Most lovers of North Indian cuisine widely available in North America are familiar with Butter Chicken – the iconic dish that has captured the hearts and bellies of people the world over. In fact butter chicken is likely the most popular and recognizable Indian dish in our neck of the woods, and without a doubt my own personal gateway to the unique flavours of Indian cuisine. This dish was the inspiration for these North Indian-Inspired Butter Chickpeas!
When I was 13 or 14, my best friend’s mother, Annie (who I’ve mentioned before in my sushi post – a woman who truly opened my eyes to the world of food beyond hot dogs and hamburgers!), took the three of us to The Host, a famous, Toronto institution that has been running successfully for 24 years. I can still remember the feeling of walking into the space, the air absolutely swollen with mouthwatering scents I had never experienced before. We sat down at the table, covered in a crisp white tablecloth, and a basket of seed-flecked, paper-thin crackers was dropped off along with the menus. “Papadam” Annie said. I took one bite and the entire thing shattered into my hands, which made us all laugh, and the taste was delicious, even if completely unfamiliar. I had just tried my first cumin seed!
This primed my palette for what was to come, and Annie confidently ordered for the table. There were things I recognized, like rice, and flatbread (naan), but most of the dishes were alluringly mysterious, arriving in copper bowls, with colourful sauces and chutneys. Once she explained to put some rice on my plate as a bed for the curries, she handed me a bowl whose scent made my mouth water instantly. “Butter chicken” she told me. Well, I knew both of those ingredients very well, but not looking like this! “Is it spicy?” I asked. “Not spicy hot”, she replied. “There are plenty of spices in there, but I’d describe it flavourful”. I had trusted this woman to guide me through Japanese, Korean, Ethiopian, Greek, Macedonian, and Moroccan restaurant experiences so far, so I took a heaping spoonful of the butter chicken and spread it over the rice.
It was love at first bite. The combinations of flavours, commingling in a sauce that was beguilingly rich and creamy, with huge chunks of perfectly tender chicken throughout was absolutely divine. It was tomato-y, but not overpoweringly so, and deeply aromatic with spices that I had certainly never tasted before. I savoured every bite of that butter chicken, along with chana masala, palak paneer, aloo gobi, and dal makhni. We ate naan, and samosa, and pakora and bhaji. It was a veritable feast that began my love affair with Indian food. Little did I know every corner of the continent, every family, every household brings a diversity and a uniqueness to what we generally label Indian food — there’s so much to explore!
Butter chicken was invented in the 1950s, by a man named Kundan Lal Gurjal, who operated a restaurant called Moti Mahal in Delhi, the capital territory of India. Kundan had settled here in this Northern region of the country and started his business after escaping from political upheaval in another region of India. Moti Mahal was a success, and it served several delicious tandoori dishes, that came from their tandoor oven – a circular clay oven central to Punjabi cuisine.
As the story goes, Kundan didn’t want his leftover tandoori chicken to go to waste, but he also didn’t want it to dry out, so he mixed leftover marinade juices with tomato and butter, added the chicken to it, and let it all stew – butter chicken was born! Although necessity was the mother of this invention, he likely had no idea that he had created an internationally-loved delicacy that would stand the test of time.
I started eating a vegetarian diet when I was 16, and butter chicken was one of the foods I missed the most. I’ve cooked a lot of Indian-inspired food at home over the years, but I’d never taken a crack at a plant-based butter chicken until my mom served me a version with chickpeas…brilliant! It was a serious why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moment.
One of the things that makes butter chicken so good, is that the chicken is marinated in yogurt and spices before cooking. This step accomplishes two things: one, it tenderizes the meat, and second, it seasons it. Because I was aiming for a weeknight dinner, I decided to skip this step with the chickpeas and just make sure that they were properly cooked and well seasoned before adding to the sauce. I also smashed about half of the legumes. This helped to increase their surface area, break up their tough skins, and allow the flavourful sauce to penetrate to the inner, absorbent centers. I also appreciated having the texture variation in the dish, making it more similar to the OG version.
Chickpea Party Tricks
We all know that chickpeas are fiber all-stars, providing 50% of your RDI in just one cup, (whoa!) but they have another party trick up their sleeve that I bet you didn’t know about. Two-thirds of the fiber in chickpeas is insoluble, meaning that it doesn’t break down during digestion, but instead moves through our digestive tract unchanged until it hits the large intestine. The fun starts here, where friendly bacteria (think probiotics!) go to town on said insoluble fiber and actually break it down to create short-chain fatty acids, including acetic acid, propionic acid, and butyric acid. These short-chain fatty acids can then be absorbed by the cells that line the wall of our large intestine and used for energy! How rad is that?! Butyric acid is in fact the preferred source of energy for the cells lining our colon, and with this bonus fuel comes greater potential for optimally active and healthy cells. This translates into a reduced risk of colon problems including colon cancer. So friends, invite chickpeas to your next dinner party – they’ll feed you and your colon cells. Can your pot roast do that?
