Dairy-Free Speedy Chicken Tikka Masala

Are you a fan of Indian food?

Or, more to the point, are there certain things that your loved ones excel at that you just don’t get, or that you wish you could achieve with the same level of success, and learn to love as much as they do?

Oblique overhead image of a black ceramic bowl of rice topped with chicken tikka masala, with an identical bowl beside a glass of wine in soft focus in the background, on a gray cloth-topped surface, printed with orange and white text in the top third and at the bottom of the frame.

There are many things I envy about my husband, not the least of which is his soft, wavy hair. But his sleeping ability is proving to be one of the great marvels of our married life.

Whereas I need to wind down after a long day of work or a fun social activity or a drama-filled TV marathon, Tim simply climbs into bed, shuts off the light, and he’s out. Gone. Dead to the world.

It’s amazing. We’ve had many long, hilarious conversations about this, wherein I try to prompt him to describe for me what this feels like or how it works (all the while, seeing how long I can keep him awake with me).

Vertical overhead image of two black ceramic bowls of chicken tikka masala atop white rice, on two off-white cloths on top of a speckled gray surface, with forks, glasses of red wine, lemon wedges, and sprigs of fresh cilantro.

After over thirteen months of marriage, what we’ve essentially concluded is this: sleeping is one area in which he will likely always have the upper hand.

Indian food, on the other hand, is another story.

Overhead closely cropped image of a black ceramic bowl filled with chicken tikka masala on top of a bed of white rice, on a gray table with scattered sprigs of cilantro and lemon slices in soft focus.

I may be the one who’s half Indian, and perhaps this particular cuisine should have been “mine” from the start. But in our marriage, Tim’s the one who first loved Indian food.

When we were dating, he took me to a restaurant called Sitar downtown, and told me that I should order his favorite dish, chicken makhani (or butter chicken), and garlic naan.

Vertical overhead image of a black bowl of homemade chicken tikka masala with white rice and a fork, on an off-white napkin with lemon wedges, scattered cilantro sprigs, a glass of red wine, and another identical bowl filled with the same dish, on a gray speckled surface.

The moment those glistening pillows of garlicky dough arrived on our table, followed by a creamy, spicy chicken mixture paired with some buttery, fluffy basmati rice that I all but licked off the solid white plates, I knew an important change had just occurred.

I could never go back to being the person I was, one who sometimes tolerated but never especially loved Indian cuisine.

From that point on, I was all in. My willingness to experiment, the craving that I felt for new tastes, and my love for this food just grew and grew.

Vertical overhead closely cropped image of a black ceramic bowl of white rice topped with chicken tikka masala, on a beige cloth on top of a dark gray surface, with fresh cilantro and lemon wedges in soft focus in the background.

More than a few times over the past year, at random times when the fridge has been lean but the spice cabinet full, Tim has whipped up a curried dinner out of celery and carrots and rice.

Without fail, this leaves me speechless every time, eyes welling up with tears at the thought that such a meal could come from the simplest ingredients, made lovingly by my husband.

Over time, he’s taught me a few tricks of the trade, and I’ve become more heavy-handed with the heat level in my own cooking.

Now, one of our regular dinners is a bunch of chopped vegetables, sauteed on the stove and mixed with spices and cream. It’s the kind of thing that just slightly burns your throat as it goes down, offering proof that sometimes the simplest (and cheapest!) foods can make the best meals.

Similar to the butter chicken that first wooed me toward loving this world of curried delights, chicken tikka masala is a classic entree at Indian restaurants made with a tomato-based creamy sauce and a blend of fragrant spices. There is no shortage of recipes for either of these dishes online, but our version has one great advantage going for it: it’s fast.

A forkful of chicken tikka masala is held above a black ceramic bowl containing more of the dish on top of a bed or rice, with another identical bowl in soft focus in the background, beside a glass of red wine and a wedge of lemon, on beige cloth napkins.

Recently, I had some leftover roasted chicken in the fridge and a desire to make a meal as quickly as possible. I was looking for a nuts-and-bolts set of directions to use as a guide, instead of a ruler.

Over at Serious Eats, I found this:

“The basics of masala sauce are simple: start with a base of aromatics – onions, garlic, and ginger are common – cooked in oil, ghee, or butter. Add a simple spice mixture, largely based on cumin, coriander, and chilis, throw in some canned tomatoes, cook them down, then puree the whole deal with heavy cream and fresh cilantro.” – J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Chief Creative Officer, Serious Eats

A bunch of chopping, a little sauteing, and less than an hour or so later, we had this meal on our plates, created via my own version of following the general guidelines outlined above.

It was easy to make, it was spicy, and by the end of the meal, it had us wiping our plates as well as the skillet and the wooden spoon clean, wishing for more.

Overhead horizontal image of two black ceramic bowls of white rice topped with chicken tikka masala, with forks on off-white cloth napkins, on top of a mottled gray surface with two glasses of red wine, lemon wedges, and scattered fresh cilantro leaves.

I can’t believe how much of my life I wasted thinking I was not a fan of this style of food, and I’m so glad the one to open my eyes was Tim.

