Butter-free "Butter" Chicken

There is a wide diversity of Indian food. The kind of food people eat is based on every element of an individual’s vastly intersectional identity: region, creed, caste, race; along with other things such seasons and its affects on the availability of ingredients. That being said, there is one thing very common with all kinds of food in this country: it's never uniform. Every bite you take is different; there are variations in flavor, texture, and even spices because every bite is composed of different elements of the meal. We usually have one staple protein (lentils or a meat based curry), cooked carbs (stewed vegetables) and usually a bland vehicle (rice or bread) that delivers the food into our mouths. This means that with every bite we can change the ratio of these elements and basically change the taste of the meal. 

This revelation blew my mind and I spent a long time trying to understand how to unify flavors.

I wanted to build something that has the same consistency of flavor, spice, and texture with every bite. In a nutshell, something that is so far from how we eat food yet follows the traditional palate.

I began searching for a unifying sauce: a gravy upon which to build a meal. I found what I was looking for in a basic tomato sauce that’s thickened by cream and infused with a standard herb mix of coriander powder and dried fenugreek leaves (kastoori methi)— a combination made famous in a dish called butter chicken. Its essentially the mother sauce for most “North Indian" food. If you add chicken to this gravy, it’s called butter chicken and if you add cottage cheese, it's called Shahi Paneer. There was one lacuna with this sauce though, I could not eat it because I was on a diet (Correction: still am). This meant changing it up, reducing the fat content as well as the sugar (lots of sugar goes into a traditional BC if you didn't know). Motivated, by what could be the answer to my conundrum, I started testing recipes. I blanched tomatoes to reduce cook time and easily remove seeds. I deep caramelized onions which was a great replacement to sugar. Coconut milk supplied the fat instead of cream or butter (though I do add some cashews into the mix because somethings just cannot be replaced). 

The end product is a gravy that has a nutty thick texture, with soft chicken, and unifying standard flavor of tomatoes and fenugreek leaves, exactly like what butter chicken should taste like. I guess I achieved what I was going for? An Indian meal with traditional flavors, which tastes the same in every bite, and is somewhat healthy. What more could you ask for! Vegans, switch the protein with veggies and enjoy butter chicken-less “butter chicken” hehe. I hope y’all like this recipe and as usual, please share your thoughts. 



Serves: 2 

5 medium tomatoes blanched and deseeded 

2 cloves of garlic

1 large onion, coarsely chopped 

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves (kastoori methi

4 cashew nuts 

250ml of coconut milk

2 teaspoons of vegetable oil

1 cup of cooked basmati rice 

Salt to taste


Step 1

Score tomatoes and blanch them. Once tender, remove the skin (hold on to it) and deseed. In a food processor, add the skin and tomatoes in with garlic, onion, cashews, coriander and fenugreek powder. 

Step 2

Add 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil in a pan on high heat and cook until the skin turns light brown. Reduce the heat to low and the tomato puree. Mix well. Once incorporated, add coconut and mix well. 

Step 3

Add salt, spices, and serve with rice.