Asian Butter Chicken with Cauliflower Rice

Cat's spice rack

Cat’s spice rack

By Cat, Oct 2015 (Photo, right, by Cat)

See also: 1. Poultry & Fowl Menu; 2. Asian Foods Menu; 3. Brining Chicken

This recipe is touted as a Paleo recipe – not that cave man actually made this dish, but rather its ingredients fit with the modern day idea of what kinds of foods cave man ate. I don’t follow a Paleo diet specifically, but rather a ketogenic play (low-carb, high fat, moderate protein) that is similar, but lower in protein than the Paleo diet.

Paleo diet excludes dairy, but coconut milk is abundant; it excludes grains, including rice, but allows vegetables prepared in a way that can resemble grains. This recipe is a perfect example of both of these ideas, using coconut cream, and cauliflower florets. NOTE: I do not agree that cave man did not drink dairy milk, and there is considerable archeological evidence that he ate wild grains.  See also Nutrition Action (2) for more on paleo diet controversies. Nevertheless, substituting coconut and other nut milks for dairy, and veggies for grains can make a delicious dish.

The spices are common in SE Asian recipes as a slightly-sweet curry. The addition of tomato paste is not SE Asian (tomatoes are native to the Americas only), but it is a tasty addition nonetheless.

Asian Butter Chicken with Cauliflower ‘Rice’

This recipe is adapted from one on Mercola’s site (1); the original recipe is by Pete Evans. The original uses some metric measurements, which I have converted to American measurements. Although the title includes ‘butter,’ there is no butter in this recipe; rather coconut oil and coconut milk are used.

You might be tempted to use chicken breasts instead of thighs, but dark meat is more authentic in Asian dishes, and in my opinion, more flavorful. If you do use breast meat, be sure to brine it first, to help it retain moisture.

Garam masala is a curry spice mix from India. It’s easy to make your own, or you can buy it in bulk in most health food stores.

The original recipe calls for coconut cream, but coconut milk will work as well as long as it is from the  first-pressing (not ‘lite’ coconut milk, which is second pressing and far more watery). If you are not strictly ‘paleo,’ you can substitute heavy dairy cream (whipping cream) and add a bit of coconut extract if you want that coconut flavor. Or try half coconut milk and half heavy dairy cream. I would not use ‘cream of coconut,’ a product used in piña coladas, as it has added sugar and is quite sweet.

From my testing, I found chopping up the cauliflower to be too tedious, so I added the florets to the cooking chicken. I’ve added this as an option in the instructions.

Serves 4.

Ingredients & Equipment

  • 1.5 lb boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 Tbsp coconut oil
  • Optional vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, pumpkin, winter squash, or spinach
  • Spice mix
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 to 2 pinches of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • Sauce
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp unrefined sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • one 14 oz can coconut cream or coconut milk
  • Cauliflower Rice
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • Unrefined sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • Serve
  • fresh cilantro leaves (coriander leaves)
  • Equipment:
  • Small bowl
  • Large heavy-bottom saucepan or wok
  • food processor or chopper (optional)


  1. Prep: Remove bone from thighs but leave the skin on; brine if desired. Cut into bite-size pieces. If cut into larger pieces, allow 10 – 20 minutes additional cooking time.
  2. Dice onion.
  3. Mince garlic, then crush with a bit of salt, using side of knife blade. Combine with spices in a small bowl (the salt helps to bring out the juices from the minced garlic).
  4. If using any of the optional veggies, peel (if appropriate) and cut into bite-size pieces. Broccoli/cauliflower can be broken into florets. For spinach, chard or kale, wash and rinse well; remove stems; chop or tear large leaves into 2 – 3 pieces. See instructions for the different veggies in purple text, below.
  5. If using kale, broccoli or cauliflower florets (instead of ‘cauliflower rice’), braise until almost done, then add to the mix just before serving. See Basic Braised Greens (About) for more. You can also do this with spinach or chard, or add them fresh to the mix just before serving (see below).
  6. Cook:  Heat coconut oil in a large saucepan or wok over medium-high heat.
  7. Add onion and sauté for 3 minutes until translucent. If using eggplant, sauté with the onion.
  8. Reduce heat to low and stir in the garlic/spice mixture. Add tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
  9. Add salt, lemon juice, coconut cream and mix well.
  10. Increase heat to medium and bring sauce to a simmer.
  11. Add chicken and stir until well coated with the sauce. If using  pumpkin or winter squash (or any veggies that need a bit of cooking time), add with the chicken.
  12. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened.
  13. If using zucchini or asparagus, add it about 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
  14. If using spinach or chard, add it just before serving, allowing just enough time to wilt the veggies. Alternately, braise separately, then add just before serving.
  15. Cauliflower ‘Rice’: [Alternately, just separate into florets and add as instructed above for broccoli/cauliflower florets.]
  16. Cut the cauliflower into florets, then chop into tiny pieces about the size of grains of rice (use a food processor/chopper; a knife is too tedious).
  17. In a frying pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat and lightly cook the cauliflower for about 4 to 6 minutes, or until softened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  18. Serve: Garnish with fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, and serve with cauliflower rice (or steamed whitebrown or wild rice).


10/6/15: Used 1 lb boneless, skinless Organic thighs (couldn’t find with skin-on), and added 1/4 of a small buttercup squash, cubed, with the chicken. Made no other changes to recipe until I got to the cauliflower. I separated florets from half cauliflower, and started to chop a portion of them. They do not cooperate with the chopping, but rather bounce out of the way so I gave up (a food processor/chopper would do a much better job). Decided to add the florets to the chicken dish about 10 minutes before done cooking. After the recommended 25 minutes of cooking, the chicken needed another 20 minutes of simmer, probably because I only cut each thigh into 4 pieces; the cauliflower also benefitted from the extra time. Result: This is very good, but the color is a bit bland. So when I reheated the leftovers, I added some braised kale. The squash and cauliflower along with the kale are all excellent flavors with the spice mixture. I updated the method for adding kale.


  1. Mercola recipe:
  2. Nutrition Action: Is the Paleo Diet Healthy?:

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