Dairy-free Butter Chicken

I ate this for breakfast yesterday morning, had it again for lunch… and can just about guarantee that I’ll be enjoying it again today. It’s just that good.

Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘dairy-free butter chicken? It has to taste off.’ It doesn’t. I had my fair share of authentic butter chicken while I was in India earlier this year. It had dairy, was loaded with oil and tasted fantastic. My twist on this classic North Indian dish has that same rich taste even with just one tablespoon of oil and a half cup of coconut milk. The flavors are balanced like the real thing, it’s still hearty like the real thing, but it’s better for you and wont make you feel like you just ingested a cup of vegetable oil.

Mmm vegetable oil coma… my favorite :|

I made this healthy butter chicken recipe dairy-free by replacing the yogurt with coconut milk and adding lemon juice to give it that same tang of fresh, homemade yogurt. If you’re sensitive to dairy due to it’s lactose content, you may also want to play around with yogurt made from goat’s milk. As I mentioned last week in my list of the benefits of goat dairy, it has less lactose meaning that many people who believe they have to cut out dairy completely can be perfectly a-okay with goat milk products.

Okay, let’s get this Indian feast underway!

PS: If you’re doing the grain-free thing like me, try serving your butter chicken over top steamed veggies (I had my lunch portion with steamed broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower). Alternatively, you could have it with some zucchini noodles, kelp noodles or bean sprouts.

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5.0 from 3 reviews
Dairy-free Butter Chicken
Recipe type: Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Refined sugar-free, Yeast-free, Corn-free, Grain-free
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
Healthy butter chicken recipe made with chicken breast, a touch of olive oil and coconut milk. You get all the amazing butter chicken flavor with less unnecessary fats and animal products.
  • 600 grams of boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 1-inch cubes (approximately 4 half-breasts)
Tandoori Marinade:
  • ¼ cup lite coconut milk
  • Juice from ½ lemon
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger root
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ⅛ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Pinch ground cardamom
Butter Chicken Gravy:
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 28 oz. canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 gluten-free chicken bouillon cube + 1 cup warm water
  • ¼ cup lite coconut milk
  • Juice from ¼ lemon
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon ground cashews or almond flour
  1. Place cubed chicken in a glass container. Set aside.
  2. Combine marinade in a small bowl. Stir to combine and pour over top of the chicken. Mix with a spoon, seal with a lid, and marinate in the fridge for 8-24 hours. The longer you marinade the better but do not exceed 48 hours.
  3. The next day, preheat oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Place marinated chicken on sheet, spreading out so that they cook evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-17 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 170F. Remove from the oven and allow to sit.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare butter chicken gravy by sautéing the oil, onion and garlic in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat for 10 minutes until onion is brown.
  5. Add ginger, garam masala, cumin, chili powder and bay leaf. Cook for 1 minute.
  6. Add diced tomatoes, chicken bouillon cube, water, coconut milk, lemon juice, coconut sugar, salt, and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  7. Add cooked chicken, cilantro and almond flour (to thicken), remove bay leaf, and serve.
If you're sensitive to dairy due to the lactose content, consider trying goat's milk. It's lower in lactose and has been shown to be less reactant than cow's milk in those with lactose sensitivities. All you have to do is replace the coconut milk in the recipe above with an equal amount of goat milk yogurt.

View nutrition information (once on page, scroll down)

As I mentioned above, you can choose to use goat yogurt or coconut milk. I made two batch, one with each.

It wasn’t until after I edited all of the pictures that I realized I took a picture of an unopened can of full-fat coconut milk. Oops! You could use that too for a richer taste, but I used the leftovers from a can of lite coconut milk.

Begin by mixing all of the marinade ingredients together. I like using my zester to mince my garlic and ginger. Works like a charm and much easier to clean than a garlic press (plus it’s much more versatile, too!)

Once your marinade is complete, pour it over the chicken, put a lid on it, and allow it to marinade for at least 24 hours.

After marinading, cook it, then let the completed pieces sit in their own juices. The chicken will be so moist and delicious if you let it sit while you’re preparing the gravy!

The chicken bouillon I used in this recipe is from Harvest Sun. It’s gluten-free, free of active yeast and corn.

If you have a nut allergy, you can omit the almond flour or try to thicken the gravy with a bit of arrowroot starch (1-2 teaspoons) mixed with 2 tablespoons of the heated gravy.

Sauté the onions and garlic until browned, add the spices.

Add diced tomatoes, chicken bouillon cube, water, yogurt, lemon juice, coconut sugar, salt, and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir in the remaining ingredients and cook until just heated through.

And treat your belly to this delicious bowl of curry!

