Indian cuisine is extremely diverse, and whether it includes dairy can vary greatly from dish to dish. Many Indian dishes contain dairy ingredients such as ghee (clarified butter), yogurt, cream, and paneer (a type of cheese), often used in curries and other dishes.
However, many Indian dishes are naturally dairy-free or can be easily adapted to be dairy-free. For example, many dishes from the southern regions of India are typically vegan or can be made vegan with a few substitutions.
If you’re eating at an Indian restaurant and need to avoid dairy, it’s a good idea to let the server know about your dietary needs. They can help guide you towards dairy-free options or dishes made without dairy.
Also, if you’re cooking Indian food at home, you can substitute ingredients to make dishes dairy-free. For example, you can use oil instead of ghee, coconut milk instead of cream, and tofu instead of paneer.
Famous Indian Dishes that Are Originally Dairy-Free
This is a popular North Indian dish made with chickpeas (chana) cooked in a spicy tomato-based sauce (masala). The dish’s robust, tangy flavor comes from various spices, including garam masala, coriander, and cumin.
This is a flavorful Punjabi dish from mashed roasted eggplants (baingan) cooked with onions, tomatoes, and spices. The roasting of the eggplant imparts a smoky flavor to the dish, which is enjoyed with roti or rice.
Aloo Gobi is a dry dish made with potatoes (aloo), cauliflower (gobi), and Indian spices. It’s a staple dish in Northern India, often served with Indian bread like roti or naan.
This dish features okra (bhindi) cooked with various aromatic spices (masala). The okra is typically pan-fried with turmeric, chili, and amchoor (dried mango powder) to create a flavorful, slightly tangy dish.
Rajma is a hearty North Indian dish with red kidney beans cooked in a thick, richly spiced tomato sauce. It is often served with rice in a dish known as Rajma Chawal.
A classic South Indian dish, masala dosa is a thin, crispy pancake made from a fermented batter of rice and urad dal (a lentil). It is typically filled with a spiced potato mixture.
Sambar is a lentil-based vegetable stew seasoned with tamarind and a special blend of spices known as sambar powder. It’s a staple in South Indian cuisine and is often served with dosa, idli, or rice.
Remember, these dishes are traditionally dairy-free, but the recipe can vary from place to place, so if you’re at a restaurant or buying pre-made, double-checking the ingredients is always a good idea.
Famous Indian Dishes that can be made Dairy-Free
Traditionally, butter chicken is made with yogurt and butter. You can marinate the chicken in coconut milk and lemon juice instead of yogurt for a dairy-free version. Use dairy-free margarine or a high-heat oil like avocado or coconut oil instead of butter in the sauce.
Again, this dish usually uses a yogurt marinade. Substitute the yogurt with coconut milk and lemon juice or dairy-free yogurt. Marinate the chicken in this mixture with the usual spices, then grill or bake it.
Biryani is a flavorful rice dish often cooked with ghee (clarified butter) and sometimes topped with boiled eggs or yogurt. To make it dairy-free, use neutral or coconut oil instead of ghee. If the recipe calls for yogurt, use dairy-free yogurt or coconut cream.
Lamb chops are often marinated in yogurt. Use a dairy-free yogurt or a mixture of coconut milk and lemon juice as a substitute. You can also use a dairy-free oil or margarine instead of any butter in the recipe.
Daal is often made with ghee or butter. Simply substitute with a high-heat oil or dairy-free margarine. If the recipe calls for cream, you can use coconut milk or a dairy-free yogurt to provide a similar creamy texture.
Parathas are Indian flatbreads often cooked with ghee. Use dairy-free margarine or oil for the dough and frying. You can use dairy-free ingredients like spiced potatoes, lentils, or vegetables for stuffing.
Tips to ensure that you are Eating or Cooking Dairy-Free Indian Dishes
- Ask About Ingredients: When dining out, the best way to ensure a dish is dairy-free is to ask. Tell your server about your dietary restrictions and ask them to confirm with the chef if you’re unsure about a dish.
- Avoid Creamy Dishes: Many North Indian dishes, particularly curries, can have a base of cream or yogurt. If you’re unsure, opt for tomato-based dishes or dry dishes.
- Beware of Ghee and Butter: Ghee (clarified butter) is a common cooking fat in Indian cuisine. Ask if dishes are cooked with it and if they can use oil instead.
- Check Bread: Naan bread is usually made with yogurt and sometimes brushed with ghee or butter. Opt for roti or chapati, which are typically dairy-free.
Cooking at Home
Substitute Dairy Ingredients: There are numerous substitutes available for dairy products. Coconut milk or other plant-based milks can replace cream, dairy-free margarine or oils can replace ghee or butter, and dairy-free yogurts can replace regular yogurt.
Read Labels Carefully: If you’re using store-bought spice mixes or sauces, always read the labels, as they sometimes contain dairy or other allergens.
Experiment with Recipes: Many Indian dishes can be made dairy-free without losing flavor. Use spices liberally to ensure your dishes are still delicious and flavorful.
Use Dairy-Free Dessert Recipes: Many Indian desserts are milk-based, but there are also plenty of recipes that are naturally dairy-free or have easy substitutes, like coconut ladoos or jalebi made with a yeast-based batter.
Remember, everyone’s tolerance for cross-contamination is different. If you’re highly sensitive to dairy, you’ll need to take extra precautions when eating out and buying food to prepare at home.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Indian food vegan?
Indian cuisine offers many vegan options, but not all Indian food is vegan. Many dishes contain ghee (clarified butter), yogurt, or other dairy products. However, there are plenty of dishes that are naturally vegan or can be made vegan with a few modifications.
Is Indian food vegetarian?
Yes, a large portion of Indian cuisine is vegetarian. Due to religious and cultural beliefs, India has a significant vegetarian population, so many traditional dishes are made without meat. However, numerous Indian dishes include chicken, lamb, fish, or other meats.
Is Indian food gluten-free?
Many Indian foods, such as rice, lentils, and vegetables, are naturally gluten-free. However, certain breads like naan and some desserts are made with wheat flour. As with any cuisine, it’s important to inquire about ingredients and possible cross-contamination if you’re sensitive to gluten.
Is Indian food healthy?
Indian food can be very healthy, as it’s often rich in vegetables, legumes, and whole grains and uses a variety of spices with health benefits. However, like any cuisine, the healthiness can depend on the preparation method, portion size, and specific ingredients.
Is tikka masala dairy-free?
Traditional tikka masala is not dairy-free, as it often contains yogurt and cream. However, it can be made dairy-free using coconut milk or dairy-free yogurt alternatives.
Are all curries dairy-free?
No, not all curries are dairy-free. Many Indian curries contain dairy products such as cream, yogurt, or ghee. But many curry recipes are naturally dairy-free or can be made dairy-free with substitutions. Always check the ingredients if you’re trying to avoid dairy.