Vegetarians can enjoy the delicious flavours of Chicken 65, and with the right recipe vegans can too. Choose from Gobi 65 (cauliflower), Aloo 65 (potato), Paneer 65 (cottage cheese) and more.
What is Chicken 65?
Chicken 65 is India’s version of Southern fried chicken, Korean fried chicken or Japan’s karaage chicken.
Pieces of chicken are marinated in a spicy mixture of Indian flavours and spices, then deep fried until crispy and golden. And some versions then cook it in a spicy sauce as well.
You can learn more about the history of the dish on my ultimate guide to Chicken 65.
It’s traditionally made with chicken, but if you don’t eat meat, you can still enjoy the deliciously spicy flavours that adorn Chicken 65. In fact you’ve got several options available to you!
Vegetarian Chicken 65 alternatives
There are quite a few options for vegetarians to enjoy the flavours of Chicken 65, but the most popular are:
- Gobi 65 (cauliflower)
- Aloo 65 (potato)
- Paneer 65 (Indian cottage cheese)
And some recipes for cauliflower 65 and potato 65 are vegan-friendly as well.
Making vegetarian versions
Compared with Chicken 65, the vegetarian alternatives are made in a very similar way:
- The vegetables or cheese are coated in a spicy flour paste or batter. Most authors recommend allowing a bit of time for the pieces to marinate as well (typically 10 to 30 minutes).
- They are then deep fried until crisp.
- Some recipes then toss the cooked pieces in a tadka (hot oil infused with chilies and spices).
- Other recipes add more ingredients to create a sticky gravy or sauce.
The main differences are in how the vegetables or paneer are prepared, which I’ll highlight further on.
Chicken 65 masala (spice mix)
The masala or spice mix used in the recipes I reviewed is very similar to that used in Chicken 65. The key ingredients are:
- Red or Kashmiri chili powder. Not that this is not the powder you use for chili. This is pure ground red chili peppers. As well as providing heat, Kashmiri chili powder also brings a vibrant red colour to the dish.
- Fresh ginger and garlic.
- Some authors use garam masala, especially for cauliflower 65.
- A few authors add yogurt or Indian curd.
- About half add some lemon or lime juice for a touch of sourness.
Whether you’re making Chicken 65 or a vegetarian alternative, the pieces of meat, vegetable or cheese are coated in flour as well.
This is done to help create a crispy coating. And because this is the goal, every author uses at least two types of flour:
- The majority of the recipes include some regular all-purpose flour to give the batter structure.
- Every recipe for cauliflower, potato or paneer 65 uses cornstarch (corn flour). Cornstarch crisps up more effectively than regular flour (whose gluten absorbs some of the oil).
- A number of authors also add some rice flour, which also crisps up well (also being gluten free).
The biggest difference between Chicken 65 and the vegetarian options is in how the flour is used.
For many Chicken 65 recipes, it’s really just a paste of flour and other ingredients on the chicken pieces. But most of the vegetable and paneer recipes apply it in a more liquid batter. They also tend to use more flour as well.
I’m guessing this is because cauliflower in particular needs to be protected from the oil, both to stop it releasing water and prevent it from absorbing too much oil.
Tadka and gravy
Like the spice mix, the ingredients used to make a tadka or a gravy are very similar to the chicken versions.
If you haven’t come across the term before, tadka is fat infused with spices and aromatics.
Typically it’s created by sauteing the spices and other ingredients in ghee (clarified butter) or oil. The result is a deliciously flavoured liquid that can be used to enhance a dish, or garnish it at the end. It’s a fantastic way to add a flavour punch to a soup, a stew, or even fried chicken.
The most popular ingredients for a tadka are garlic, green chilies and curry leaves.
If you’re taking it a bit further to create a gravy, the most common additional ingredients are:
- Plain yogurt (or Indian curd).
- More red chili powder.
- Cumin and garam masala.
- A few authors also add a bit of tomato with either tomato sauce or ketchup.
- A few also add chopped onions, which is unusual compared with a Chicken 65.
Similar to most Chicken 65 recipes, the gravy is typically cooked down until it’s quite thick on the pieces of vegetable or cheese.
Cauliflower 65 (Gobi 65)
The most popular vegetarian version of Chicken 65 is made with cauliflower instead of chicken.
Most authors have you blanch your cauliflower in hot water for a few minutes. This is to ensure the batter doesn’t overcook before the cauliflower is cooked through.
It’s then dried and coated in a fairly thick batter (compared with chicken, potato or paneer versions). Garam masala is much more popular in the spice mix for Gobi 65 too.
Oven-baked Gobi 65
If you’re looking for a healthier approach, deep frying is not your only option. Two recipes, from Swasthi’s Recipes and Rak’s Kitchen, give instructions for oven-baking your battered cauliflower. As you can imagine this won’t be as crispy as if they were fried in oil, but it’s obviously much healthier (and less messy). And as Rak suggests, an additional brief broil will help ensure your cauliflower is as crispy as it can be.
Potato 65 (Aloo 65)
The potato version is done in a very similar manner to Gobi 65.
Rather than blanching, most recipes parboil their potatoes until they’re about three-quarters cooked.
Most also then recommend peeling the potatoes, regardless of whether they’re small whole ones or chopped larger ones.
None of the recipes I reviewed provided an alternative to deep-frying your potatoes, although I didn’t specifically look for this.
Cottage Cheese 65 (Paneer 65)
The cottage cheese versions were again similar to the Cauliflower 65 recipes.
The cheese of course does not require blanching or pre-cooking. Instead it is simply cut into cubes and coated in the batter.
The biggest difference was the fact that every recipe included a tadka or a gravy. And a couple of authors added a touch of tomato to their gravy, which didn’t appear with either the cauliflower or potato versions.
Air fried Paneer 65
If you want a healthier option, Kana’s Paneer 65 recipe on Spice up the Curry cooks the paneer in an air fryer.
Everything is interchangeable
In researching my guide to Chicken 65 (and it’s vegetarian alternatives) I reviewed almost 50 recipes for the various styles. And one thing is clear – most of the recipes can be used relatively interchangeably.
In fact some authors even highlight this in their blog posts. More than one Chicken 65 recipe advised you could replace the chicken with cauliflower or paneer. And some of the vegetarian recipes suggest other options (like broccoli or mushrooms) using the same recipe.
With close attention to cooking times, you could no doubt do a combination version as well.
Recipes included in this review
If you’re interested in trying any of the recipes I reviewed, you can find them on my Pinterest boards:
Frequently asked questions
What is Gobi 65?
A vegetarian version of Chicken 65 made with cauliflower.
What is Aloo 65?
A vegetarian version of Chicken 65 made with potato.
What is Paneer 65?
A version of Chicken 65 made with paneer (Indian cottage cheese).