Our Easy Vegan Bhuna recipe is simple and quick as there is no need to blend ingredients into a curry paste and we do not use a long list of individual spices. We wanted to create a delicious vegan Bhuna that the whole family would enjoy, but not spend all day in the kitchen. Instead cubes of tasty tempeh or tofu are stir-fried along with broccoli, and then the flavours are added - curry powder, chilli powder, fresh onion, garlic, and ginger, along with malt vinegar and a little bit of sugar, and canned tomatoes and creamed coconut. Oh and a can of brown lentils to enrich the whole deliciously easy veggie Bhuna experience, and a few teaspoons of garam masala stirred through at the end of cooking to top it all off!
This Easy Vegan Bhuna, is garnished with toasted desiccated coconut, fresh chilli's, coriander, and spring onions, although those are optional. Served along with long-grain rice and warmed-up shop-bought chapatis. So easy, quick, and packed with plant-based tastiness, and perfect for vegans, vegetarians, plant-based diets, flexitarians, anyone and everyone really!
📜 History of Bhuna curry
The Bhuna curry is a popular traditional Indian dish originating from the Indian subcontinent, within the regions of Bengal, Punjab, and North India. The term "Bhuna" refers to the cooking process where spices are fried in hot oil to bring out their flavours, and then meat is added to coat it in the spice mixture. This results in a thick, aromatic, and intensely flavoured sauce, and unlike many other Indian curries that have a liquid or creamy consistency, Bhuna is more concentrated, with the sauce thickly covering the meat.
Variations of the Bhuna curry likely goes back centuries as the cooking technique of "bhunao" which involves a process of stir-frying, sautéing, and stewing, has been mentioned in ancient Indian texts. This bhunao method ensures that the spices are thoroughly cooked and their flavours deeply melded into the meat. Traditionally, Bhuna was made using a heavy-bottomed cooking pot and involved a long, slow-cooking which consisted of adding liquid, stirring, frying, and sautéing.
Bhuna is now a popular dish worldwide and is frequently on the menu in Indian restaurants and take-aways. While the traditional Bhuna is commonly made with lamb or mutton, variations of the dish also use chicken, beef, fish, seafood, and many vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based options are becoming increasingly popular.
Our vegan and plant-based Bhuna curry is perfectly spiced but not too hot as the flavours of the curry powder also shine through, its also creamy, thick, rich, tomato-y, peppery, sweet with a little background tanginess, nutty and earthy from the tempeh, and the stir-fry broccoli provides a nice crisp bite. Try a spoonful chilled straight from the refrigerator and the curry flavours will tingle beautifully all around your mouth! Its hard to just have one bite though! So leftovers will likely disappear quickly.
🍀 Our Easy Vegan Bhuna
Our recipe adapts the traditional Bhuna into an easy and quick vegan version that can be prepared without using a food processor or blender to create a curry paste. We wanted to create a tasty Bhuna packed with traditional flavours but make it more accessible and easier to prepare. Instead of a long list of individual spices we choose a chilli powder and a madras curry powder.
We also used fresh onions and garlic which were fine chopped [well as fine as I could get them by hand, and seeing as I have autoimmune arthritis in my fingers and wrists this is never an easy job! And usually involves enlisting my teenage daughter's help!], and a knob of fresh ginger which was grated. Of course you could always replace the fresh garlic and ginger with their paste varieties or even frozen ones. Also, you could use frozen onions that come ready sliced which are great time-savers.
Instead of fresh tomatoes we went with canned chopped tomatoes [canned diced tomatoes] as they provided the necessary structure for the thick sauce and we used a wedge broken of from a creamed coconut block to add a little creaminess and more thickness. If you don't know what creamed coconut is scroll down to the FAQ section as its explained there. It's not the same as coconut cream.
For the main ingredients we went with broccoli and tempeh, as broccoli is just so delicious stir-fried in coconut oil, and as we really enjoy tofu cooked the same way we thought tempeh would make an interesting change. Lidl [UK] had recently had their vegan week so when we visited the mainland [more than 100miles away!] we picked up a few packs of their tempeh. As tempeh is not to everyone's taste and kids especially may dislike the nutty, earthy, fermented flavours and bumpy, creamy texture, tofu is a great alternative.
