Friends, I’ve been holding out on you. I’m guilty of recipe hoarding with this fab, anything but ordinary, bomb tikka masala sauce. I’ve have this in my draft box for weeks, while life just got the best of my time. But I will hoard no more, even if it means breaking out of my whole30 challenge bubble and posting a recipe other that was not originally a whole30 one (note: can be made whole30 compliant). This sauce, oh this sauce, is something I can’t wait to eat again- and I certainly couldn’t wait to share with you. Especially when the masala sauce goes double duty in chicken tikka masala enchiladas. WHAAAAAAAAAAA???? I can’t even. Just you wait, my friends. JUST. YOU. WAIT.
I never knew what tikka masala anything was until I was an adult. I know. ME. An wholly raised Indian, raised in the most traditional of ways never met tikka masala until later in life. To my credit, tikka masala isn’t actually ‘authentically’ indian. Such deception, in the creamiest of ways. It lures you in with promise of rich comfort and keeps you interested with its complex, tomatoey and nutty flavors. And you’re like , HELLO, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE? Just like that, you’ve been spoiled for the rest of your life thinking you’re having something authentically indian. Then your world shatters when you find out that it’s deceit. But I’m here to tell you, it’ll be okay. Tikka masala is so good, it doesn’t matter that it’s actually a British creation. It’s tikka masala sauce; all can be forgiven.
My most critical critic comes in the form of a 5 -year-old. The Little Diva would thrive reviewing food for a living. She has never been one to shy away from giving a 100% unbiased review of my cooking, followed by a very encouraging “don’t worry- you’ll get the recipe right eventually. EVENTUALLY!” as she happily skips off to play. When I watched her eyes grow wider and then a huge grin appeared on her face, I knew the tikka masala sauce simmering away on the stove had been conquered. The secret is in the paste, with freshly ground spices and a nutty base. Tikka masala paste, you’ve been put on notice. You are delicious.
Does it take a little bit of time to make? Yes. Will you love it and love me for it later? Absolutely. Make the paste once and have it ready in the fridge for a couple of weeks or in the freezer for six months. The payoff and the wow factor make this masala sauce worth breaking that sweat. So go on, flex those culinary muscles, whip up a batch and invite your family and friends over for a friday night dinner. With the tikka masala paste in hand, you’ll be cooking like a boss.
Tikka masala paste is very versatile. You can go full cream and make a very rich and decadent sauce. I find that when I substitute milk for a part of the cream, it makes for a lighter, but still just as flavorful sauce. Want to make it vegan//paleo//whole30 compliant? Easy peasy. add canned coconut milk in place of the milk and cream. Full fat coconut milk will make this sauce creamy and rich while a reduced-fat version will give you a lighter sauce. For a vegetarian version, add lightly fried pieces of paneer; for a vegan version, pan-fried tofu cubes. And for the omnivores, boneless marinated pieces of chicken (in the paste) make this the ultimate chicken tikka masala. The possibilities are really endless here. I’m thinkin’ leftover thanksgiving turkey tikka masala. Or the chicken tikka enchiladas I’ll be posting. #drool.
You know how I’m always pushing to toast your spices? TOAST those spices because toasted spices —> winning sauce. Toasting spices draws out oils in nuts and concentrates flavor. In spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves, it heavily perfumes the mixture and less becomes more. So the takeaway from this toasting conversation: toasting= winning at flavor ✨. If you can’t find the spices required to make garam masala, usually stocked at south asian grocery stores, pre-ground garam masala is readily available at most stores this days. Go ahead, use it- judgement free zone here.
You’ll end up with an orangish thick paste, with flecks of green and red. Love that green. That green, my friends, is the fresh and bold mint and cilantro that perks up your taste buds and creates the mmmmmmmm! lip smackability factor. I get it, you’re tired, you’re hungry– you want deliciousness for dinner. A quick deliciousness that wipes away the work week and transports you into an indian restaurant (or your mom’s kitchen) and as you use your warm, chewy naan to sop up this bomb sauce, you know you’ve hit the culinary jackpot. Go ahead, do the macarena and celebrate like the 90s are back.
- FOR THE TIKKA MASALA PASTE:
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 3 tbsp garam masaala (recipe follows)
- 3” knob ginger, peeled and sliced
- 2 onions, peeled and quartered (I used one red and one white)
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 1 cup, roughly chopped cilantro
- 1/2 cup mint, roughly chopped
- juice of 1 lemon and zest
- 1/2 cup unsalted almonds
- 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 3 tsp salt
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- FOR THE MASALA SAUCE:
- 2/3 to 1 cup tikka masala paste (less paste to keep it more mild)
- 3 cups milk
- 1/2 cup cream (to make vegan/whole30/paleo compliant, use coconut milk and water to equal 3/12 cups of liquid)
- 8 oz tomato sauce
- 2 tbsp cooking fat such as coconut oil/ghee/vegetable oil
- FOR GARAM MASALA:
- 2 tbsp coriander
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tsp allspice berries
- 2 tsp whole cloves
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 tsp green cardamom pods
- 2–3 black cardamom pods
- MAKE THE GARAM MASALA. In a dry pan, over high heat, toast all the spices for the garam masala until fragrant, 2-3 minutes tossing occasionally to prevent burning. Please in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and grind into a fine powder. Store tightly covered at room temperature for up to 1 year.
- TOAST THE ALMONDS AND COCONUT. In the same dry pan, toast the almonds and coconut until the coconut becomes golden brown and releases a nutty fragrance. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
- PUREE ALL TIKKA MASALA INGREDIENTS. Place the toasted almonds, coconut, and all remaining ingredients into a food processor and pulse until you have a mostly smooth paste. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to three weeks and in the freezer for up to six months.
- MAKE THE MASALA SAUCE: Heat cooking fat in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once fat is heated, add 2/3 to a full cup of the tikka masala paste, depending on your spice preference. Saute until the paste is fully cooked and begins to separate from the fat, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce and let cook for 1-2 minutes. Add milk and cream, or coconut milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add grilled chicken/tofu/paneer if desired*.
- Serve with white rice and/or naan.
*if adding chicken, marinate cubed chicken in 1/3 cup tikka masala paste for at least 1/2 hour and grill or cook stovetop until chicken is thoroughly cooked.