Now let’s get cooking! For this dish I highly recommend cooking your own chickpeas from dried (I mean, have I ever NOT recommended that?! haha). For one, if you make the entire batch, you’re looking at around 4 cans of chickpeas, which is a lot of waste produced. Second, if you cook the legumes yourself, you can control the amount of salt that you use, as high sodium levels are a concern for some people. Third, they taste way better. Trust me. And fourth, it costs a lot less – I likely don’t have to elaborate on that for you 😉 If you’re not sure how to cook beans from scratch, the full instructions are in this post, and a full video tutorial is up on my membership site, My New Roots Grow. If you’re especially interested in this dish, I’d love to invite you to the live, online cooking demo on Saturday, December 18th. Part of the Winter Radiance Retreat alongside Mikkala Marilyn Kissi, this recorded, one-day virtual retreat has so many wonderful seasonal goodies planned for you. Check it out and sign up here!
The ingredient list for this recipe may look long, but half of them are spices, and the remaining ones are primarily pantry staples, making this the perfect thing to cook up when you don’t have a ton of fresh produce around (I’m looking at you, late fall, winter, and early spring!). Cilantro is optional, but such a delicious addition if it’s available to you. And I like to serve the dish with rice or naan, or both. A simple kachumber salad, made with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and lemon juice is a great accompaniment to butter chickpeas when those ingredients are in season. Pro tip: measure out two or more portions in separate containers of the spice mix when you’re making it the first time so the next time all you have to do is grab the blend instead of all your individual spice jars!
And what about the butter?! Well, there isn’t any classic dairy butter here (although there is no shame in adding it!), instead I used cashew butter to achieve that crave-able creaminess. Some recipes for butter chicken call for whole cashews, which may in fact be easier for some of you to find than cashew butter. If that is the case, sub the cashew butter with whole, raw cashews that have been soaked for 4-8 hours, and add them to the pot with the tomatoes and coconut milk in step 3. If you’d like to know more about soaking and activating nuts, check out my article here. Get a load of that 2008 photography!
North Indian-Inspired Butter Chickpeas
- 2 Tbsp. coconut oil preferably expeller-pressed or ghee
- 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp. ground coriander
- 2 tsp. ground turmeric
- 2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 Tbsp. garam masala
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- pinch cayenne to taste
- 1 large yellow onion diced
- 2 tsp. fine sea salt
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 28 oz. / 796ml whole or diced tomatoes 1 large can
- 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 cup / 250ml full-fat coconut milk
- 1/4 cup / 60ml cashew butter
- 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 6 cups / 900g cooked chickpeas from 2 cups dried / approx. 4 cans
- cilantro for garnish if desired
- rice and / or naan for serving if desired
- In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt the coconut oil. Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, garam masala, smoked paprika, cinnamon, black pepper, and cayenne. Stir well to mix with the oil, and stir frequently so it doesn’t scorch.
- Add the onion and salt, stir well to coat, let cook for 5-10 minutes until the onions have softened slightly. Add the garlic, stir well, and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
- Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and coconut milk, stirring well to incorporate. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes.
- While the sauce is simmering, take about half of the chickpeas and smash them flat with the bottom of a drinking glass. This step is optional, but it changes the shape and texture of the chickpeas (see headnote).
- Transfer the sauce to a blender, add the cashew butter and lemon juice, then blend on high until completely smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired (if you’d like it spicier for example, add more cayenne).
- Add all of the chickpeas to the sauce and fold to combine. Bring a very light simmer, and let cook for 5 minutes to bring everything together, or up to an hour to let the flavours really develop, making sure to stir every so often so the bottom doesn’t scorch.
- Serve the butter chickpeas over rice with lots of fresh cilantro, and naan if desired. Say thank you and enjoy!
I hope you love this recipe as much as I do, and find the same satisfying coziness with each bite you enjoy. As we head into the darker, colder months of the year, I know I’ll be turning to these butter chickpeas to keep me warm and grounded, while picturing us at our stoves, connected in spirit over steaming pots and nourishing bowls. All love from me to you, Sarah B
27 thoughts on “North Indian-Inspired Butter Chickpeas”
This was so so so good! realized too late we were out of cashew butter and used sunflower seed butter instead. We will def make this again!
Amazing! And my picky 2 year old loooves it. With every bite he said mhhh yummy . I did half of the amount chickpeas and added roasted vegetables to it.