A can of brown lentils was also added and this helps thicken up the sauce whilst adding a nice texture and more wholesomeness. A few teaspoons of malt vinegar and granulated sugar added complexity to the tasty thick Bhuna sauce. At the end of cooking, a few teaspoons of garam masala powder is stirred through and this completes the delicious plant-based bhuna.
For substitution ideas do scroll down and check out the recipe notes and FAQ section as we want you to make this your vegan bhuna recipe so feel free to switch out ingredients to whatever you prefer or is more easily accessed.
🥘 How to prepare
Although our vegan Bhuna recipe is not technically authentically Indian, it does capture the delicious flavours of a veggie Bhuna that we have come to love and is perfect for at home Take-Out or Fake-Away meals.
1. First gather all your ingredients, chop the tempeh and prepare the veggies. This makes it so much quicker to cook the Bhuna as everything is ready and to hand.
2. We used coconut oil for this recipe as we wanted the tempeh and broccoli to gain some golden colour as they stir-fried. However, if you are on an oil-free diet, you can use small amounts of vegetable broth instead of the oil, and just keep adding more stock or broth as required to prevent the ingredients sticking. Just don't add too much liquid in one go, as you don't want to boil the ingredients.
3. Melt the coconut oil in a large deep fry pan, skillet, Wok, or suitable non-stick pan. We like to use a large Wok to prepare some of our curries and as this Bhuna recipe stir-fry's the ingredients before cooking in the sauce, a Wok is ideal.
4. Add the tempeh cubes and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently so that the sides turn a golden colour.
5. Next, add the broccoli and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
6. Tip in the curry powder and chilli powder, and stir for 1 minute while the spices release their beautiful aromas.
7. Next, add the onion, garlic, and ginger, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
8. Tip in the canned chopped tomatoes, vegetable stock, creamed coconut, brown lentils, malt vinegar, and sugar. Season with salt and black pepper.
9. Stir well, and bring to the boil. Pop a lid over the pan and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, stir well, and cook for another 5 minutes.
10. The broccoli will still have a crunch but will be soft enough to eat - similar to stir-fry broccoli. But if you would like a softer broccoli texture simply cook for longer.
11. Once cooked stir through the garam masala, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
12. Serving and garnish suggestions: Enjoy with rice and warm chapatis.
A garnish of fresh coriander [cilantro], sliced spring onions [green onions], fresh red or green chilli's for those who like extra heat, and perhaps a sprinkle of toasted desiccated coconut, are all very tasty and compliment the flavours of the veggie Bhuna.
A dollop of plant-based yogurt or vegan mayonnaise is also a nice addition.
🥥 Optional: How to toast desiccated coconut for a garnish
Toasting desiccated coconut is easy and quick as it takes just a few minutes. It can be made in advance and it is a nice garnish for a curry especially if the curry already contains coconut. We usually use about one tablespoon of coconut per person but you can use more if preferred.
1. All that is required to toast coconut is a non-stick fry pan or skillet, stove-top, and desiccated coconut. No oil is required. Although you can season the coconut with some salt and black pepper for extra flavour.
2. First, heat your pan on the stove top for a few minutes until its very hot.
3. Then add the coconut in an even layer and within a few seconds you will see the coconut beginning to brown at the bottom, so once that happens shake the pan back and forth or use a spatula to move the coconut around.
4. Once the coconut is browning quickly remove it from the heat and shake or stir well until its almost all a nice golden colour.
5. Don't leave the coconut in the pan to cool as it will continue to toast within the residual heat and may burn, so tip the coconut onto a plate and set aside to cool or until the curry is ready.
6. Sprinkle over the cooked curry or over a rice accompaniment.
📋 Recipe notes
Leftover Bhuna can be stored within the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Or freeze for 2-3 months.
