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Is Indian Food really healthy?

For disclosure, I am not an expert in Indian cuisine.

I have eaten in a few Indian restaurants and really grow fond of Indian food in America, which I am told is more aligned with Northern Indian cuisine. I have picked up a beginner Indian cookbook for a year and really like some of the things I have made. They are tasty.

I think we always have the impression that Indian food is healthy because Indians are largely vegetarian. However, I notice that many Indian recipe calls for liberal use of milk, ghee (clarified butter), oil, conconut oil ... , which are not the extremely healthy. Not to mention that American style Indian food also emphasize on meats, like chicken and goat.

I am not saying Indian food is unhealthy, but it is not extremely healthy neither. What do you all think?

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  1. Eating any type of food in excessive quantity is unhealthy; 1 nan bread is good, eating 4 of them because they are cheap, is not healthy.

    Indian is considered healthy because it uses more vegetables and "legumes" (beans, ,,,) and traditionally a bit less meat than other types (occidental) of cuisine.


    4 Replies
    1. re: Maximilien


      Yes, I notice Indian food use more vegetables and beans, but it also use a lot of oil including conconut milk/oil which is very high in saturated fats.

      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        The unhydrogenated saturated fats may not be as bad as once thought. Coconut oil over half medium chain triglycerides which may have some health benefits since the are metabolized much faster in the liver.

        1. re: scubadoo97

          +1 on the unhydrogenated sat fat.

          Coconut oil is also an excellent source of Lauric Acid. Lauric Acid is an essential fatty acid found in mothers milk that has been proven to act as an antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal agent. Lauric Acid has just 3 dietary sources; small amounts in butter/ghee and much larger amounts in coconut and palm oils. This is so important that they now use coconut and palm oils in infant formula.

      2. "I think we always have the impression that Indian food is healthy because Indians are largely vegetarian."

        Bear in mind that this is more applicable to the southern part of the sub-continent. Meat and fish form a not insignificant part of the cuisine in northern India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

        I have never actually seen it suggested that the cuisine of the sub-continent is inherently healthy (or unhealthy for that matter). As with any other, it is the balance of your intake that is important, together with the overall calories that you consume.

        1. Indian food is healthy because it's made with natural foods and fats. It's not deep fried in canola oil or covered in white flour or sugar.

          4 Replies
          1. re: MandalayVA

            There are deep frying dishes in Indian cuisine. I have a deep fried fish recipe in my cookbook and according to the book, the best of fish is reserved for deep fried. In fact, many of my other Indian dishes are shallow fried in pan. Indians also deep fried bread, like this:


            If Indian food is healthy solely because it is made with natural ingredients, then what isn't healthy? Doesn't all international foods are made natural ingredients? Chinese, Ethiopian, Greek, Thai, German, Japanese...

            1. re: MandalayVA

              Just because something is "natural" doesn't automatically mean it's healthy. And Chemicalkinetics is right -- there is deep-fried foods like pakoras and samosas in the cuisine. Or were you objecting to use of canola oil? Naan is made from white flour. And have you tried Indian desserts? Most of them are very sweet -- way too sweet for my taste.

              My Indian friends (who are from the North) tell me that what they eat at home is nothing like what they eat at restaurants. Having eaten their food (non-vegetarian), I would say the food is a lot less greasy (no pools of oil) and "cleaner" tasting. When I cook Indian food at home, I typically halve the amount of oil (depending on the recipe). I don't cook with ghee but may add a spoonful at the last minute to a dish like dal. It really does add a buttery rich depth that cannot be achieved with vegetable oil alone and adds very little saturated fat to the dish. And depending on who you speak to, there are many people out there who feel that saturated fats are perfectly fine (eg. ghee, coconut oil, lard, etc.) Personally, I try to limit it.

              1. re: Miss Needle

                I agree w/you, MN, based on my trips to India. Not only is the food less greasy but also way more spicy than anything I've had in the States.

                And they do love their sweets, which are too much for my taste.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  I was referring to the oil. When I go out for Indian I usually just go for a saag or curry dish anyway; I stay away from the pakoras and samosas because vegetable oil always seems to be used in frying. If I was told they were fried in coconut oil or lard I'd reconsider. I limit the grains--no rice, maybe a bite of naan right after it comes out because that's when it's best. You are right, there's a lot of Indian places where I'm like "dude, lighter hand with the ghee, please." As for sweets, I don't have a big sweet tooth and since I got off grains it's gotten even smaller. If someone orders gulab jamun I might have half of one ball and that's more than enough sweet for me.

              2. Keep in mind that restaurant food almost always tends to have more oil and fat and cream than home cooking. THat's why it tastes better. ;) I'm North Indian, but cook both North and South indian foods. Dishes with lots of ghee or cream based dishes are a treat in my house, and in most people's houses that I know of. A typical indian meal would be a dal, maybe a meat item, a vaggie and rice or a bread (chapati usually). I don't kow anyone who makes items like chicken makhani or dal makhani or shahi paneer on an everyday basis. Those are usually reserved for parties and other special events.

                1 Reply
                1. re: boogiebaby

                  Agreed 100%.

                  My parents are Bangladeshi and it's usually dal, a veggie, a fish dish, and either poultry or red meat (for those who don't want to eat fish). Starch is usually plain, steamed white rice although my family will eat chapatis (rooti in Bangla) earlier in the day if they're eating desi food at all because it is considered healthier.

                2. I've been eating Indian food since I was a little kid, and in comparison to many of the meals I see people eat on a daily basis, it IS healthier. (I was the weird kid who in the 5th grade, when asked what my favorite food was said Tandoori chicken and naan...) The Indian restaurant I regularly visit doesn't seem to have food that sits in pools of oil, and is generally healthy. There aren't very many fried offerings. Almost every dish contains vegetables, and most of the meals are curries. Slow cooked with lots of spices, some lean meat (chicken or fish seem predominant) and generally delicious. Maybe this is just because of the owners? I don't know. But for me personally, it is better for you than going to McDonald's and getting a Big Mac and fries...maybe that is what the person meant? In comparison it is healthier than what a lot of Americans eat.

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: milkyway4679


                    I don't doubt Indian food is healthier than McDonald, but that sort of set the bar really low, don't you think? Chi-Fil-A is healthier than McDonald too, but I ain't going to say Chil-Fil-A is a health diet.

                    I don't think Indian food is unhealthy, but I also do not see it as a health diet, which I think many believe. Let's me put it this way, if my doctor said to me that I have diabetes with coronary heart diease, I am not sure if eating Indian food is the way to go. Many curries have oil in it. It does not seem like a lot of oil with everything in it but I know my recipes call for tablespoons and tablespoons of oil. It does not look that bad in the mixture of curries, but I know it is in there. As for sweet, Indian sweet deserts are sweeter than most American desserts, that speaks volume of the amount of sugar in them.

                    I am sure you know this. Already, India has the largest number of people with diabetes and the current prediction is that diabetes will explode in India as Indian economy picks up. I am in the healthcare industry and I didn't understand why the prediction model looks so bad for India. I was wondering why would these models predict diabetes explode in a country where everyone eat vegetables. I didn't understand until I started looking into Indian recipes, which then started to make more sense to me.

                    I am not against Indian cuisine. Like I said, I love it which is why I am trying to learn to cook it. I also love a good hamburger too, but I don't pretend a hamburger is a health diet. I have perfect blood work, so I can afford these.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      But keep in mind that you can always adjust the oil content. A cookbook author usually wants to make the dish taste as good as possible. It's not neccessarily to make it as healthy as possible. Even if I follow a recipe for an indian item, I don't add the quantity of oil called for. Sometimes I (gasp) use Pam cooking spray, depending on what I'm making.

                      As for indian desserts, yes, they tend to be sweeter than what Americans are used to, but we also eat them in much smaller quantities. A small 1.5 inch square of burfi or 2 small gulab jamun is typical. It's not like having a large slice of chocolate cake or 2 scoops of ice cream. And most indians don't eat these dessert items on a regular basis -- they are usually reserved for special occasions (weddings, festivals, birthdays, etc).

                      1. re: boogiebaby


                        I agree with you that restaurant foods are not very healthy in any cuisine, in fact. Why the "gasp" in using PAM? I don't use PAM, but is there something I need to know about PAM?

                        1. re: boogiebaby

                          Ha! you have never been to a gulab jamun eating contest at my house then! It was typical for us to have sweets everyday with tea. However, I lived in pakistan and the cuisine is different.

