An Indian meal isn’t just food; it’s an entire experience. In North India, most meals are served just like you see in the picture: on a round tray called a thali, with a plethora of curries, chutneys, rice, chapattis or rotis, and sweets all presented in a festival of colors and aromas. It can quite literally be a religious experience as well, since much of Indian cuisine is formed around dharmic beliefs, namely vegetarianism, and many people who love Indian food appreciate that it can offer ayurvedic benefits as well. Northern Indian food is an amalgam of the diverse people that live in that region, with cuisines varying between Delhi, where Mughlai style cooking was born, to Punjab, with its whole wheat staples and distrinct dry spice mix called garam masala. We have the North Indian vegetarian recipes that you need to serve your own thali right at home for your friends and family.
What the Heck Is Ghee?
As you read some of these North Indian vegetarian recipes, you may encounter some terms that are unfamiliar to you. We will break a few of them down for you here, and you can learn some more about Indian ingredients and cooking techniques from a seasoned Indian chef. Many of the ingredients can be purchased in Indian grocery stores, or even online.
Ghee is clarified butter. It is often used to fry or sautee food, and you can either puchase it ready made or make it yourself by heating butter and straining it when it separates.
- Garam Masala
Garam masala is a spice mix that’s used in a lot of these North Indian vegetarian recipes. It’s also available ready made, or you can blend cumin, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, pepper, and cloves.
- Gram Flour
Gram flour is a special flour made from chickpeas. Sometimes it is called besan. You can purchase it in an Indian grocery store.
Authentic Indian yogurt is full fat and very rich. You can also substitute Greek yogurt is you need to.
Paneer is a soft Indian cheese made using yogurt and pressing the curds. If you can’t find any, tofu is a good substitution, because it has a similar texture.
Also called hing, this herb is very pungent, and goes by the nickname devil’s dung. Despite its unpleasant scent, it adds a pleasant onion or garlic taste.
Methi is the name for fenugreek leaves, available at Indian grocery stores, both dried and fresh.
Daal, or pulses, are lentils and a staple food in North Indian dishes. They come in tons of varieties.
Tamarind is a sweet, tangy fruit that comes in a pod and is used in many chutneys and pickles. You can purchase them fresh, dried, or as a paste in many Indian grocery stores.
Traditional Thali Layout
Before we get to the recipes, let’s talk a little bit about an Indian thali–it is a tray, usually stainless steel that is either segmented or large enough to hold multiple bowls and dishes. Though it looks like an awful lot of food, the idea of a thali is to get just enough of every type of food sensation (sweet, sour, bitter, savory, etc.) without overindulging. Vegetable and daal curries are the largest portions, and the first to be eaten. You will situate those in the middle of the thali. The periphery of the thali is stocked with spicy and sour items like lime pickle. You should have a cooling dish or two that is yogurt based, like a raita. Sweets are served alongside the main meal, and are typically eaten last.
No thali is complete without a flat bread like roti or chapatti and a nice heap of long grained rice like basmati. Oh, and the absolute, unbreakable rule about eating food served on a thali? No utensils. Of course, you’re free to use forks if you want (there isn’t a thali police, after all) but if you do go for the authentic hands-only method, remember that it’s rude to use the left one. Okay, there’s your crash course on the thali. Let’s talk about a few of the many North Indian recipes that you’ll find on one.
Vegetable Kofta Curry
Kofta is made by frying (or baking, if you’re trying to keep it a little healthier) little balls of mixed vegetables, and then pouring a lightly spiced gravy over top of them.
For the Kofta:
- 2 boiled potatoes
- 1/2 cup mix vegetables, chopped steamed (carrots, cabbage, beans)
- salt, to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1/4 teaspoon red chilly powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garam masala
- 2 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- Ghee, for deep-frying, optional
For the Gravy:
- 2 diced onions
- 1 chopped tomato
- 4-5 cashews
- 2 teaspoon yogurt
- 2 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste
- 1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/2 teaspoon methi
To make the Koftas:
- Combine the boiled potatoes and mixed vegetables in a large bowl and mash them together well. Add the remaining kofta ingredients except the bread crumbs and corn starch. Make 6-7 golf ball-sized balls out of it.
