Indian food is known for its use of herbs and aromatic rice and curry dishes. Though Indian dietary habits vary, depending upon the region of the country, most traditional dishes are prepared with simple ingredients, such as meats, vegetables and spices. According to Mridula Baljekar, chef and author of "Indian Cooking Without Fat," Indian dishes can enhance your wellness, whether you hope to manage your cholesterol levels or lose weight, when prepared appropriately.
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Curry dishes are spicy dishes that contain meat, fish, paneer -- Indian cheese, and/or vegetables, generally served over basmati rice. When dining out, the American Heart Association recommends curries with a vegetable or lentil-base, rather than those that contain creamy sauce, high-fat beef or lamb, which are higher in saturated fat and calories. Nutritious curry dishes include mixed vegetable curry, fish curry prepared in a tomato-based curry sauce and sabzi, or dry, curried vegetables. When preparing your own curries, use olive or canola oil, or non-stick cooking spray, to brown onions, rather than butter, and substitute whole milk and cream with skim or low-fat milk. Season your dishes with spices, such as turmeric, curry powder, garlic and pepper, which are naturally fat-free and low in sodium. When possible, choose brown basmati rice over white rice, for added nutrients and fiber.
Tandoori dishes include breads, such as naan and roti, and meat and vegetable kabobs, prepared in a large clay oven. Many tandoori dishes are low in fat, since the grill itself adds smokey flavor and meats are typically marinated in plain yogurt and natural spices. The American Heart Association recommends tandoori chicken tikka -- white-meat chicken kabobs, as a heart-healthy alternative to korma dishes, which are prepared with high-fat coconut milk. Tandoori roti is made with wheat flour and provides more nutrients and fiber than white breads, such as naan. For further reduced fat, request breads without oil or buttery topping and choose chicken, fish and vegetable kabobs rather than beef or lamb. Tandoori meats are typically served on a bed of vegetables, such as sliced onions and peppers. For additional benefits, request extra vegetables or a fresh vegetable salad on the side.
Lentils are legumes, or starchy, podded vegetables, that provide valuable amounts of fiber, protein and nutrients, such as B-vitamins and iron. Baljekar recommends incorporating lentil-based dishes into your diet, whether you are a vegetarian or not. In addition to their nutritional benefits, she describes lentils as versatile and easy to prepare. Indian dishes prepared with lentils include dal tarka, a spiced lentil soup; dal makhani, a creamy lentil dish; channa masala; chickpea curry; and poppers, lentil "chips," often served as appetizers. Dal tarka is generally lower in fat and calories than creamy dishes, such as dal makhani. When preparing your own dal makhani, substitute low-fat milk for coconut or whole milk for a healthier adaptation. Vegetables make simple, nutritious additions to lentil-based Indian dishes, in restaurants and in your home. Poppers are generally deep-fried at restaurants; however, they can be prepared without oil in your microwave. Since microwaves vary in intensity, experiment with small increments of time to prevent burning.