Leftovers can be reheated by placing it into a non-stick and over a medium heat bring to a gentle boil and stir frequently as it reheats to piping hot. A little water or veggie stock may be required to loosen up the sauce enough to reheat more easily.
Or place the Bhuna into a microwave safe dish and reheat for 1-2 minutes, stir well, and then reheat for another 1-2 minutes, repeating until the Bhuna is piping hot. A microwave-safe lid can be added loosely over the dish as this can help reheat the curry more quickly. Stir through a few tablespoons of water or stock if necessary before reheating.
Absolutely. Preparing any curry but especially a Bhuna in advance is a great idea as the flavours continue to develop and mingle together as the curry is stored. The curry can be prepared 1-2 days in advance, but if prepared 2 days in advance keep in mind that the cooked curry will be good for 3 days once initially cooked.
Yes, with a few considerations Bhuna can be prepared as safe for gluten-free diets. Tempeh is usually gluten-free but its best to check the package instructions just to be 100% sure, also a gluten-free stock or broth needs to be used, also check any spice mixes that you may use as some may contain added flour, and ensure that the malt vinegar is also labelled as gluten-free or use an alternative.
Any type of curry powder is fine but we like to use a Madras curry powder as it is just so moreish, provides the classic curry flavours, and the aromas of the mixed spices are amazing.
We like using the Natco brand of curry powder [we sourced ours from the Co-op supermarket within their international food section.] The ingredient list for this curry powder is - coriander, turmeric, cumin, salt, gram flour, chilli, mustard, fenugreek, fennel, garlic, black pepper and star anise.
Malt vinegar is made by fermenting malted barley and is common British ingredient, most popularly used for seasoning chips or fries.
Malt vinegar has a strong, bold flavour with a malty undertone, making it different from other types of vinegar like white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Using malt vinegar in a curry can provide tangy overtones that helps to balance the heat and warmth of the spices added as well as any sweetness. The malty flavour of the vinegar adds a nice complex overtone of fruity malty tanginess to the curry which does work beautifully.
Ordinary malt vinegar is not usually gluten-free but there are gluten-free varieties available. Malt vinegar is available in most UK supermarkets and its not an expensive vinegar compared to others. It can also be sourced in Australia and Canada.
For other countries, including the US, check out the British or International food sections of grocery stores as they may carry it.
If necessary, the malt vinegar can be replaced with apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, white distilled vinegar, or white wine vinegar.
We like to use a Wok for our Bhuna as there is a lot of initial stir-frying at the beginning of cooking and a Wok does the best job at dispersing the heat, but a large skillet pan, a non-stick Dutch oven pot, a deep non-stick fry pan, a cast-iron pan, or a similar style of non-stick pan or pot will work just fine.
Creamed coconut is a concentrated form of coconut, often sold in a solid block or paste-like form. Unlike coconut milk or coconut cream, which are liquid, creamed coconut is dehydrated and ground into a waxy, semi-solid state.
It is made from the unsweetened, dehydrated fresh pulp of a mature coconut, ground to a semi-solid white creamy paste or block and it is used to enrich sauces, curries, and desserts with a dense coconut flavour and texture.
Creamed coconut is incredibly versatile and can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes and to use it in recipes calling for coconut milk or coconut cream, you can simply dissolve the creamed coconut in hot water and stir until smooth. The ratio of water to creamed coconut can be adjusted depending on how thick or thin you want the resulting liquid to be.
It's an really good ingredient to have on hand if you want the flavour and richness of coconut but don't want to store multiple cans of coconut milk or cream. It can also work out less expensive as a block can last for several recipes.
However, creamed coconut should not be confused with "coconut cream," which is a thicker, richer form of coconut milk. Coconut cream is often used in similar ways, but compared to creamed coconut, it is liquid at room temperature and contains more moisture than a creamed coconut block.
Creamed coconut is a popular ingredient used in various cuisines, including Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and South Asia, for dishes like curry, desserts, and even drinks.
For our Bhuna recipe the best alternative would be to replace the 50grams or 3 tablespoons of creamed coconut as well as the 120mililitres [½ cup] of vegetable stock, with 120mililitres or ½ cup of canned coconut milk.
