If you think you love the Indian cuisine from your local curry joint, you’re in for a surprise—and a treat. India is a huge and diverse country with many different cultures, each with its own cuisine and regional specialties. The food from the far north, for example, is completely different from that of the far south. And while vegetarian food is popular in India due to the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religious recommendations, you can also find hearty meat and seafood dishes, too. All this to say, there are many different varieties of Indian food you may not have tried. Here are some delicious Indian dinner ideas for the next time you want to take a culinary trip to the subcontinent from the comfort of your kitchen.

Indian Curry

Indian curry is probably the most well-known dish in Indian cuisine among those who don’t live on the subcontinent. If you’re unfamiliar, curry is a thick sauce that’s often cream, tomato, or onion-based and flavored with spices—chili is optional. Pieces of meat, paneer (Indian cheese), vegetables, pulses (beans or legumes) are served in the sauce and eaten with rice or flatbread (like naan, roti, or chapati). Salad, pickle, and raita (a cooling yogurt dish) are often served on the side. 

Curry is one of the best Indian dinner ideas because it’s filling and hearty—and you’ll often have plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day!

1. Vegetarian Curry: Dal Curry

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Dal curry is simple and nutritious. (Courtesy of @nohohon_n3)

Dal, or lentils, are a staple of Indian cuisine, and among Indian vegetarian dinner ideas, dal curry is one of the most popular dishes. Lentils are simmered in a tomato-based curry sauce until they’re soft, then eaten with rice or bread. Lentils are packed with nutrients, so if you don’t add cream, butter, or ghee to the recipe, then dal curry is a very healthy option.

2. Meat Curry: Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani)

butter chicken
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Butter chicken is creamy and delicious. (Courtesy of @fatoufoodies)

Butter chicken is one of the most well-known types of chicken curry outside of India. It’s based on Punjabi-style north Indian chicken curries, often called murgh makhani. If you regularly order butter chicken from your local Indian takeout place, why not learn to make it yourself and save a few dollars in the process?

3. Fish Curry: Goan Fish Curry

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Fish and seafood curries from Goa are among the best in India. 

Many of the regional specialties of Goa, a coastal state in southwestern India, are based around fish and seafood. Classic Goan fish curry combines firm fish and prawns in a tomato-based sauce with coconut milk for creaminess. It’s often served with a piece of fried fish on the side, too.

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Indian Vegetarian Dinners

Here’s a fun fact that’ll help you decode Indian menus: Most Indian dishes, not just vegetarian ones, are named after the main ingredients. So, a dish consisting of cauliflower and potato will be named “cauliflower potato” in the local language (aloo gobi in Hindi). The word “masala” in the name suggests a fragrant spice blend. So, chana masala consists of spiced chickpeas (chana). With that in mind, check out these Indian vegetarian dinner ideas.

4. Aloo Gobi

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Aloo gobi is a dry vegetarian curry made from potato and cauliflower. (Courtesy of @vegan.recipesideas)

As mentioned above, aloo gobi is a dish made from potato (aloo/alu in Hindi) and cauliflower (gobi). It’s often a dry dish—that is, it doesn’t have a thick curry sauce—so it’s typically eaten with flatbread rather than rice. 

5. Palak Paneer

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Palak paneer is made from spinach and paneer cheese. (Courtesy of Get Foody by Esmy)

Also sometimes called saag paneer, palak paneer consists of a green leafy vegetable (usually spinach) and cubes of paneer cheese. You can buy pre-made paneer in many supermarkets or Asian grocery stores, or you can make it yourself by simmering full fat milk and separating the curds from the whey with vinegar or lemon juice. If you can’t use either of these or are looking for a vegan option, try tofu as a substitute.

6. Chana Masala

Chana masala is a spiced chickpea curry.

Chana masala is made from spiced, softened chickpeas. It can be wet (with a curry sauce) or relatively dry, eaten with bread. Make your own by following along with Skillshare instructor Kosha Merchant, who teaches a class on making chana masala with stuffed paratha flatbread.

Chicken Dishes

Chicken is a popular meat in India because many people who don’t eat other types of meat will eat chicken. It can be cut into bite-sized pieces and added to a curry sauce, grilled, or baked.

