Dairy-free tikka masala

tofu cubes

At the University Center in Chicago—a residential dining facility that services 1,700 students from four downtown colleges—soy milk has been a menu staple for five years. “We originally brought it in for students with dairy allergies,” says Larry Posen, senior executive chef and culinary director for the center, which is managed by Chartwells Higher Education. “But in the last year, I’ve been pushing soy milk into other areas, to appeal to vegans with unique menu items that are part of our daily offerings instead of special requests.” His “Streets of Chicago,” a popular station, features plant-based remakes of ethnic dishes representative of the city’s enclaves, including his Tikka Masala and Soy Milk Cod Burrito, inspired by Chicago’s Little India neighborhood. 

tikka masala chart

  1. Chicken is most commonly used in tikka masala, but Posen swaps it out for fish to make the dish pescatarian-friendly. Tofu also is available as a protein choice for vegetarian and vegan diners. 
  2. In place of the usual dairy—either yogurt or half-and-half—Posen uses soy milk as the cooking liquid for the vegetables and fish. “I didn’t want the culinary teams to be overly challenged, so I worked on the [tikka masala] recipe to keep the proportions the same,” he says. An added benefit—soy milk is sturdier and doesn’t separate like yogurt when it’s heated, Posen says. 
  3.  For sauteeing the ingredients, vegetable oil stands in for the traditional ghee or butter. Then Posen stirs in prepared curry paste near the end of cooking time. The curry paste adds authentic flavor and color to the vegetable and fish mixture, and neutralizes any chalky taste that may be detectable from some soy milks.  

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