Creamy, buttery and a flavour bomb in your mouth! This authentic paneer butter masala recipe is a wonderful vegetarian Indian side dish filled with aromatic spices enveloped around mild and milky cottage cheese.
- Why You’ll Love This Side Dish
- What Is Paneer Butter Masala?
- Who Invented Paneer Butter Masala?
- Can We Make Paneer Butter Masala Without Cream?
- How Do You Keep Paneer Soft When Cooking?
- Recipe Overview
- Variations and Substitutions
- What to Eat with Paneer Butter Masala?
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why You’ll Love This Side Dish
If you love cottage cheese, you’ll loare the same things, they are, except that cottage cheese is salted and paneer is not.
This masala paneer features the paneer as the hero of the dish, which we don’t often do for cottage cheese. It is stirred through a butter masala laden with butter, cream and cashew nuts, which makes it even creamier.
If you’re not familiar with what a masala is, it is basically a mixture of spices. Add it to other ingredients, and you can make a gravy or a curry.
Like a butter chicken type recipe, this is essentially a cottage cheese version, except I prefer it to be a drier side rather than being too saucy.
It truly is so delicious. Mop it up with some naan or chapati or have it with this turmeric rice recipe or even a veg pulao Indian rice dish . Either way, you have to try this Indian side dish at home or even for Diwali celebrations!
What Is Paneer Butter Masala?
Paneer butter masala or paneer makhani is a slightly sweet and spicy curry made with paneer (Indian cottage cheese), tomatoes, whole and ground spices, cashew nuts, butter and cream.
The first step to making a good paneer butter masala is to make the gravy or the sauce. This is a simple step of just cooking some onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and cashews in butter. Once cooked, let it cool and put it in a blender.
After that, you’re just cooking off the rest of the ingredients, add the gravy, add the paneer, and you’re done!
In most cases, they are quite saucy, but you can decide what consistency you prefer for this butter masala. I like it less saucy as it has greater texture and sticks to the paneer better.
Who Invented Paneer Butter Masala?
It is said that paneer butter masala was invented in the mid-50s by Punjabis in the famous Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi. The mix of butter and tomatoes-based gravy is inherently Punjabi, hence its distinctive flavours.
Paneer butter masala is also called paneer makhani. Makhani is the Punjabi word for butter which is where the etymology of this proper name for this dish is from.
Can We Make Paneer Butter Masala Without Cream?
Yes, you can certainly make the paneer butter masala without cream, but it will, of course, alter how creamy the dish will be. To help with that, increase the number of cashews you are using in the gravy.
But be sure to puree it through a very good blender, or the sauce will be a bit too grainy. If you don’t have a good blender, you can run the gravy through a strainer.
You can also substitute cream with cashew cream or coconut milk. The coconut milk will change the flavour of the butter masala but certainly be just as delicious!
How Do You Keep Paneer Soft When Cooking?
Over frying the paneer will render it tough and rubbery. As the paneer is essentially cooked, what you only want to do is to toss it gently right through the butter masala gravy and serve. Just 2-3 minutes will suffice.
Make sure that the paneer is at room temperature before cooking. We tend to overcook the paneer because it is still cold when adding it to the butter masala.
Some recipes call for the paneer to be fried before being added to the butter masala gravy.
However, frying the paneer only alters the texture of the paneer and does not add to the flavour at all, so if you can avoid doing it, the better. But if you wish to do it, you can. Just add the paneer cubes in some water after frying to stop it from going hard.
Soaking paneer in room temperature water before cooking will also stay soft. The extra moisture will prevent it from going too dry and subsequently rubbery.
Flavour/Texture: This paneer butter masala is on the drier side compared to some of the saucier styles of butter masalas. But I love that extra grit to the masala. If, however, you like it saucy, you can add more cashews for added creaminess, water to dilute and cream to make it silky smooth.
