Vegan Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

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This vegan butter chicken (murgh makhani) is a delicious lightly-spiced combination of tangy yoghurt and sweet tomatoes, with butter and cashew cream to add a decadent richness. It’s definitely not an everyday recipe… but it’s perfect for celebrations and special occasions!

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I recently made this show-stopping, protein-packed curry for my oldest friend, Sue, when she recently came over to stay with me. A confirmed omnivore and self-confessed foodie, she absolutely loved this!

Do you remember a little while ago I mentioned in my bagels post that when I was 18, I did some photoshoots with a photographer called Anita Corbin? Anita is currently following-up her 1981 Visible Girls exhibition, with Visible Girls Revisited (the new exhibition is touring Europe for the next three years), and wanted to come over to Slovenia to re-shoot me. Since the VG shoot we did 36 years ago also involved Sue, she came over to Slovenia as well.

Chloe Sevigny Tweeted this – how flimmin’ cool is that? Yes, THE Chloe Sevigny! | ©2017 Anita Corbin

Because I’ve been moving around a lot, although we’d kept in touch, Sue and I hadn’t actually seen each other for around 24 years!

I know, right!

As soon as the doors opened in the arrivals lounge, the past 40 years melted away, and we were our teenage selves again. It was brilliant! We had four days of shooting and hanging out, and I have to tell you that it was the best.

Pretending to be real models at Lake Jasna, Slovenia! | ©2017 Anita Corbin

What is Butter Chicken?

This Punjabi dish is essentially tandoori chicken to which a rich and creamy, buttery tomato-based gravy has been added.

Although tandoors (bell-shaped clay ovens, sunk into the ground) have been used to cook food since the time of the Mughal dynasty (1526-1707), it took one enterprising restaurateur, Kundan Lal Gujral, to put the now world-famous tandoori chicken on the global gastronomy map.

Gujral is also credited with inventing butter chicken at his Moti Mahal restaurant, in Delhi, shortly after the partition of India in 1947.

A traditional tandoor – you can just about see the hot coals at the bottom. As well as cooking food on skewers, naan is slapped onto the wall of the oven for a few minutes to cook. Cool, eh?

There are plenty of amazing vegan substitutes around for chicken and dairy, so if you don’t want to make your own butter or chikkin (as I shall henceforth be calling it!), there are plenty of options available in supermarkets and online.

I actually wrote this recipe almost 20 years ago – or rather, the tandoori marinade part –  when I was volunteering at a primary school in Britain.

The upper school (years 5 & 6) did a world food project one summer, and each of the three classes studied a different part of the world; African countries, India, and The Caribbean. At the end of the summer term, each class dressed in a manner representing the country they’d studied, and performed games, music, dances, and plays relating to each one.

We invited parents, helpers, and school governors on each of the last three Fridays of term to come and sample some typical food. This is one of the recipes I devised… although at the time, it didn’t involve seitan, it was for chicken. It proved to be a great hit with pupils and adults alike, and the kids loved cooking it too.

Obviously, this is a scaled-down version – the original was for 120 people! I’ve also updated it to reflect my somewhat more authentic knowledge and experience of cooking Indian food.

I’m sorry these aren’t better quality photos; it was 1998, and I didn’t have a digital camera. I didn’t even know anyone who did, actually. As well as putting together recipes and menus for the Africa and India projects (and running the cooking workshops), I also painted the windows of the two classrooms. The Taj Mahal is self-explanatory but for Africa, I painted a jungle, and because it looked out over a plant-filled quad, I painted some animals onto hardboard, and got the school caretaker to cut them out and mount them on battens so that they could be stuck into the ground. From the classroom window, they looked pretty cool!

Making Vegan Murgh Makhani

It may look like a lot of ingredients and steps but like all Indian food, this vegan butter chicken is actually incredibly simple to make, although it does take a little bit of time to prep.

If you’ve made any of my other Indian recipes, however, you’ll know that the basics don’t really change much. The main difference with this dish is that the chikkin is marinated and grilled before being added to the gravy, which is really what takes the time. But it’s mostly inactive time, not time you need to spend slaving over a hot stove!

If you like this vegan butter chicken recipe, why not check out these other Indian yums while you’re here?

Vegan Butter Chicken


  • mildly-spiced
  • rich
  • creamy
  • tangy
  • packed with protein
  • full of vitamins
  • easy to make
  • satisfying
  • filling
  • delicious
  • incredibly more-ish!

Everyone I’ve ever cooked this for loves it – I bet you will too! Why not serve it with some of my vegan naan?

Enjoy this vegan butter chicken!

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