Indian cuisine is a culinary dream filled with aromatic and fragrant spices, unique cooking techniques, and a variety of types of dishes. The most well-known dishes fall into the category of curry which houses a plethora of different dishes with variable heat levels.
From Korma to Vindaloo, the cuisine caters to all different tastes. Other well-known dishes include parathas, samosas, bhajis, and biryani.
Previously, it has been suggested that a large amount of the Indian population is vegetarian but this is not the case. In fact, only 27% of the population are vegetarian and this varies from region to region, and a lot of the food made in India like the curries is meat-based.
Some curries and other authentic dishes take a lot of time to prepare and that is why Indian takeout joints are always so popular all over the world. That, and generally the spicing always seems to be better.
A takeout of Indian curry is a go-to dish for dinner on chilly nights or when the inspiration at home is severely lacking. Although a takeout curry is easy to do, it can be full of ingredients that are high in fat and sugars and so can be detrimental to your health if eaten too frequently.
Replacing the takeout curry with healthier, lighter alternatives that take just as long to put together is a no-brainer.
On top of that, dinner is a challenging meal to prepare in general as one is often tired after a full day’s work and one has to take into account the different family members’ preferences and whims.
That is why this list is filled with easy-to-prepare recipes that are vegetarian, healthy, and suitable for the whole family. These recipes are not all the “run-of-the-mill” Indian dishes and are some of the most authentic and traditional Indian dishes out there.
Lunch and Dinner Recipes
The first set of recipes are recipes that make great meals for lunch and dinner. If you know you are going to have a busy day, make these recipes for dinner and have them for lunch the next day or even vice versa depending on your schedule and work-life balance.
Makhana Cashew Curry
The first recipe that makes it onto our list of recipes that can be made for lunch or dinner, features a restaurant-style makhana and cashew nut gravy which is super rich, sweet, and creamy.
Makhana is popped lotus seeds that are available to buy on Amazon. In this recipe, they are toasted in a bit of oil in a pan on low heat and then taken out. Then a store-bought onion and tomato curry sauce (a masala works well) is added to the pan, to these spices are added along with cashew nut paste and this is cooked for several minutes on low heat.
Just before serving, the makhana is added. If you cannot find makhana easily, paneer, tofu, or mixed vegetables can be used as a substitute. This simple, creamy curry goes well with flatbreads or rice and is suitable for the whole family.
Kidney Bean Curry
The second curry on our list is the easiest kidney bean curry and is packed with a ton of different vegetables so you will not feel guilty about eating this meal. It is quick and affordable and also vegan and gluten-free.
Although in this recipe kidney beans are the star of the show, any type of beans such as pinto beans, butter beans, black beans, or even garbanzo beans work well in this curry too. It is cheaper to home-cook the beans but if you are short on time, canned is the way to go.
You can use any veggies on hand for this curry depending on what’s in season or what is available. In this recipe, vibrant carrots, zucchini, and beans were used but cauliflower, potatoes, and pea work well too.
Looking for an easy way to use up the zucchini lying around in your fridge? Well, look no further than with this zucchini coconut curry. Using the same onion and tomato masala mix as in the Makhana Cashew Curry, and the addition of coconut milk, the end result is a creamy coconut curry packed with flavor.
The curry can be made even easier by using store-bought masala and uses classical Indian spice mixtures like cilantro, turmeric powder, and garam masala.
If you do not like zucchini or if you are all out, use potato or other squash varieties (pumpkin is nice to use for those fall nights!). Either way, this is a super quick curry to whip up as it takes under 30 minutes to make from start to finish.
These spinach lentils or dal work as a great side to a curry or as a main meal for a lighter dinner served with flatbreads such as roti. It is a staple in Indian cuisine and is a great go-to healthy and hearty meal that is easy to make!
It can be made without an instant pot but if you are catering for a large party of people, an instant pot is a lot easier (for more vegan instant pot recipes, read here). On the stove, the lentils are cooked first, and then the tempering happens as part of a second stage of the recipe, then the spinach is added to the tempered spices.
The cooked lentils are added on top of that with extra spices and the mixture is then cooked together and finished off with some lemon juice. This recipe does not include curry leaves, ginger, or garlic but these spices are great additions to the recipe.
A traditional comfort food, methi dal is usually enjoyed in the winter. Methi is fresh fenugreek leaves but can be substituted with a variety of other leaves such as watercress or celery leaves if you cannot find methi leaves. As long as the leaves you use are bitter, the end result will be the same!
It combines the tempering of cumin, mustard seeds, and grated fresh ginger along with red chili and adds in fresh chopped tomatoes to make a bit of a mushy paste. The leaves and some more spices are added and cooked down before adding the cooked lentils and water and cooking down to thick soup consistency.
