Chicken Tikka Masala with Saag

Our boys love Indian food, especially creamy Butter Chicken or spicy Chicken Tikka Masala. We knew that preparing the latter for dinner would be a sure win, but we also wanted to serve a veggie side dish that we’d all enjoy. We had a half-bag of spinach in the freezer; Saag Paneer is a typical Indian dish of cooked spinach with cubes of fried cheese, but with my dairy allergy, we knew we’d have to adapt the recipe. We found a fairly easy recipe from Aarti Sequeria and an opened bag of green peas in our freezer, and inspiration struck. In a cheekier moment, I named this dish Saag Peaneer; read on to learn why!

Chicken Tikka Masala with Saag

My boys love Indian food, and Chicken Tikka Masala is no exception. This dish is typically a dish of chunks of roasted marinated chicken in a spiced, creamy curry sauce. Similarly, Saag is a class Indian dish of cooked spinach, often served "Paneer" or with cubes of fried cheese and thickened with cream or coconut milk. Our versions are dairy-free but still creamy and spicy. Our Saag is more "Peaneer" than "Paneer" as we incorporate green peas to sweeten and complement the spices.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Marinate Chicken4 hrs
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: chicken, dairy-free, gluten-free, spinach, sugar-free, Whole Life Challenge
Servings: 6
Calories: 480kcal


Chicken Tikka Masala

  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika or 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 2 inch fresh ginger minced or grated
  • 2 lb chicken breast and thighs boneless, skinless
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch green onion thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 28 oz canned crushed tomatoes


  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 oz frozen spinach thawed
  • 8 oz frozen peas thawed
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 4-5 green onions finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger minced
  • 1 green serrano chile seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk


Chicken Tikka Masala

  • In a small bowl combine the garam masala, turmeric, cumin, paprika, 1 1/2 teaspoons of Kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.
  • Whisk half of the spice mixture with 1 cup of coconut milk, lemon juice, and half the ginger in a medium bowl. Add the chicken and mix to coat. Cover the chicken and marinate in the refrigerator for 4-8 hours.
  • Prepare the sauce. Heat oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the green onion and cook 3-5 minutes, stirring to keep the onion from burning. Add the tomato paste, remaining ginger and spice mixture, and continue to stir about 2 minutes. You want the tomato paste to start caramelizing (browning).
  • Add crushed tomatoes to the pot along with the remainder of the coconut cream and 1 cup of water. Season with salt and pepper and stir until you get all the little bits up from the bottom of the pot. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat to medium-low and cook 20-25 minutes, until the flavors meld and the sauce thickens.
  • Once the chicken is done marinating, turn on the broiler and place the oven rack about 6 inches away from the heat. Lined a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack inside the pan. Place each piece of chicken on the rack after removing it from the marinade and brushing off any excess marinade. Broil the chicken 5-7 minutes on the first side, until you see lightly charred spots, and then flip it for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Add any remaining marinade to the pot and bring the sauce back up to a simmer. Transfer the broiled chicken to the sauce and add any remaining coconut milk. Simmer another 10-15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thickened.


  • While the sauce is simmering, prepare the Saag. Thaw the spinach and peas in the microwave in a microwave-safe dish, 3-5 minutes on high, then puree in a food processor until smooth. 
  • In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, add the oil along with the green onions, ginger, and chile. Saute the mixture about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are browned. If you feel like the mixture is drying out or burning, add a couple of tablespoons of water (we did this).
  • Add the garam masala, coriander, and cumin. Cook, stirring often, for 3-5 minutes, until the smell of the spices melds.
  • Add the blended spinach and peas and stir well, incorporating the spiced onion mixture into the spinach. Add a little salt and 1/2 cup of water, stir, and cook about 5 minutes with the lid removed.
  • Add the coconut milk, a little at a time, and stir to incorporate. Cover and cook until everything is warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve and enjoy!


Don’t let Indian recipes intimidate you! If there are unfamiliar ingredients, do we what we do – Google them! Garam masala is an Indian spice blend comprised of about one dozen ingredients. You can order it online in 2-oz and 3-oz bottles.
The original recipe for the Chicken came from Alison Roman of The New York Times; the Saag recipe was derived from Aarti Sequeria’s Saag Paneer.
We used Jasmine rice, but prepared it using a Japanese method. We rinsed the rice twice, and then soaked it in water for about 25 minutes. Then we brought it to a boil for 5 minutes, allowed it to simmer for 12 minutes, and then let it sit off the heat for 5 minutes before fluffing with a spoon. This method produces moist, creamy rice – we definitely prefer it to traditional Jasmine rice prep. 

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