I was both excited and a little scared about cooking food from India this week! I knew everything would be delicious but I also knew it would be a lot of work to do as many dishes as I had planned. I do wish I had received a little more input from Reddit; there are a lot of people on the India subreddit but I didn’t get that many responses.
India is a large country in South Asia and the most populous country in the world (just slightly ahead of China).
The first modern humans came to India from Africa about 55,000 years ago, and since then evolved into many separate groups. Hinduism, thought to be the world’s oldest religion, is said to have emerged 4,000-5,000 years ago. Some think it may have even been around longer than that. Buddhism and Jainism also began in ancient India, with Sikhism coming later.
The British came during the 18th century and seized a large portion of the country to support the British East India Company. During the mid-1700s and early 1800s, the company accounted for half of the world’s trade. They effectively ruled most of the country for about 100 years, until the British Crown took direct control. This lasted nearly another 100 years, until India gained independence in 1947.
India is a fast-growing major economy and has substantially decreased poverty rates in recent years. However, the country still suffers from gender inequality, child malnutrition, and rising levels of air pollution.
What Do People Eat in India?
Indian cuisine varies widely because there are so many different cultures throughout the country. Dishes also vary based on religion: Muslim Indians do not eat pork, Hindu Indians do not typically eat beef, and Buddhist Indians are usually vegetarian. One thing that is common is the use of locally available fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices.
There are some staple foods that have been common across India since ancient times, such as lentils, chickpeas, rice, and wheat. Many popular ingredients in Indian cooking can also be traced back to ancient times, including ghee, curd (yogurt), mustard, saffron, and turmeric. Other common foods such as tomatoes, potatoes, and chilies were not available in India until much later.
There is a wide range of vegetarian dishes in Indian cuisine, which are often based on lentils, beans, or paneer. Chicken and mutton are the most popular meats, though fish and beef are common in certain areas.
Indians use a wide range of spices in their cooking, but the most well-known spice mix is probably garam masala. The exact ingredients can vary, but it commonly includes black cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, black pepper, coriander, and star anise.
Food from India doesn’t just include curries, naan, and rice either! There is a wide range of street food which includes sandwiches, dumplings, and fritters, among others. Desserts are many and varied, and include pastries, rice puddings, and solid milk sweets. I just can’t quite do justice to India’s extensive cuisine in one blog post! I’m excited to explore more Indian dishes when I’m done with this challenge.
What I Made
- Chana Masala (Chickpea Curry)
- Vada Pav (Potato Fritters on Rolls)
- Dal Tadka (Lentil Stew with Tempered Spices)
- Palak Paneer (Cheese and Spinach Curry)
- Pakora (Vegetable Fritters)
- Aloo Paratha (Potato-Filled Flatbread)
- Rogan Josh (Lamb Curry)
- Naan (Flatbread)
- Sweet Lassi (Sweet Yogurt Drink)
- Masala Chai (Spiced Tea)
Scroll down to read about other popular Indian dishes I didn’t make!
Chana Masala (Chickpea Curry)
Chana masala is one of the most popular vegetarian dishes in India, and it originated in the northern part of the country. The main ingredient is chickpeas, seasoned with onion, tomato, and a range of spices.
First, I soaked dried chickpeas overnight. The next day, I cooked the chickpeas until soft. You could skip the soaking and cooking if you want and just start with canned chickpeas.
To make the chana masala, I added whole spices (cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and a bay leaf) to some hot oil and let them sizzle for a few moments. Then I added onion and green chili (I used jalapeño). Once the onion was cooked, I added garlic, ginger, and tomato. Then came the ground spices: red chili powder, turmeric, garam masala, coriander, and cumin. The recipe gave the option here to blend everything to make a smooth sauce, but I decided to keep mine on the chunkier side.
I added my cooked chickpeas with some of their cooking water, and after simmering for about 15 minutes my chana masala was ready. I served it with basmati rice and fresh cilantro.
Chickpeas aren’t my favorite but I really enjoyed them in this dish. It was delicious! The recipe I used is from Indian Healthy Recipes.
Vada Pav (Potato Fritters on Rolls)
When I read about vada pav, which is basically a little potato burger (or a slider), I knew I had to make it. You can’t go wrong with carbs on carbs after all! Vada pav is a popular street food that originated in Mumbai, though it is now popular all across India.
First I made the buns, which are made from flour, milk, yeast, sugar, salt, and butter. They taste pretty much like any bread roll, though I think they were supposed to be softer. My dough was a bit on the dry side and I think it would have been better if I added more liquid, but I was trying to follow the recipe and the dough wasn’t unworkable so I left it as it was. I’d definitely adjust the milk quantity for future attempts.
