Top Dishes to Try if You’re New to Indian Food
We find it takes a few attempts to try and get people to try Indian food for the first time.
While we don’t pretend to understand this because we know just how exotic and exciting Indian food is, we certainly understand how unfamiliar the cuisine might be for western cultures. Perhaps it the fear of the unknown and really, who wants to be “adventurous” when you’re really hungry?
Here at Marigold Maison, we thought it might be time for a post about how to explore Indian food if you’re new to this type of cuisine. Our goal is to share all the fantastic flavors Indian food can offer and help you get introduced to dishes that might make the transition to this exciting new foodie world.
Indian Food Can Seem Both Charming and Intimidating
There is a whole world of food awaiting within traditional Indian flavors. Many people get hesitant to try it because they think it is all “curry,” and it’s all “spicy.” The truth is that you’ll find all palates represented from spicy, sweet, hot, and sour.
There really is a lot to love about the Indian food experience. The flavors can seem a bit intimidating, especially if you’re trying to cook yourself. These are not the same kind of flavors you’ve maybe grown up learning to cook with like basil, salt and pepper, and a pinch of rosemary.
What is charming about Indian food is that you can play around with so many combinations; there really is a wide variety of options. It combines foundations from other types of food and turns the flavor up a notch. There are about 30 or so spices to be found in main Indian cuisine, and all of the flavors have a reason or purpose to be in the dish. Many of the reasons date back to promoting health, longevity, and vitality.
Before you run out and buy 30-species to start turning your kitchen into a rasoi (word for kitchen in India) let Marigold Maison reveal some of the best dishes to try if you’re new to Indian food. We invite you to our table anytime and we love inquisitive and adventurous customers.
In each culture, you’ll find a portable snack food. For the Italians that’s focaccia. For the Japanese, that might be Takoyaki, and empanadas for Mexico. For India, one of the favorites are samosas, and they can be filled with just about anything. At Marigold Maison, we have a Chickpea, onions, tomato slider style samosa with chutney. We also do a potato-based option for those who want a heartier snack.
This finger food is made with a flour shell that is filled most often with potatoes, onions, peas, or lentils. The filling is wrapped up into a cone, triangle or dome shape and deep fried in oil. It is served hot and is accompanied by chutney. This can be made both savory (more popular) and sweet.
Samosas make an excellent starter option because the flavors are likely a little more familiar to the diner. More simple spices are added to these snacks that won’t take the diner too far out of their comfort zone.
Many think of the pakora as a fritter. It’s most often made of veggies and can also include chicken. The dish is still considered a snack food, but have enough of them, and you’ll have a full dining experience. The pakora takes a staple food like potatoes, onion, eggplant, cauliflower or similar, and dips into a batter of flour. The treat is then deep fried. Some like to use a base of chicken or some type of fish as well.
At Marigold Maison, we have the veggie pakora made with fresh spinach, potato, onion, chickpea, and coriander. We also have the paneer pakora, made with paneer (cheese), chickpea flour, garlic, ginger, and spices. One of the reasons this dish is a great Indian starter option; you start with a fairly neutral based and you can add Indian specialties like chutneys and other sauces to expand your palate.
This is a signature dish at Marigold Maison (check out our Chicago location menu here), and our regulars often request this dish. Many people start their Indian food journey with this very dish and we invite you to do the same. This dish takes a veggie base, spinach, and pairs it with paneer (a popular Indian cheese, often referred to as cottage cheese, similar to ricotta). These ingredients team up together in one dish which is infused with some Indian spices. Vegans will love this option as they can substitute the cheese for tofu and get a nearly identical flavor experience.
We actually do our saag paneer using mustard greens and then add broccoli, spinach, some ginger, a bit of garlic, cream, fenugreek (an herb). We can add different proteins to this dish too, so be sure to ask us when you come in. Or, if you’re not close by and you want to try it out in your own kitchen, you can use chicken, fish or lamb protein.
This dish looks intimidating but really isn’t. Its bright reddish colors make the food look like it might burn a hole in your mouth, but it’s actually a fairly neutral flavored chicken. It’s roasted and flavored with turmeric, cayenne, chile, or paprika for a kick. Likely not all at the same time.
You can get a half chicken at our restaurant, and we see many happy Indian food newbies thrilled with their selection. Want to raise the bar a little and take the next step up from the tandoori? Go with the chicken tikka. This dish is prepared with a bit more heat/spice and simmered in a yogurt based sauce (usually) that has a spice to it. In fact, yogurts are often used in Indian food to cool down the “heat” in a dish.
This is a vegetarian dish that you will not miss the heavy meat from. Think of it as a little like chili but made with chickpeas and put together with ingredients like chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers, and a spice blend that is commonly referred to as “garam masala.”
At Marigold Maison, we have chana masala made with white chickpeas that we pair mango powder, onion, roasted cumin, tamarind, tomato, some ginger, and other spices. Not only is this a hearty dish, but here is a tip, it reheats well for those who like leftovers.
At Marigold Maison, we can do this with chicken, fish, shrimp, or lamb and even make this a vegetarian option. As a chicken plate, this is a great way to be introduced into Indian food. This dish starts with the tandoori chicken shredded and it’s placed in a creamy sauce that is savory and flavorful and simmered. This is a “no turning back now” dish that most people love and request time and time again.
Let’s Talk Side Dishes
If you’re a snacker and want to give a few side dishes a try first, we think that’s a great idea. Here are some top picks for starters and side dishes.
- Aloo Gobi – This is a dish that combines potatoes and cauliflower to create the perfect veggie-based side dishes. Add it to one of the entree options for a full meal, or take one of side dishes listed below for a spin, to create a full meal.
- Raita with Naan – Pair our yogurt sauce with a simple baked naan bread which may seem like a strange concoction at first, but makes for a great side dish. Everyone loves a tasty naan bread, and we have a variety of them to choose from.
- Dahi Puri – This is a wheat puff small plate dish served with a yogurt sauce. We make ours with potatoes, chickpea, mint, and tamarind. Warning, you might get addicted to this dish.
A Sweet Ending
As you search to dip your toes into the Indian food waters, you should also seek out some of the classic sweet treats the cuisine has to offer. Here is a short list of our favorites.
- Gulab Jamun – Somewhat like a donut hole but more “porous” which is served in a pool of syrup or honey and a dose of rosewater and saffron. Considering this is a fried treat, it’s surprisingly light.
- Gajar Ka Halwa – This is a sweet slaw of sorts that is made of carrots simmered in milk and cardamom. The mix is then fried in oil or ghee and sugar. The final dish will likely have dried fruits like dates or raisins.
- Rasgulla – This is another donut hole looking dish made of dough but acts more like a dumpling. The desert is made from chenna, which is similar to cottage cheese. It’s cooked in a syrup of sugar which infuses the dumpling for its notorious sweet flavor.
We invite you to join us at the table at Marigold Maison and let us know you are new to Indian food.
We love taking our new customers on a flavorful journey and can’t wait to meet you.