murgh.

vegan butter chicken sauce recipe

My mom is hosting a formal Diwali dinner this year (yayayayay). Catching up with my family, FaceTiming with my sister, and eating lots of homemade mithai, fresh pakoras, and luscious shahi paneer. And of course, lighting the path ahead to a new year where lightness overcomes darkness.

Diwali is my favourite holiday – the diyas, tealights, and positive chardi kala vibes – even a bad day becomes good. In my home, Diwali includes a visit to the gurdwara to commemorate Bandi Chor Niwas, and then to my parents’ for delicious home-cooked food and kheer. Sometimes we light sparklers, and we always light the walkway outside my parents house with tealights. I love it.

Planning an inclusive Diwali menu can be challenging if you have to accommodate food allergies, vegetarians, vegans, and picky children. My food allergies confuse my parents. How do you make a good gluten-free roti? My mom doesn’t like coconut milk so dairy-free kheer is off the table, and there’s only so much besan I can consume before feeling really sad as everyone else eats gulab jamuns, creamy kheer and ras malai 🙁 So I test and tweak gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free recipes – because no one else is going to make me gluten-free, dairy-free gulab jamuns. I’ve tested recipes for gluten-free jalebis, dairy-free coconut kheer, carrot kheer/halwa, and this year…dairy-free butter chicken/shahi paneer sauce. The concept is the same as making shahi paneer sauce or butter chicken sauce, but instead of butter, use grapeseed oil (or ghee if you’re obsessed with it like I am), and instead of heavy cream, use *cashews.*

Soak, drain, blend and voila! A creamy cashew paste that produces a luscious, decadent texture and taste without the heaviness and unfortunate after effects of heavy cream (my lactose intolerant friends know what I’m talking about).

This sauce is a delicious base for shahi paneer, mixed vegetables, chickpeas, and maybe even a strange Indian-inspired pasta dish.

When I’m cooking Punjabi or other South Asian cuisine, I head to either my local Real Canadian Superstore or No Frills to pick up South Asian ingredients and brands at low prices. You can find a variety of whole spices (I like Suraj brand), basmati rice, and fresh basics like onions, ginger, and methi leaves. They also have Nanak brand ghee, paneer and frozen sweets like ras malai ready to go, in case you don’t have the time (or talent) to make your own.

Give yourself about an hour to cook this dish from start to finish. To save time, if you’re using chicken, cook it in the oven or a fry pan as you make the sauce, and put the rice on to cook in a separate pot once you’ve added the broth to the sauce. Serve with cumin rice or fresh chapatis, and a nice salad or roasted autumn vegetables. Happy Diwali.

Dairy-Free/Vegan Butter Chicken Sauce

1 teaspoon grape seed oil or ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 inch piece ginger, minced
1/2 green chilli or jalapeno (or more to taste), minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
2 cups vegetable, chicken or bone broth
6 roma tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons dried methi (fenugreek) leaves
3 tablespoons cashew butter (found in the peanut butter section of the store) or a handful of cashews soaked in water overnight and blended into a paste
1 packaged of diced or cubed Nanak Paneer, or 1 can of drained Suraj Chickpeas, or cubed tofu, or 2 cooked chicken breasts chopped into bite-size pieces

  1. Heat grape seed oil in saucepan on medium heat. Add cumin seeds, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon stick. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  2. Add diced onion, lower heat to medium-low, and saute until soft and browned, between 5-10 minutes. Add minced garlic, ginger and chilli, and cook 2-3 minutes until browning. Add ground cumin, coriander seeds, tumeric, and cinnamon. Stir and cook about 30 seconds more until fragrant.
  3. Mix in chopped tomatoes and cook 5-10 minutes on medium, stirring to ensure mixture does not stick to the pan.
  4. Add broth and cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Now is a good time to begin cooking rice.
  5. Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce until almost smooth. Place back on heat on medium low. In a small bowl, add cashew butter or cashew paste. Add two ladles of the cooked sauce and mix into a smooth paste. Slowly add to the pot, mixing with a whisk to ensure smooth incorporation. Cook on a simmer for 5-10 minutes, mixing frequently. Add cooked chicken, tofu, paneer or chickpeas, and heat through. Finish with dried fenugreek/methi leaves and fresh lime juice.

Tip 1: Instead of using ground cumin, coriander and cinnamon, you can also use 1-2 teaspoons of homemade or Suraj brand garam masala.

Tip 2: Before I cook it, I like to marinade my chicken in lime juice, pepper, salt, ground cumin, a dash of grapeseed oil, and garam masala.

Tip 3: If you don’t want to make a vegetable side dish, toss in sliced green and red peppers in the last 5-10 minutes of cooking.

Tip 4: Dairy lovers can try Naveen Atwal’s very flavourful original Butter Chicken recipe.


This story was sponsored by Real Canadian Superstore® and No Frills®. Check your weekly store flyer for Diwali sales on mithai, basmati rice, naan, paneer, samosas, cookies (gotta have them Parl-G!), and Haldiram’s savoury snacks.