Next, I made the potato mixture, starting by making some plain mashed potatoes. I combined the potatoes with mustard, ginger, garlic, chili, cilantro, turmeric, salt, and lemon juice.
I made the batter, which consisted of chickpea/gram flour, rice flour, turmeric, red chili powder, salt, baking soda, and water.
Then, I made balls out of the potato mixture and coated them in the batter. This was difficult to do well and very messy, but I think I did alright. I deep-fried the potato balls until they were crispy.
I served the potato balls on the rolls with three condiments. First, there was a green chutney, made from cilantro, mint, chili, garlic, ginger, and some spices. There was a tamarind-date chutney, and finally a dry garlic chutney. The dry garlic chutney was definitely my favorite. It’s made from garlic (obviously), as well as peanuts, dried coconut, and spices.
The recipes for all parts of this dish came from Hebbar’s Kitchen:
I did make a few changes; I omitted curry leaves in the vada pav because I was having trouble sourcing them, and left out dry mango powder and asafoetida whenever they were called for. Everything was still delicious, though I’d like to try using these ingredients one day. The vada pav recipe also suggested adding a green chili to each roll but I decided that might be too spicy for me.
This is something I’d like to make again, but I think I would form the potato into burger shapes instead of balls and top with a fried egg. It probably wouldn’t be considered an authentic vada pav at that point, but it would be delicious.
Dal Tadka (Lentil Stew with Tempered Spices)
I didn’t feel I could cook food from India without including a dal of some kind. There are many types of dal, made from a variety of different lentils and split beans. This dal tadka is made primarily from toor dal, or split pigeon peas. It is topped with a spiced ghee mixture, called ‘tadka’.
I started by cooking the toor dal, with a small amount of red lentils mixed in. The recipe author says the best dal tadka is achieved by including some red lentils and split chickpeas; I had the red lentils but not the split chickpeas.
In another pan I added some cumin seeds to hot oil, then added ginger, garlic, onion, and green chilies. Next, I added the ground spices: red chili powder, turmeric, and garam masala. Finally, I added the tomatoes and salt. After cooking for a while, I added this mixture to the cooked lentils and simmered for a few more minutes.
At this point, the recipe gave the option to smoke the dal, but I decided not to try that. Instead, I moved right on to making the tadka.
I added some ghee to a saucepan, and when it was hot I added cumin seeds, whole red chilies, and chopped garlic. I stirred in some red chili powder, then took it off the heat and poured the tadka over a bowl of my dal. I added some cilantro leaves as a garnish, and there is basmati rice underneath.
I’ve made dal a few times before, but the recipes I’ve used previously were simpler (and probably less authentic). This is definitely the best dal I’ve ever made; it was delicious!
This recipe is from Indian Healthy Recipes.
Palak Paneer (Cheese and Spinach Curry)
I’ve always wanted to try paneer (an Indian form of cottage cheese), and I decided Indian week was the time! Palak paneer is one of the more popular paneer dishes, in which the paneer is served in a thick spinach sauce. I had initially intended to buy the paneer, but when I found out it was easy to make at home, I did that instead.
Making the Paneer
I poured whole milk into a saucepan and brought it slowly to a boil. I think anyone who’s cooked anything that starts with boiling milk knows it can burn pretty easily, so the key is to take it slow. Once the milk was starting to boil, I turned off the heat and added some vinegar. I stirred for a bit until the curds and whey separated. This looked pretty disgusting but I knew it was working so I was excited!
Next, I poured the contents of the saucepan through a cheesecloth into a bowl to collect the whey. I ran cold water over the curds in the cheesecloth, then squeezed out as much excess liquid as I could. I tied up the cheesecloth and hung it from my kitchen tap (for lack of a better place) for about half an hour. This was to drain off any remaining liquid.
I then squashed the cheesecloth ball so it was flat and put my Dutch oven on top. I filled it with some bags of beans and lentils and such to make it as heavy as possible, and put the lid on. After about 4 hours, my paneer was ready! It looked like a strange solid white mass.
I sliced the paneer and refrigerated until the next day, when I made my palak paneer.
To make this paneer, I used the recipe from Indian Healthy Recipes.
Making the Palak Paneer
I started by sautéing green chilies and a lot of spinach in oil for a few minutes. At the last minute, I added some almond flour, which is one of the recommended substitutes for cashews. (I have nothing against cashews, but I already happened to have the almond flour.) Once this mixture was cool, I pureed it in a blender with a bit of water.
Next, I heated some butter and oil in a saucepan and added whole spices: cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and cumin seeds. I added the onions after a minute or two, followed by ginger and garlic, then tomato and salt, and then garam masala. I poured some water over everything and let the mixture simmer for a bit. Then it was time to add the pureed spinach mixture, along with some dried fenugreek leaves. To finish, I stirred in the paneer and let it cook for just a minute or so to warm through.