                        2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          there have been studies on genetic connectors to heart disease and diabetes--it is not necessarily food related. (For instance, my doctor told me years ago that peopleof Indian heritage tend to have higher cholesterol levels, but those levels do not equate to as much heart disease as in other vectors. It is still a very murky field.) The "Indian diet" is not homogenous and can be healthy or unhealthy. I don't think it has any more oil/fat than other cooking, in general. I do think a typical home diet in the North (with which I am more familiar) can be very carb heavy. But it doesn't have to be.

                          You cannot compare the amount of sugar in Indian diets to American by looking at sweets/desserts. The portion sizes are totally different. And a burfi made with milk and sugar is not that different in nutritional value than a pudding or creme in the west.

                          I have never heard of Indian as a "health diet."

                          1. re: cocktailhour


                            Yes, there is a genetic dimension to heart disease and diabetes, but I won't say they are not food related. If food is not a variable, then there is little reason to eat better and there certainly won't be a raise in diabete cases in India. It isn't like Indian genetic started to suddenly change in the last 20 years and causing diabetes in India. It is the food intake.

                            1. re: cocktailhour

                              <<The "Indian diet" is not homogenous and can be healthy or unhealthy. >>


                            2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              It is surprising that you are in the healthcare industry and point to sweets as opposed to the huge amount of carbs that is consumed in the South Asian diet when trying to understand healthfulness and the diabetes prediction. Example: as a relatively cheap source of nutrients, rice is a staple. You take a culture who's cuisine revolves around it, remove the physical necessity for the consumption as socioeconomic standards improve, and leave eating habits amongest the masses unchanged, of course there is going to be a spike in related health problems. You are not going to understand the predicted hike from looking at recipes in a book.

                              Boogie gasped because PAM is not traditional and neither is the olive oil that I try to use where ever I can. It effects the dish, but it is in effort to make something healthier. You may also reduce the amount of oil and use water to keep masalas from burning while they cook. Again, not optimal for taste, but most things that taste good aren't good for you. :) Finally, you also have to think about the fact that while there is oil in the dish, how many servings is that oil spread over? I believe it is generally accepted that a South Indian meal consists of [dish] plus a starch.

                              1. re: adrienne156


                                Sweet is not the only thing I pointed out. I pointed out several things and including oil and fat. I think I only mentioned sweet once? Rice does have an effect on diabetes, but it isn't just carbs. White rice will induce a bigger problem for diabetes than brown rice despite similar carb because white rice get converted into sugar quickly. There is something call glucose shock. Just like a oGTT tests. You can/will kill beta cell much faster with sugar than carb. This is rather getting off topic.

                                I don't think you get my original point about the diabetes in India. Of course, diabetes and heart diease will increase as a country economic background change, but there is more to that. It is the actually predict number.

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  My comments were in direct reference to the diabetes you mentioned. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear by my first paragraph about carbs - which I know you know - the body breaks down to sugar. I may have misunderstood your comment about [Indian] sweets having a lot of sugar compared to American sweets. Yes, they do have a lot of sugar, but as other posters have noted, they are consumed in a different manner and quantity than American sweets, so I found that mention misleading in a discussion about healthfulness in a day-to-day diet. Too much vitamin C can have adverse effects if not taken in moderation.

                                  As for my example of rice, I meant white rice. While I'm sure there are communities within the subcontinent that eat other types of rice primarily, I am not familiar with them. I’ve read that Bengalis are known for eating parboiled rice which has a better GI than most white rices, but that is not what I have observed. Btw, most family members of mine that are 50+ on both sides of the family have type 2 diabetes and it is a very common ailment amongst the urban, middle-class Bangladeshi community my parents are a part of here in the States. I really do believe that socioeconomics has a lot to do with the predicted spike.

                                  As others have stated, there are many healthy elements to the South Asia diet, but it is a misconception that vegetables are the center of "the cuisine." I believe it is generally accepted that a South Asian meal is [dish/es] plus a starch and that some sub-cuisines in South Asia are healthier than others. South Asian food certainly can be very fatty. If you do decide to integrate South Asian dishes into your regular repertoire, please do look at the tips that are posted on CH for reducing intake of the “bad” stuff. A lot of the posters on this board – LuckyFatima, Jungmann, Boogie Baby– as well as buttertart and jen kalb (off the top of my head) have posted great tips. Cookbooks and restaurants are not representative of home cooking.

                                  1. re: adrienne156


                                    Like I said, I only wrote about sweet once prior your response. I mentioned many things. I am not sure why you get so excited about one word. I mentioned diabetes projection in a separate paragraph. It would be like I combine your vitamin C comment with the type 2 diabetes statement and say something like:
                                    "It is surprising that you have family member who have type 2 diabetes and point to vitamin C as a reason...."

                                    Yes, I do know carb breaks down into sugar, as I wrote "White rice will induce a bigger problem for diabetes than brown rice despite similar carb because white rice get converted into sugar quickly..." The brown rice comment is not about certain Indian subgroup like to eat brown rice. I fully understand you meant white rice. What I want to say is that it is about glucose shock. The point is that if we are just talking about carb effect, then you think brown and white rice will have similar effect, but they don't. Eating one very sweet desert is actually not good from a glucose shock point of view, but then I do understand most Indians do not eat sweet constantly. That is a separate topic.

                                    Let's step back. My original point is that Indian food may not be extremely healthy or unhealthy. I think it is just as healthy as any, but nothing too particular. Yes, I know economics has a big impact, but like I wrote in my previous respone: "It is the actually predict number" It isn't just there will be an increase or a spike, but also spike looks worset than I thought. That is the final number is quiet high.

                                    For example, we know Japanese have experienced a good economic rise in the last 100 years, right? I am certainly you are also famaliar with Mexican diet as well. It is understood that Mexicans will experience a far worse diet-related health issue than Japanese. Economic has something to do with it, but economic only allows more people to eat what they want to eat, but not force them to eat what they do not want to eat. Japan can have the same economic standing as American (which it has), and it still won't have quiet the same diet problem.

                                    I re-read what I wrote. I can understand why you said the disabete prediction spike is economically driven. I were the one being confusing. I only mentioned there is a spike, but didn't mentioned the final number also looks bad. Of course, there will always be a diabetes spike as a society get wealthier.

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      Isn't the bottom line then, that as a people gets further away from their or any traditional diet the incidence of disease goes up? The people of India were doing fine with their seemingly carb laden diet using, using ghee and coconut oil. It would be nice to see traditional recipes, they obviously worked well.

                                      1. re: just_M


                                        I don't know. Let's take Chinese for example. Most Chinese are not eating too bad now because most Chinese are still not wealthy-wealthy. Some 80% of them are farmers and they don't eat a lot of meat or white rice compared to their wealthy counterparts in the cities. But, as the economy of China booms, more and more people can afford to eat what they "want" to eat. In Chinese culture, white rice is considered better than brown rice, and meat is considered better, especially meat with fat in it. So, one can say that the most Chinese are eating quiet healthy right now because they cannot afford to eat unhealthy. If economic allows, they would eat much less healthy food. Chinese food may not be worse than many Western diet, but it is probably not much much better. I think Mexicans are probably even worse in this regard. I think if Mexicans diet-related health issue can get much worse than in America. This is not quiet the same as Japan. Yes, there are plenty unhealthy foods in Japanese culture as well, but relatively speaking they are not horrible.

                                        So my question really is that: If Indians are allowed to eat what they like to eat (not so much retricted by what they can afford), will the food be just a little worse, or much worse?

                                        1. re: just_M

                                          Well, I can somewhat see what you are saying, but are you really opening the argument of what the "traditional" cuisine is (rather than saying that food is ever-evolving)? :) :)

                                          I agree that formerly rice was less polished, parboiled rice was much more common in many regions, expensive additions like oil, ghee, and meat were more rare, and processed and junk food almost unknown.

                                          But what kinds of disease are you referring to when you say "the incidence has gone up"? With increasing prosperity, the Indian middle class (Like all other wealthy regions like Japan, US, Europe etc.) has experienced a transition from mostly infectious diseases, to mostly chronic and degenerative disease (which is where diabetes comes in).

                                          This transition, plus the Indian genetic predisposition, plus the modern lifestyle (fast paced, stressed, too much rich food and alcohol/smoking and too little exercise, plus people paying lip service to yoga and meditation rather than actually doing them) has definitely led to the sharp increase in diabetes and heart disease among Indians.

