A Persian Egg dish

The Only Five Indian Recipes You Need to Know

India is a large country that’s rich with diverse cultures, religions, traditions, ethnic groups, languages (there are more than 120 languages spoken in India), and of course, food. All that’s to say, it’s impossible to pigeonhole just a few dishes, methods, and ingredients to describe Indian cuisine.

“There is not one type of Indian food,” says Chintan Pandya, chef and partner at Adda Indian Canteen in Queens, NY and Rahi in New York, NY. “Indian food completely depends on what’s grown around you and what region you’re in — taste, texture, and ingredients really vary.”

For instance, North Indian food (what you see in many restaurants) is very different from South Indian food, which tends to be lighter and more simplistic with French nuances.

Like many other major cuisines, Indian food pulls its influences and traditions from surrounding countries and regions. But no matter what region of India you’re in, food as an experience is a huge part of the lifestyle; taking pride in your preparation, local ingredients, fresh spices (like cardamom, cinnamon, garlic, cilantro, red onion), and hosting friends and family is all part of that gastronomical experience.

“Eating together is extremely important in Indian culture,” says Chef Jehangir Mehta, runner up on The Next Iron Chef. “No distractions, nothing allowed at the table, and you’re really paying attention to the experience of eating — chewing, smelling, and what you’re eating.”

If you’re looking to expand your at-home cooking repertoire and haven’t yet dabbled with Indian cuisine, Chefs Pandya and Mehta both share their favorite must-know “traditional” Indian dishes right here. (And yes — they’re all novice-cook friendly!)

Recipe by Chef Chintan Pandya

Originating from South India, this old-school breakfast dish is made with semolina, giving it a hearty and comforting porridge-like consistency. “Upma is very close to my heart because my mother made it for me while I was growing up, and now I eat it with my daughter,” says Pandya. The beauty of it? It’s loaded with healthy vegetables (you can add as many as you want) and kids enjoy it.

1 cup semolina
2 tsp ghee
½ tsp mustard seeds
5 to 6 curry leaves
1 tsp. split Urad lentils
2 chopped green chillies
Chopped ginger
Chopped onion
Chopped tomatoes
Hot water
Salt (to taste)
½ a lime
1 tsp. Cilantro

Heat the pan and dry roast the Semolina; set aside. Heat ghee in a pot and add mustard seeds, letting them crackle. Next, add in split urad lentils and curry leaves; then, continue with the green chilli and ginger. Add in chopped onion and saute until it’s translucent, then add in chopped tomatoes. Salt to taste, then add in dry roasted semolina and mix well. Add in hot water then cook well over medium heat. Finally, add in the yogurt and mix well. Once you achieve your desired consistency, toss in your chopped cilantro and squeeze half a lime over your upma, then serve.

Pro tip: Semolina burns quickly, so roast it first over a slow fire, stirring constantly. If you get this right, the dish will be phenomenal.

Kale Pakoda
Recipe by Chef Chintan Pandya

Pakodas are spiced, batter-fried fritters that are served by street vendors, in restaurants, and traditional Indian homes. There are onion pakodas, eggplant pakodas, plantain pakodas, kale pakodas, the list goes on. That said, it’s not about which veggie, spice, or recipe you use (they all work and they’re all delicious); rather, it’s all about the batter’s deep-fried, crunchy goodness.

Pakodas are traditionally enjoyed as an appetizer or snack along with chai tea — the perfect nosh to whip up in the event your friend visits your home unannounced (which is customary in India). “You can’t not feed your guests,” says Pandya.

½ cup Besan flour
¼ cup rice flour
10 kale leaves
2 chopped green chili peppers
¼ tsp. red chili powder
¼ tsp. turmeric powder
¼ tsp. cumin powder
Chopped coriander leaves
1 T Salt
Tamarind chutney
½ cup Mint chutney
2 cups Sweet & Spiced yogurt
Oil (for frying)

Mix together besan and rice flour, chopped green chili, red chili powder, turmeric powder, cumin powder, chopped coriander leaves and salt; add water and make a batter with those ingredients. Next, heat oil in a wok. Dip the kale leaves in the batter and deep fry in hot oil. Fry the crisps and remove from wok and drain the oil. Top fried kale leaves with tamarind chutney, mint chutney and sweet and spicy yogurt.

