I’ll confess, of all the recipes my mom made growing up, tikka masala was never on the menu. As much as we loved indulging in the rich sauce of the dish at weddings and restaurants, my mom just never had a taste for making it, so we just loaded up when we could. And I’m still obsessed with the dish to this day. It’s nostalgic—I have so many food memories from family and friends’ weddings where tikka masala was on the buffet line, or out at our favorite Indian restaurants in Houston where we would eat the dish family-style, loading up our plates again and again. These days, when the craving strikes, I make this cauliflower tikka masala—and my hankering is immediately satisfied.
Let’s break it down. Cauliflower is arguably one of the most delicious—and popular—veggies of the moment. It soaks up all the delicious flavors of this simple recipe. And because it comes together in a flash, I promise this cauliflower tikka masala will be part of your regular recipe rotation.
Ingredients for Cauliflower Tikka Masala
Yogurt. While this recipe is vegetarian, as an ode to chicken that is marinated in yogurt for chicken tikka masala, I “marinate” cauliflower in the yogurt. It also adds a little subtle tang.
Garlic and ginger. In both the yogurt marinade and the sauce, these warming spices add so much flavor. Use the fresh stuff—trust me.
Cauliflower. Prepped florets or whole cauliflower that you chop up yourself work great. You can also substitute for another starchy vegetable like potatoes (a personal favorite), or paneer.
Onion. I prefer a yellow onion, but red onion or a shallot will work in a pinch.
Spices. Garam masala, turmeric, cardamom, cumin, and coriander, pack this recipe with flavor. Fresh ground is always best, but use what you can find!
Jalapeño. For just a hint of spice.
Canned tomatoes. You can use a few options. Crushed, whole, or plain tomato sauce. I prefer tomato sauce because I like to keep everything extra smooth. But because the sauce gets blended, any of these options will work.
Heavy cream. While I don’t usually have heavy cream on hand, I do add it to my list when I’m making this. And you don’t need a lot, so even if you want to save extra in ice trays to freeze and use for next time, that will also work! You just want that creamy richness. Coconut milk will also work.
Butter. Just a tablespoon adds a nice glossy finish to the sauce.
Sugar. Sprinkle in a pinch to round out all the flavors.
How to Make Cauliflower Tikka Masala a 30-Minute Meal
Once I discovered that I could make this recipe in about 30 minutes, it became a go-to for weeknight meals. A few tips:
- Marinate the cauliflower the night before. Add the yogurt, ginger, garlic, and spices to a bowl to toss over the cauliflower and let it sit covered in the fridge. This makes it easy to just toss in the oven while the sauce simmers so both can be cooked at the same time. It also saves a little prep during the craziness of dinnertime.
- Mise en place is your friend. Before you actually start cooking, measure out spices in one bowl, chop the onion, garlic, ginger, and jalapeño on your cutting board. Add the butter and cream to the blender before you start the cooking and set aside. All of these little steps make things move a lot faster and save you clean-up time, too!
- Toast your spices. For maximum flavor, toast the spices with the onion until super fragrant. Once you can smell them, add the tomatoes.
- Make the whole thing ahead of time. My mom says this a lot, but recipes like this are incredibly forgiving as leftovers. In fact, they often taste even better the next day. Store leftovers in an airtight container and reheat on the stove with an extra splash of cream or ghee and serve. No one will know the difference.
Tips for Serving
Serve alongside hot rice, with naan, or even just on its own in a bowl. Top with plenty of chopped cilantro, a little lime juice, and even a drizzle of yogurt if you like.
I also like serving this dish alongside a little kachumber salad for added freshness or with raita on the side. A little palak or saag paneer is also delicious if you want a few options on the table for people to eat with a big bowl of rice. However you serve it, this cauliflower tikka masala will be delicious.
This post was originally published on August 17, 2018, and has since been updated.