Ten vegetarian Indian dishes you need to try
There is no better country in which to be a vegetarian, so in the spirit of that statement, here are ten amazing vegetarian Indian dishes that you have to try the next time you’re in an Indian restaurant or ordering in or you’re actually visiting India.
Indian food is incredibly varied and differs so much from region to region. So I find it a little irritating when people – particularly in the west – associate Indian food with the same tired old dishes without realising or understanding the immense diversity of dishes that span the sub-continent. In this article, I’ll highlight my favourites, which for obvious reasons are going to be vegetarian. There is no better country in which to be a vegetarian, so in the spirit of that statement, here are ten amazing vegetarian Indian dishes that you have to try the next time you’re in an Indian restaurant or ordering in or you’re actually visiting India.
Aloo gobi is a delicious vegetarian curry that is made with soft potatoes, cauliflower, and spices. Its yellowish hue comes from the liberal use of turmeric in its preparation. Delicious, light, and healthy, it is a popular dish in both India and Pakistan (with whom we share heritage, history, and ancestry). It is typically served with basmati rice although it is also delicious with all sorts of flatbreads such as naans and parathas.
Kuzhi paniyaram is a delicious fritter-like snack that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. It is also known as paddu or gunta ponganalu and is made with a batter that is made out of black lentils and rice. Although it is usually made as a savoury snack and served with coconut, tomato, or onion chutney, it can also be made sweet by adding brown sugar to the batter. It is one of my favourite tea time snacks, especially during the monsoon season.
Modaks are usually made to celebrate festivals that revolve around the Hindu God Ganesh because it’s one of his favourite foods. The sweet filling on the inside of a modak is usually made with a combination of freshly grated coconut and jaggery, while the outer soft shell is made from rice flour or wheat flour. Modaks are steamed or fried, depending on preference, and are usually served with hot ghee. I like making my modaks a little different by adding chocolate and chopped nuts to make them even more delicious.
If I didn’t include masala dosas on this list, my grandmother would never forgive me. Dosas are made by soaking rice and lentils overnight and then grinding this into a batter with salt. Dosas are made paper thin by swirling the mixture onto a griddle and cooking them on both sides. With masala dosas, once the dosas are cooked, they are stuffed with the masala – cooked potatoes and peas seasoned with spices and mustard seeds and finished with grated coconut, chopped coriander, and lemon juice – and then folded over and served piping hot with coconut chutney. The dish originated in South India and is now popular across India and around the world.
Bhelpuri is a type of chaat that is made with puffed rice, sev (a fried snack that is shaped like thin noodles that is made with besan flour) tomatoes, peanuts, onions, green chillies, spices, and a tangy tamarind sauce. It is a savoury dish that is a classic street food that is sold across the length and breadth of India. It is best eaten immediately after it is made, ideally whilst wandering around and looking at Mumbai's street life. It has a combination of sweet, salty, spicy, and tart flavours in every bite that makes it one of my favourite snacks of all time.
Koftas are usually made out of meat, but not so malai kofta. It’s the perfect vegetarian alternative to meatballs and it’s a delicious labour of love. Malai (meaning creamy) koftas are fashioned out of potatoes and paneer; the addition of almonds or cashewnuts to the mixture makes it very moreish. The koftas are fried and then immersed in a fragrant lightly spiced tomato and cream based curry that is mildly sweet. The dish is typically served with flatbreads such as butter naan.
Chole is a spicy curry made with chickpeas and is also called chana masala. It is made with special chickpeas called black chana which is firmer than other chickpeas when it is cooked and has a distinctive taste. Chana masala is a fairly dry curry with spicy and citrus notes and is flavoured with both coriander and onions. Other ingredients include tomatoes, coriander seeds, garlic, chillies, ginger, mango powder, crushed pomegranate seeds, and garam masala. This is served with bhature or batura, a fluffy deep-fried leavened bread that is both elastic and chewy.
All paneer dishes are my favourites, but if I had to pick an absolute favourite it would be palak paneer. Paneer is a type of cottage cheese that you can easily make at home; once made it keeps in the fridge for a week or so, but in my experience, it never lasts that long. Paneer can be cut into cubes and either deep fried or cooked in curries the way it is. The palak is a spinach-based paste-like curry that is made with pureed spinach and seasoned with ginger, garlic, garam masala, and other spices. Serve palak paneer hot with piping hot basmati rice.
Papri chat or dahi papri chaat is traditionally made with crisp fried dough wafers known as papri, along with boiled chick peas, boiled potatoes, dahi (yoghurt) and tamarind chutney and topped with chat masala and sev. The papri are typically prepared with white flour and ghee or oil. Mint, coriander, and spices are also used. The dish has sweet, sour, tangy and spicy flavours and a creamy and crunchy texture.
There are many different types of halwas in India, but my favourite is wheat halwa, or gothumai halwa. It is made with wheat, sugar, and ghee. The state that I live in, Tamil Nadu, is particularly known for its wheat halwa, particularly Tirunelveli district. Its preparation is a laborious process that "is slowly seeing this sweet disappear." Unlike other sweets, the extra ghee is not drained, but forms a delicious outer layer which increases the shelf life of the halwa.
So the next time you’re walking past an Indian sweet shop, or you’re looking at a menu in an Indian restaurant, try something different. I promise you, you will be pleasantly surprised.