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  • Writer's pictureAvni R.

Habanero Tikka Masala

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

Tikka masala is pretty much my usual go-to when ordering from any Indian restaurant, and although I’ve tried numerous recipes - none have quite ever matched the restaurant taste. There’s just something different about it. But I think I may have figured it out this time!

A while back, I finally discovered the first ingredient that is key in making tikka masala - kasoori methi! For me, I was late to finding about this ingredient so it was a game changer for me. But something was stilllll missing.

After doing some more research, I learned about the “Dhungar method” - this is an ancient technique of smoking and infusing the flavor of burnt charcoal smoke into a dish. I tried it for the first time and *ding ding ding* - I found the flavor I’d been missing!! Now, this is an optional step but I highly recommend it. I know most people don’t just have charcoal laying around, let’s face it..we all use gas grills now anyway. It actually took me a while to find a pack small enough since I definitely did not want to buy a 10 lb. bag when I only needed a tiny chunk. And thanks to the almighty Amazon - I found a small bag of charcoal! Linking it here. It’s a really small pack of charcoal that’s actually supposed to be used for camping as portable charcoal and supposed to light the whole bag on fire but you can open it up and take out a piece and smash it up into smaller pieces with a hammer (carefully though!). This small pack will last a while and won’t take up too much extra space in your kitchen either.

Moving on... my family and I *love love* spicy food, although out of my immediate family, I have the lowest tolerance to spice lol! My parents and brother can handle way more heat than I can. But we all love habanero, this pepper just has a different flavor that can’t be matched by any jalapeño or serrano.

No Indian dishes really require habanero. Enter Avni. Most North Indian dishes use red or green chili and garam masala. I decided to omit the green chili and replace with habanero for that extra kick!

I’ve made it with paneer this time since it’s what I had on hand but you can make it with chicken as well.

I know the ingredient list is long but that’s because I don’t use a pre-made masala mix. Also, I realize this recipe is time consuming and has a lot of steps but it’s made with a lot of love - just give it a try, I promise you won’t be disappointed! If you make this dish please tag me on Instagram @thecurriedcook so I can see how it turned out for you!


Habanero Tikka Masala


  • 250g block of paneer, cubed OR 1.5 lbs of boneless chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces

  • 1 bell pepper, diced into large squares


  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt - full fat

  • 1 tbsp garlic paste1 tbsp ginger paste

  • 1 tbsp chickpea flour (besan)

  • 1 tsp Kashmiri chili

  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder

  • 1/2 tsp garam masala

  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder

  • 1 tsp coriander powder

  • 1/4 tsp cumin powder

  • 1 tsp amchur powder

  • 1/2 tsp black salt (kala namak)

  • 1/2 tsp salt1 tbsp kasoori methi, crushed

  • 3 tbsp mustard oil

  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

For smoking -dhungar method (optional):

  • 1 small piece charcoal

  • 1/2 tsp ghee


  • 3 tbsp ghee

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 3 green cardamom

  • 1 black cardamom

  • 4 cloves

  • 10 black peppercorns

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 2 star anise

  • 2 medium red onions, finely diced

  • 3 tbsp garlic, minced

  • 1.5 tbsp ginger, minced

  • 1 tbsp kasoori methi, crushed

  • 8 cashews, soaked in water for at least an hour*

  • 3-4 habanero peppers, blended into a paste**

  • 1 tsp Kashmiri chili

  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder

  • 1/2 tsp garam masala

  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder

  • 1 tsp coriander powder

  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder

  • 1 tbsp mustard oil

  • 1 - 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, blended smooth

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream or coconut cream

  • Cilantro, handful chopped for garnish

*Soak cashews in water for about an hour. Drain and then grind into a paste.

**You can either remove or leave the seeds for the habaneros.



1. Mix all the ingredients under “marinade” in a bowl then toss in paneer/chicken & bell pepper cubes. Mix well so that everything is heavily coated with the marinade. Cover and place in fridge for at least 4 hours to overnight. Once marinated, it's time for smoking it - make a well in the middle of the bowl (same one you used to marinate), place the heated charcoal in the middle inside a steel bowl (as shown in the picture) and pour ghee on top - it will start smoking. Cover as fast as possible! Leave covered for two minutes and discard charcoal.

2. Once you've smoked your choice of protein, place the pieces & bell peppers on skewers. Place them close together to ensure even cooking. Heat a griddle pan with some butter or oil and grill the skewers one side at a time - undisturbed for 4 minutes on each side. They should get a slight char on them. Remove from grill pan and remove paneer/chicken & peppers and place in a bowl. If you are making this with chicken, make sure it is cooked through before removing from heat.


1. In a heavy bottomed pot, like a Dutch oven, add ghee on medium heat. Once hot, add all whole spices - bay leaves, both green and black cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and star anise. Sauté for two minutes, until fragrant then add onions. Cook onions for a good 15 minutes - I know this is a long time but this is what really gets the flavor out, they will be slightly charred and golden brown as the ghee separates.

2. Next, add garlic, ginger and kasoori methi. Saute for 2-3 minutes, until raw smell is gone. Lastly, add cashews, habanero paste, all dry spices and mustard oil. Mix well and saute until oil separates, about 2-3 minutes - it will be a little dry at this point and will start sticking to the bottom of the pan too, but it’s fine because we will deglaze the pot with tomatoes next.

3. Now add pureed diced tomatoes and scrape up all the bites at the bottom of the pan. Stir well & cover, lower heat to medium-low and simmer for about 5-8 minutes.

4. Toss in paneer/chicken & bell peppers into gravy. Mix well and cover, let simmer again for 5-8 minutes.

5. Finally, pour in the cream and stir to incorporate. Simmer on low for a few more minutes then garnish with cilantro. Serve hot with rice or naan!

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