Many thanks to my friends and colleagues Kuber Bhalla and Kristine Schweitzer for heavily contributing to the creation of this article!
Indian meals are world-famous for flavor and richness. They leave you feeling comfortably stuffed, yet still craving one bite more. But behind all that delicious comfort are some less-than-healthy ingredients that can add up to weight gain and heart trouble in the long run. So let’s take a second look at a few traditional favorites. I asked my friend, dietitian Jason Machowsky of DeathoftheDiet.com, to show us ways to make them just a little gentler on the waistline, while holding onto the aromas and flavors we know and love.
Butter chicken is such a classic that it may seem wrong to alter it, but you can keep all the comfort food flavor and add a healthy twist, as well. The marinade and meat are perfect as they are. You only need a trifle of mustard oil to flavor up to 2 pounds of chicken. Of course, it may be useful to go lighter with the amount of sugar and oil/butter/ghee used when cooking. The biggest issue is the sauce: ¼ cup of butter and over ½ cup of heavy cream. Consider replacing some of these saturated fats with thick, plain yoghurt, or evaporated milk, to keep a rich consistency while cutting fat calories. You could also compromise with a tablespoon or two of butter and ⅔ cup of lowfat yoghurt. Another option is to leave in most of that delicious cream and simply cut back on serving sizes. That can include serving fewer carbs (i.e. naan and rice) with the meal. Load up your plate with extra veggies instead. You can even replace the rice with cauliflower.
Chole doesn’t need much help in the health department. After all, you can’t go too wrong with a dish based on chickpeas. But do watch the oil. Chickpeas are a great source of fiber and protein. The real trouble comes from the fact that this dish is often paired with fried breads or rice. Instead of adding lots of fat and carbs in the form of sides, bulk up on veggies. When you’re full of those, there isn’t much room to go astray with fried foods.
The link takes you to a great example of a modified classic, from chef Jamie Oliver. Oliver uses olive oil in place of the heavier oils that most people use to make dosa. It’s an easy swap that won’t affect the taste enough to attract any notice. Sweet potatoes and gram flour are hearty staple foods, and the health benefits of tumeric, ginger, and chilies continue to unfold in nutrition labs around the world. Once again the problem lies not so much with the dish itself, but with the buttery/oily things that dosas are sometimes stuffed and paired with. Try wrapping your chutney or potato mixture in lettuce, rather than fry bread, for a more healthy alternative. You can also swap steamed spinach for the crackers many people tend to use.
The biggest issue with samosas is our old nemesis, the frying pan, along with its assortment of artery-clogging oils. To avoid this altogether, try the baked samosa recipe we reference above. But frying doesn’t have to be unhealthy if it’s done properly. To cut fat and fry up delicious samosas and other foods, always make sure to use fresh, clean oil. Next, the oil needs to be heated to the proper temperature before you begin frying. Starting out at a low temperature means that your food will absorb too much of the oil, and end up greasy and unhealthy. Hot oil fries quickly, with a minimum of absorption. Another easy modification for samosas is to supplement the potatoes with lighter veggies, like carrots, peas, and spinach.
Be Bold. Be Healthy.
Great foods are born from love and experimentation, so don’t be afraid to make little changes, even to the most sacred of recipes. You may not get away with altering your great-grandmother’s best dish for a big family gathering, but in the privacy of your own home on a chilly weeknight, nobody can stop you from making your household meals just a little bit better for everyone.