                                          1. re: just_M

                                            It's true that Indians were once doing just fine with their carb rich diets, but economic growth and modernization of India has led to much more leisurely lifestyles. Indians have become much more sedentary and are eating more processed foods now. This combo is what is causing the rise in diseases such a diabetes in the country now, it's not just the trend toward other foods that is causing the changes.

                                          2. re: Chemicalkinetics


                                            I totally did not mean to offend and was truly trying to have a discussion about healthfulness of [South Asian] food and be helpful. The vitamin C comment was an analogy... I didn't read your comment about sweets as an analogy. For the sake of this discussion and not being asked if I am familiar with the eating habits of the Ndebele tribe in Botswana, let just say everyone's semantics were off. (I'm literally laughing out loud right now - have fun with me) I will say one thing though - as I was using the term - socioeconomics, and economics are not interchangeable. Food cultures and what they value vary - and I agree with you that you cannot force people to eat what they do not want to eat, but unless it is made very clear that a change is necessary, problems will arise when people can afford to eat what is valued. And, in the case of *some* South Asian cuisines, what is valued is not what is optimal for health.

                                            The rice example was just saying that we South Asians traditionally eat a lot of white rice/carbs in general on a regular basis which isn't good for us. -1 point for the desis.

                                            All in all, I got your main point and agreed with you, but disagreed with your sources. I just wanted you to know that what you read in cookbooks isn't really what happens in South Asian homes on a day-to-day basis.

                                            ETA: This was written before, but posted after your response to just_M. So, we really are on the same page in some respects.

                                            1. re: adrienne156


                                              Sorry. I probably used some languages that are too strong. Anyway, forgive me. See, that is my problem. I thought what Indians value are very healthy and that the impact of economic improvement will be very small on health. That is more people get more money, less people get hungry, but very few people will only eat bad food -- that was my imagine. I thought Indians value food that is much more healthier than Chinese, so I was surprised that the Chinese and India prediction diabete models are not very different. I thought Chinese eat meat and Indian don't eat meat and the Indians should have significantly less diet-related health issue, no?

                                              Anyway, I have some Indian friends from different regions. The Southern Indian guy said that is because Northern Indian foods are very unhealthy with all the cream and fat, and the Northern Indian gal said Southern cuisine has so much rice..... Let me guess, you are from the Northern part? Or your parents are from the Northern part?

                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                My parents are Bengali from Bangladesh (Bengal spans parts of eastern Indian and Bangladesh) and I'm first-generation Bangladeshi/Syhleti-American. Bangladesh is a country in eastern South Asian between India and Myanmar. Bangladeshi bengalis do have their own regional cuisine that uses many of the same ingredients and techniques as other South Asian cuisines, but there is also a heavy Mughal influence as it is a Muslim country. There is biryani, there is korma, there is pulao, there is chaat, there are the different types of curries (bhunas, dopiazas, etc.)... I could go on and on, but day-to-day meals are not dissimilar from what other posters posted here - starch, daal, veggie or two, fish, meat/poultry.

                                                ETA: We eat rice.
                                                Further ETA: A lot of it.

                                2. I would say that Indian cuisine CAN be healthier, but it depends on what you eat. The Indian food that my Indian mother-in-law makes is not actually much like the curries that you get at Indian restaurants; it's more vegetables and much less sauce, and MUCH less oil. When we cook Indian at home, we use canola oil, and never ghee or coconut oil. Maybe not so authentic (except that it might be cooked by my Indian husband), but more healthful ingredients. We always eat vegetarian Indian at home, and try to include dal or chickpeas, so we're getting the protein.

                                  I feel that Indian food in restaurants can have a lot of oil, and many of the items are fried: pakoras, samosas, malai kofta, etc. We pick up a lot of Indian frozen food for busy nights, or boxed lunch items for lunch at work, and I have to look carefully - quite a few of them have more than 50% fat.

                                  Bottom line, I agree with you, it's not necessary extremely healthy.

                                  29 Replies
                                  1. re: Lexma90

                                    OP: I am Indian, born and raised, but now in the West. So you could say I know a thing or two about this.

                                    1. There is an ocean of difference between restaurant Indian food RF), which most posters seem to be referring to, and home cooking HC).
                                    RF is meant to be special party food, and the dishes are richer, more spiced, and use more oil, ghee, whatever.
                                    HC: light, everyday food, minimum oil, and simpler techniques and spices. No-one eats dal makhani, naan, biryani, chicken tikka masala, shahi korma, etc every day.
                                    Every day HC food plate has: i) a grain (rice, wheat, bajra, etc. based, like rotis, chapatis, steamed rice, etc.) ii) "protein" (usually dal, or simpler meat or fish dish) iii) one or two veggie sides and iv) yogurt or similar to end. Something sweet if you insist.
                                    The oil involved in cooking each dish is usually no more than 1 tbsp, which is spread out among 4-5 servings.

                                    Thus: Indian HF is much healthier than RC. The latter is for special occasions.

                                    2. Ghee and coconut oil are used very sparingly at home. The usual cooking oil at home is either peanut or gingelly (light sesame oil). Piles of ghee, oil, nuts, etc are special foods. Like I said above, HC uses very little oil.
                                    The rich ingredients are expensive! An everyday homemaker would bust the budget cooking rich food every day.

                                    3. HC Indian food definitely uses healthier ingredients that stereotypical US cuisines: lots of dals, vegetables, plain yogurt, chapatis, partly polished rice (not 100% white rice). There is very little of the "veggies don't taste good" food mythology there.

                                    4. Most Indians are not vegetarians (another popular mythconception). However, because of cost, most non-veg Indians eat meat less often than in the US and meat is not the front and center huge hunk on the food plate. It's one of the y mandishes.
                                    But compared to other regions in the world, Indian cuisine has the best developed vegetarian tradition without reliance on fake anyfood.

                                    5. Indians do have a high rate of diabetes in recent years it's gone up: partly due to a genetic predisposition, and partly due to the recent changes to Westernized fast food, much richer diets than a generation ago, etc.
                                    But Indian ingredients (e.g. turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, etc.) also have ,many medicinal properties recognized by Western science and chana /chana dal (cicer aretinum) has one of the lowest glycemic indices around and apparently really regulates blood sugar spikes.
                                    If *I* had diabetes, I would load up on chana and chana dal dishes, and for the sake of my heart, I would adopt what's called a "satvik" Indian diet (google that, it's one of the three classifications of ingredients in Ayurveda): lots of light, fresh, vegetarian ingredients, ending with plain yogurt.
                                    Like I said above, coconut oil, ghee, rich sweets etc exist, but are typically sparingly used. If people overindulge, it's not a fault of the cuisine. :)

                                    So: yes, Indian Satvik home cuisine is very healthy. It's not what's found in restaurants and most cookbooks though! :)

                                    1. re: Rasam

                                      I was raised in the West, so my experience is somewhat different from yours. We grew up on a very meat-heavy Pakistani diet and while there was usually some form of vegetable, it was usually a minor component of a meat dish (of which we often had more than one). The average meal was indeed less oily and less spiced than restaurant food, but there was still oil pooled on top of the curry. If we were to eat something drier like kheema matar, it was still accompanied by dal, rice and probably a roti: carbs, carbs and more carbs.

                                      My vegetarian friends, though they did not suffer from oil-topped meat curries, ate not much healthier. They tended to use more ghee (we generally avoided ghee in favor of vegetable oil in our home), ate more fried food and carb-loaded their diet (e.g. vada pav).

                                      Now that I am older and trying to make healthier eating decisions for myself, I tend not to cook the dishes I grew up with because I find it hard to reduce the amount of oil and still have the dish come out properly. Moreover if I were eating samosa chaat, parathas and ras malai as often as my father did, I am pretty sure I'd be about a hundred pounds heavier. There are, however, a few dishes I keep me in my repertoire which are drier and use less oil and I am still wont to keep raita or yogurt with many of my meals.

                                      1. re: JungMann

                                        Jungmann: vada pav, samosa chaat, parathas, and ras malai are all special snacks, which were emphatically not part of our every day meal plans :)
                                        These were occasional foods. Plus I recall from some of your prior posts thatyour family didn't eat a "typical" Indian diet usually?

                                        I can't speak for all of Indian / South Asian background obviously, but I judge from my own experience which seemed to be similar to the other people we knew - obviously a mostly urban and middle class group, not rural people or ultra-wealthy or others.