Since the idea here is quick meal prep, precooked chicken is key. Ours was roasted the day before and pulled off the bone, but you could probably use boiled, too. Or take a trip to the grocery store and pick up a premade rotisserie bird.

Better yet, we skipped the cream and opted for delicious dairy-free coconut milk to create the creamy and flavorful sauce.

Quick, dairy free, homemade, and packed with flavor? I don’t know what could be better than that.

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Horizontal image of a black ceramic bowl of chicken tikka masala on top of white rice, with a fork on an off-white cloth napkin, with a wedge of lemon and a glass of red wine in soft focus in the background.

Speedy Chicken Tikka Masala (Dairy Free)

  • Author: Shanna Mallon
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 2 servings 1x


Do you have 30 minutes? That means you have time to make this speedy chicken tikka masala. The creamy dish is better than take-out and it’s dairy free.


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil or vegan margarine
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 large)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 cup quartered grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup chopped cooked chicken
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar


  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt oil or margarine, and tilt the pan to coat the bottom evenly. Add ginger, onion, garlic and bell pepper. Cook until vegetables are softened, about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together cayenne, cumin, garam masala, coriander, and turmeric.
  3. Once the onions have begun to caramelize and turn golden, add the spice mixture, letting it hit the pan directly and toast. Stir to coat the onion in the spices. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and toss to coat. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the tomatoes begin to break down.
  4. Add the coconut milk, cooked chicken, salt, and sugar. Stir to combine. Continue cooking for about 5 more minutes, to let the flavors meld and the liquids reduce down slightly. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve immediately.
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Category: Chicken
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Indian

Keywords: chicken tikka masala, tikka masala, leftover chicken, garam masala

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Prep and Measure Ingredients

Grate enough peeled, fresh ginger until you have 1 1/2 teaspoons total.

Chop enough peeled white onion until you have 1 cup. I used about half of a large onion.

Peel and mince 3 cloves of garlic. A garlic press is a great tool to have for this.

Horizontal overhead closely cropped image of seven small round clear glass bowls, one small clear square bowl, and one medium-sized light blue glass bowl of spices, coconut sugar, salt, chopped yellow bell pepper, chopped onion, quartered grape tomatoes, coconut milk, and cubed cooked chicken, on a gray mottled surface.

Remove the stem, seed, and chop a yellow bell pepper.

Chop enough grape tomatoes into quarters until you have 1 cup total.

Chop enough cooked chicken until you have 1 cup total. The chicken can be cooked in any style. I prefer roasted, but poached, grilled, or even boiled chicken will work!

Measure out all of the remaining ingredients as listed on the ingredients list.

Step 2 – Cook Vegetables

Add the coconut oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Once it has melted, stir in the ginger, onion, garlic, and bell pepper.

Horizontal overhead closely cropped image of chopped onion and yellow bell pepper in a blue frying pan, on a gray surface.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Step 3 – Make Spice Mix

While the vegetables are cooking, make the spice blend.

Horizontal oblique overhead image of a small glass bowl with a spout, with a few tablespoons of a ground garam masala spice mixture at the bottom, on a gray surface.

Add the cayenne, cumin, garam masala, coriander, and turmeric to a small bowl. Stir together until combined.

Step 4 – Add Spices

When the onions start to turn golden, add the spice mixture, making sure it hits the pan directly to toast. Horiziontal closely cropped overhead image of chopped onion and yellow bell pepper with ground spices in a large blue frying pan.

After about 30 seconds, stir the spices in to coat the onion and peppers.

Cook for an additional minute or two, stirring occasionally.

Horizontal closely cropped image of caramelized onions and yellow bell pepper in a blue nonstick pan.

Stir in the tomatoes and toss to coat.

Closeup oblique overhead horizontal image of sauteed yellow bell pepper, onions, and grape tomatoes, coated in spiced, in a blue frying pan on a gray surface.

Cook the tomatoes with the rest of the vegetables for about 3 to 4 minutes, until the tomatoes start to break down.

Step 5 – Finish Dish and Serve

Stir in the coconut milk, chicken, salt, and sugar until everything is combined and coated well.

Horizontal closely cropped overhead image of chicken and vegetables in an orange sauce, in a large blue frying pan on a gray surface.

Continue to cook, until chicken is heated through, the flavors meld together, and the liquid begins to reduce a bit, about 5 minutes.

Taste and adjust the seasonings if you need to. Serve immediately.

What Else Should I Serve with Chicken Tikka Masala?

As you know from my description above, chicken tikka masala makes a wonderful companion to fluffy white basmati rice. You can also opt for brown rice, depending on your preference of course.

A few fluffy pieces of garlic naan also make a delicious accompaniment. And if you’re looking for something green, think about adding a simple tomato, cucumber, and onion salad on the side dressed with lemon juice (aka kachumber), or some steamed vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.

Horizontal image of a black ceramic bowl of chicken tikka masala on top of white rice, with a fork on an off-white cloth napkin, with a wedge of lemon and a glass of red wine in soft focus in the background.

