Many people have this misconception that Indian food is filled with intense curry flavor. Although traditional curry dishes are popular, there are tons of other delicious dishes that do involve a number of different spices but don't involve curry powder. So, before you write Indian food off as food you don't like, be aware that there are so many other dishes available at Indian restaurants besides curry in the classic sense.
There are few cuisines out there that are as colorful and full of flavor and delicious spice blends as Indian cuisine. The dishes often simmer for hours in flavorful sauces and spices designed to make your taste buds jump with delight. Many Indian dishes are also very healthy and can be made without cream. The bases of many Indian dishes include spices such as cumin, turmeric, and garam masala, which is actually a blend of spices (none of which include curry powder).
A good way to experience Indian food is to go during a lunch buffet. Most Indian restaurants in the area offer lunch buffets everyday of the week and there is usually a good selection of dishes so there is something for everyone. However, if you can’t make lunch, don’t be afraid to stop in for dinner either. People who are new to Indian cuisine may not always know what to order at Indian restaurants. The menus can be overwhelming, especially for those unfamiliar with the cuisine. I've compiled a list of some of my favorite Indian dishes and categorized them into starters, sides, vegetarian entrees, and meat entrees. I generally skip dessert at Indian restaurants because I don't have much of a sweet tooth and Indian desserts are very sweet.
Starters: My favorite part of the meal
Chicken Tikka – This is similar to the popular tandoori Chicken dish everyone loves. The chicken is marinated and then cooked in a charcoal oven. I notice that usually tandoori chicken comes with the bone on and chicken tikka comes boneless.
Vegetable Samosas – I prefer the veggie samosas to the meat samosas, but for you meat lovers, there is a version for you too. The vegetable samosa usually comes stuffed with a spiced potato and pea mixture and then is wrapped in some sort of dough and fried until crisp. These are heaven. Even if you don’t typically like Indian food, you will most likely enjoy samosas.
Pakoras – There are so many different kinds of pakoras from fish, to vegetable, to paneer (Indian cheese similar to mozzarella), to chicken. Pick whichever one you like. A pakora is simply something dipped in a spiced batter and fried until crispy. My favorite is the paneer pakora.
Chutneys & Sauces – There are three very common sauces, called chutneys that you will see at Indian restaurants. One is a bright green chutney and is usually a mixture of mint and cilantro. This chutney is very cooling. The other is an onion chutney and is red colored and sweet with a bit of a bite from the onion. They also usually serve a tamarind chutney, which is a brownish maroon color and very sweet. It is a great accompaniment to any Indian dish. Another sauce, called raita, is also very popular. It’s a yogurt based sauce and very cooling and refreshing, especially after eating some of the spicy Indian main dishes. All of these sauces go well with most of the main dishes served in Indian restaurants.
Naan – If you have never tried naan, you are missing out. This Indian flat bread is baked in a tandoor oven and comes out puffed and golden. You cannot eat Indian food without ordering naan. It’s used to dip into flavorful sauces or as another utensil, like a spoon, to scoop up bits of chicken or vegetable. There are variations on traditional naan, like garlic naan which are also good options. Many of the other Indian breads, such as pur, roti, and paratha are delicious as well, but naan is my favorite.
Basmati Rice – This is an obvious one. You must order rice to go along with all the food. It soaks up all the delicious sauces and flavors and Indian food just wouldn’t be the same without it.
Palak Paneer (or Sag Paneer) – This is my all time favorite Indian dish. Spinach is cooked in spices with chunks of creamy paneer cheese. It can be made mild or hot. If you don’t care for paneer cheese, Aloo Palak is a good alternative. It’s the same dish, except the spinach is cooked with potatoes instead of cheese.
Bhartha – Eggplant is slow cooked with a variety of spices, ginger, tomato and garlic and is usually served with peas.
Vegetable Korma – Any entree with the word “korma” in it means it’s going to come in a rich, cream sauce. In the vegetarian version, veggies are cooked in the spiced cream sauce. It’s a very decadent dish.
Mutter Paneer – Can you tell I love paneer? In this dish, the paneer is served in a mild sauce with peas.
Chana Masala – Chick peas and tomatoes are cooked in spices. A very flavorful and simple dish.
Chicken Tikka Masala – The chicken is first cooked in a tandoor oven, then simmered in a flavorful red sauce. This is probably one of the most popular Indian dishes around and it’s a great first Indian dish to try for the Indian food virgins out there.
Chili Chicken – Chicken fried with spices and chilies. Delicious, but very spicy.
Chicken Cashmere – similar to the korma sauce, cashmere is also a cream sauce. A decadent, mild dish.
Chicken Curry – Chicken is cooked in traditional curry and spices. Potatoes and onions often accompany this dish.
Chicken Biryani – A rice dish flavored with spices and cooked with chicken. I like to think of it at as an Indian “fried rice”.
Lamb Vindaloo – Lamb is simmered in a spicy brown, red sauce.
Lamb Saagwala – Lamb is slow cooked with spinach and spices.
There are also a number of seafood dishes available too. Many of the chicken and lamb dishes listed above can be made as seafood dishes.
Next time you go to an Indian restaurant, you know what to order. Or, just stop in for a lunch buffet and try a variety of dishes and decide which dish you like best. My favorite Indian restaurant in the area is Palace of Asia, in Lawrenceville.