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Vegetarian Tandoori Kebabs from Scratch


A lot has happened since our Mughlai banquet. Mainly the week (yes entire week) I lost my appetite.

Sunday mornings are meant to be lazy, meant to keep you in eager anticipation of a delicious brunch. Am I right or am I right?
Two Saturdays ago I went for a delicious Indian meal and some unexpected but very welcome ‘curryoke’ (karaoke post-Indian banquet, apparently). I feasted on Mutter Paneer, Okra, Daal Makahni and Naan. By the end of the night (with a little help from Asha Bhosle and Atif Aslam) I was a content little madam.
I went home to fall asleep to a late Will Smith movie and some Nat Geo Wild. I tossed and turned, trying to get comfy in and amongst dreams of being stranded in the Amazon rainforest with Agent J and blueberry pancakes for brunch.
Fast-forward six hours and I’ve forgotten all about the man in black and a comforting brunch. I was sick – so sick I lost my appetite for a week. Don’t get me wrong, I still ate (mostly fruit) and FYI, I hardly like fruit. There was a distinct lack of paneer, cake and chocolate. My world had indeed turned upside-down.
But let’s have less of the depressing and more of the delicious. These Vegetarian Tandoori Kebabs are made with my own homemade tandoori paste to coat bite-sized pieces of paneer, cassava and fried tofu. Skewer them on to kebab sticks and char on the barbecue for a filling veggie dish.

Now perpetrators listen up; rubbing your kebab bites with red food colouring does not make it tandoori, I don’t care how much of a cash saving you make hustling people.

A good tandoori paste is deeply aromatic, hot and sour. The combination of Kashmiri chillies, cloves, cassia bark, cardamom and peppercorns makes this paste intensely flavourful and perfect for marinating (even for a short while) any kind of vegetable or protein-based ingredient.
I use concentrated tomato puree to give my paste a rich red colour and also to add some of that traditional sourness which characterises good tandoori masala. Not a drop of food colour in sight.
Like I said in my last post, my birthday is three short months away and I’d love a tandoor (if you’re feeling generous) to cook with. Think of all the puffy, fluffy naans I could get my paws on!
If, like me, you don’t already have a tandoor, a barbecue is the next best way to add a smoky flavour to these kebabs – a grill (broiler) being my last, desperate option if I’m craving tandoori kebabs mid-winter (I’m prone to such folly).


Vegetarian Tandoori Kebabs from Scratch

(serves 4-6)


225g paneer, cubed into 1 ½ inch pieces

150g fried tofu, cubed into 1 ½ inch pieces
150g cassava, peeled, cubed into 1 ½ inch pieces and boiled
100g baby button mushrooms, wiped clean

For the Tandoori Paste
1 tsp whole coriander seeds

6 black peppercorns
2 dried Kashmiri chillies
2 tsp cornmeal
1 inch cassia bark
1 ½ tsp cumin seeds
1 star anise
4 cloves
Seeds of 4 cardamom pods
5 tbsp concentrated tomato puree
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp ginger, minced
2 tbsp dark brown sugar/muscovado sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
2-3 tsp salt or to taste


1. To make the paste: Combine the coriander seeds, peppercorns, Kashmiri chillies, cassia bark, cumin seeds, star anise, cloves, cardamom seeds and cornmeal in a dry frying pan/skillet.  
2. Gently toast the spices on a low heat, moving around constantly until aromatic (3-5 minutes). Don’t let the spices catch and scorch. 

3. Place the dry roasted spices in a pestle and mortar or in a small blender and grind to a fine powder.
4. Add the tomato puree, sugar, salt, lemon juice, garlic and ginger and blend again until smooth. Add 3-5 tbsp water if needed.
5. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and add the cubed paneer and tofu. Gently boil for 4 minutes and drain. This softens them up for the marinade. 
6. Combine the boiled paneer and tofu, along with the cassava and mushrooms with the tandoori paste and combine gently. Refrigerate for 1 hour-48 hours depending on the time you have.
7. Skewer the ingredients onto metal skewers or soaked wooden skewers and place over hot coals until deliciously charred.

These Vegetarian Tandoori Kebabs are great with pitta bread, salad, raita and charred vegetables.

Last summer I experimented with vegetarian barbecue dishes to bring you some of my favourite laid-back alfresco meals.

If you’re planning on making the most of the warm weather then grab the ingredients for Coriander and Lime Paneer Kebabs, Matoki or Green Banana Burgers, Tarragon-Laced Khoya Kofta and Vegetable Medley and Chilled Sunshine Berry Soup and throw your own vegetarian dishes on the barbecue.

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Shoba Shrinivasan

Monday 9th of April 2012

Hey Sanjana,

and I was under the impression that the tandoori marinade MUSt have curd??? Am i wrongly mistaken? Yours look so amazing and so flavourful. Cassia Bark??? gotta google that!