                                        We ate mostly (not always) South Indian vegetarian food growing up (meat occasionally - it is very expensive)) but we lived in many parts of India and we had friends from all regional backgrounds.

                                        Almost everyone's home cooking, even with regional variations, followed the comparatively simple pattern of rice or roti with dal, 2 vegetables, and yogurt.. There were variations on this theme (more or less elaborate dals, meat/fish instead of dal, etc. And some people no doubt ate more elaborately / richly than others, and no doubt put ghee on whatever they could.

                                        It is also true that rice (white rice especially) is carb heay and dal has carbs too and many people eat too much rice and too few vegetables.

                                        But the underlying foodway in my experience is very healthy and is not to blame for people choosing to load up on the worse elements of the food rather than the better.

                                        That would be like interpreting "the Mediterranean diet" as stuffing on heavy pasta and meat-and-cream rich sauces, with fried cheese to start and heavy desserts to end :) instead of the healthy and light ingredients (olive oil, fish, fruits and veggies and minimal red meat).

                                        1. re: Rasam

                                          I did posit that my experience might not be the same as a native-born Desi. Our diet was not strictly South Asian, but regardless of what we were eating, the meals usually stuck to the same broad outline: one or two meat dishes, rice and/or roti, maybe a sabzi, but more often dal with some vegetables thrown in, and something sweet. We ate samosas, papadum and pakoras fairly frequently -- I can remember my father eating paratha kababs at least twice a week for a time -- and we usually had chaat in the house.

                                          We had monocultural Pakistani friends on whom we would somtimes drop in and their meals usually followed a similar pattern: one or two meat dishes (also oil-topped), dal or channa, rice and/or bread and a sweet dish, usually fruit chaat or a bread pudding whose name I have since forgotten. I can't really recall any veg at their houses, but we grew up thinking of chickpeas, potatoes and to some extent dal as "vegetable" dishes, rather than as accompanying carbs, so perhaps we ate these as vegetables at some meals. Later in life, Gujarati friends introduced me to sweetened and carb-heavier foods like khichri and pav bhaji. My experience with South Indian food is fairly limited, but I do have to say it generally tastes lighter and healthier to me, though it does still seem like a lot of rice and lentils.

                                          I don't know that my childhood meals would be typical back in Karachi or Lahore, but they colored my experience of South Asian food as unbalanced in favor of carbs which we loaded with oil via wet curries. I wonder if moving to the West might be changing emigres' diets, much as southern Italians adopted a far more carnivorous and pasta-rich diet after coming to the US. Or perhaps our parents just made poor nutrition decisions in the 80s. I know that as my father has become more aware, he has reduced his meat consumption, though he cannot seem to break away from eating carbs (rice) with carbs (roti).

                                          1. re: JungMann

                                            I am definately familiar with the oil floating on top dishes and the meat focus. It is my impression that in a 'proper' Pakistani meal the most important dish is the meat based one, but a daal and one or two sabzis are also a must, though the meat dish is the star. I noticed that there is a mythology around meat: men like meat, and eating meat makes people tall, and women like vegetables and chaats and other sour foods (have no idea if this is true scientifically, my guess no, but I always hear people say stuff like this) so it is like you have to make a meat dish everyday for husband/sons. Pakistanis definately eat a lot of vegetable dishes on a regular basis, but the pride of the cuisine are the meat dishes (all of the iconic Pakistani dishes are meat dishes, pretty much). Still there is a lot of excitement over seasonal vegetables and all, like greens in winter and so forth.

                                            It also is my impression that Pakistanis cook more oily rich meaty stuff, especially fancy dishes like biriani and all more regularly in the US than in Pakistan because not only meat but also oil and rice are very expensive for average people and you have to think about how much of these goods you buy in monthly terms. Low income people definately have to limit meat consumption, and very poor people only eat meat a few times a year. In the past few years, food prices have spiked and made it very hard for average people.

                                            I am guessing the bread pudding you forgot the name of was maybe shahi tukray? :-)

                                            1. re: luckyfatima

                                              That's the bread pudding. Thanks for jogging my memory!

                                            2. re: JungMann

                                              Your dad ate rice WITH rotis? I've never heard of a desi doing that!! :)
                                              Not one after another: e.g. first rotis with the various side dishes and then rice with the various side dishes.

                                              I always thought that was the hallmark of people unfamiliar with the cuisine, who say things like "I ate this yummy curry and rice and used a piece of roti bread to sop up the sauce".

                                              Re South Indian food, rice is the staple, and it is eaten with dal, (there are non vegetarian Southern communities so the food is not all veggie - there is a huge coastline after all), but there are so many varieties of dal, and so many hundreds of ways of making the dishes, that they don't seem the same at all. It makes as much sense to lump it all together as saying "well, it's a lot of mead and bread".... re Pakistani food

                                              LuckyF: I've heard that food mythology too in India, and it's alive and well in the West (e.g. the book The Sexual Politics of Meat. Meat is seen as manly and veggies a girly thing, apparently.

                                              1. re: Rasam

                                                I didn't mean to imply that my father would scoop up rice with his roti, but rather that having them both within the same meal strikes me as excessively carb heavy. We didn't do courses so everything went on the same plate -- perhaps the roti was for the sides which he didn't give to his kids.

                                                One of the ironies of growing up multiculturally is that I know what a lot of foods are from experience, but don't necessarily know how it's meant to be eaten (achar is a good example thanks to luckyfatima); I just eat what's put in front of me. I remember going out with the family, having tikka, kebabs and naan to start, then moving onto rice with our wet mains, though it would not be unusual for the kids to also eat more naan with mains because it was such a treat in comparison to our father's charred rotis. Not sure if that marks me as an ABCD. The problems are only further compounded when I repeat one of the stories my father would make up to hide gaps in his knowledge like when he told us paneer was a form of tofu.

                                                1. re: JungMann

                                                  I like your dad's approach :)
                                                  And what I meant by my garbled sentence was that perhaps he ate the rotis first and then rice.

                                                  Another thought to you and LuckyF:
                                                  I can't recall a single instance of home cooking with oil-slick-curry dishes in my growing up. This was seen at restaurants, and people would specifically see it as a feature of restaurant food which was undesirable at home. It has been something new for me to learn from you that this is a normal home cooking feature in Pakistan.

                                                  1. re: Rasam

                                                    About the oil slick curries, I just wanted to clarify that this is considered good and perhaps necessary for the cooking of meat dishes. About a centimeter of oil is afloat on top of the gravy. If veg dishes or fancy rice seem oily people will consider it poorly cooked. I wouldn't say the oily meat dishes are a 'Pakistani' feature because I have had dishes like this in Indian (Muslim) homes, too.

                                                    Yes I realize that food mythologies exist in the West, too (chocolate gives us pimples, oysters enhance libido, etc). Didn't mean to imply that only desis hold such 'irrational' beliefs or anything. Just pointing out that the meat for manly men thing was there.

                                                    1. re: luckyfatima


                                                      Ok, as much as I have no real life Pakistani experience like you do, I have to jump in here. You probably mean "millimeter", not "centimeter". There is no way you can put a centimeter thick of oil. I need to pour 2 cup (472mL) of oil into a 10" pan to get to 1 cm in depth. That volume is more than a can of soda. I think a person will be rushed to a hospital if he consumes that much oil.

                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                        "Ok, as much as I have no real life Pakistani experience like you do, I have to jump in here..."

                                                        Chemicalkinetics: I mean this respectfully, but I have noticed in this thread that South Asian-connected people (especially someone born and raised in India) are telling you about their real life experiences with food and health issues and you keep negating their experience and arguing with them. Sometimes we just need to listen and learn something new. I think it is valid discussing the 'healthiness' of Indian food, but I initially hesitated even answering this query because the way it is phrased "really healthy" implies to me that something/someone (Indian people?, American stereotypes of Indian people?) had deceptively put forth that Indian food was healthy and that the query is some type of myth busting. Who can say an entire cuisine is healthy or unhealthy anyway? There is too much variation in any nation's cuisine(s), especially a place like India which is so very diverse. Plus obviously any cuisine is going to have its healthy and unhealthy features.