I drizzled my palak paneer with a little cream, which is a common garnish, and served with rice.
I wasn’t expecting too much from this dish to be honest, but it was really good. The only thing I would change would be to cut the paneer smaller; the recipe never gave a size so I eyeballed it based on the recipe photos.
The recipe I used is from Indian Healthy Recipes.
Pakora (Vegetable Fritters)
Pakora is a popular Indian street food, and can also be found in restaurants. It’s a fritter made with vegetables coated in a chickpea/gram flour batter and deep-fried.
I chose to make vegetable pakora, which includes onion, potato, and cauliflower as the main ingredients. I grated the onion and potato and finely chopped the cauliflower. Then I made the batter from chickpea flour, ground spices, and water. Here is where I made a mistake. I was halving the recipe but I did not halve the water. Luckily, I did not quite add double the proper amount as I was wary of making the batter too thin. I stopped early thinking there was no way I needed all that water, and I’m glad I did! Next, I mixed in the vegetables, with ginger, chili, and cilantro.
I started frying my pakora but I realized quickly something wasn’t right, as they would not hold together once they hit the oil. I managed to get a workable consistency by adding more chickpea flour, but they still weren’t quite right. They did, however, taste delicious!
I served my pakora with plain Greek yogurt topped with some of the leftover green chutney from my vada pav. I feel like this combination made a good dipping sauce.
If you’d like to make this, I followed the recipe from Recipe Tin Eats. Just don’t add too much water like I did and you’ll have no problems!
Aloo Paratha (Potato-Filled Flatbread)
Paratha is a kind of unleavened flatbread, which can either be plain or stuffed with a variety of fillings. I chose to make aloo paratha, which is stuffed with a potato mixture.
The dough is a mixture of whole wheat flour, salt, oil, and water. Once I had brought it together, I let it rest while I made the filling.
I had boiled the potatoes in advance since I wanted to make sure they had time to cool down. I mashed them, then combined them with ginger, green chili, cilantro, salt, red chili powder, garam masala, ground coriander, and fenugreek leaves.
Next came the more difficult part, though it wasn’t actually that hard. I divided my dough into balls and rolled each out to about 4 inches in diameter. I added some of the potato filling and folded the dough around it, then continued rolling. This resulted in flatbreads with potato filling throughout.
I cooked the paratha over medium-high heat and brushed with ghee before flipping. I think they came out pretty well, and they tasted really good. In India, paratha is often served with Indian pickles, yogurt, or chutney, but I just ate mine as they were.
To make this, I followed a recipe from Indian Healthy Recipes.
Rogan Josh (Lamb Curry)
There are many delicious meat-based dishes I would have loved to make this week, but I settled on rogan josh, largely because it is typically made with lamb and I love lamb. The lamb is cooked slowly in a creamy tomato sauce with lots of spices. Rogan josh originates from the state of Kashmir in the north of India.
I started by cooking the whole spices (cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves) in ghee. Then I added onion, and after a few more minutes I added garlic and ginger. I followed this with the ground spices: paprika, red chili powder, coriander, cumin, turmeric, nutmeg, garam masala, and fennel. I am not sure how authentic the paprika is; I think usually you would use Kashmiri chili powder which gives dishes a red color. However, I did have Kashmiri chili powder so I used that as the chili powder in this recipe in addition to the paprika.
Next, I added some tomato sauce, chicken stock, salt, and chunks of lamb. I used boneless lamb leg since that’s what is easy for me to obtain. It worked just fine, but shoulder is supposed to be better for recipes like this, where the lamb is cooked for a long time.
I let everything cook until the lamb was tender, which took around 2 hours, then stirred in Greek yogurt, as well as some extra garam masala and dried fennel. After another few minutes, the rogan josh was ready.
I served this with basmati rice, naan bread (next dish), and a simple tomato and cucumber salad. I also made a quick raita by combining Greek yogurt with some cilantro, cucumber, salt, and pepper. A raita is an Indian side made from yogurt and commonly served with curries, no doubt because it has a cooling effect.
This was delicious, probably up there as one of my favorite lamb dishes. The recipe I used is from Recipe Tin Eats.
I’ve made naan before, but I knew I wanted to include it this week so I made it again! I used a different recipe this time in an attempt to be more authentic, since the recipe I usually use does not include yogurt. Traditionally, naan is made from flour, water, yogurt, and yeast, and cooked in a very hot tandoor oven.
One thing I need to point out is that if you’ve been saying ‘naan bread’ all this time, you’re really just saying ‘bread bread’ since ‘naan’ is derived from the Persian word for bread. Naan or similar flatbreads are popular not just in India, but also in many places in the Middle East.
