Best Indian Food Appetizers for Entertaining:
Ever heard of "Delhi belly?" If you’ve ever been to India, then you likely have an intimate understanding of that catchy colloquial term. Indeed, the world incredible in India’s banner statement for tourism, Incredible India, can be interpreted myriad ways, and the extent of intestinal discomfort is one of them!
Years ago, during a month-long yoga teacher training course in India’s incredible Himalayan north region, I indulged in daily bowls of rich, spicy curries, chana masala, aloo gobi, palak paneer, crisp papadums, handfuls of garlicky naan, and some of the mystery street food offered just down the road. (And for the record, I don’t recommend following a hot n’ spicy lunch with back bends and happy baby pose--a happy baby quickly gets cranky!)
Speaking of mystery street food... I found these little deep-fried taste bombs in a cart one day. The friendly man scooped up a few nuggets from a deep steel pot, strained the oil, and popped them into a hand-fashioned newspaper pocket. I stuffed my cheeks and went back for more the following day.
As you could have guessed, I got Delhi belly in a way that made me wonder if I was going to die… really. My body didn’t know what to make of the food I’d fed it days on end, amid the heat, exercise, and generous servings of full-fat cream curries. Eventually the "comings and goings" caught up with me and I crawled my way to an Ayurvedic doctor for help. He chuckled at my plight and recommended that I eat something called kitchari for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for three days. According to him, that protocol would heal my intestinal woes lickety split. He ushered me to a diner just up the street with the word kitchari written on a piece of paper.
Kitchari, is an Indian stew with incredible healing properties. Packed with protein, micronutrients, and therapeutic spices, this belly-loving dish is bursting with flavor. (Check out our recipe for kitchari here). As promised, I was back to a happy belly (and baby pose) within three days… phew! Of course, none of that prior discomfort prevented me from re-indulging in the spiced delights at meal time for the duration of my training. But I did make my portions a little more modest.
The Tandoor Oven: Why Indian Food Is Famous
If you love rich, spicy foods then Indian food is probably one of your favorite cuisines. The distinct flavor of many Indian food dishes might have something to do with the incredible tandoor oven. A tandoor is a large clay oven that cooks meats and breads through radiant heat, convection, and smoking. This triple-process requires very little oil and bakes in moisture and succulence. It reaches a very high temperature and can remain hot for a long period of time. You’re probably familiar with tandoori chicken, a fragrant, deliciously-spiced, juicy dish inside a tandoor. Indeed, it’s one of the most popular dishes in Indian cuisine, and it’s grilled inside a tandoor oven.
Another popular pick is chana masala, chickpeas baked in tomatoes and spices. If your gut can handle the spices in masala, then this dish is ace for a nutritious, plant-based diet. It’s loaded with fiber and protein, thanks to the chickpeas, and the tomatoes add a burst of flavor and body. Eat it solo as a stew, or pair it with fresh basmati rice. Follow our easy chana masala recipe below to make your own homespun version.
Vegan Chana Masala Recipe
3 tbsp coconut oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp rock salt
6 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2-3 green chilies, sliced
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 large can of pureed tomatoes
1 large can of chickpeas (approximately 4 cups)
1 tsp garam masala powder
2-3 tsp coconut sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
Heat a large pot on medium heat, then add the oil, onion, cumin, and a third of the salt. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic, ginger, cilantro, and chilies into a rough paste, then add it to the pot.
Stir in the ground coriander, chili powder, and turmeric, adding more oil if necessary. Then, add the pureed tomatoes, chickpeas, and remaining salt. If it looks a bit too thick, add a little water.
Turn the temperature up to medium-high heat and cook until it takes on a rolling simmer. Reduce to low heat and simmer for 20 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and garam masala. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Store in the fridge for up to 4 days. Enjoy!
Another favorite Indian dish is butter chicken. My friend from Delhi made my first-ever acquaintance with this delectable curry. As I gulped and gushed over mouthfuls I’d scooped up in handmade naan pockets, I asked her what was in it, besides the chicken. Does it really contain butter? I asked. Yes, she explained, it has a type of clarified butter called ghee, but the ingredient that makes it so incredible is whipping cream. My eyes widened in response as I swept up another hearty bite. My waistline can’t handle this goodness too often, I thought, smacking my lips. Moderation is key when it comes to rich, spicy, fattening foods.
Indian Food Appetizers
Keep in mind that butter chicken, chana masala, and tandoori chicken are all considered mains in Indian cuisines. There are a hearty number of delicious appetizers out there that make an attractive spread for a cocktail party. Indeed, many Indian food restaurants serve up a tray of tasty snacks to whet the palate, which are often enough to satisfy without even having a main.
Below are a few ideas. It’s virtually impossible to exhaust the list of possible Indian appetizers!
Triangular pockets of dough stuffed with potato, vegetables, spices, and occasionally meat. Deep-fried and paired with chutney. Samosas may be the reason why Indian food is famous!
Paneer is a type of milk curd, also known as cheese. Paneer tikka uses a blend of yogurt and warm spices to cover chunks of paneer, which are then grilled in a tandoor oven.
Deep-fried batter-soaked onion fritters anyone? Yes please! These delicious flavor bombs are best served hot with cucumber and mint raita on the side.
A must-have sweet and cooling complement to any spicy Indian dish, especially meats.
A Word On Street Eats In India...
A trip to India is not complete without a sampling of tasty street food delights. You won’t be disappointed by variety or taste, though Indian food, especially that served up street-style from a cart, has the tendency to burden a sensitive stomach. Sample food in small doses and leave time between samples to ascertain how different dishes affect your digestive system.
If a trip to incredible India isn’t in your near or ever future, hit up local restaurants that have good reviews, use fresh ingredients, and house a tandoor oven to get the most authentic experience.
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From our kitchen to yours, enjoy the hot, fresh naan bread, savory spices, and rich curries of the Indian kitchen!