Curries are important to Indian cuisine in an international market. Northern Indian curries are thick, usually with a tomato base so they can be scooped up by bread. Southern Indian curries are often thinner because they are served over rice. If you are looking for vegetarian options, you will probably favor the cuisine of South India, which is predominantly vegetarian. In contrast, the North has an extensive menu of foods that are meat based, including curries.
The truth is, Indian food is an umbrella name for the many different cuisines of a country that has been largely reduced, in the Western mind, to curries. In the United States, if you ask anyone what a good Indian recipe is, you'll probably get something that has to do with a curry or Chicken Tikka Masala. Great Britain has even named Chicken Tikka Masala a national dish. Chicken Tikka Masala is like nothing you would find being served in India, since it is a concoction thought up by the British craving the flavors of India.
Indian food is disproportionally unpopular in the United States when compared to other Asian cuisines. This is partially because Indian food is perceived as complicated to make coupled with the fact that there is this common misconception that Indian food is simply curries. This is an unfair generalization. Indian food is complex, with even the simplest dishes having quite a few ingredients. In India, flavor is so important that spices and seasonings are found in everything from the first bite of breakfast to the final bite of dessert. Even simple street foods are colored by one of the most expensive spices in the world, saffron. It is hard to ignore the sheer variety and amount of attention that goes into the details of every dish in India, and not just the curries.
Breakfast foods in India are full of flavor. Whereas Americans tend to favor sweet breakfast foods like cereals and oatmeal, Indians favor savory breakfasts like eggs and breads.
- Poha or Powa- this is a dish made of flattened rice and a few other ingredients, like potatoes and peanuts. It is a nutritious meal that can be made in under twenty minutes and is eaten as either breakfast or a snack. It is popular in western India.
- Upma- A dish found on South Indian breakfast plates, this is made from rava, which is a type of wheat semolina, and ghee. It is often served with a chutney or pickle. Since it is cheap to make and has a good flavor, this dish is also served frequently at special occasions.
- Egg Paratha- This is a filling breakfast made form eggs and whole wheat flour.
- Wheat dosa- These take fifteen minutes or less to make and can be eaten with condiments or alone, depending on your personal preference and how much onion and chile you add to the batter. Dosa are very thin, crispy wheat cakes. This savory dish can also be eaten as a snack.
- Soft Idli- A very nutritious breakfast food which can be prepared in under fifteen minutes if you have already prepared the batter. This is a popular comfort food in South India.
- Pongal- This is made of lentils and rice. The added cashews and spices like cardamom give it a lot of flavor. Pongal can also be made into a sweet dish, with raisins and sugar.
Lunches in India are frequently full of vegetables and can be lighter or heavier depending on what a person is planning for dinner. In this country, food is a constant topic of thought and conversation, so it makes sense that by lunch people are already planning dinner. As many vegetables are fried in oil, it can be noted that in the Northern cuisines, most people use peanut and soybean oils to cook. In the Southern cuisines, coconut and sesame oils are used most often.
- Masala Bhindi- Full of okra and many spices, this dish is a vegetarian favorite in India. It gives a good boost of energy for those long afternoons.
- Chana Kulcha- This is a dish primarily comprised of chickpeas that is eaten in northern India. The twist with this dish is mango powder, which gives the chickpeas a nice tang. Chickpeas are a wonderfully versatile food that can be used in many different foods, one of the most familiar to Americans being hummus. Chickpeas are an excellent choice for lunch because they are filling and have some good vitamins and minerals in them.
- Allahabad Ki Tehri- This is a dish full of vegetables, rice, spices, and raisins. It is a popular choice for lunch because it can be made in one pot and there are usually plenty of leftovers for extra lunches or to be eaten at dinner.
- Kolhapuri Vegetables- This dish is made with shredded coconut, spices, and a mix of vegetables that is pretty much up to the cook. It is known to be spicy and very flavorful, thanks to the many spices used.
- Jeera Rice- This dish can be had as a light lunch, or sometimes as a side for a heavy dinner. It is made of rice with some other ingredients like onion, cumin, and cinnamon. Jeera actually translates to cumin, so the flavor of cumin is one of the most dominating in this dish.
Dinner is full of spices. In Northern India, spices are usually prepared and blended together before cooking, with dry spices being favored. In the South, spices are frequently toasted and then ground fresh right before cooking. Sometimes they are bloomed in oil. All Indian food is exceptionally flavorful, but these subtle nuances in how the spices are used do make a difference in the final flavors.
- Chettinad Fish Fry- These fish fillets are marinated in a blend of spices and tomato and then fried. This is a heavy dish that can be paired with something like the previously mentioned jeera rice.
- Galouti Kebab- Minced meat patties are spiced, fried, and served with a side of fresh vegetables or beans.
- Lemon Rice- This dish is one of the most common dinners of South India. Don't let the name of this fool you into thinking it is just lemon juice drizzled over some rice- there are many different variations of this dish with ingredients sometimes including turmeric, black mustard seeds, and curry leaves. These spices and then some give life to rice that may be starting to get old, or that has been leftover in the fridge.
- Keema Biryani- Lamb with rice is always a good combination, and when thrown together with almonds, raisins, ghee and a bunch of spices, it transcends good and becomes incredible.
- Chicken Biryani- Just like the Keema Biryani, but with chicken and eggs instead of lamb, raisins, and almonds.
- Aloo Gobhi- Cauliflower and potatoes are the primary ingredients of this dish. They are covered by a flavorful sauce full of spices and then cooked through.
- Baigan Ka Bharta- This is an eggplant stir-fry flavored with chile, onion, garlic, and a handful of other spices. It is popular at dinner because it has a heavy feel to it, making it perfect for unwinding at the end of the day.
- Lemon Parmesan Fish and Asparagus- This is a lighter dish that can be paired with a heavy side or even rice. It is a dish that can be made in one pan.
Indian desserts are truly on another level. In the northern parts of India, desserts are often made with milk, saffron, nuts, cottage cheese, and clarified butter. In the south, desserts favor nuts and clarified butter, dairy is usually not a main ingredient.
- Rasgulla- This dessert is made of cheese and cooked in a sugary syrup.
- Coconut Balls- These are a popular dessert at street festivals and at special occasions, like weddings. They can easily be eaten in a few bites and are relatively mess free, but you really have to love coconut to enjoy these.
- Cham Cham- The name of this sweet dish is sometimes even used as a term of endearment between couples. It is made with lemon juice and saffron and is exceptionally sweet.
- Payasam- A milk-based dessert, this is a strange one for Western palettes especially because it has pasta in it. It is almost like a sweet, spicy pudding with noodles, which is interesting to Americans.
- Jalebi- This is a dessert but also a wonderful treat for special occasions, sometimes eaten by children as their mothers shop. It is similar to a funnel cake and gets its distinctive color from saffron.
Now that we have scratched the surface of some of the delectable foods available in India, you will see that curries aren't the only stars. There is so much variety, you owe it to yourself to try an Indian recipe or two.