Speedy Chicken Tikka Masala (Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free)

Sometimes I don’t feel like talking about food. I feel like posting a pretty picture.

Huntsville Alabama

I took the above shot last month in Huntsville, Alabama, the town where my college roommate Kim lives and where I met her for the afternoon one Saturday.

She treated me to high tea at this fancy little shop, and then she drove me around the area’s historic neighborhoods, letting me ooh and ah at the architecture, and to this park off the highway, where we climbed into the woods and looked out through leaves at the parking lot and, off in the distance, the hills of her hometown.

Huntsville Saturday

Tim was away in New York that weekend (you’ll remember his happy homecoming here), and I was missing him, so when I came back to the empty house that night, I was glad to be so tired from driving and touring and eating little scones, because at least that meant I would fall fast asleep, a skill usually reserved only for the male half of this little family, and fall fast asleep is exactly what I did. The next day, he was back, and we ate filet mignon and kale mashed potatoes, and by evening, he was sound asleep beside me the minute his head hit the pillow and, thirty to forty minutes of heavy late-night thinking later, so was I.

There are many things I tend to envy about my husband, not the least of which is his soft, wavy hair, but his sleeping ability is becoming one of the great marvels of our married life. Whereas I need to wind down after a day of work or social activity or drama-filled TV, 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 (or, ahem, see how long I can keep him awake with me). And 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.

speedy chicken tikka masala

I may be the one who’s half Indian, but, in our marriage, Tim’s the one who first loved Indian food. When we were dating, he took me to Sitar downtown, and told me to order his favorite dish, Chicken Makhani (or, butter chicken), and garlic naan.

The moment those glistening pillows of garlicky dough arrived on our table, followed by a creamy, spicy chicken mixture I all but licked off the solid white plates, I knew an important change had just occurred. I could never go back to the person I was, one who sometimes tolerated but never especially loved Indian cuisine. From that point and forever forward, I was all in.

More than once over the last year, at random times when the fridge has been lean but the spice cabinet full, Tim’s whipped up a curried dinner out of celery and carrots and rice, leaving me speechless, every time, eyes welling up with tears that such a meal could come from the simplest ingredients and, more than that, that the man who could bring them together was the same one laying next to me each night.

Julia Child Quote | FoodLovesWriting.com

But over time, he’s taught me a few tricks of the trade, and I’ve become more heavy-handed with heat in my cooking, and now one of our regular dinners is a bunch of chopped vegetables, sautéed on the stove and mixed with spices and cream, the kind of thing that just slightly burns your throat as it goes down, a mysterious proof that sometimes the simplest (and cheapest!) foods can make the best meals.


Similar to the butter chicken that first wooed me into this curried world, Chicken Tikka Masala is a classic entrée at Indian restaurants that relies on 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.

The day I wanted to make it, I had leftover roasted chicken in the fridge and a desire to make a meal as quickly as possible, so I wanted 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 purée the whole deal with heavy cream and fresh cilantro.” J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Chief Creative Officer, Serious Eats

making tikka masala

A bunch of chopping, a little sauteéing and less than an hour or so later, we had this meal on our plates, my version of following the general guidelines above. It was easy, it was spicy, and, by the end of the meal, it had us wiping the skillet and wooden spoon clean, wishing for more. I can’t believe how much of my life I wasted not loving this style of food—and I’m glad the one to open my eyes is the same one I sleep next to (OK, he sleeps, I think) every night.

So the idea here is to make the meal fast, which is why precooked chicken is key. Ours was roasted the day before and pulled off the bone, but you could probably use boiled, too.

Speedy Chicken Tikka Masala in a white, ceramic bowl

Speedy Chicken Tikka Masala (Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free)

  • Author: Shanna Mallon
  • Prep Time: 5 mins
  • Cook Time: 20 mins
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: Serves two (or, if you're very hungry, one) 1x


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of coconut oil or vegan margarine
  • Sprinkling of ginger powder
  • 1 cup chopped onion (from about 1/2 an onion)
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 cup quartered grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup chopped, cooked chicken
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon of coconut sugar


  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter, moving around the pan to coat the bottom evenly. Just as the butter melts, give a few shakes of ginger powder on top. Add onion, garlic and bell pepper; stir; let cook.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the spices (cayenne, cumin, chili powder, coriander powder, tumeric powder).
  3. Once the onions have begun to caramelize and turn golden, add the spice mixture, letting it hit the pan directly and toast. Give it a minute or two, and add the tomatoes; toss.
  4. Add the coconut milk, the cooked chicken, the salt and the sugar. Stir everything together and let the flavors meld and the liquids cook down slightly. Adjust seasonings to taste, and enjoy!

  • Category: Chicken
  • Method: Stoveop
  • Cuisine: Indian
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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.

24 thoughts on “Speedy Chicken Tikka Masala (Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free)”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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! 🙂

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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 🙂

  11. 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.

  12. 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!


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