Indian cuisine presents an interesting dichotomy; it can easily be called a vegetarian’s dream and a vegan’s nightmare. Indian cuisine has a long history of being very friendly to those that follow a vegetarian diet, which is one reason why Indian restaurants are a popular choice for groups with members that follow a fairly diverse range of diet preferences and regimes.
Due to some of the “hidden” ingredients in Indian food including dairy products, especially ghee, eggs and meat based broths, vegans often steer clear. However, with just a bit of information and a bit of attention to the menu there is no reason for vegans to miss out on one of the healthiest and best tasting cuisines in the world.
Here are eight tips and dishes especially for vegans at Indian restaurants:
Nan and chapatti, which are served with practically every Indian meal, often contain milk and milk products. Instead, ask for an order of papadums. Papadums are made from lentil flour and spices which is formed into very thin wafers and cooked over an open flame or fried in hot vegetable oil. Many Indian restaurants have the annoying habit of brushing otherwise vegan dishes with melted butter, so be sure to ask that they either use olive oil or simply leave them plain.
This aromatic rice dish is perfect either as an accompaniment for vegetable dishes or as a main dish. Pulao has a lot in common with fried rice and is typically made with leftover rice along with chutney, tomato paste, and spices. You can mix-in a wide range of vegetables such as spinach, tomato, onion, cabbage or cauliflower. Pulao is also great when served with a fresh salad.
Subzi is the generic name for cooked vegetables. Most of the time subzi is prepared by sizzling spices in hot coconut oil and then adding the vegetables along with a bit of shredded fresh coconut. The spice mixture adds a great taste to the lightly fried vegetables.
Indian soups can present a challenge to vegans as many are made with dairy products or meat based broths. Shorba and Rasam are both vegan friendly and tasty. Shorba is most often found in restaurants with cooking methods and recipes that originated in northern India. Rasam is a tangy, spicy soup is loaded with healthy nutritional and medicinal benefits and is incredibly tasty.
5. Chana Masala
In almost every Indian restaurant, Chana Masala is completely vegan friendly. The traditional ingredients in Chana Masala are chickpeas, tomato, green chilies, onion, garlic, corriander and a blend of spices. Chana Masala goes really well with rice and cauliflower.
6. Paneer and Ghee
Avoid any dish with “paneer” or “ghee” listed as an ingredient. Paneer is cheese; ghee is clarified butter.
Dal is found in most Indian restaurants. This lentil based dish is often made with ghee; however it is worthwhile looking at the ingredients on the menu, as many Indian restaurants prepare the dish with vegetable oil.
8. Check The Vegetarian Options
As we mentioned at the beginning, Indian restaurants have a large number of vegetarian dishes. One plus of dining at an Indian restaurant is the tendency to list all of the ingredients in a dish on the menu as a way of introducing non-Indian customers to the cuisine. Often the vegetarian dishes are also vegan friendly as well. Many dishes, with the exception of dal, are usually made to order, so simply asked your server to substitute a couple of the ingredients. Also do not automatically skip over any dish that says it is “creamy” as Indian cooks have long used nut and coconut milks in recipes.
*a collaborative post with Glow Media.