                                                        Anyhow, in many Pakistani meat recipes, there are stages of cooking which require shallow frying ingredients in oil. I have read that traditionally the oil on the end result also shows generosity and wealth since oil is expensive. Plus it is hard to get the correct browning affect without all of the oil. Many health conscious people pour off the oil at the end of cooking. Plus, a single recipe is meant for a family of 6 or more so no one eats that much oil, and you can dip your spoon to the side to remove the oil from your serving. If you want to see what such a homestyle recipe looks like with a pic of a layer of oil on top, I mean this:




                                                        1. re: luckyfatima


                                                          I am listening, but I am also questioning as well. If a person is not listening, the person will say something disconnect with the other person's statements. I, on the other hand, is questioning. I am making statements based on what you already said and that is considered as questioning or even debating, but not lack of listening. Did Adrienne and I debate a bit? Sure. But Adrienne basically asked why would I think Indian diabetes go up based on sweet consumption because that is a small component (which Adrienne is correct). I argued back because I never meant to use sweet as a fountain for diabetes prediction in India. I had sweet and diabetes in two separate paragraphs and of course I challenged her back that not all carbs are same and that sugar shock has a bigger effect. So really, we were arguing science. We were nowhere close to arguing about Indian food.

                                                          . I understand there is shallow frying and of course, there will be a layer of oil in shallow frying, but almost always foods are taken out of from the oil. Most of the oil is is not consumed, just like deep frying. What you suggested is "About a centimeter of oil is afloat on top of the gravy." That sound like something to be consume. 1 cm of oil is a lot. That is really a little more than 2 cups of oil or 4 sticks of butter in a typical 10" wide cookware.

                                                          I read the recipe you provided and the pictures look wonderful and I do see a layer of oil. The recipe calls for about "2-3 tbs sunflower oil" or "1/4 cup oil" which is what I have read from other recipes sometime. I am not challenging you from "I know more about Indian food than you do" angle. I have already said I don't. I am questioning from a realism angle, or scientific angle. Even in a small 6 inch wide cookware, it will take a lot of oil to make 1 cm.

                                                          6 inch is about 15.2 cm. Volume = pi x radius^2 x depth. Volume = pi x 7.6^2 x 1 = 181mL. In a 10 inch cookware, it will need even more. It need 506mL of oil -- as I said before, much more than a can of soda.

                                                          1/4cup is 59mL and 3 tablespoons is 45mL. Neither of your recipe cannot produce 1 cm of oil unless you pour the oil into a tiny 2-3 inch wide pot. Again, I have already signaled that I am not challenging you from a culture angle, so don't take it as a cultural insult or anything. I am just asking if you are really sure about the 1 cm claim. If you absolutely stand by the 1 cm statement, then I will believe you. I will - I swear. But know this, I will also assume you poured 1-2 cup of oil into your recipe. I cannot believe 1cm of oil and 3 tablespoon of oil at the same time.

                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                            Well, your theorum is contradicting my practicum. You see, those pictures are real life items I cooked in my own kitchen, and continue to cook fairly regularly. I think shallow frying is the wrong word because one is not meant to remove the fried foods in these recipes. I mean sort of like cooking for a long time in oil, like browning the meat or braising it or reducing the moisture of onions until they are crispy and brown, or reducing water out of tomato or yoghurt, and frying spices until oil rises to the top. That is an integral part of this type of cuisine. I think some of the fat at the top may also be liquified fat drippings from the meat joining together with the oil. My Pakistani recipes actually use less oil than traditional recipes which call for even 1 cup of oil.

                                                            By your scientific eye, does that look like +/-1 cm floating above the gravy or not?

                                                            I give you a challenge: try a traditional recipe like one of these. The dish is not fully cooked until the oil rises up, so you will have to be patient and experiment a bit. But use 1/4 cup oil and see what happens at the end.

                                                            1. re: luckyfatima


                                                              By the way, Fatima is my favorest name. I actually cannot tell if the oil is really ~1cm from this picture.


                                                              I see oil, but it is difficult to gauge from this angle. It looks like 2-3 mm if you have to force me to spill a number. :P

                                                              Yes, I agree that oil from the meat will add to the inital oil you put in and depending what cut of meat, you can get very little to moderate amount of oil. I am going to try your recipe even before your request. It looks very nice. I hope it is not too difficult to make. By the way, my recipe book also says something like "cook until the oil raise to the top". I guess that is a common phrase.

                                                              By the way, if you say your recipe use less oil than traditional recipes which call for 1 cup of oil, then you won the debate. It is what it is. If a cup of oil is call for with additional meat oil, then it will get to 1cm in a small 6-8 inch pan.

                                                              One more question, in the case I want to take on your 1/4 cup challenge, how big a container do I place my finish foods in? Because the oil will be thicker in a smaller container than in a big container.

                                                              Edit: something surprisng, if your 1/4 cup recipe with meat oil get to produce 1 cm thick oil, then the traditional 1 cup recipe will probably get to 2 cm at least then if not 3 cm.

                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                I am not sure about the dimensions of the serving dish, but maybe like 4 inch deep and 6 inch wide or so.

                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                  hi, im new here and came across this thread and found it very interesting.

                                                                  my family is from hyderabad, india. and i was born in pakistan, but moved to america when i was 6. american food was rarely made at home. however, we did on occasion make burgers at home or get pizza or make baked ziti/macaroni or chili. and when i was little, we'd always make french toast, pancakes or waffles for breakfast, but only on weekends. however, indian food was what was cooked most of the time.

                                                                  typical indian meals in my house were like this:

                                                                  1. rice or roti: rice is always basmati and roti was either store bought naan or home made paratha. i've always stuck to one or the other (rice or roti) for any one meal, but i have noticed that some people will eat a small bit of roti first and then have rice. both with the main dish or side dish. i never really got it, but my step dad always did this.

                                                                  2. main dish: this is usually a meat dish. goat, chicken or ground beef are very common. with the dishes that use goat meat, there is usually some vegetables added. for example, we make a whole bunch of different main dishes that start out the exact same way. about 1 lb. of goat meat with bones is put into a pressure cooker with one small onion, sliced, 1 tsb. garlic and ginger minced, small bit of turmeric and chili powders, salt, and about 1/4 cup of vege. oil. when its all cooked, some sort of vegetable is added to this, usually just one, like: tomatoes, spinech, turnips, potatoes, peas, cauliflower, zucchini, squash, okra, green onions, etc. this is cooked till the vege is tender and thats about it. in my house this used to serve 4 people for 2 meals, so thats about a pound of meat with bones for 8 servings, the rest is vegetables. these could usually be eaten just with rice or roti without any side dish. i know that many times my mom would cook these dishes and there would be just too much oil, we'd usually drain out as much as possible. but when i make them, i use less oil.
                                                                  the second type of main dish was dryer. this was usually baked chicken, baked or fried fish, or ground beef. sometimes kabab was used as the main meat part of the meal. i would'nt really say any of these were healthy at all, but certainly there was quite a bit of variety there with the different vegetables everyday or every other day. but the amount of oil used was always a concern for me. me and my sister always had a little joke we'd say after seeing a dish filled with oil, "omg, i might have a heart attack after eating this." doesn't seem so funny now, but we were kids.

                                                                  3. the side dish. this is what i call the wet dish. there aren't too many of these. it was usually either daal or a dish made with just onions, tomatoes, and spices. or daal that had squash in it, or sometimes bagara baingan, which to my was one of the most oily foods ever. it is an eggplant dish, it tastes good, but people always seem to use way too much oil in it. i don't understand, i always used to drain the excess oil.

                                                                  the main "party" food my family made was biryani, basically meat and rice in the same dish. using either chicken or goat, and sometimes shrimp. this is always eaten my itself with just a bit of yogurt with peppers in it.

                                                                  indian desserts we not very common in my house, but gulab jamun (basically this is deep fried pancake batter balls, soaked in sugar syrup, no good for you, but tasty), or kheer (rice pudding) was made for special occasions. the rice pudding i think is fine, but there is one dessert that was notorious as being hated by me at home, just because it was so incredibly greasy. it was called double ka meeta, look it up if you like, but i think its way too rich.

                                                                  for me, i have always been a little confused by it. on the one hand, these are a lot of vegetables used in the cooking. perhaps this is why some people might think it's healthy, but there's often a lot of oil as well. i don't know how thick the oil would be but there were certain dishes that had more than others, such as nihari.

                                                                  1. re: robotlogik

                                                                    Thanks Robotlogik,

                                                                    I think I originally got confused because of the amount of vegetables in Indian/Pakistan dish. When I used to eat at Indian restaurants I simply assume the foods are very healthy because of the lack of meals. However, when I started reading the recipes then I realize many dishes call for more oil than I once thought.

