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Is there anything HEALTHY to get at an Indian place?

A little off topic, but I had to cut back drastically on my Indian food intake (crack, as I call it). Chowhounders love Indian, there's always lots of Indian posts, and they are all torture. :-(

Is there anything HEALTHY to get at an Indian place? I'm guessing some of the chick pea dishes and vegetarian options, but most things seem to come in heavy, creamy curry sauces. And those samosas and onion bahji...oh lord.

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  1. Daal, Aloo gobi, raita and Tandoori shrimp/chicken/fish are all fairly healthy.
    Or try finding a restaurant serving more south Indian style curries. It's usually the northern Indian and Pakistani dishes that use a lot of cream and paneer in their cooking.

    1. I second the recommendation to focus on southern Indian food. By doing so, you'll get dishes made primarily from lentils, chick peas, and other legumes. Sauces will be based on zesty tropical flavors rather than cream. Any Indian restaurant that features "masala dosa" in the menu is more likely to be serving southern food.

      1. I imagine that, depending on how they are served, snacks such as bhel puri or chaat papri could be very healthy. These rank among my favorite Indian treats.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Steve

          I wish that were true! Most chaat preparations have lots of deep fried ingredients. The sev (chickpea noodles), papri (flour tortilla chip), puri (hollow semolina ping-pong balls), dahi vada (lentil fritters soaked in yogurt).. I could go on.. are all deep fried. However, you can still get a fairly okay concoction if you ask for deep fried items to be omitted.

        2. I find the question odd because Indian cooking is about as healthy as you can get. I cook Indian vegetarian dishes regularly without any dairy at all. They use a lot of legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans) flavored with spices but only a little fat. And there are lots of vegetable curries, also low in dairy/fat. The use of cream is limited to some fancier dishes which are easy to avoid. We like paratha which is on the heavy side, but roti or naan are low in fat.

          As others have said, look for Indian restaurants with different menus. There are lots of options.

          6 Replies
          1. re: cheryl_h

            I agree in general but restaurants can use a lot more oil. Also, watch out for coconut cream.

            1. re: cheryl_h

              real homestyle indian cooking may be healthy, but Indian restaurants are NOT healthy. In fact, it's some of the least healthy food you can eat.

              1. re: cheryl_h

                Indian food can be very healthy as you describe it and it is often healthier if prepared at home as restaurants do tend to use a lot of oil.
                Re the coconut cream comment below, it may be high fat and calories, and therefore, you may want to go light on it, but many would dispute that it is unhealthy.
                Everything in moderation.

                1. re: pescatarian

                  paneer, kormas, rogan josh, masalas, and generally most of the curries used in the northern style dishes are staggeringly high in calories and fat.

                  1. re: tamerlanenj

                    agreed, but they can be modifed and made at home with less oil, more vegetables, etc. so that they are very healthy

                    1. re: tamerlanenj

                      Saad / palak paneer isn't traditionally a rich dish. One serving has about 2/3 cup of milk made into fresh cheese and a tablespoon of oil or ghee for sauteeing the greens.

                      Same goes for most vegetable masalas.

                      That said, some Pakistani restaurants use enormous amounts of oil or ghee in those dishes.

                2. There are usually some vegetable dishes (spinach or other greens, cauliflower, okra, bitter melon, eggplant) that don't have a lot of butter or cream. You have to figure out place by place what they are.

                  At Pakistani / northern-style places:

                  - chana masala
                  - tandoori chicken (they always take the skin off)
                  - tandoori fish
                  - biriyani
                  - plain naan

                  At vegetarian southern Indian places:

                  - rasam
                  - chana masala
                  - chana palak
                  - palak paneer
                  - plain paratha

                  6 Replies
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I would say that biriyani has a lot of fat and is very heavy. Onions are fried before they are added and the entire sauce requires a lot of oil.

                      1. re: beany

                        We must be talking about a different dish. The biryani I know has only about a tablespoon of oil per person and no sauce.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          My biryanis are not oily either, and the only liquid is absorbed by the rice. I expect you could make it somewhat heavy if you made lamb biryani with fatty lamb?

                          1. re: cheryl_h

                            Actually, I think you are right, there are two different styles of making biriyani. In my way, the sauce (raas) is made separately from the rice which is coloured and spiced with saffron. The sauce part is made separately, with lots of oil, tomatoes, garlic, ginger and all the other common spices.

                            I just asked my mother who told me our style is East African (Tanzania), I trid to search the net to find a recipe using our methodology, but I couldn't find anything.

                            1. re: cheryl_h

                              I make biryani at home using Shan Bombay Biryani spice mix, which is a packaged mix (just the spices) used at home by Indian cooks. (79 cents, an incredible bargain, and makes a very delicious biryani.) The recipe on the box calls for 1 1/2 cups of ghee, for 3 to 4 cups of dry rice and about 2 pounds of meat (including bones). I NEVER use anything like that much, in fact I've made it without any ghee or fat at all, and it tastes great.

                              In Chicago there is a wide variation among restaurants as to the amount of ghee in dishes; the cheaper restaurants, more frequented by immigrants, tend to be on the heavy side, the one that uses the least tends to be most expensive, although the food is very good and the patrons are about 50% from the subcontinent.