What’s one of your favorite dinner recipes that you’ve always wanted to make healthier? Feel free to add a link to the recipe!

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Comments | Leave Your Comment

  1. Gahhh now I want butter chicken for breakfast!! LOL! The second I saw the title of this post, i thought “Hmm.. I wonder if she used her butter flavoured olive oil for this?” ;) It’s been windy and cold and snowy here this week… as far as I’m concerned, Indian food is where it’s at!

    • I really, really wanted to but knew that 99.9% of people out there would have no idea what I was talking about so I left it out. Definitely have been using that bottle though! It’s been pretty cold here, too. Hoping the snow holds off. I’m not ready for it. Have a good day, Ange :)

  2. Oh. Yeah. I am so making this very soon, like by the end of the weekend if not sooner! I might even be able to get my picky boys to try the chicken with some rice. (I may make a bed of black quinoa for the hubs and myself.) Love Indian (and Ethiopian) because they are pretty easy to do dairy-free. Thank you!

    • Black quinoa, good idea! I still have yet to try Ethiopian… I really, really need to. Enjoy!

  3. you mention yogurt in the instructions but there is none in the ingredient list. I believe you meant coconut milk??

    • Yes, I made two batches: one with goat’s yogurt and the other with lite coconut milk. Either one can be used with this recipe. Just replace one to one. Hope that helps!

  4. For anyone new to Ethiopian, I usually suggest the vegetarian platter – you usually get several lentil, collard, and other dishes to try. Ater Kik is my favorite. While Shiro Wat is very popular with most people, it’s very spicy to me, so I rarely eat more than a tiny bit. The very best part is the wonderful, spongy injera “bread” (traditionally made from Teff and fermented) – the food is served on a layer of injera and rolls of it are placed alongside the dishes to be used in place of utensils.

    Great… Now I want Ethiopian and the nearest restaurant is 35 miles (45 min. drive) away! ;)

  5. I was thinking Saag Paneer but I would have no idea how to make it healthy and still taste good.

  6. mmmm, Butter Chicken is one of my faves! It’ is the recipe that I would want healthi-fied, so big thanks for that. Now I can have it more often :) Great idea to have it on steamed broccoli, yummy!

  7. hi :)

    What does it mean, “active yeast”? How is different from “regular” yeast?

    thanks so much. (can’t wait to make this recipe! it’s too bad i used up all the chicken for another recipe yesterday!)

    how’s MTL treating you these days? are you warming up to it?

  8. if YOU made a dairy/gluten-free version of chicken or lamb saagwala…i would be forever grateful.

    i could live OFF that stuff

    • hmmm okay noted. I haven’t had either but they look very tasty! To answer question from your previous comment, too. Active yeast is what many people with yeast sensitivities are sensitive to. Inactive yeast (found in some forms of nutritional yeast) wont bother your yeasty-beasties as much if at all. And, Montreal… post coming tomorrow actually :)

  9. Yum. I love curries at this time of the year, so perfect!! When going grain free I like them with cauliflower rice, which would soak up this delicious looking sauce.. mmm!!! I have never had butter chicken but want to order it every time I go to the Indian restaurant near me!! I am going to need to try this one, which is guaranteed to be better for my tummy than a dairy filled one!!! :)

    • Hi Suzanne – so happy that you enjoyed today’s recipe! I’m honored that you’ve added me to your blogroll :)

  10. this looks so tasty! i can’t wait to cook this up!
    as well, I noticed you posted an fbook about non stick pans etc and how they arent good for you – i think it would be cool if you did a post about pots and pans you recommend, and also how you steam a lot of your vegetables etc? im curious to know your thoughts (:

    • Hi Gigi – thanks for your feedback. The recipes I post here on Healthful Pursuit are all dairy-free (save for goat cheese every once in awhile for those that can handle the lower lactose). I wanted to make this recipe so that those who are allergic to dairy can still enjoy this yummy curry! :)

  11. So I made this the other day, but kind of a lazy version of it. I let the chicken marinate overnight, but then just through the chicken+marinade, as well as all of the sauce ingredients (except the fresh cilantro), into a crock pot on low for 8 hours. I served it over brown rice and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing such a yummy recipe!

    • Such a great idea to prepare it in your crock pot, Amy! I really need to remind myself that I have one of those. I love it to bits but always forget it exists. Great to know that this recipe is perfect for it, I find myself making it a lot!

  12. I am going to have to try this. I love Butter Chicken, and the idea of making it where it is healthy and not too spicy thrills me. I love curries, but I truly am a complete wimp- most 5 year olds can eat things hotter than I can. Any recommendations on a good, mild curry?

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