I always describe tikka masala as the gateway drug of Indian food. It’s rich, creamy, generally not super spicy, and tastes like something you could put over pasta, so people are generally more accepting of it than if you put a bowl of dal in front of them and told them to dig in. If you’ve never had some of the spices commonly used in Indian food before, they can definitely be overwhelming the first time, but tikka masala does a good job of subduing them and making them palatable to all.
Traditional tikka masalas are made with a spiced tomato-based sauce and some kind of meat that has been marinated in a yogurt sauce overnight. And cream. SO MUCH CREAM. Because of this, it’s more of a special occasion food than an everyday one, which is such a bummer when it tastes so good that you crave it all the time!
Good news! This version of tikka masala is heavy on the veggies and light on the cream, with all the same rich flavors of its high-fat counterpart. It’s made with crispy baked tofu instead of paneer or meat and is full of zucchini, bell pepper and spinach—so you’re sure to get something nutritious in every bite. The heavy cream is cut in half and replaced with plain yogurt, so it still tastes thick, creamy, and indulgent. Be sure not to substitute Greek yogurt instead, though, because it will curdle in the tomato sauce while regular yogurt will not. You could still eat it, but it sure won’t look pretty!
Make a lighter version of an Indian-restaurant favorite with this creamy, tomato-y veggie-and-tofu tikka masala.
- 14 ounces extra firm tofu, patted dry and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 onion, diced
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 6 cardamom pods, crushed
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 zucchini, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 28 ounces can whole peeled tomatoes
- 5 ounces baby spinach
- Salt, to taste
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup plain yogurt (not Greek)
- Heat oven to 425°F. Spread the tofu on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 25 minutes or until crispy on the outside and slightly browned. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a large heavy pot over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the garlic, onion, tomato paste, cardamom pods and pepper flakes to the pot. Cook, stirring often, until the tomato paste has darkened and the onion has softened, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and bell pepper to the pot and saute until starting to soften, about 5-6 minutes. Add the spices to the pot and cook, stirring constantly, until the bottom of the pot begins to brown, about 4 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes with their juices, crushing the tomatoes with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring frequently and scraping up any brown bits. Cook until sauce thickens, about 8 minutes. Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add in the cream, yogurt, and tofu. Season to taste with salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 15-20 minutes. Serve with rice, barley or quinoa.
Make sure to use regular plain yogurt instead of Greek yogurt, as Greek yogurt will curdle when you add it to the tomatoes and regular plain yogurt will not.