                                                                    I agree with you and other posters that there are plenty healthy Indian dishes and some not so healthy ones. An individual just have to learn to pick and choose. Thanks.

                                                                2. re: luckyfatima

                                                                  Would the right term be "tempering" for cooking the spices in the oil?

                                                                  1. re: adrienne156

                                                                    I don't mean tempering. There must be some obvious term for this, though it is evading me. But then again we don't really have the same technique in American cooking: like bhunna (I have heard people say bhunofying in Hinglish...sorry don't know if u speak Hindi/Urdu or if the terms look similar in Bangla) or cooking out the rawness (kacchapan) of the tomatoes, stove top frying in shallow oil for a long time till the right amount of moisture is gone and the oil rises to the top of the gravy, or adding in water after bhunofying, covering and cooking till the meat is done (gal jaata hai) and the oil has risen up...tempering is baghaar/tarka lagaana and that is a quick stage, not like this. Hmmm, any suggestions for a word?

                                                                    1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                      You know, there really may not be a term for cooking spices in oil until they become aromatic as I read those directions over and over again in cookbooks. I'll ask around to the Aunties.

                                                                      I understand a lot of Hindi, but less Urdu unless spoken slowly. The roots of many words are similar, so I can usually get the gist of conversations. Bhuna is the same, I understand kacchapan because kaccha means raw in Bangla (too?), meat that has been cooked until water is released is referred to as koshano (sp? my Bangla-English spelling is terrible), and adding water/covering/cooking until done has always been an instruction rather than an actual stage: 'pani deye jaal deow' (for others reading, d's in Bangla are spoken as soft d's... more like a heavy "th").

                                                                  2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                    When you are discussing the healthfullness of food, of course you are discussing science. Actually, there have been many appeals to science in this thread. You can't present something as fact in support of an argument and then say 'but, I don't want to talk about it.' And, there was no challenge about the carbs you mentioned from my end, that was a statement you made in response to my single example, Homey. :) And, yes, severe sugar shock is dangerous, but doesn't eating a huge load of white rice create sugar shock as well?

                                                                    Sweets: "...I found that mention misleading in a discussion about healthfulness in a day-to-day diet..."

                                                                    Hey CK, I tend to agree with LuckyFatima about the arguing and as far as I'm concerned we've made our peace and while I am enjoying reading this, I do not want to be brought back in. Hope you get the answers you are looking for.

                                                                    1. re: adrienne156

                                                                      Homey? Where that comes from?

                                                                      Adrienne. I think you misunderstood me or I misrepresent myself. I mentioned oil, fat and sugar as something not so healthy. The diabete model I mentioned is in the next paragraph and these two were not presented as "cause and effect" I mentioned both of them as a way to support my theory. The oil and sugar are what I have experienced but that is only a one-person experience, and I knew that alone is a weak argument. I cannot say the economy is bad because I got layoff. I had to say something more than my own personal experience. Maybe the national unemployment rate, right? The diabetes model is the bigger number. It is what the science community agree and I use that as a support. As in, "if India dishes are very healthy, then why is there a prediction for a huge diabete spike" As in if the economy is great, then why do we have a 9-10% unemployment. It isn't like I said we have 9-10% unemployment because I got layoff.
                                                                      I challenge you this. Go back and read that post and read it closely and see if I said sweet in India causes diabetes or did I actually use both as my evidence to try to support my original post.

                                                                      That is why later I threw a mirror argument back to you in the form:
                                                                      ""It is surprising that you have family member who have type 2 diabetes and point to vitamin C as a reason...." Of course, I know you didn't say vitamin C causew type 2 diabetes, but your two statements about vitamin C and diabetes are also in two separate paragraphs just like mine were.

                                                                      As for white rice get convert to sugar, I know what you mean from the beginning. I also use that as an example to illustrate that my point. Got it, Homey?

                                                            2. re: Rasam

                                                              I have had limited exposure to South Indian food, but I can't recall having oil slick or any really heavy wet dishes, even when they contain coconut milk. My store-bought Pakistani masalas, however, depict oil-topped curries as I recall them:

                                                              1. re: Rasam

                                                                Rasam, I visited home for the first time in a long while and had dinner with the family. We had two meat dishes, fish biryani (which looked and tasted more like shrimp fried rice with biryani masala), bhindi, kachumber, fish kababs and roti. I did notice that dad had both biryani and roti on his plate. Sometimes he might have a bit of the wet dishes with rice, sometimes with roti. It was a larger meal than normal since I hadn't been home in a long time, but I don't think the rice and roti were anything out of the ordinary.

                                                                1. re: JungMann

                                                                  Rice and roti sitting on the same plate for serving convenience is one thing.

                                                                  Using the roti to pick up the rice is something else :) This is what I see in many descriptions by people not familiar with desi food.

                                                                  Did your dad use his roti to scoop up rice+wet dish?
                                                                  Or was it one at a time: rice+wet dish then roti+wet dish?

                                                                  I'll bet $$ it was the latter not the former :)

                                                                  1. re: Rasam

                                                                    He did the latter: rice + wet dish, occasionally breaking off a piece of roti to pick up the same wet dish for a slightly different flavor. We both also primarily relied on roti to eat his karahi gosht. I don't know if that's simply because it's traditional and how we were taught, but I did think using the roti to pick up my food made it easier to get a little bit of gravy with the meat while avoiding the lakes of oil that were in every spoonful of the dish.

                                                2. It really depends on the food and the preparation. Things like butter chicken, vegetable korma, pakoras, samosas etc are not the healthiest. But lots of the vegtetarian options are like Dals, Chana Masala, lentil soup, vegetable curries, Sagg/ Palak dishes, even paneer in small quanities is healthier than many kinds of cheeses. The tandori meats that are dry, without sauces also aren't bad at all...

                                                  I work at an East Indian restaurant and I can always find plenty of healthy, as well as unhealthy things to eat (they are all delicious). We don't use Ghee though. We use olive oil instead (and canola oil for frying).

                                                  Indian food does use lots of healthy spices, which can be health promoting... Ginger, tumeric, garlic, cumin etc...

                                                  At any restaurant the servers or chefs should be able to point you in the direction of the healthier choices.

                                                  1. It is my experience that a large spoonful of lime pickle (Mother's is a great brand) taken at least twice daily makes one pretty much immune to all afflictions.

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: beevod

                                                      I agree with you beevod :) :)

                                                      In my case, it's my actual mother's home made lemon+mangoginger pickle with the stereotypical South Indian "thayirsaadam" (yogurt-rice) that cures whatever ails me, and the next generation thinks so too.

                                                      I must learn to make it before it's too late (though I know theoretically, I've never attempted it), and issues of terroir and climate will affect the result I know. But it's too precious a home remedy to lose.

                                                      1. re: Rasam

                                                        I urge you (from my own experience) to learn it now. Sometimes the unexpected happens. Also bring a digital scale if she cooks by sight/feel, it might save both your sanity. Best to you and yours M

                                                        1. re: just_M

                                                          jlm: I will heed your words. The passage of time only goes one way, alas.

                                                          Re digital scale: I also cook by sight and feel, so it would flummox me. My mother is the trained scientist and I am not, but we cook the home-cooking way, sight, feel, and smell.....

                                                        2. re: Rasam

                                                          What is this lime pickle you both speak of, please? Would love to know more and how to eat it, what it does for the body, etc? Thanks!

                                                          1. re: Val

                                                            Lime pickle is a staple of Indian grocery stores, near to which I am fortunate to live. Or....if you're not blessed, you can order it online....I intensive care units in New Delhi put it in very sick patients' IVs.

                                                            1. re: Val

                                                              There are several different kinds of lime (or lemon) pickle, recipes vary by region and preference for sweet/sour vs hot/sour etc.

                                                              My mom's is a simple South Indian staple, almost no oil: pieces of cut Indian style lime (thin yellow skins) soaked in salt, red chili powder, a little fenugreek, mustard seeds, hing, turmeric. Plus the pieces of mangoginger of course.

                                                              Moroccan preserved lemons are a first cousin, if not an actual sibling.

                                                        3. I've got a question. Many posters above have said that Indian dishes incorporate more vegetables. This has not been the case in my experience. If I order a lamb or chicken dish, chances are it is mostly meat and sauce. Maybe some bell pepper and onion, but certainly not veggie-centric. I love vindaloos and biryani, curries and masala, but unless I order saag or a vegetarian entree, I'm often left wishing I had some veggies in there.

