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Despite the fact that it can look like straight up poop…

…Indian food is fragrantly flavorful, delicious and downright satisfying.  I swear on my vast 5th grade collection of troll dolls, it tastes SO MUCH better than it looks.

In fact, if I had to pick a favorite ethnic cuisine, Indian would be it. While Thai food also tends to rock my world (clearly, I have low standards if food can achieve this), Indian food still remains like naan other. Bad Indian pun? Perhaps. Maybe it is the naan…maybe it is the unique blend of spices…maybe it’s the fact I can have my veggies and eat my carbs too…or maybe it is just effing delicious. Yes, I think that last one sums it right up.

So, for all you Indian virgins and non-virgins, I know present to you…

The Healthy Everythingtarian’s Guide to Indian Cuisine!

In navigating the waters of Indian food, there is only one place to start: BREAD.

The most common carb you will find on an Indian menu is called naan.  It is a traditional, leavened flatbread that is actually eaten in many countries – including Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  As previously stated, I would marry naan if I could.  It is chewy, carby and makes the perfect scooper to eat.  The best part? It comes in many varieities, including…

  • Butter naan
  • Garlic naan
  • Peshawari naan (filled with nuts + raisins)
  • Keema naan (stuffed with minced meat)
  • Amritsari naan (filled with mashed potatoes, onion + spices)

Roti is very similar to naan but is made with whole wheat flour.  Roti is also commonly referred to as chapati. Another form of bread you will find at Indian restaurants as a starter is papadum.  It is a thin, crispy bread that is eaten alongside dippers – which usually consist of an array of chutneys.

Once you know your bread, you need to know what to dip your bread in!  The people of India don’t really eat with silverware – they eat with their hands!  Usually, it is easiest to break off a piece of naan or roti and scoop up your main dish…

If you are a meat-eater, chicken tikka masala is an excellent place to start.  Chunks of chicken are served in a rich, red, creamy curry sauce.  The sauce is a decadent mix of tomatoes + coconut, and it is heaven.  I promise.  The chicken is first marinated in yogurt then cooked in a tandoor oven, which results in a dish that will literally melt in your mouth.

If you are more into the vegetarian route, look for the word aloo.  This is usually used in conjuction with, for example, gajar.  Still confused? To simplify things, aloo means potato.  Usually, potatoes are paired with another vegetable and mixed with classic Indian spices like turmeric + garam masala to create a spiced, uber-yummy vegetarian dish. Some different types include…

  • Aloo chana (potatoes + chickpeas)
  • Aloo gajar (potatoes + carrots)
  • Aloo gobi (potatoes + cauliflower)
  • Aloo matter (potatoes + peas)
  • Aloo palak (potatoes + spinach)

Indian is a very vegetarian-friendly cuisine.  If you are looking to load up on your 5-10 servings, scan the menu for the word chana, which means chickpea.  Most Indian menus will feature either chana masala or spinach chana.  Mixed with Indian spices, tomatoes and vegetables, it’s an easy and delicious way to sneak in some protein as well.

Another popular dish is tandoori chicken.  Baked in a tandoor oven, this chicken is first marinated in yogurt, doused with tandoori masala (a piquant, fiery spice) and turmeric.  What results is a brightly-colored piece of meat that is soft, succulent and melts in your mouth…

Mulligatawny (Spicy Indian Vegetable Soup) is a classic soup you will also find on many menus.  It’s loaded up with good-for-you turmeric, which is an anti-inflammatory agent and a common antiseptic in Ayurvedic medicine.

This recipe features many popular Indian spices, including (but not limited to)…

  • Cardamom
  • Chilies
  • Cilantro
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Curry powder
  • Garam Masala
  • Garlic
  • Saffron
  • Tamarind
  • Turmeric

Throughout the past decade, Indian food has become more and more available to the masses.  If you don’t have a favorite local Indian joint, there are tons of companies which now make great, quick Indian meals.  This one is Palak Paneer – which is a spinach and cheese dish common in Indian cuisine.

These pre-made packages are really easy to bulk up too with some extra veggies and served over brown rice.  Even though I loathe her, it’s all very Semi-Homemade…Sandra Lee-style.

And of course, I just had to save the best for last: Baingain Bharta.   And trust me, it’s bangin’. Hands down, my fave Indian dish ever.  It is the most delicious mix of eggplant, tomatoes, spices and vegetables, and I cannot thank Northern India enough for this delightful delicacy.

With a huge chunk of garlic naan, this is perfection.

Obviously, there are MANY MORE Indian foods I could talk forever and ever about.  However, I hope this gives y’all a good start on navigating the maze that is an Indian menu…for both you Indian lovers and Indian first-timers!

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