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Cooking an Indian meal from scratch can be daunting, even for people who grew up eating Indian food. And while it’s complicated at first to understand all the various spices, flavors and techniques, with a bit of practice and know-how, you’ll soon catch on that most of the recipes require the same stash of spices and ingredients — just used in different ways for different dishes.
If your local grocery store doesn’t have an ethnic foods aisle, you’ll want to make a trip to the Indian grocery store or order items online before cooking your way through these Indian recipes. If you stock up on a handful of essential ingredients and pantry staples, they can be used time and time again for each dish you want to make.
From butter chicken to lentil curry to chocolate barfi, these aromatic Indian recipes are easier than they may seem and will help you explore a vibrant food culture while having a blast in the kitchen.
First, if you plan on cooking classic Indian dishes, some of the spices you’ll need are: red chili powder, turmeric, cloves, cumin, coriander seeds and coriander leaves (also known as cilantro), curry leaves, cardamom and garam masala, which is an aromatic spice blend. Most, if not all, curries also require ginger and garlic, which you can find as a paste known as adhrak laison, which is Hindi for garlic ginger. You can also use whole garlic and ginger as well and grate them directly into the pot.
Generally speaking, Indian food can be spicy, but when done properly it's a delicate balance of flavor and heat. Aloo gobi, which translates to “potato cauliflower,” is a mildly spicy vegetable-based curry with an easy sauce made of tomatoes (either fresh or canned), onions, garlic, ginger and whole cumin and mustard seeds. Like many Indian dishes, this goes great with naan or parathas.
In the arsenal of any Indian cook (whether expert or beginner) is a simple recipe for dhal. Dhal directly translates to lentil, but when cooks refer to it, they generally mean a spiced Indian lentil soup that’s served with rice. You can make dhal any consistency you like — thick and chunky or thin and soupy — and with any kind of lentil. Regardless of your preference, it's super easy to make, naturally vegan and full of spices.
This chicken curry makes the most of basic Indian ingredients like onions, garlic, ginger, red chili powder, garam masala and green chiles. The ginger and garlic are blended into a paste with the green chiles, which breaks down alongside the onions, tomatoes and chicken as they cook. The whole thing comes together in 30 minutes for a speedy weeknight meal.
This soup packs a punch, making it a great remedy for fall sniffles. Ginger is not only a staple in Indian cuisine, it’s also known for its immune-boosting properties and more. Puree the ingredients in a blender, add the spices and leave it to simmer until you’re ready to cozy up on the couch.
This dish can be made with any combination of seasonal vegetables you have on hand. But this recipe is loaded with mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, green beans and baby corn. The veggies are toasted in a cumin-infused oil and then sauteed with butter, black pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Raita is salted yogurt mixed together with herbs, chiles and other vegetables depending on your preference. It’s served as a sauce or a cooling side to rice dishes, but it pairs well with just about any spicy Indian meal. This recipe is similar to a Greek tzatziki with cucumber and yogurt.
This chutney is bright, tangy, sharp and fragrant. Along with raita, it’s one of the best side sauces in Indian cuisine. With mint leaves, a bunch of cilantro, green chiles, ginger and salt, it’s unbelievably easy to make but deep in flavor. You can make this and store it in the fridge to serve with a number of different dishes, or even as a topping for some grilled fish, chicken or vegetables.
Pakoras are the ultimate snack food, typically made with different vegetables coated in a batter of flour and spices. They’re very much like Japanese tempura where the batter can be used to fry anything from peppers and mushrooms to potatoes and spinach leaves. “Aloo” means potato, and these aloo pakoras are basically Indian french fries.
Chole bhatura is a popular street food dish in India, specifically in the Punjab region. “Chole” is Hindi for chickpeas, and they’re served alongside “bhatura,” which is a fluffy, fried bread. This recipe uses a pantry staple can of chickpeas that are cooked slowly in a tangy, hot, rich masala. Even if you don’t make the bread, you can enjoy this in a big bowl with a dollop of cooling yogurt or sour cream.
