Chicken Tikka Masala has been on the menu of all Indian restaurants that I ever went to. But the origins of this dish are far from clear, some claiming that the dish was created in Glasgow, while others claim it originates from Punjab. Regardless of its origin and history, every Chicken Tikka Masala recipe I ever tasted had five things in common: juicy and tender chicken,a yogurt marinade, fragrant tomato simmer sauce, cream, and lots and lots of ghee (clarified butter). These five things make Chicken Tikka Masala incredibly tasty, as well as elaborate to make, as well as very heavy on saturated fat and calories.
Well, I think the dish is overdue for a makeover, and there are many that agree with this view. While researching, I found many recipes that explore using tofu, meatless chicken strips, cauliflower, chickpeas, or other things as a chicken substitute, and I bet these all taste great. But, what I wanted to do here is take my new favorite ingredient, jackfruit, which I recently transformed into a fabulous Jackfruit Tacos, and see if it works in an Indian dish.
I also wanted to make a lengthy prep into something more manageable, so my recipe uses a slow cooker to do all the work of bringing jackfruit, spices and the tomato simmer sauce together. This also helps with the fat content, which I cut way, way down while maintaining the intensity of the flavors. The resulting recipe is straightforward but there are couple of tricks and tips to it.
First tip is to use a slow cooker liner. I am not sure if there are other brands out there, but I found that Reynolds Slow Cooker Liners work really well. The food gets cooked perfectly and the clean up is a breeze!
Second tip is to quick pre-cook your aromatics. In this case I use onions and garlic, and apply a method that I found in one of the America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks where you mix your aromatics with a bit of oil and microwave them for 5-6 minutes before adding them to the slow cooker. I’ve been using this method for more than a year now and apply it to get the aromatics (onions, garlic, carrots, celery,…) going, because I found that the slow cooker just can’t get them to develop the slightly caramelized flavor that a stow top cooking will do for you. However, microwaving with a bit of oil takes care of that and works perfectly!
Third tip is to rinse, drain and dry your jackfruit, assuming that you are starting from the canned version, and chopped it into small pieces. Do make sure that jackfruit is well rinsed and drained. Otherwise you will end up with Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala that may be too salty and too soupy.
So, once you have your jackfruit and your aromatics ready, it’s time to get cooking!
Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala
What you’ll need:
2 cans (10 oz, 280 g) young jackfruit in brine
1 can (28 oz, 800 g) crushed tomatoes, no salt added
1 yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons ginger, freshly grated
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 cup cashews, raw
1/4 cup almond milk
What you’ll do:
- Place diced onions, garlic (I use the one from the jar, as I shared in my Oh My! It’s Vegan Shepherd’s Pie! post) and tomato paste in a microwave safe bowl. Spray the aromatics with cooking spray, mix well and microwave on high for 5-6 minutes. Be careful when you handle the bowl, it will be hot so I recommend using oven mittens.
- Line your slow cooker with the liner, and add the can of crushed tomatoes, jackfruit that has been rinsed, dried and chopped to small pieces, as well as all the spices and the microwaved aromatics. Mix well. Cover and turn your slow cooker on “HIGH” for 4 hours.
- While the slow cooker is going, start soaking the cashews in water. Let them sit for 4 hours in the refrigerator and once your slow cooker is done take the cashews out, dump the water out and place the cashews and almond milk in a blender. What you are doing here is making vegan Cashew Cream, and this amount of cashews should give you more than enough to make this Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala into a creamy perfection. However, do take it easy when adding Cashew Cream and what I usually do is add the cream one tablespoon at the time, mix Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala well, and check for flavor. I keep adding the Cashew Cream until I am happy with the flavor, color and consistency. Don’t worry if you discover that you made a bit too much Cashew Cream, you can always use it to top your backed potatoes, or turn it into Vegan Herb Mayo.
- When ready to serve, plate your Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala, or should I call it Jackfruit Tikka Masala?, with some Saffron Brown Basmati Rice and top it with fresh cilantro.
Note: Cilantro does tend to go flat in few days from purchase so one way to keep it fresh for longer is to rinse it out soon after you get back from the grocery store, put them in a glass jar like you would a bunch of flowers, and keep them on your kitchen counter top – which is a trick I picked up watching Rachel Ray. Also when it comes to cilantro, basil and parsley, I prefer to use my kitchen scissors to cut them up!
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