Tempeh is a traditional food originating in Indonesian and it is prepared from fermented soybeans. Tempeh is a nutritious source of plant-based protein that has been a staple in Indonesian cooking for centuries. The fermentation process binds the soybeans into a cake-like form, which can then be sliced or crumbled for various uses in recipes. The texture of tempeh is firm and chewy, and it has a creamy, nutty, earthy flavour that becomes more pronounced when cooked.
Tempeh is a rich source of protein, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins and iron. The fermentation process also increases the digestibility of the soybeans and produces beneficial probiotics.
Firm tofu is the ideal replacement for tempeh, but other ideas include seitan, mushrooms, chickpeas, canned jackfruit, aubergine [eggplant], soy curls or textured vegetable protein chunks [although do rehydrate any dried substitutions before using in the recipe], or any vegan meat-free pieces or chunks.
The broccoli can be replaced with cauliflower which always works really well in a curry recipe, or bell peppers, courgette [zucchini], butternut squash, sweet potato, green beans, field beans, mange tout, sugar snap peas, flat beans, asparagus, or even pre-cooked firm potatoes.
If using potatoes as a broccoli replacement, we recommended using a potato that holds its shape well once cooked, such as baby or new potatoes, and to pre-cook them before adding to the Bhuna recipe as once combined with the tomato-based sauce the tomato can cause the potato to cook very slowly!
Also, as different vegetables will have a different cooking time compared to broccoli, make sure to extend the cooking times if necessary. Also be sure and chop whatever veggie you choose into small bitesize pieces as this will ensure that they are cooked quickly.
Yes, using a Bhuna spice paste or Bhuna curry powder can be a convenient way to prepare a Bhuna curry.
For using a Bhuna spice paste keep in mind that it may have a concentrated flavour so you may need less paste compared to the amount of curry and chilli powder.
Check the packaging instructions for guidance on the amount to use, and perhaps start with a tablespoon of paste and add more if required. Also, be sure and cook the paste for a few minutes once you add it as the heat helps release the flavours. The paste can be added at the same time as the curry and chilli powder would be added.
Also, if your spice paste already contains garlic and ginger you could omit those from the recipe as well, but its best to keep the fresh onions as they do contribute to the overall flavour.
If using a Bhuna curry powder, this can simply replace the curry and chilli powder on a one-to-one basis, so about 2 tablespoons can be used for the recipe. Although if it states on your Bhuna curry powder packaging that the heat rating is high or hot then you may choose to add less and adjust to taste.
Another, consideration is that shop-bought Bhuna pastes and powders may contain salt so perhaps wait until the end of cooking to see if the curry needs salt added.
Please, keep in mind that we have not tested this recipe with a Bhuna spice paste or Bhuna spice mix but we have used curry pastes and mixes previously for other curry recipes, so going by experience it should work fine. Also, although the end flavour will differ, it will still be a tasty curry.
Of course, if you have a jar of ready-made Bhuna sauce [vegan-friendly] to use up by all means use it to prepare a home-made Bhuna. You can still stir-fry the tempeh and broccoli, but omit the spices, and its up to you whether you add the garlic, ginger, and onion although they would add extra flavour to a jarred sauce which sometimes tend to be blander than a home-made curry.
If using a jarred sauce the canned tomatoes, creamed coconut, sugar, and vinegar can be omitted, and the jarred sauce added to the recipe when the recipe calls for those ingredients. Although a can of chopped tomatoes may still be a good idea especially if your jar contents are not enough to provide a thick sauce to coat all the ingredients.
Whether to add the vegetable stock is personal preference but it could be added to the jar, the lid screwed back on, and the jar shook well and then the contents poured into the pan, as doing this will ensure all the little bits of sauce stuck to the jar will be in your curry rather than the discarded jar!
Please keep in mind that we haven't tested this recipe with a jarred sauce but we have used jarred sauces previously for quick curries with good results. Also, the final flavour of the Bhuna curry will differ, but it should still be very tasty!