Pro tip: For that yummy crunch factor, fry your pakodas twice. The first time, use a lower temperature (300 degrees F to 325 degrees F); let them sit, then go again on high (425 degrees F to 450 degrees F).

Potato Eggs
Recipe by Jehangir Mehta

Potatoes, eggs, garlic, spices — it doesn’t get simpler (or more delicious) than that. This traditional Indian-style skillet makes for a hearty breakfast, or a solid breakfast-for-dinner dish on busy nights. The fun part with this recipe is you can totally make it your own by adding whatever veggies you want, playing with the spice levels, or tossing in some fried lentils. Another added perk: whether you’re master chef status or a kitchen newbie, this dish is an easy one to master while also being a crowd pleaser.

1 small red onion, sliced thin
5 garlic cloves, sliced thin
2 T grape seed oil
1 T cumin seeds
1 T red chili flakes
4 potatoes sliced thin
4 eggs
Salt (to taste)
Micro greens garnish

In a sauté pan add the oil, onions, and garlic and stir for about 5 minutes, until they get a little color. Add the spices and the potatoes and stir. Add about 1/3rd. cup of water, salt, and cover on a medium-low flame. Allow potatoes to cook for about 20 minutes.

Flatten the potatoes and break the eggs on them, salt, and cover again. Let the eggs cook to your desired doneness. Finish by sprinkling herbs on top, then serve.

Pro tip: Try using a cast iron skillet — it gives the potatoes a nice flavorful char.

Seasonal Saag
Recipe by Chef Chintan Pandya

“Saag is a generic term for eating your greens,” says Pandya. The American version of Saag is often just boiled spinach, but the traditional Indian version can blend up to seven fresh vegetables (plus onion, garlic, tomatoes, and garam masala). The dish can be enjoyed as a big vegetarian meal on its own, or as a side. Adds Pandya: “Today’s saag could be different than tomorrow’s, because it’s always made with local veggies that are in season.”

1 oz. greens
½ cup oil
3 ½ oz. butter
⅓ oz. cumin
1 ½ oz. garlic
¾ oz ginger
7 oz. onion
⅓ oz. red chilli powder
⅓ oz. coriander powder
7 oz. tomato
Salt to taste
1 T Garam Masala powder

Start by cleaning the greens, then chop ginger, garlic, onion, and tomato. Heat oil and butter (mixed together), then add cumin; when it crackles, add the garlic. Stir fry until it reaches a brown color. Add chopped onion and cook until it’s translucent, then tomato and cook until they are mashed. Next, add greens, red chilli powder, and salt; keep stirring until the greens wilt and sweat. Add coriander powder, cook for a minute, then finally, finish off with garam masala.

Pro tip: Always use freshly ground spices — if you don’t, it will change the entire taste of the dish. Also, don’t overcook it, because that will discolor the veggies and mess with the dish’s integrity.

Chili Pumpkin Compote
Recipe by Jehangir Mehta

And for dessert: compote is a customary Indian recipe, served warm or cold, as your meal’s finale. Essentially, it’s a fruit-and-spices dessert that you cook on the stove, with the end result taking on a chunky, thickened sauce-like texture. And here’s the best part: it’s low fat, dairy free, gluten free, and thus, mostly guilt free. For a sweet, savory, and spicy take on the dish, Mehta’s version features pumpkin (it’s a fruit, BTW), cinnamon, and some surprise jalapenos.

2 cups white pumpkin, peeled and shredded
3 T grapeseed oil
2 cinnamon sticks
2 small jalapeños, chopped
Salt to taste
1 cup water
4 T melted butter
1 cup almonds, sliced

Heat a pan, then add the oil followed by shredded pumpkin; sauté on medium heat. Add the cinnamon sticks and jalapeño after a minute, then salt. After about five minutes, add the water, cover and simmer until the pumpkin is completely soft and cooked (add more water if needed). Once the pumpkin is about 95% cooked, increase the flame and dry out any excess water. Then, switch off the heat.

Turn the oven on at 375 degrees. Cut phyllo sheets in half. Butter the first sheet, sprinkle almonds, and repeat until all almonds are sprinkled. Place on a nonstick sheet tray and bake to golden. Serve alongside the white pumpkin compote.

Pro tip: Try serving it as a topping for pancakes, waffles, buns, oatmeal, or vanilla ice cream.

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