Dhal makhani is an old-school dhal made with black lentils and kidney beans. Traditionally — and how most Indian moms still make it — it’s cooked slowly for hours over a low flame to achieve a thick and creamy consistency. To update the recipe, you can use a pressure cooker to cook the lentils or even soak them overnight so they break down before cooking. It’s pure comfort food served with a warm, toasty piece of naan.
This vegetarian dish showcases okra in the best way. The savory spices and cumin-infused oil coat the okra and give it a crispy exterior while the inside cooks until tender. The recipe calls for amchur, which is a dried mango powder that adds a tart, tangy undertone to anything you add it to. Feel free to omit it if you can’t find it at the store — the okra will be tasty either way.
Just like rice, roti is a delectable vehicle for all the delicious curries Indian cuisine has to offer. It’s an unleavened flatbread made for mopping up all that flavor. While it takes only three ingredients to make roti, it takes years to perfect the shape and superior thinness. In Indian culture, there is nothing that compares to your mom’s homemade roti. Once the dough is ready, it’s rolled out nice and thin and toasted on a flat pan until it’s evenly cooked — and if you’re particularly skilled, it puffs up like pillows.
While this recipe uses prawns, you can absolutely use shrimp instead as they might be easier to find and less expensive. You need only the basics to make this easy and zesty dish: turmeric, chilli, coriander seeds, cumin, garlic and lemon. Like many Indian recipes, the seafood is seasoned before being added to the oil, which has also been sizzling away with cumin seeds, garlic and chopped chiles to create layers of flavor and spice.
Spices are the backbone of Indian cuisine, and while it’s easy to find already ground spices, many home cooks actually prefer buying whole spices, which tend to be more potent. A mortar and pestle is an incredibly useful tool for grinding spices such as cumin, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and even whole garlic and chiles. In this recipe, coriander is crushed in a mortar and pestle before being added to the pot of other flavors.
If you’re looking for a simple recipe to try Indian flavors without a lot of work, this curried cauliflower and carrots recipe is a solid start. It’s essentially a stir fry of vegetables with the volume turned up.
Also known as murgh makhani, which means “chicken with butter,” this is one of the more popular Indian dishes enjoyed by foodies of all backgrounds. Butter chicken is pan-seared chicken pieces tossed in a creamy curry sauce made with onions, tomatoes and aromatic spices. A splash of cream at the end takes the one-pot dish into silky smooth, rich perfection. It’s best served with warm, fluffy naan or white rice.
This dish is essentially the same as butter chicken but made with paneer instead of meat. Paneer is a popular non-melting soft cheese in India that’s made by curdling milk with lemon juice or some type of acid. It’s similar in texture and shape to halloumi cheese and tastes a lot like cottage cheese. The diced paneer is tossed in a velvety and creamy tomato gravy.
This Indian fudge is a sweet hybrid of Indian flavors with rich, decadent chocolate. Using milk powder, cream, cocoa powder and sweetened condensed milk, you can create a luscious fudge base without adding any extra sugar. For the Indian twist, the chocolate fudge is kissed with earthy crushed cardamom and a sprinkling of chopped pistachios.
The best part of sweltering hot Indian summers is the cold mango lassis served at all hours of the day. Mango lassi blends sweet mangos with plain yogurt, sugar, milk and ice. It’s a lot like a smoothie or a shake, but thinner and much frothier. If you can’t find fresh mangoes, try to look for tin cans of Alphonso mango pulp at your local Indian grocery store.
Rice is a staple in India — served pretty much every day, at any time, with any dish, curry or chutney. Basmati rice is a long-grain variety known for its delicate fragrance and is the perfect accompaniment to any of the curries listed here and countless others. Deliciously fluffy and light, it’s also what’s most often used to make hyderabadi biryani and more hearty specialty rice dishes.
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