Indian cuisine has offered the world innumerable gastronomic greats — and shaped my kitchen in particular. From butter chicken to rogan josh to biryani, there are plenty of delicious Indian dishes to spice up one’s palate.
The ingredients and styles of cooking in Indian cuisine vary based on region, season, religion, and family tradition.
You can find everything from meat-based curries to vegetarian and vegan dishes, as well as an assortment of spices and ingredients that give each dish its distinct flavor profile.
India’s food culture has evolved through substantial interactions with neighboring Persia, ancient Greece, and the Middle East, responding to centuries of cross-cultural exchange (1).
The resulting dishes are renowned for their rich, spicy flavors and complex aromas. However, the cuisine isn’t just about taste — dishes across the Indian subcontinent are packed with nutrients, meaning they’re also very healthy options.
Here are 8 delicious and nourishing Indian dishes to try.
Keep this in mind
It’s important to remember that cultural identity is intertwined with health, and culture cannot be ignored when considering which foods or dishes are healthy. When it comes to food choices, the concept of “healthy” is subjective and personal.
Many Eurocentric ideas of healthy eating exclude other cultures, which is problematic and perpetuates unhealthy ways of thinking about food.
As a registered dietitian, I believe that healthy dishes use wholesome, minimally processed ingredients, are based primarily around plant foods, and bring you joy.
Indian cuisine — like other South Asian styles of eating — consists of much more than just curry.
A multitude of Indian dishes are cooked from scratch, use ingredients that are close to their original forms, and feature masterful use of spices and cooking techniques. All this gives each dish unique flavors and textures.
Trying to condense the vast cuisine of India into what Westerners call “curry” or “masala” — which really refer to nothing other than spice mixtures in Western culture — is like trying to condense the cuisine of Italy into spaghetti Bolognese.
Chillas are a savory Indian dish closely resembling pancakes. They are infused with spices and served with Indian pickles, sour cream, or plain yogurt. Chillas can also be adorned with chopped cucumber and tomatoes, but they’re just as good on their own.
Chillas are usually prepared with chickpea flour (besan) but can also be made out of sprouted mung beans.
Mung beans are a legume that’s eaten worldwide but especially in Asian countries.
Besides being a rich source of plant-based protein, mung beans contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that have been shown to combat diseases such as diabetes. Test-tube studies suggest that they may provide anticancer benefits as well (
All the same, more human studies are needed.
A popular Indian breakfast dish, poha is made of flattened, flaked rice that’s soaked in water and then tempered in onions and a medley of spices.
When topped with peanuts and peas, it has a delightful texture.
3. Chole masala
Chole masala is an Indian dish primarily made of chickpeas simmered in spiced tomato sauce.
It pairs beautifully with roti (Indian flatbread), bhatura (deep-fried puffed bread), or naan (Indian flatbread typically cooked in a clay oven).
The word “masala” means “spice mix.” Spices such as cumin, garlic powder, chili flakes, turmeric, coriander seeds, and black peppercorns typically make an appearance in chole masala.
Like other types of legumes, chickpeas are high in protein. They provide substantial amounts of eight of the nine essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. This means they’re a solid pick for vegetarian diets (
Along with numerous vitamins and minerals, chickpeas offer a significant portion of heart-healthy fiber. Studies have found that people with or without diabetes who eat more chickpeas are less likely to develop heart disease (
Perhaps the heartiest of Indian dishes, daal is a fragrant lentil curry flavored with cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, garam masala, and other spices.
Daal can be made with a variety of lentils, such as toor daal (split pigeon peas), masoor daal (red lentils), and chana daal (chickpeas). Traditionally, it’s eaten with rice, naan, or roti. It can be served with Indian vegetables and enjoyed as a soup.
For vegetarians, daal can form the basis of a high protein meal.
Compared with other legumes, lentils have the highest insoluble fiber content, as well as high quantities of prebiotic carbohydrates.
Insoluble fiber passes through your gut undigested to help promote bowel regularity. And prebiotic carbs support the growth of gut-friendly probiotics, which may be beneficial for mental health (
That’s because the gut and brain communicate closely, forming the “gut-brain axis.” Notably, gut bacteria may increase the production of mood-enhancing brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin (
5. Alleppey fish curry
Prepared with tender fish, zesty spices, and creamy coconut milk, Alleppey fish curry is a popular Indian dish that brims with sweet and sour flavors.
It comes from the Alleppey District of the Indian state of Kerala, which is known for its delightfully fragrant fish curries. The type of fish is most often Indian mackerel or kingfish, and it’s typically enriched with tamarind or green mangoes.
According to one review, people who eat fish multiple times per week have a reduced risk of death from heart disease. Similarly, a review of 24 studies in 714,526 people associated eating non-fried fish with a reduced risk of heart disease (
The fragrant spices and flavors of India are encapsulated in jalfrezi, a currylike stir-fry known for its many variations. Indeed, cooks from across the world have their own versions of this dish.
Jalfrezi incorporates protein such as chicken or shrimp alongside bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes. Ginger gives it an aromatic flavor, and cloves, cumin, and chiles add a kick that leaves your mouth watering with each bite.
This vitamin is also a powerful antioxidant that helps protect your cells from unstable molecules called free radicals and helps maintain immune health (
7. Masala bhindi
Masala bhindi is a mouthwatering Indian side dish. The star ingredient is okra, which is called “bhindi” in Hindi.
It’s prepared in a spicy tomato-based sauce and served with roti or naan.
While further research in humans is needed, one review suggests that okra has various antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may be helpful in managing symptoms of metabolic syndrome (
Metabolic syndrome is a group of interrelated conditions such as increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and high cholesterol levels — all of which can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
8. Baingan bharta
Baingan bharta is a thrill for the taste buds. It’s made from peeled, mashed eggplants that are oven-roasted or cooked on the stove and then added to a marvelously thick tomato sauce infused with spices such as turmeric and chile.
Turmeric is rich in curcumin, a compound known for its anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, curcumin has been shown to benefit people with inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis — though the exact mechanism is unclear (
Thus, further research in humans is needed.
India’s food culture is rich and has a complex history.
Indian dishes are deliciously spiced and packed with health-promoting nutrients.
This list provides a glimpse into the tremendous variety that Indian cuisine offers. If you’re on the hunt for an exquisitely flavorful experience, try one of the dishes above.
Just one thing
Try this today: If you’re interested in learning more about Indian cuisine, check out our article on thali — a well-rounded Indian food platter whose name comes from the Hindi word for “plate.”