                                                          Is this typical? My experience with Indian is in the DC/VA/MD region and in Los Angeles.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: mojoeater

                                                            If you order a chicken dish, you're going to get chicken. Indian dishes don't normally mix meat and veggies in the same dish. That's why there are multiple dishes served at a meal usually -- rice/bread, a protein (lentils or meat) and a veggie. Usually an indian meal wouldn't just be chicken curry and rice -- it would be chicken curry rice, and some type of veggie like sauteed cabbage, or green beans or something. In a pinch, an indian style salad would be served, such as cucumber, onion, tomato, served plain or with salt, pepper and/or lemon juice. It's eaten as an accompaniment to the meal.

                                                            1. re: boogiebaby

                                                              Again this varies dish by dish.
                                                              CTM or butter chicken - likely no veggies in it.
                                                              Saag gosht - by definition it has greens with the meat.
                                                              Keema matar - by definition peas with the meat.
                                                              Many (not all) korma variations have veggies. Tandoori chicken or chicken masala - no veggies.

                                                              And so on.

                                                              The complete food plate is (like bb said) expected to have all the elements in it, balancing meat and veggies, dry and wet textures, hotter and milder tastes, etc.

                                                            2. re: mojoeater

                                                              Mojoeater, I think this, once again, could be the difference between Indian "restaurant" cooking and Indian "home" cooking. Because I used to think the same thing as you expressed: lentils are good and all that, but where are the veggies -- even in many of the vegetarian dishes?

                                                              However, my mother-in-law is Indian, and when she cooks at home she makes all kinds of more unusual veg dishes. Some fattening ones like methi malai mutter (fenugreek, peas and cream, YUM) but mostly cream-less dishes of spices and veggies like okra or mashed eggplant or peas/cheese, as well as fresh salads of things like shredded carrots or shredded daikon radish, and yogurt. These meals are all chockfull of veggies and are quite healthy!

                                                              She doesn't eat meat, so she wouldn't mix meat/veggies, obviously. But keep in mind that if you were eating a meal at someone's house, for example, in India, that there would be all types of different foods that you would be expected to sample -- notl like in the states where someone typically just has "one" main dish as their meal. So you could mix and match with meat and veg dishes.

                                                              That's my 2 cents :)

                                                            3. like all cuisines, it is as healthy as you make it.

                                                              Take for instance Chicken in north india
                                                              ON one end of the spectrum you can make what we typically had at home which was simply onions, salt, peppercorns sauteed with a bone-in chicken skinned. Thats it. If we wanted a gravy we kept in the water and added some spices. If not, then just boil it all off.

                                                              Every dish I have ever had in a restaurant (even in India) is greasier, oilier, heavier than it would be at home.

                                                              Sort of like the difference between home cooked chinese food and the type you find in eating joints.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: meatnveg

                                                                I object to the general philosophy of "healthy as you make it," because some cuisines and dishes are defined by certain ingredients. A common, and often debated, food is chili. Some say vegetarian chili is healthy. Well, it ain't even chili if it doesn't have meat (and many would say that the only plants that should go in are the chile peppers). If you tinker with it too much, it just stops being that food and is something else.

                                                                As for Indian cuisine being healthy, I don't recall it much of a focus. The only two diets that keep coming up as being healthy (that I recall) are the Mediterranean and Japanese diets; the former is rich in vegetables, fish and healthy fats, and the latter uses very little oil, has a different approach in serving and is low calorie.

                                                                All that said, it's all relative. And, compared to American and French food, just about everything is healthy.

                                                              2. Okay, so I have been reading this thread for awhile now, and I was able to come up with a few points that were not squished to a pulp by others. Work with me here!

                                                                I am not Indian, in fact I am Scottish Canadian. I do however have a love of Indian food, and I am going into the cuisine arts. That being said, I am going to be the peanut gallery.

                                                                Point 1: No one has mentioned, *gasp*, that all countries are effected, whether a small margin, or greatly, by the US and or Europe [England] with food, politics, war, money, and all things medical. That being said, does it not make sense that before wars and all that crap, the influence of Indian food was probably more healthy, more poor, less technology and therefore better health without the stranglehold of US food? For instance, PAM, wonderful stuff, McDonald's, lovely cars, and all the extra bonuses that most poorer of people don't get the luxury of getting? Therefore, does it not make sense that the health, now effected by the not healthy country, effects India, and making it also unhealthy.

                                                                Again, quid pro quo to the point that most Indians don't divulge in sweets everyday, and usually have a minimal, semi healthy meal and not the rich, high class food the world reinterprets to be. :) Okay, thats my vent.

                                                                1. Most of the dishes on an Indian menu are derived from Mughlai cuisine - food served to Mughal emperors - and are thus very rich. Most Indians don't eat like this on a daily basis of course. As a couple of others have said, home style Indian food is way healthier than restaurant style food.

                                                                  Even if you have Indian friends and they invite you over for dinner, they will likely want to cook special dishes rather than what they might eat on a regular basis.

                                                                  If you want to know what healthier options are while ordering at an Indian restaurant, here are some tips...

                                                                  For starters:
                                                                  DO choose a mulligatawny soup or chicken tikka
                                                                  DO ask if you can get pappadums that are microwaved rather than fried.
                                                                  DON’T choose pakoras or samosas as they are deep fried

                                                                  DO order tandoori roti instead of naan as its made with unleavened whole wheat. If they smear on butter, ask them to leave it off.
                                                                  DO enquire if brown rice is an option. Brown basmati rice is becoming widely available nowadays.

                                                                  DO order at least one healthier dish if ordering more than one. Daal or saag (minus paneer and when cream not added) are yummy and healthy too. If the restaurant has vegan options, select one dish that is vegan to avoid excessive cream and butter.
                                                                  DO order tandoori chicken or chicken tikka. They are marinated with yogurt and spices and cooked in a clay oven – relatively healthy.
                                                                  DONT order rich Mughlai curries. This cuisine developed in the kitchens of the Mughal emperors are made to befit a royal table. Though deservedly alluring whether you’re of royal blood or a commoner, curries made mughlai style are laced with cream. Avoid if possible.
                                                                  DON’T order anything with korma in the name or dishes like butter chicken, tikka masala, and malai kofta. I know, they’re yummy but they’re also laden with cream and thus lots of calories.

                                                                  Spice level:
                                                                  DO order spicy food if you can take it. The heat will kick your metabolism into gear. A vindaloo is a great option. It’s spicy and there is no cream in the gravy. But please don’t set your throat on fire. I’ll feel really bad.

                                                                  Last course:
                                                                  DON’T order desserts or if you do, share. Indian desserts are rich and sweet. All that sugar will convert to fat in your body if you don’t burn the calories right away.
                                                                  DO end your meal with finishing up a side of yogurt. It will cool your stomach down and with its probiotic powers will help digest that yummy meal you’ve just had.

                                                                  Hope that helps!

                                                                  (copied from a blog post I wrote)

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: veenaprasad

                                                                    Lacking a tandoori oven in my apartment, I marinate (refrigerated) pieces of chicken overnight in yogurt mixed with a tablespoon of Tandoori Masala then bake in a very hot oven 425*. Lacking time, I serve the chicken with curried spinach made thus: cook and drain two boxes of chopped frozen spinach and mix while hot with 1 tsp each curry powder and garlic powder, salt to taste, and 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese (I know--- don't say it). And lacking proper intolerance of heresy, I serve this meal with good old American baked sweet potatoes busted open and filled with brown sugar and butter. Odd combination: works.

                                                                  2. When visiting a particular country, a globetrotting friend often includes cooking classes taught by native chefs. Her comment to me after cooking classes in India is that they use a LOT more salt than most Americans would realize. This was no surprise to me, since my ankles swell whenever I have eaten the previous day at an Indian restaurant. With some dishes and restaurants, the salt is more obvious that with others.

                                                                    1. Um, you kind of answered your own question. Every cuisine has its healthy dishes and its not so healthy dishes.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: spinachandchocolate

                                                                        If any of you ever get the chance to eat Indo-Fijian food then do-it has a much lower salt and fat level and is still delicious.

                                                                        Indians will insist that it's 'not real Indian food' but it was developed by exiled Indians who ended up in Fiji who did the best with what they had-and it's quite the cuisine they created.

                                                                      2. How timely!!! Just last night I made a fabulous meal of Indian-Spiced Swordfish Steaks (it was a Saveur recipe & the swordfish was suggested as a sub for the fish that would normally be used in India) with sides of Curried Green Beans & Potatoes, & Cucumber Raita - none of which I consider unhealthy at all!! Use of oil was minimal, spice level was healthy & high (garlic, tumeric, cayenne, cumin, coriander, etc.), & it was absolutely delicious.

