Vegan Tikka Masala

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my love of food from other cultures and the stories meals can tell. While foods can shape our memories and gatherings, our cultures and climates also shape the foods we love and enjoy. Families take the ingredients that are available and turn them into meals that bring everyone together. Over generations, communities develop cuisines and recipes are passed down.

I was fortunate that my family introduced me to some amazing dishes from a myriad of cultures. I had Mexican menudo with homemade tortillas, Chinese spring rolls, Lebanese stuffed grape leaves, and I was encouraged to try my hand at making Jewish challah bread.

I still remember visiting my best friend’s family in elementary school. His parents are from India, and I loved getting to have dinner with them. One of my fondest memories was visiting when Mrs. Bhandari would make fresh naan.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find my favorite favorite Indian dish until after grad school — chicken tikka masala. Since so many of my family’s celebrations center on food and communal cooking, I have always had a habit of cooking for my friends. As my social circle grew, I got to know more people who don’t eat meat. As much as I love the complex, savory chicken in a spicy, creamy sauce, I love feeding my friends even more. So, when a friend decided to go vegan for a while, I started tinkering with my recipe.

Just as with my curry braised fish, my vegan tikka masala may not be a completely traditional dish, but it evokes the flavors and feelings of the traditional Indian comfort food that inspired me.


  • Medium skillet
  • Large bowl
  • Roasting pan
  • Aluminum foil or parchment paper
  • Braiser or heavy skillet with lid


CauliflowerIngredients 1
  • 1 medium head cauliflower (about 1 lb.)
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. cardamom
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 13.6 oz. coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
Tikka MasalaIngredients 2
  • 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1 diced onion
  • 6 minced cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. turmeric
  • 1 Tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. garam masala
  • 29 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 13.6 oz. coconut milk
  • Salt, to taste
  • Fresh cilantro, to garnish


  1. Cut head of cauliflower into bite sized pieces. Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp salt, ground coriander, cardamom, and cumin and toss to coat. Set aside.
  2. In skillet over medium-low heat, combine coconut oil, coconut milk, and rice vinegar. Reduce by half. About 10 minutes.
  3. Pour 3/4 of coconut milk over cauliflower and toss to coat. Reserving rest of cream mixture.
  4. Pour cauliflower into a single layer on a foil-lined broiling pan. Broil until it develops dark coloring, about 12 minutes, stirring halfway through.
  5. While cauliflower broils, heat oil in braiser, add onions, garlic, and ginger. Sweat until onions turn soft and just start to brown, 5-7 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle in turmeric, cayenne pepper, and garam masala; stirring to coat onions.
  7. Add coconut milk and crushed tomatoes. Stir to combine and reduce heat to simmer. Cover and continue simmering about 5 minutes.
  8. Add cauliflower to sauce and gently fold in.Cauliflower In Sauce
  9. Drizzle with reserved coconut milk and garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve with rice and naan.

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