This butter paneer recipe is slightly sweet and spicy. It is rich in flavour, aromatic in smell and the paneer is nice and bouncy. My favourite comment from a friend whom I cooked this for said, “there was a party in my mouth!”
Ease: The list of ingredients is enough to put anyone off if Indian cooking is not your thing. I am guilty of this too. But when I made this dish, it was actually super easy.
All the spices are grouped together—the whole spices in one lot and the ground spices in another. Certainly a lot easier to digest when you do it this way.
Time: The prep may take a bit longer if you’re not used to these spices. But don’t get discouraged; you just need to get a bit organised. You can put the whole spices together and the ground spices together—no need to separate them all into individual bowls.
There is a bit of time required to allow the gravy to cool down before you can put it into your blender. You don’t want your food processor to explode!
Otherwise, the paneer is ready to eat as is, so you’re just doing a quick stir through towards the end.
Here are the ingredients you will need for the paneer butter masala recipe.
Butter: Get good quality butter for this recipe, and you should always work with unsalted butter when cooking. This way, you can control the flavours of the dish.
Onion, ginger and garlic: The basis of a lot of Indian cooking. It gives any recipe sweetness from the cooked onions, while the garlic and ginger give pungent and warm flavours.
Cashew nuts: Cashews are incredibly important for this recipe, and it forms the base of the masala. It gives the butter masala natural creaminess without the dairy. It’s important that the sauce is pureed with a strong blender so it’s not grainy.
Tomatoes: You need both freshly chopped tomatoes as well as tomato paste to give the tang that it needs. It is also what helps to provide the recipe with its red tinge.
Whole spices: Bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and cloves: Tossing these whole spices into hot butter and oil is so aromatic! Sweet, warm and anise-like flavours work so well with the other ingredients.
Dried fenugreek leaves: If you have never worked with fenugreek before, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its flavours. It has a sweet, maple-like taste with bitter undertones.
It is an important element in a butter masala, and if you’re looking for it in the Indian supermarket, they are called kasuri methi.
Ground spices: Coriander, red chilli powder, garam masala, turmeric: Add these ground spices in after all the whole spices are well cooked. Mix it thoroughly and your kitchen will smell fabulous!
Paneer: If you love side dishes with cheese, this recipe is for you! Easily found now in most supermarkets. If you can find fresh Indian cottage cheese, that’s even better!
Cream: The butter and cashews help with the creaminess of the butter masala, but of course, the cream will add to make it extra luscious!
Variations and Substitutions
Paneer substitute: If you don’t want so much dairy in your dish or are not a fan of paneer, you can replace it with firm tofu.
If you get firm tofu submerged in water, be sure to try and get rid of the excess water, or the butter masala gravy will be too watery. Place tofu on paper towels and place something heavy on top to press it down. Leave it for 30 minutes.
Vegan option: Substitute butter and cream with a vegan version. You can also use cashew cream if you want a more natural and organic version.
Fenugreek leaves substitute: Dried fenugreek leaves are probably the trickiest of all the whole and ground spices in this recipe. The closest substitute would be celery leaves as they both have a slightly bitter taste.
Step by step instructions for how to make paneer butter masala recipe.
How to Make the Butter Masala Gravy
Heat a deep fry pan in medium heat and add 3 tbsp butter. As it starts to melt, add the chopped onion and sauté until it is translucent.
Add chopped garlic and grated ginger and fry until fragrant.
The add cashews and fry for about 2 minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté for 1 minute. Turn the heat on low, put the lid on and let it simmer for 3 minutes.
Turn the heat off and let the gravy cool down.
Place the butter masala gravy in a blender and puree.
How to Make Paneer Butter Masala
Heat the deep fry pan again and add 2 tbsp of butter and 1 tbsp of oil.
Add the whole spices; cloves, cardamom pods, bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Sauté until fragrant and when it starts to crackle.
Then add the pureed butter masala gravy and stir.