7. Tandoori Chicken

tandoori chicken
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Tandoori chicken can be made at home.

A tandoor is a cylindrical clay oven that’s used in parts of north India, including Punjab. Tandoori refers to marinating something in a mix of yogurt and spices and then baking it in a tandoor oven. Tandoori chicken uses skinless chicken legs and thighs and can be made at home, even without a special tandoor oven. 

8. South Indian Chicken Curry

Garlic and ginger are the prominent flavors in this south Indian chicken curry.

South Indian curries tend to be less creamy than north Indian varieties and are usually served with rice rather than bread. Skillshare instructor Shefaly Ravula teaches how to make this tasty dish in her class: How to Make an Authentic South Indian Chicken Curry. 

9. Chicken Biryani

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Biryani is a baked rice dish with meat buried inside.

Biryani is a baked rice dish that’s similar to pilaf. It’s eaten across South Asia—in places like Pakistan, too—and is associated with Muslim cultures. Some would argue that the central southern Indian city of Hyderabad does the best biryani, so if you can find a recipe for a Hyderabadi-style biryani, do! Biryani can be made with all kinds of meat, or even without meat, but chicken is a popular option.

Fish and Seafood Dishes

Fish and seafood, like prawns, are popular in coastal parts of India where it’s widely available and fresh. South India and West Bengal, in particular, are known for their fish and seafood dishes.

10. Bombay Duck

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Bombay duck isn’t duck at all—it’s bombil fish. (Courtesy of @sangoskitchenette)

OK, this isn’t what it sounds like. Bombay duck isn’t duck at all, but a fish dish. Bombil fish, which is common in the waters around Bombay (Mumbai as it’s called), was misnamed Bombay duck somewhere along the way. Bombil fish curry is a speciality of the Parsi ethnic minority of Mumbai.

11. Honey Garlic Shrimp

Shrimps are easy to cook.

Shrimp and prawns are some of the most common types of seafood in Indian cuisine. They’re easy to cook, whether you get them fresh or frozen. Check out this Indian-style honey garlic shrimp recipe.

12. Bengali Fish Curry

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Fish is common in Bengali cuisine.

Fish is a common ingredient in eastern Indian Bengali cuisine. Bengali curries often use tamarind as a souring agent, as well as mustard seeds and curry leaves, and are usually served with rice. Bengali fish curry can be made with many types of white fish, as well as prawns and mussels.

Pork Dishes

Pork isn’t particularly common in India because the country is home to a large Muslim community, and observant Muslims don’t eat pork. However, pork is more common in some southern and northeastern parts of the country, especially among minority religions and ethnic groups who don’t have a problem eating meat or pigs. 

13. Kerala Style Pork Masala Fry

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Kerala style pork masala. (Courtesy of Delsa Shoby)

Kerala is a small state in the far south of India, and pork is commonly eaten among the state’s Christian population. Kerala style pork curry uses pork belly, which is then marinated in various spices and cooked with coconut oil and curry leaves.

14. Naga Pork Curry

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Ethnic Naga cuisine is known for its use of pork. (Courtesy of Maven Kitchen)

The Nagas are an ethnic group from Nagaland in the northeast of India. Their culture is more closely related to southeast Asian cultures like Burmese or northern Thai. The Nagas either follow animism or Christianity (sometimes both) and commonly eat pork. This Naga style pork curry uses ginger, lots of chili, and bamboo shoots. 

15. Pork Vindaloo

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Pork vindaloo is a Goan curry and one of many great Indian dinner ideas (Courtesy of Gladkokken)

Vindaloo is a type of curry originating in Goa, which was once a Portuguese colony. Most Goans are Christians (Roman Catholics), and their cuisine has Portuguese influences. Vindaloo is a typically hot and sour curry sauce and pairs well with pork.

What’s for Dinner Tonight?

Hungry yet? Making Indian dishes from scratch (rather than pouring on a ready-made curry sauce!) can take a bit of time and requires an array of spices. But once you’ve bought the key ingredients and have a well-stocked spice shelf, you’ll find you can use each ingredient over and over again in many Indian dishes. Take an introductory cooking course and see where it takes you. Bon appetit! 

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Written by:

Elen Turner