This can be served on top of rice or with flatbreads.
Dal Tadka or Tadka Dal is probably one of the most popular lentil-based dishes served in Indian restaurants. Dal Tadka is an ancient dish and was first described in 303 BC as a dish served to guests at great celebrations.
It is, however, a very humble dish made from lentils that are stewed and tempered with oil-fried spices or herbs, that anyone can make. Lentils are packed with protein and in an instant pot, this dish can be made in under 30 minutes.
There are of course many variations of lentils that can be used in this dish, red lentils, yellow pigeon peas, yellow lentils, and brown lentils. For extra creaminess (and if you are not vegan) use ghee instead of the oil to add an extra layer of richness
Ulavacharu or horse gram soup is a typical Andhra dish from the Andhra Pradesh state in India. There are many variations of this dish and it is exceptionally good as a winter dish to serve to the family. Horse gram is a type of legume and is available on Amazon and in health stores.
The key is in preparation- the legumes have to be soaked for at least 8 hours in a few cups of water and washed to remove any impurities. These then get added into an instant pot along with water and when cooked, they are drained.
What follows is blending about ¾ cup of the cooked horse gram along with chili, chopped onion, garlic, and tamarind paste, into a smooth paste, loosening it with some water.
Spices are added into the instant pot in some oil and then the reserved cooking water and the paste are boiled to form a rasam. The Ulavacharu can be served with hot rice and a spiced carrot salad.
Amaranth Leaves Lentils
Packed with iron and with a distinct nutty and earthy flavor, amaranth leaves are a great choice for dal and are super versatile to use eaten in salads raw or boiled in soups and stews.
This recipe follows the same methodology as the other two dal recipes above by cooking the dal first and then tempering it with the leaves to make a complete dish. If you cannot find amaranth at your local stores, use spinach or swiss chard leaves- it will give you the same effect. Serve with some chopped vegetables and rice.
Sorrel Leaves Dal
This vibrant dal uses sorrel leaves as its star-making a tangy yet earthy dal. This follows the same method described above and is served with millet instead of rice. The tempering of the dal uses garlic, green and red chili as well as turmeric, mustard, and cumin seeds. The leaves are then added along with the cooked lentils and peanuts for added texture and a nutty flavor.
Breakfast All Day
This collection of recipes can be eaten for breakfast, or to rustle up dinner after a long day. Most of these recipes consist of dosa or pancakes which can feature as the main event or as a side as part of a meal.
Most of these batters can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge or freezer or the finished product can be frozen and eaten or defrosted at any time.
Chickpea Flour Pancakes
This savory chickpea or gram flour pancakes are filled with grated and chopped vegetables such as zucchini, carrot, cilantro leaves, shredded cabbage, potato, green onions, and spinach. This recipe uses moringa leaves but any leafy green could be used as well.
The pancakes can be baked in the oven or fried on the stovetop depending on what flavor you would like to achieve. They are gluten-free and protein-rich and are so versatile that you can make them fit your needs and preferences so easily.
The second dosa on the list makes use of semolina flour. Semolina flour is a high-gluten flour made from durum wheat flour and has a coarse texture with a yellow color. The high amount of gluten means that it creates an elastic dough that is less sticky.
This pancake recipe is also packed with a wide variety of vegetables and buttermilk or coconut milk. The semolina is mixed together with a garlic and ginger paste, a chili paste, and cumin seeds which are then covered by the milk of choice and water.
After the milk has been absorbed, add the veggies and you will have a thick batter that is fried in oil.
This maybe not-so-healthy dosa recipe is really quick and convenient to make. It involves the toasting of vermicelli on a low flame then this is combined with whole wheat and rice flours, chopped onion, fenugreek leaves, and spices.
Curd and some water is added to the mixture and it is fried in some oil. These take under 10 minutes to make and are utterly delicious.
With the exception of grating the zucchini, this flatbread or paratha recipe takes no time to make and is good to eat hot or cold. The zucchini go unnoticed by kids which means you can sneak some vegetables into their diet.
The key to adding in the zucchini is to get rid of as much moisture as possible from the zucchini before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. These parathas are extremely versatile and can be served with chutney, pesto, or even as a tortilla to accompany Mexican-themed dishes.
This follows the same methodology as the recipe above and is a flatbread that you could serve with any meal of the day and is great with eggs, curry, or dal. They have a vibrant green color and are highly nutritious, not to mention super tasty! You can also add in other herbs such as mint or cilantro leaves for a more flavorful paratha.
A healthy, rich, and simple recipe that can be ready in under 10 minutes if using cooked millet and can be flavored any way you like to suit the meal (breakfast, lunch, or dinner).