Add the ground spices; coriander, red chilli, garam masala, sugar, turmeric and salt to taste. Stir for about 2 minutes.
Add the tomato paste. Keep stirring for 2 minutes.
Slowly add some water to the gravy to the consistency you like.
Then add the paneer cubes and 3 tbsp of cream. Gently stir until it is all covered. Place the lid on the frypan and allow it to simmer on low heat for about 4 minutes.
When done, remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf.
Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.
What to Eat with Paneer Butter Masala?
Frequently Asked Questions
This ever so popular Indian dish is to be consumed in moderation. The paneer itself is low in carbs and has healthy fats. Using good butter and cream also helps make sure there are no added salts, sugars, and preservatives.
Paneer butter masala is traditionally on the sweeter side, but this can be adjusted to your liking when you’re making it at home.
The cinnamon stick and cloves add some hints of sweetness, while the amount of sugar you put in the recipe will determine how sweet it will be.
Paneer butter masala is slightly spicy, and it is dictated by how much red chilli powder is added to the recipe. Adjust accordingly to turn it up or dial it down. If ordering in the restaurant, it will probably be considered a mild heat rather than overly spicy.
Yes, this recipe is vegetarian. Paneer is Indian cottage cheese and is meat free. The rest of the ingredients in the recipe are also vegetarian.
Yes, this recipe is gluten free and does not contain any wheat. Paneer itself is safe for those who are gluten intolerant.
As one of the most popular Indian side dishes, a good paneer butter masala dish is a must try. Your family and friends will be so impressed by your restaurant-quality dish that they will keep coming back for more!
More Indian Side Dishes
Paneer Butter Masala
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 onion, small, chopped
- 1 inch ginger, grated
- 4 garlic clove, minced
- 20 cashews
- 1 cup tomatoes, chopped
Paneer Butter Masala
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp oil
- 4 cloves
- 2 cardamom pods
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 dried fenugreek leaves
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 2 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- salt, to taste
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- ½ cup water
- 2 cups paneer, cubed, room temperature
- 4 tbsp cream
- 2 tbsp coriander , leaves only
Click on the toggle below for conversion to US Cooking Units.
- Heat a deep fry pan in medium heat and add 3 tbsp butter. As it starts to melt, add the chopped onion and sauté until it is translucent.
- Add chopped garlic and grated ginger and fry until fragrant.
- Add cashews and fry for about 2 minutes.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté for 1 minute. Turn the heat on low, put the lid on and let it simmer for 3 minutes.
- Turn the heat off and let the gravy cool down.
- Place the gravy in a blender and puree.
Paneer Butter Masala
- Heat the deep fry pan again and add 2 tbsp of butter and 1 tbsp of oil.
- Add the whole spices; bay leaf, cinnamon stick, green cardamom pods and cloves. Sauté until fragrant and when it starts to crackle.
- Add the pureed butter masala gravy and stir.
- Add the ground spices; coriander, red chilli, garam masala, sugar, turmeric and salt to taste. Stir for about 2 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste. Keep stirring for 2 minutes.
- Slowly add some water to the gravy to the consistency you like.
- Then add the paneer cubes and 3 tbsp of cream. Gently stir until it is all covered. Place the lid on the fry pan and allow it to simmer on low heat for about 4 minutes.
- When done, remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf.
- Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.
- If you don’t want so much dairy in your dish or are not a fan of paneer, you can replace it with firm tofu. If you get firm tofu submerged in water, be sure to try and get rid of the excess water, or the butter masala will be too watery. Place tofu on paper towels and place something heavy on top to press it down. Leave it for 30 minutes.
- For a vegan option, substitute butter and cream with a vegan version. You can also use cashew cream if you want a more natural and organic version.
- Dried fenugreek leaves are probably the trickiest of all the whole and ground spices in this recipe. The closest substitute would be celery leaves as they both have a slightly bitter taste.
*Disclaimer: Nutritional information provided is an estimate only and generated by an online calculator.
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