Rice is a traditional accompaniment and Basmati or long-grain rice are nice choices, and if fiber is important then go for the brown rice varieties. Warm naan, chapati, or parathas are nice to dunk into the Bhuna and scoop up the tasty thick sauce.
We have a 3 Ingredient Quick Flatbread recipe that is the perfect side for curries, and adding some nigella seeds, and perhaps some fresh chopped coriander, to the dough, lends the home-made flatbreads a tasty Naan bread flavour.
Also, a scoop of vegan yogurt, sour creme, creme fraiche, or mayonnaise is a tasty addition especially if the Bhuna is quite spicy. Some diced cucumber and mint can be stirred through the yogurt to create a quick raita, and mango chutney, lime or mint pickle are always tasty additions.
Other tasty side dishes include Saag Aloo [potatoes and spinach], Aloo Gobi [potatoes and cauliflower], Red Lentil and Kale Dahl, or Chana Chaat [spicy chickpeas].
Our family always love vegetable pakoras or samosas with a curry meal but we only usually have those if its an extra special meal, but they are a great side dish or starter to any curry.
Finally, many people love potato fries, chips, or wedges with a curry, and a scoop of curry as a baked potato filling is always a great idea.
We love the earthy, nutty, creamy, chewy, bumpy, rustic flavours and textures of tempeh and the fact that it has been a traditional Indonesian ingredient for thousands of years! But of course, feel free to substitute the tempeh for tofu which has a milder flavour and smoother texture which will also beautifully soak up all the delicious veggie Bhuna flavours.
🍛 More vegan curry recipes
My family loves curries and as its one of our favourite meals we are always adapting delicious new curry recipes into vegan versions. Do have a look at our Vegan Curry Recipes for more recipe ideas including soups, sandwiches, dahls, and curries. We also have a few slow cooker vegan curry recipes and more recipes are always being added so be sure and pop back!
We just had to add in this extra curry recipe for our favourite lunch-time meal - Spicy Chickpea Soup - as its just so tasty we had to share it with you!
***please note: for US measurements click the 'US customary button' within the recipe and the measurements will switch to tablespoons, cups, and ounces.***
Easy Vegan Bhuna
- skillet, deep fry pan, Wok, Dutch oven, or other non-stick large pot or pan
- Cheese grater for grating fresh ginger
- small skillet or fry pan optional, only required if toasting the desiccated coconut for garnish
- 2 tablespoon coconut oil [or ¼ cup of vegetable broth if fat-free required, add more as required to prevent sticking]
- 200 grams tempeh [sliced into 1½-2 cm cubes, or an alternative such as firm tofu]
- 300 grams broccoli [cut into small sized florets, any thick floret stalks can be peeled and sliced into thin batons]
- 1 teaspoon chilli powder [use mild, medium, or hot as preferred]
- 1½ tablespoon curry powder [we used a madras curry powder]
- 215 grams onion [1 large onion, diced]
- 6 medium garlic cloves [fine diced or minced, or replace with 1-2 tablespoons of garlic puree]
- 2 tablespoons fresh ginger [grated, or use 1-2 tablespoons ginger puree]
- 1 can brown lentils [400g/14oz] can, drained, or use about 280 grams or 10oz cooked lentils]
- 2 cans chopped tomatoes [diced tomatoes] [400g/14oz] cans
- 120 mililitres vegetable stock
- 50 grams creamed coconut block [can replace this with 120 millilitres [½ cup] coconut milk but also omit the vegetable stock]
- 2 teaspoon malt vinegar
- 1½ teaspoon granulated sugar [or replace with your usual sugar, sweetener, or syrup]
Stir through at the end of cooking:
- 2 teaspoons garam masala powder
- Heat the coconut oil in a non-stick pan over a medium heat. [If fat-free is required the tofu can be cooked in ¼ cup [60ml] of vegetable broth, with a few extra teaspoons added as required to prevent sticking]2 tablespoon coconut oil
- Add the tempeh and cook over a high heat for 5 minutes stirring frequently.200 grams tempeh
- Add the broccoli florets, stir and cook for 5 minutes.300 grams broccoli
- Add the chilli powder and curry powder and stir for 1 minute.1 teaspoon chilli powder, 1½ tablespoon curry powder
- Next add the onion, garlic, ginger, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.215 grams onion, 6 medium garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons fresh ginger
- Pour in the canned tomatoes, lentils, creamed coconut, sugar, and malt vinegar. Season with salt and black pepper. Give everything a good stir and bring to the boil and stir so that the creamed coconut melts although it will melt more as it cooks.1 can brown lentils, 2 cans chopped tomatoes, 120 mililitres vegetable stock, 50 grams creamed coconut block, 2 teaspoon malt vinegar, 1½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- Pop a lid over the pan and gently boil on low-medium for 10 minutes.
