Abundant in vegetables, whole grains, legumes and other protein-rich foods, Indian vegetarian dishes can be great options if you're trying to avoid meat but still want a healthy, satiating meal. In fact, a 2009 study published in “Diabetes Care” reports that people following vegetarian diets generally weigh less than non-vegetarians.
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Here's a list of protein-packed vegetarian foods commonly used in Indian cuisine — plus some flavorful, healthy Indian vegetarian recipes to get you started.
Legumes — such as chickpeas, lentils, green peas, soybeans and kidney beans — are common ingredients in Indian vegetarian recipes. Legumes are not only packed with fiber, iron, phosphorous, potassium and B vitamins, they're also rich in protein: For example, 1/2 cup of cooked lentils provides almost 9 grams of protein, and 1/2 cup of cooked chickpeas contains about 7 grams of dietary protein.
Or, check out this recipe for moong dal, which is an aromatic dish of dal (lentils), spinach and spices.
Many protein-rich dairy foods — such as milk, yogurt and cheese — are commonly incorporated into vegetarian Indian dishes. Calcium-fortified nondairy substitutes, such as soy milk and soy yogurt, are also excellent sources of protein. A cup of milk or soy milk provides about 8 grams, and 1 cup of low-fat yogurt contains about 13 grams of dietary protein. Raita is a popular Indian condiment made with yogurt, cucumber, and spices like coriander, cumin and curry.
Paneer, a fresh cheese common in Indian cuisine, contains about 7 grams of protein per ounce. It can be cooked into a delicious sauce or gravy, often with tomatoes, onions, garlic, spinach and spices.
If you want a dairy-free alternative to paneer, consider tofu — also known as bean curd — which is a plant-based complete protein that makes an excellent addition to vegetarian Indian dishes. A 1/2-cup portion of firm tofu contains about 10 grams of dietary protein. Tofu is also rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3 fats, which makes it heart-healthier than high-fat meats containing saturated fat.
Nuts, such as cashews and almonds, are excellent sources of plant-based protein. One ounce, or about 23 whole almonds, provides about 6 grams of protein, while a 1-ounce portion of cashews contains just over 4 grams of dietary protein. In addition to being protein-rich, nuts are also excellent sources of heart-healthy fats, dietary fiber and vitamin E. If you’re worried about keeping your blood pressure in check, choose unsalted nuts.
For a simple, flavorful snack toss toasted nuts with dried coconut, raisins and Indian spices — like in this recipe.