These weren’t difficult to make, but you may have to fight with your smoke detector for the best results. Mine is very over-sensitive so I cooked my naan on medium-high instead of high and ran a fan under the smoke detector just in case. I know from experience that although high heat yields the best results, my smoke detector throws a fit.
My naan contained flour, water, salt, sugar, yeast, yogurt, and oil. After kneading the dough, I let it rest for an hour, before dividing into balls. I rolled each one out flat and cooked it in a hot cast iron skillet for a few minutes. Then I brushed them with butter mixed with garlic salt before serving.
These were really good, but I already knew they would be!
The recipe I used is from Rasa Malaysia.
Sweet Lassi (Sweet Yogurt Drink)
A lassi is a yogurt-based drink, which can have various flavors added. Leading up to this week I was pretty sure I was going to make a mango lassi, because that is a variation I’ve seen often. However, it didn’t seem so popular in India. Instead, I was finding recipes for either a sweet or savory lassi. I went with a sweet version.
I whisked together some Greek yogurt, sugar, ground cardamom, rose water, and a little bit of saffron water, and that was my sweet lassi! The saffron water was made by soaking a little saffron in hot milk for a while. As suggested by the recipe, I topped my lassi with some chopped nuts; I used pistachios.
This was delicious and refreshing on a hot day! The recipe I used is from Indian Healthy Recipes; you can also find a savory lassi and a mint masala lassi on the same page.
Masala Chai (Spiced Tea)
I’ve had chai tea before, but for Indian week I wanted to make it from scratch. It turns out to be pretty simple to make!
I boiled some water with a cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, cloves, cracked peppercorns, and fresh ginger slices. Then I added some teabags and let the water simmer gently for a few minutes. Next, I poured in some milk and continued to simmer gently for a few minutes more. I strained the tea and added just a little sugar.
The recipe said to serve hot and so I did enjoy my first cup hot. But I had some left over, and I drank that cold straight from the fridge, since that suited the weather better. Both ways were delicious!
The recipe I used is from Masala and Chai.
Other Popular Indian Dishes
- Idli – a savory rice cake popular as a breakfast food in South India. The rice cake is usually made from fermented rice and lentil batter, though there are a few variations, one of which includes semolina instead. Idlis are usually served with condiments such as coconut or onion-based chutneys.
- Chicken 65 – a spicy, deep-fried chicken dish originating in South India. Usually, it is served as an appetizer. Its name comes from the year it was created: 1965.
- Aloo gobi – a vegetarian dish made from potatoes and cauliflower, cooked with onions, tomatoes, and spices.
- Vindaloo – this dish has Portuguese roots and is traditionally made from pork marinated in vinegar and garlic. The marinated pork is cooked with a range of spices, and can be quite spicy! It is common nowadays to see vindaloo made with other kinds of meat, with beef being the second most popular after pork.
- Tandoori chicken – chicken marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices, typically cayenne pepper, red chili powder, turmeric, and food coloring, in order to give a rather bright red color. The chicken is cooked in a very hot tandoor oven. This dish may have its origins as far back as the Bronze Age, but the modern version was popularized in New Delhi in the late 1940s.
- Korma – meat or vegetables braised in a thick sauce of yogurt, water, or stock, seasoned with spices. There are also vegetarian versions available, which include paneer or nuts instead of meat. Korma is also popular in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
- Murgh Makhani – more commonly known as ‘butter chicken’ outside India, this dish originated in Delhi. It is a curry made from chicken with a rich spiced tomato and butter sauce.
- Pav bhaji – a street food from Mumbai. It consists of a thick vegetable curry served with a soft bread roll.
- Panipuri – a common street food consisting of a deep-fried hollow ball made with semolina, filled with potatoes, onions, and/or chickpeas. Often seasoned with tamarind chutney, chili powder, or chaat masala (an Indian spice blend).
- Dosa – a thin, savory pancake made from a fermented black lentil and rice batter, popular in South India. Usually served hot with chutney and sambar (a lentil-based vegetable stew).
- Kulfi – a denser and creamier version of ice cream, made with condensed milk. Traditional flavors include rose, mango, cardamom, saffron, and pistachio.
- Gulab jamun – balls made from a milk solid and flour dough. They are deep-fried and soaked in sugar syrup, which may be flavored with a variety of ingredients, such as cardamom and rose water. Gulab jamun is often served with ice cream or kulfi.
As I expected, I had a great time cooking food from India this week! It wasn’t as stressful as I had imagined either. Choosing favorites was hard, but I think I will go with the rogan josh, followed closely by the vada pav.
Next week, I will be cooking food from Indonesia.