The Fountain of the Worlds Not Butter Not Chicken recipe

For those of you interested in my new book Fountain of the Worlds, you may be like to know that the book features a recipe that is a vegan take on Butter Chicken called ‘Not Butter Not Chicken’.

In Fountain of the Worlds, the dish Not-butter Not-chicken, as prepared by Maggie the bar chef, appears in several scenes. Not-butter Not-chicken is a dish I created after realizing that the flavors that made Butter Chicken what is it are neither butter nor chicken. Since the dish is dependent on spices and tomato for its characteristic taste, making a vegan version was an option. Cashew paste replaces the yoghurt or cream usually added before serving. This recipe scales up well.

Not-butter-not-chicken on a plate.

Not-butter Not-chicken

Makes at least six large serves. Freezes well. Approximate preparation and cooking times for the full recipe is 80 minutes.

Spice base:

  • Garlic (enough to give three heaped teaspoons when minced)
  • Ginger (a piece about 4 cms/2 inches in length, to give three heaped teaspoons when grated)
  • Cumin 2 teaspoons
  • Coriander seeds 2 teaspoons
  • Fenugreek ½ teaspoon
  • Cardamom 1 teaspoon
  • Cloves 4
  • Cinnamon stick 1
  • OR a commercial Butter Chicken spice paste

Other ingredients:

  • Olive oil 65 mls/ ¼ cup (note, if you use a commercial Butter chicken spice paste, you will need less oil)
  • Two large onions
  • Two kilograms/ five pounds of ripe tomatoes OR two 800-gram/ 2 pound cans of crushed tomatoes
  • Two cups of red lentils (any color will do, adjust your cooking time to allow for the differences between the types of lentils)
  • Tomato concentrate 250 mls/1 cup
  • Coconut cream 400 mls/ 3/4 pint
  • Cashews unsalted 2 cups


Step 1:

Grind together cumin, coriander, cardamom and fenugreek with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. Set aside.

Peel and grate fresh ginger. (I had about 3 heaped teaspoons when done). Peel and dice garlic to give you about 3 teaspoons (I had two cloves of elephant garlic for this).

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-based pan. Gently fry garlic and ginger in olive oil. Add ground spices and heat.


Gently heat commercial Butter Chicken spice paste in olive oil in a large heavy-based pan.

Step 2:

Add sliced onions and brown gently.

Step 3:

Add chopped tomatoes, cloves and cinnamon stick and cook on medium heat until tomatoes have released their liquid and softened.

OR Add tinned tomatoes, cloves and cinnamon stick and cook on medium heat until heated through.

Step 4:

Add the red lentils, coconut cream, and 400 mls of water. Add tomato concentrate. Cook on low heat for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft, stirring occasionally.

While the Not-butter Not-chicken is cooking, put the cashews in a heatproof container and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak and soften. When water has cooled and cashews are softer, blend into a creamy paste with a stick blender or a conventional blender.

Serve the Not-butter Not-chicken with the cashew cream stirred through, on rice.

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