- Remove the lid and cook for a further 5 minutes, or until the broccoli texture is how you like it. We like the texture to still have a bite similar to stir-fry broccoli but if you like it softer just cook the curry for a few more minutes.
- Stir through the garam masala powder and add extra salt and pepper if necessary to bring all the flavours together.2 teaspoons garam masala powder
- Optional: Garnish with fresh coriander [cilantro], sliced spring onions, and toasted desiccated coconut if liked. Rice and chapatis are a nice accompaniment as is a scoop of plain plant-based yogurt.
To toast desiccated coconut: [optional garnish]
- You'll need about 1 tablespoon of desiccated coconut per person [but if your pan is big enough you can toast more], and a small non-stick skillet or fry pan.
- First, heat your pan on the stove top for a few minutes until its very hot. Then add the coconut in an even layer and within a few seconds you will see the coconut beginning to brown at the bottom, so once that happens shake the pan back and forth or use a spatula to move the coconut around. Once the coconut is browning quickly remove it from the heat and shake or stir well until its almost all a nice golden colour.
- Tip the coconut out onto a plate to cool, as if its left in the hot pan it will continue to toast in the residual heat and may burn. The toasted coconut can be set aside until the curry is ready or once completely cooled, the coconut can be transferred into an airtight jar to store for a few days, or even a few weeks.
- Nutritional data is not an exact calculation as ingredients can vary.
- Data does not include any optional garnishes or sides.
- Store leftovers for up to 3 days within the refrigerator.
- Or frozen for 2-3 months.
- Reheat by scooping into a non-stick pan and over a medium heat bring to a gentle boil and stir frequently as it reheats to piping hot. A little water or veggie stock may be required to loosen up the sauce enough to reheat more easily.
- This Bhuna curry tastes amazing chilled straight from the refrigerator, I often enjoy a spoonful of leftovers whenever I can! The curry spices leave your mouth with a wonderful tingling warm sensation!
- Firm tofu is the ideal replacement for the tempeh.
- Tempeh can also be replaced with meat-free chunks, pieces, soy curls, TVP chunks [textured vegetable protein], aubergine [eggplant], cooked chickpeas, or mushrooms. If using a dried vegan alternative such as TVP make sure you rehydrate the chunks before using in the recipe.
- The creamed coconut comes in a solid block but if preferred this can be replaced with 120 millilitres [half a cup] of canned coconut milk, and the vegetable stock can be omitted. A quarter of a stock cube or bouillon cube, or a half teaspoon of vegetable stock powder can also be added.
- Fresh coriander [cilantro] is a nice garnish, as is sliced spring onions [green onions], and for those who enjoy extra heat sliced fresh chilli's are great. A scoop of plant-based yogurt or vegan mayonnaise is also a nice addition.
- Our vegan bhuna is not a very hot curry so if preferred add extra chilli powder or a few fresh chilli's during cooking.
- For more substitution ideas, how to make the bhuna gluten-free, and more useful information do have a look at the recipe notes and FAQ sections above the recipe.
Prepared our tasty Easy Vegan Bhuna? We would love to know how you got on with the recipe so do pop back and leave us a comment and click the star ratings. Thanks so much! Love Jacq x