Traditionally, the yogurt was mixed in with the leftover rice or millet and would ferment the rice or millet overnight to be eaten in the morning for breakfast.
Puffed Rice Upma
Out of South India, this easy and quickly puffed rice upma is ideal for breakfast as it is ready in just 20 minutes. Upma is usually a cooked thick porridge out of dry-roasted semolina but this version is a popular street food as it is both snack and breakfast rolled into one.
In this recipe, peanuts are added into the upma but any variety of vegetables can be added along with the peanuts. As a non-vegan dish, this goes well with eggs or even yogurt raita.
Millet Capsicum Stir-Fry
Great for utilizing leftover cooked millet, quinoa, or couscous, this stir-fry is an easy option to make for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. As with usual stir-fry recipes, the spices are cooked in some oil over relatively high heat, and the vegetables are added once the spices are fragrant.
The vegetables are then cooked for a few minutes, the cooked millet is added and then finished off with cilantro. Easy as pie!
Millet Lemon Rice
Although this recipe is made with millet, it can be substituted with rice or quinoa. This dish makes for a good side or main and is a favorite for lunch boxes.
This is a great option for meal preparation at the start of the week as you can use precooked millet and make this recipe then use it as a base for meals for the coming week. Add in garbanzo beans or other legumes of your choice to make a complete meal.
Roselle Leaves Rice
Using red sorrel leaves again will result in a millet that is sour in taste and a good source of antioxidants. You can also swop out the red sorrel leaves for any souring agent such as lemon or tamarind paste. Peanuts and other legumes are a welcome addition to the dish.
One-Pot Wonder Meals
Who has time to do the washing up these days? The next set of recipes is made in one pot so that the clean-up is less.
Usually made of rice or lentils, this dish is a feature in many Southern Asian cultures under different names and is suitable for the whole family and is known in the northern parts of India as the first solids babies eat.
Black-eyed peas are used here along with potatoes, carrots, and green beans, and topped with a tempered spice mix makes for a flavorful meal!
Coconut Milk Rice
This spiced coconut rice is to die for and is rich in fats and protein and can be ready in under 40 minutes. The spices used to give aromatics to the coconut milk in this dish include cloves, cardamom, star anise, mace, and bay leaf. Mint and cilantro leaves lift up the finished product, giving it a fresh taste.
This south Indian rice dish means “bubbling up” and is a dish of rice mixed with boiled milk and sugar and can be eaten any time of the day depending on the ingredients. The dish would be akin to a type of breakfast porridge in its traditional form.
This version includes ginger, curry leaves, cumin, and chili and does not include milk or sugar. Peanuts or cashews can be added for a crunch and nutty flavor. It is a versatile dish that can be made any time of the day and is useful when you are short on time.
This mint Pongal is a flavored variation of the original recipe above. Mint is added to cilantro, curry leaves, fresh ginger, green chili, coconut, and curd or yogurt into a blender and is made into a paste.
This paste is then cooked after the spices have been tempered and the millet mixture is then added to the paste along with the curd or yogurt. Nutritious and delightfully simple!
Bisi Bele Bath
This millet or rice-based dish includes masala powder, lentils, peanuts or cashews, and mixed vegetables. The millet or the rice, along with the lentils and the peanuts need to be soaked for at least 30 minutes in water.
The rest of the dish is made in the instant pot- spices are cooked in some oil, vegetables are added, and then the soaked goodies- it is as simple as that!
Different to biryani, this flavored rice is mildly spiced and made extensively in South India. This one-pot wonder is flavored with mint and is made substantial by the inclusion of sprouted mung beans on brown lentils.
Sprouting mung beans increases their nutritional value and is easy to sprout yourself if you cannot get a hold of any at the store. Additionally, a whole bunch of fresh veggies is added to the pilaf to increase the flavor and the health factor.
The addition of coconut milk to the cooking water of the rice gives a creaminess to the dish but is not essential to the core dish.
Brown Lentil Pilaf
Otherwise, known as rice and lentils or the Middle Eastern dish- Mujadara. These lentils do not require any prior soaking and can be swapped out with red lentils if you prefer. Vegetables that go well with this dish are cauliflower, broccoli, green peas, and mushrooms.
The recipe is simple and is essentially layers of elements on top of one another in one pot- saving time and effort.
Baby Potato Pilaf
Can someone say carb-on-carb? This meal works lovely as a side to a protein-containing curry or dal or can be served alone with some tofu, legumes or beans, or even some raita.
The potatoes and the rice are cooked in coconut milk instead of water to give the dish an extra layer of richness. This is a versatile and flexible dish and its ingredients and spice levels can be adjusted to your preference.