Ready to give even more delicious Indian-inspired dishes a go at home? Try these recipes next:

Do you prefer white or brown rice with your Indian dishes? Tell us in the comments below. And once you try the recipe, be sure to come back and rate it here!

Photos by Meghan Yager, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on November 9, 2012. Last updated . March 23, 2020With additional writing and editing by Meghan Yager and Allison Sidhu.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

36 thoughts on “Dairy-Free Speedy Chicken Tikka Masala”

  1. Glad to see it looks like you enjoyed Huntsville. 🙂 The historic district is the best. I never get tired of driving around those streets.

  2. Yum! I need a lot of persuading to eat Indian food because of some bad experiences. Some at restaurants, some of my own making. But I’ve been dipping my toe back in it lately. It’s so right for fall and winter, isn’t it?

    Also, it will not surprise you in the least to know that Brad is the EXACT same way with sleep! And I am exactly the same with the late-night heavy thinking.

    I like you guys.

  3. Love your writing. It makes cooking seem effortless, which is totally the key for this post.

    I too have huge issue falling asleep when my boyfriend is missing from bed. I need significantly less sleep than him but he’s the one that always has trouble sleeping.

  4. i adore indian and thankfully so does dw. his parents were peace corps volunteers in the 60s, stationed somewhere in India and they brought the cuisine back with them & so he grew up with ethnic foods. indian is something that has to be made at home, that way we can be positive of what is actually being used.

    in lieu of the butter, can we use regular oil or coconut oil instead?

  5. Chicken makhani is our fave. Dal makhani is also awesome, made with lentils instead Iof chicken. Still haven’t tried cooking Indian food on my own but it’s been in my to do list forever! Also, I’m in the hit the pillow and sleep like a rock camp. It’s great, except when I fall asleep on the couch. Which is a lot.

  6. Intriguing idea of using coconut milk in a tikka masala – we have Indian food at least once a week (if not more) but I usually stay away from the tikka masala because it’s too heavy for me but this sounds like a much more appealing way of making it.

    And I’m so glad that Tim has introduced you to how amazing Indian food can be – I think you two should come over to London and try some of the amazing Indian restaurants that we have here!

  7. i love indian but have always found it intimidating to cook! thank you for sharing a SPEEDY recipe 🙂 my husband has never really given indian a chance, so this might be just the thing to introduce him to it!

  8. OK, just had my first Indian food experience last month when my sister-in-law took me out to her favorite spot for it here in Greenville. YUMMMMMM! I will have to be trying this recipe, and soon. Thanks! 🙂

  9. The simplest things are often the best.
    I just had amazing vegetarian curry for dinner last night in one of the dingiest little restaurants. Can’t wait to go back 🙂 For me, it is all about the potato curry.

  10. I’m definitely going to try this, it looks amazing! But I’ll use oil instead of the butter you call for… Butter is dairy, so your recipe actually isn’t dairy-free. I’m sure it will turn out just as good with oil!

    • Meg! You are so right! I meant to say oil or butter. Thank you for catching it — I’ll need to adjust the post when I get to a computer later. Thank you!

  11. This is a great idea for leftover chicken, and for using all those spices in my cabinet! Though I must admit I’m a complete wuss when it comes to spicy hot food, so I most likely will be skipping the chili and cayenne… And thanks for the pretty pictures too 🙂

  12. Hey

    I would first like to say that I love your blog. It’s great seeing people who still care about gluten free, dairy free cooking. As a kid I used to have loads of allergies, but fortunately grew out of most of them except nut allergy (except cashews and a bit of almonds).

    Nice to see that with a bit of effort it’s possible to find healthy, tasty alternatives.

    Have a great day,
    Simon | Rice & Sticks.

  13. I just made this recipe last night. This was so delicious and we both licked the skillet clean! Super easy! Thanks for the awesome recipe!

    • The author of this recipe sometimes refers to vegan margarine as “butter” but there is no dairy in this recipe. The wording of the recipe card has been updated. Stay tuned for a more thorough update with new photos, coming soon!

  14. Made this last night and it was SO GOOD! Putting this in our regular rotation. We omitted the cayenne bc I can’t do heat, but it was still amazing without! We served it over basmati rice. ????????

  15. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made this recipe, it’s INCREDIBLE!!! The flavors and texture is simply delightful! Whenever someone asks what my favorite meal is to cook, always hands down it’s your Tikka Masala! Thanks for creating such a delicious dairy free recipe, it’s amazing!

  16. This is great! Just made it. Actually doubled the recipe, but I chose to use a can of Muir Glen diced tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes and it ended up eliminating the need for a 2nd can of coconut milk. It definitely has a kick though, so if you do double it, maybe only use a 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper instead of 1 tsp (all the spices were doubled to 1 tsp each). Also added cauliflower and zucchini as my veggies (instead on another cup of diced chicken). Thanks!

  17. This is a favorite in our home! I make it bi-weekly, using a rotisserie chicken from the store for easy prep. Thanks for sharing this delicious and easy peasy recipe!!


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