- Combine the cornstarch and 3 teaspoons water to make a medium-thick slurry. Place the bread crumbs on a flat plate.
- Roll each ball in cornstarch slurry and then cover with bread crumbs.
- Heat oil in deep-frying pan and slide 2-3 koftas at a time, frying until golden brown.
- Drain oil and set aside.
For the Gravy:
- Make a paste of the onions, tomato, cashews, and yogurt.
- Sautee the ginger garlic paste with the ghee.
- Add the yogurt paste with the spices and cook it uncovered for around 10 minutes. Stir frequently, so it doesn’t stick to the pan or burn.
- Pour the gravy into a serving bowl and add the koftas.
This popular dish comes from Punjab, and is a dry dish, that uses aloo (potatoes) and ghobi (cauliflower) and is not served with gravy.
- 2 cups of cut cauliflower
- 2 medium potatoes, cubed
- 1/2 inch shredded ginger
- 3 teaspoons coriander powder
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 tablespoons water
- 3 tablespoons oil
- Pinch of asafetida
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 green chilies, sliced in long pieces
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon mango powder
- 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup water as needed
- In a small bowl, mix the shredded ginger, coriander powder, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and 3 tablespoons of water to make a paste.
- Heat the oil in a pan.
- Add hing and cumin seeds to the oil. The seeds will crackle if the oil is hot enough.
- Add bay leaves and green chilies and stir for a few seconds.
- Next, add the spice paste and stir for a minute.
- Add cauliflower, potatoes, 2 tablespoons of water and salt. Mix well. Cover the pan and let it cook on medium heat for about 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Make sure to stir gently every 3 to 4 minutes.
- Lastly, add the fresh cilantro. Mix everything and cover for a minute. Adjust the salt to your taste.
A raita is a cooling dish, used in between dishes to cleanse the palette, or after a particular spicy dish to temper the burn.
- 1 medium cucumber
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 cups yogurt
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh coriander or mint leaves, chopped
- cayenne or paprika to garnish
- Peel cucumber and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips, then into thin slices crosswise.
- Blot off moisture with paper towels.
- Toast cumin seeds for a few seconds in a small, heavy frying pan over high heat.
- In a bowl, stir yogurt until it is smooth.
- Mix in the cumin, garlic and coriander or mint leaves.
- Combine mixture with cucumber slivers, sprinkle with cayenne or paprika, and chill before serving.
Kheer is a rice pudding dish that is served all over India, but originated in the north. Part of what makes homemade vegetable dishes from India so appealing is that you can prepare them in a way that is much healthier than store bought or very starchy foods. Kheer is certainly very rich, but you won’t find any processed junk in this delicious dessert.
- 1/4 cup long grain rice (washed and drained)
- 4-5 cups milk
- 2-3 cardamom pods, crushed
- 2 tablespoon almonds, blanched and slivered
- A pinch of saffron threads, soaked in a little hot milk
- 1 tablespoon chopped pistachios
- 1 tablespoon raisins or sultanas
- 2-3 tablespoon sugar (to taste)
- Put the rice, milk and cardamom in a pan, bringing the mixture to boil until the rice is soft and the grains are starting to break up.
- Add almonds, pistachio, saffron and raisins and simmer for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
- Remove from heat and serve either warm or chilled.
Now you’ve got enough basic knowledge to prepare a simple thali using these North Indian vegetarian recipes for your friends and family. Indian cooking is as much an art as it is a science, so don’t be shy about improvising where you need to! You can take vegetarian cooking one step further by learning some fantastic vegan recipes, or just explore some super simple healthy cooking techniques that will keep you feeling and looking great!