Paneer butter masala is an Indian curry of cubed, creamy cheese in a rich, buttery gravy. Make this easy masala recipe for delicious paneer makhani!
Have you ever eaten paneer cheese? Paneer is a creamy, soft, non-melting cheese, typically made from cow or buffalo milk. It’s very popular in north Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine.
I also have seen it labeled as Indian cottage cheese, but it doesn't have the consistency or look of cottage cheese, which I find strange. It does however look like halloumi, but that is made from goats and sheep's milk.
Paneer butter masala
Cuisine: Indian / Asian
There are so many different names for this dish, it’s hard to remember them all. Some people call it butter masala while others prefer to use the word makhani, a derivative of makkhan, the Hindi word for butter.
The important thing is, it's a delicious vegetarian curry, made with creamy Indian cheese and fried spices in a silky, buttery gravy.
Although it’s meatless, paneer makhani curry is rich and hearty enough to please even those with a big appetite.
paneer butter masala, paneer makhani, shahi paneer, paneer masala
pah·neer mah·sahl·ah or mah·kahn·ee
Stove top curry /stew
Difficulty: Easy 🥄
Cubes of paneer cheese in curry spiced tomato and cream masala gravy.
What I love most about this dish is how quickly it comes together. It only takes 35 minutes to make paneer butter masala! In the meantime, you can steam or make Instant Pot basmati rice to serve along with it.
If you love Indian curries, this easy recipe is a must-make!
Ingredient notes and substitutions
- Paneer cheese
Paneer isn’t as widely available here in the U.S. as it is abroad. The best place to shop for it is an Indian grocery market, but I’ve also found it available at some large chain grocers like Safeway, Fred Meyers, Whole Foods and Walmart stores.
Of course, being a fresh cheese, you’ll have the best flavor with homemade paneer. Otherwise, for an Indian curry recipe like paneer butter masala, halloumi or extra firm tofu could be used as a substitute.
- Tomato sauce or passata
Tomato passata is uncooked tomato puree that has been strained of seeds and skins. Unlike tomato sauce, passata is not cooked, and often has other ingredients such as carrots, onions, sugar and garlic.
If you want little bits of tomato in the butter masala gravy, passata works well. For a smoother consistency, use tomato sauce. A good substitute is puree canned tomatoes.
- Raw cashews
I use this ingredient for flavor and to help thicken the masala gravy. The raw nuts are fried with spices in a cooking method called tempering. You could substitute raw almonds for the cashews, but you would need to blanch and remove the skins first.
As a last resort, you could use either 3 tablespoons of raw cashew butter or raw almond butter.
Substituting nut butter for raw nuts
If using a nut butter, simply stir it into the fried spices, don’t actually temper it in the oil.
- Garam masala
This spice is crucial to the flavor of any Indian curry and shouldn’t be substituted. Fortunately, garam masala is widely available in the spice aisle of any grocer, or you can use my garam masala recipe to make it fresh.
- Indian bay leaf
This optional ingredient is different from the more common European laurel leaf. Tej Patta leaves have a slightly cinnamon, clove-like aroma as opposed to the herbal notes of the European variety.
I use Indian bay leaf in this paneer makhani recipe, as well as my gobi masala recipe.
Making paneer butter masala
For complete instructions, see the recipe card at the bottom of the post. Here's a brief overview of the steps involved in making the masala gravy for paneer makhani.
- Fry the spices, aromatics, and raw cashews.
This is a quick, flash fry, primarily to draw out the essential oils from the cinnamon and bay leaf.
- Add tomato sauce and additional spices and simmer.
- Puree the butter masala gravy.
The simplest way to do this is with an immersion blender.
- Stir in dairy products.
Wait until the last minute of cooking to stir in the heavy cream and cubes of paneer cheese. The cream adds richness and lightens the tomato sauce, giving the paneer butter masala a beautiful orange color.
1. Garlic burns very easily, so add it during the final minute of tempering.
2. If you don't own an immersion blender, carefully transfer the hot mixture to the bowl of a food processor or high speed blender to puree it.
3. Be sure the heat is turned down to low before adding the Greek yogurt. Otherwise, it may separate and curdle.
Serving suggestions for paneer makhani
I like to serve the butter masala over rice, with a bit of chopped cilantro and a pinch of garam masala on top.
No curry is complete without a side of naan or other flatbread. The flavors of paneer masala would be fabulous with barbari bread, garlic naan, or simit.
I hope you enjoy this delicious Indian curry!
Paneer Butter Masala
- 1 tablespoon ghee butter or vegetable oil
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 Indian bay leaf
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tablespoon ginger paste
- 15 raw cashews
- 8 oz tomato sauce or passata, (See Note 1)
- 2 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 8 oz paneer cubed (250 grams)
- 2 teaspoons fenugreek leaves
- chopped cilantro for garnish
- Heat ghee or oil over high heat in a large fry pan or wok. Quickly fry the cinnamon stick and Indian bay leaf for a minute. Add the garlic, ginger paste and cashews, cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute.
- Reduce heat to low and add passata (or tomato sauce), garam masala, turmeric, cumin, red chili powder and salt. Cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the yogurt, cover slightly with lid (mixture may sputter) and simmer 10 minutes.
- Remove and discard cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Use an immersion blender and carefully puree until smooth. Alternatively, transfer contents to a high speed blender or food processor to make the puree.
- Add cream, paneer, fenugreek leaves and 2 tablespoons ghee or butter. Stir thoroughly to combine.
- Garnish with cilantro leaves and pinch of garam masala. Serve over rice with side of garlic naan or other bread of choice. (See Note 2).
- Either tomato sauce or tomato passata may be used. Tomato passata is uncooked tomato puree that has been strained of seeds and skins. Unlike tomato sauce, passata is not cooked, and often has other ingredients such as carrots, onions, sugar and garlic.
If you want little bits of tomato in the sauce, passata works well. For a smoother consistency, use tomato sauce. If you can't find it, puree canned tomatoes is a good substitute.
- You can pick up frozen baked naan at most supermarkets or Trader Joe's if available near you.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.