                                                                        Every single cuisine on the planet has healthy & unhealthy choices. It's all in what you choose to cook & eat. Period. Mediterranean cuisines are all the rage for healthy eating, but even they have dishes that you wouldn't want to be stuffing yourself with all the time. Want to eat on the healthier side of Indian cooking? Avoid dishes like "Butter Chicken", fried dishes, & those that use more oil or butter than you're comfortable with. It's really not that difficult.

                                                                        I LOVE to cook, & currently have a library of hundreds of cookbooks - most of which highlight different ethnic cuisines. I enjoy recipes from all of them, but my mantra is & always will be: MODERATION IN ALL THINGS!!! If followed, than one doesn't really have to worry about whether or not a particular cuisine is "healthy". One can just enjoy it for what it is. :)

                                                                        1. Ghee and Virgin coconut oil are very healthy. The American Standard Diet and their recommendations are not healthy otherwise there wouldn't be so many overweight people around. I'm not Indian and don't eat their food often but don't mind now and then.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: tonitigeress

                                                                            Can you please explain how/why ghee is healthful?
                                                                            Thank you.

                                                                            1. re: globocity

                                                                              Ghee has a high smoke point (250 °C 482 °F) so you can cook and fry with ghee and it will not break down into free radicals like many other oils. It is rich in the fat soluble vitamins, A D and E as well as butyric acid, K2 and CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid.)

                                                                          2. I find this discussion fascinating because I'm of Indian descent and a type 1 diabetic. My mother feels extremely hurt when I tell her the food she cooks is unhealthy for me.

                                                                            She cooks vegetarian food made with very little oil and it is very carb heavy. We don't have dessert every day. But, as people have noted, carbs break down into sugar.

                                                                            A typical meal would be a pullao (rice cooked with vegetables). Not a good meal for me. Or, she cooks roti (bread) with aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower), which isn't good for me either.

                                                                            Just because a meal is low in fat and vegetarian doesn't make it healthy for everyone. Type 2 diabetes is on the rise in India for many different reasons, but one of them is the basic vegetarian diet that people eat. It has way too many carbs and not enough protein. Even if we have daal (pulses) and rice, the amount of rice is excessive.

                                                                            Just my two cents

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Kalivs

                                                                              actually, there is a lot of evidence that red meat consumption increases type 2 diabetes.

                                                                              to get you started:

                                                                              1. re: westsidegal

                                                                                The increase in type 2 diabetes is occurring in veg & non-veg eaters alike in India. I'm not saying that everybody should eat red meat. I don't do that. I was just questioning the assumption that Indian food is healthy because of the preponderance of vegetables.

                                                                                And then healthy for whom? My requirements for good health may be different than yours.

                                                                              2. re: Kalivs

                                                                                Kalivs, you make a stellar point. I am also diabteic and although I grew up eating Indian at restaurants as a child/teen/young adult, about 10+ years+ ago I started avoiding them. The breads are delicious, but not 'healthy' for me, and yet going out to Indian without that delicious Naan is hard! Of course, you can load up on tandoori chicken, tikka masala, or other protein-centric items, but the point is that 'healthy' is open for interpretation and there are ways to eat *every* type of food (Indian, Szechuan, Italian) in healthy or unhealthy ways, IMHO. Every body's idea of 'healthy' is different!

                                                                              3. there is huge variation between how many indian dishes with the same name are prepared.

                                                                                it's all in the preparation.

                                                                                that said, the general absence of cured/processed/chemically treated meat should still count for something.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: westsidegal

                                                                                  <it's all in the preparation.>

                                                                                  Agree. I was young and naive (but cute) when I wrote this original post years ago.

                                                                                2. i found this to be an interesting post and would like to share my thoughts.
                                                                                  i think everyone in this discussion agrees on the following:
                                                                                  1) every ethnic cuisine has healthy and unhealthy foods
                                                                                  2) restaurant food is heavier/greasier than home cooking, as the focus is more on taste and less on health
                                                                                  3) In home cooking also, there is every day food and food for special occasions
                                                                                  4) The "indian" restaurants in US/europe mostly serve mughalai/punjabi cuisine.

                                                                                  I am a south indian who has stayed in various parts of india. Each state, region and community in india has its own cuisine, cooking methods and spices.
                                                                                  For example, the curry powder (garam masala) is not used in south indian cooking. But the spices are used in various combinations.

                                                                                  There is very little oil in home cooking. And we use a lot of vegetables which are fibre rich and low calorie - like plantain stem, snake gourd, bitter gourd etc. You will rarely see these on restaurant menus.

                                                                                  Yes, there is pickle, deep fried popadams, vadas, samosas, sweets etc. But these are not meant to be eaten everyday. In my grandparent's days, these were only for festivals and special occasions.
                                                                                  Daily food is rice (typically it was unpolished white rice or parboiled rice in south and basmati in north) or phulka (made with whole wheat bread and no oild), a vegetable dish, dal based dish and optionally a meat based dish.

                                                                                  Naan is something you get in restaurants even in India and typically not made at home. We rarely use white flour ..it is always whole wheat flour.

                                                                                  I am a vegetarian and this would be my typical lunch box to office:
                                                                                  1) a small cup of rice + sambar + south indian style veg curry
                                                                                  2) 2 phulka + dal + north indian style veg curry

                                                                                  Both require 2 - 3 tsp oil in total for 2 servings and there are no processed ingredients or added sugar.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: diyas

                                                                                    Welcome Diyas...very interesting & informative post!

                                                                                  2. The spices used in Indian cooking are very good for you. Turmeric and garlic for example are nothing but good.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: kagemusha49

                                                                                      yep, and I would add GINGER to being a very very beneficial plant for all of us... turmeric is turning out to be QUITE the anti-inflammatory spice/root! I've been enjoying it fresh lately...grated up and chucked into dark leafy green salad, though the powder form is also very beneficial...don't forget to include BLACK PEPPER with it to increase the uptake of the beneficial properties!

                                                                                    2. I pass through another town occasionally which has a vegetarian Indian restaurant. I'm not a vegetarian myself, but I often stop there for takeout which seems healthy enough to me (and it must to their many ethnic customers as well.)

                                                                                      1. Whoever says Indian food is not healthy need to investigate a little more by going online and look up the benefits. My medicine has been the foods I buy from indian stores. For example the Amla Juice (Goose Berry juice) Keeps my blood pressure normal by simply drinking a capful of it a day. The mustard seeds reduce inflammation. The curry seasoning is so good for overall health it's remarkable. I'd rather go shop in an Indian store rather than American stores any day. I would also say check out the other Asian food stores it's the same story. Also Mediterranean food is awesome and healthy. African foods are very healthy as well. It's the American diet that's basically unhealthy! This is a word to the wise to discover how beneficial different fruits, vegetables, berries which you've never heard of before are!

                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: Melisma

                                                                                          Way to generalize the entire nation -- and all of its stores. Just like the Indian diet, the American diet is quite diverse.

                                                                                          1. re: nedh

                                                                                            And can be very healthful. What you do not find in most Indian/Asian Stores are Local/Sustainable/Organic foods. Usually the Cheapest sourced food you can buy(except for Walmart may be).

                                                                                        2. I think Indian food can be considered healthy because it doesn't use processed ingredients usually, it is balanced in terms of nutrients, and the spices used are rich in essential minerals.
                                                                                          Bear in mind though that this is usually food cooked in Indian homes. If you're eating out, any cuisine in any part of the world is not as healthy because they might fry a little bit more, use more oil, or use processed/pre-made ingredients etc, because taste is what they sell (frying can make almost everything taste good). Also, the dishes served may not be something eaten regularly at home, but only on special occasions, so its okay to be unhealthy once in a while.
                                                                                          Cookbooks also may mention a quantity of oil more than what is actually essential because they might want to again, ensure taste or they may contain recipes that one would serve at a dinner they are hosting, which calls for fancier cooking.

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: chayanika

                                                                                            One really needs to define healthy. To one it's low fat. To another it's high protein and to another it's no meat and to another it's meat and no carbs. Bottom line we don't know WTF healthy is. I tend to not think of something as healthy just tasty and try not to eat an excessive amount of anything

                                                                                            1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                                              Very good point from chayanika and you.