Wow ! I tried this delicious meal and i will only say one thing that it is worth . i can’t imagine how i coocked this tasty meal at my home so easily
Totally and utterly delicious! Thank you!
Delicious, as expected! Thank you so much. Will become a family classic.
Hi there, I am really interested in trying this recipe however my daughter has a nut allergy (all nuts) what would you recommend for a substitution to the cashew butter? We aren’t strictly vegan, could I use ghee instead? Thanks so much for all that you do!
Hi Melody! Thanks for writing – I’d suggest a runny tahini or sunflower seed butter maybe? Absolutely try with ghee too or a mix of tahini and ghee. Let me know how it goes 🙂
This recipe is incredible! The composition of the spices and the overall creaminess warms the soul. Thank you so much 🙂
Hi Sarah, I think you meant to say soluble fibre… Insoluble fibre is poorly digested by bacteria. Soluble fibre on the other hand is the perfect food for bacteria and results in the production of butyrate etc. This paper summarises it nicely: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5390821/
I’m excited to try the recipe though. Always on the lookout for yummy legume rich dishes.
Love you! This looks Great! Wonderful to see you organically expanding your offerings.
I was curious how you prepare chickpeas from scratch, not necessary, but curious. the link didn’t seem to work
“If you’re not sure how to cook beans from scratch, the full instructions are in this post “(link says 404)
anyway, back to the “meat” of this meatless delicious Recipe.
I’m excited to try!
Love, Love Love!
I was SO excited when I saw this recipe come into my inbox and it did not disappoint. Sarah’s posts on here are less frequent now with the GROW launch and I’ve been craving a vegan stew. This knocks it out of the park with flavor and trust me, you don’t miss the chicken at all! It is a hearty, savory flavor bomb that I want to make over and over. This was the perfect dish for leftovers too as the flavors meld perfectly. I can’t get over how perfect the texture was. Make this recipe now! Every time I ate this with my boyfriend, our plates were almost licked clean. This is healthy food at its finest. Sarah – THANK YOU!
This is so, so good and comes together quickly despite the seemingly long ingredients list. I didn‘t have cashew butter so replaced it with sesame butter (tahin) which worked very well. Thank you for this flavourful weeknight friendly dish!
This is so rich and creamy and flavorful – delicious! Serves 8-10? More like 4-5 ;). Love smashing half for texture variation. Served over basmati with lots of steamed greens to balance.
Hi Sarah, I signed up for winter retreat for Dec 18, do I need to buy all ingredients for the recipe we will be making during the retreat ? how it works? thank you
Have been following Sarah and My New Roots since 2009. WOW this is hands down a top recipe on here. It is a flavor bomb and I’ve made it over and over. The flavors get even better the next day and it is a staple in my home!
This recipe is super delicious! Big hit in my family. I halved the salt (using iodised table salt) and also added some mushrooms and baby spinach that I fried separately for an extra veggie hit. Love this recipe and will definitely be making again, thank you!
This recipe is incredible. You would never know that it’s vegan. I definitely had to have 2 servings. THANK YOU!
My first ever recipe comment. But I had to 🙂 Vegan, flavorful, satisfying, simply perfect. My seven year old son loved it too. We ate it with self made naan bread. Soooo good. Thanks from Germany for this recipe…
Delicious! Love that this recipe uses items I generally always have in my pantry. So satisfying, kids were into it too. Thanks so much!
This is AMAZING and makes so much! Made it two nights ago and it fed us two nights in a row and there’s still a little leftover in the fridge and enough for a few more helpings in the freezer. I didn’t smash any of the chickpeas but followed the rest of it to a tee. DELICIOUS. Going in my rotation for sure. It’s better than the butter chicken that comes from our local Indian takeout. And so easy! Thank you, Sarah! 🙂
The perfect thing to make on a quiet, relaxing Sunday. It takes a while to go through the steps (especially if you cook your own chickpeas from dried) but none of them are difficult steps. And, oh my god, these are beyond WORTH IT! And the recipe makes a big quantity. Going into the week feeling smug that my freezer is stacked with goodness. Seriously, the best thing I have tasted in months! Thank you Sarah
I love this story so so so much! Thinking of the importance of other adults in our lives, showing us new parts of the world outside of our parents worlds. So beautiful.
Also, I HAVE to make this. And the naan on the side is a must bc bread…
I love you honey! A delight to be here on the blog again!
Oh my, big recipe love over here in Germany! Thank you so much. Have to admit that we chose red lentils over chickpeas, since the kids don’t like them, but it was such a burst of flavour!
This sounds delicious , I’m making it tonight! What could I use instead of cashew butter, we have nut allergies in the family.?Thanks!
I think you could use ground sunflower seeds 🙂