33 Indian Main Dishes You’ll Love to Make
We all have our favorite Indian main dishes—but how much food from the subcontinent have you really sampled? Check out this food tour of the country, with some tried-and-true classics plus brand-new flavors.
If there’s one dish that almost everyone knows in Indian cuisine, it’s biryani. The origin of this aromatic mixture of rice, spices and meat is usually credited to the Mughal kings who once ruled the subcontinent, but it’s now a popular dish all over the country. The meat (and vegetables, if used) and rice are cooked separately before being layered and cooked together with a mixture of spices. The type of meat used varies; goat, chicken, beef, lamb, fish or prawns are used according to the region, with eggs and potatoes sometimes added as well.
States across India all cook this quintessential main dish in different styles, with Delhi biryani and Hyderabadi biryani being popular varieties. It is also served with a regional twist in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Burma.
(Follow up these main dishes with some of these Indian dessert recipes!)
If you ask any Indian about a curry, chances are they’ll reply, “Which one?”
“Curry” was a blanket term used by the British during the era of colonization for the wide variety of foreign dishes they couldn’t identify, and while you might find a generic version of curry in the UK, Indian cuisine simply doesn’t have one singular dish called curry.
The word generally refers to a spicy gravy preparation—for example, South Indian-style egg curry, which uses curry leaves and coconut milk, or Konkan fish curry, a coastal preparation heavy on coconut milk and tamarind popular in the states of Maharashtra and Goa. You might also find variations like the Sindhi kadai, a version made from garbanzo bean flour originating in the neighboring country of Pakistan.
Like biryani, korma can be traced back to Mughlai cuisine, which specialized in meat-heavy, creamy dishes, though the current milder version most likely originated in the UK. The word comes from the Persian word qorma, which means “braise.”
For this preparation, meat (usually chicken) or vegetables are braised over high heat with yogurt or cream, and then cooked long and slow. The dish’s spices are usually tempered by the dairy to make it milder, and much like curry, it has variations in different regions. For example, in South India, dried coconut is often added to the dish.
Saag is a term widely used in the northern region of Punjab for any leafy green vegetable dish, and in several regions nearby, including Bengal and Assam in the east. Lamb saag (also known as saag gosht) is usually made with pureed spinach and tender, juicy chunks of lamb with aromatic spices like cumin, cardamom, coriander seeds, ginger and garlic. It gets its signature creaminess from the addition of cream or yogurt.
Serve this with naan (leavened, oven-baked flatbread), roti (unleavened flatbread) or parantha (flaky fried flatbread). Learn more about Indian bread.
Made for the cold climate of Kashmir, the northernmost state in India, the name rogan josh likely comes from the Urdu words for “red meat.” This spicy braised dish usually uses lamb or mutton and gets its signature color from a large amount of lal mirch (Kashmiri red chilis). Milder than the usual Indian chilis, their paprika-like taste makes this dish a great starting point for anyone new to Indian cuisine.
Garlic, ginger, cardamom, bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves make up the rest of the flavor profile, with the spice usually being tempered at the end with a generous helping of yogurt.
If biryani is the most well-known Indian dish, butter chicken (or murgh makhani) is a close second. Like most rich, creamy dishes, this originated in the northern region of India, and was created by Kundan Lal Gujral in the late 1940s. To make this delicious preparation, the chicken is first marinated in yogurt, then browned in a pan before being drenched in a tomato gravy thick with spices like turmeric and garam masala, and of course, plenty of cream.
Chicken Tikka Masala
This rich, incredibly moist chicken dish differs subtly from butter chicken, and though it’s considered Northern cuisine, it most likely came out of Indian curry houses in the UK.
The chicken (either breast or thighs) is marinated (preferably overnight) in a spicy yogurt mixture with turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic, chilis and garam masala. It’s then cooked over high heat and dunked in a creamy, flavorful tomato and onion gravy made with similar spices, before being served with, of course, a side of naan.
Save this one for a special occasion—mughlai chicken, like most Northern cuisine, is a rich dish heavy on the cream. Made with ghee (clarified butter) and chicken thighs, it uses the usual spice blend of cumin, coriander, bay leaves, cloves, green cardamom and cinnamon sticks. This one also gets an extra dash of luxurious creaminess from the addition of ground almonds. This is best paired with crispy, soft garlic naan.
One of the most popular vegetarian North Indian dishes, chole refers to the spicy garbanzo bean and tomato gravy (also known as chana masala), while bhature are the fluffy deep-fried flatbreads served alongside it. Brimming with garam masala, turmeric, red chili powder and dried mango (amchur) powder, the gravy is a tangy delight full of protein, which goes perfectly with soft, crispy bhature. (P.S. You can also make chole in a slow cooker!)
Another popular North Indian vegetarian dish, dal makhani is a creamy preparation made with black lentils (urad dal) and served with roti. The gravy is made with cream and tomato puree, and spiced with cumin, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, ginger, garlic, red chili powder and sometimes dry fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi). A hot piece of charcoal is sometimes dropped into the final mixture to infuse a smoky flavor into the gravy.
Another delicious dish attributed to the Mughals, keema matar translates to “mince with peas.” Mutton is often used, though goat may also be substituted. The mince and peas are stir-fried with ghee in a tomato, onion and garlic gravy flavored with cinnamon, cardamom, cumin seeds, peppercorns and bay leaves, creating a deliciously rich dish that goes great with roti or naan.
Aloo gobi, which literally translates to potatoes and cauliflower, is a popular vegetarian dish in North India, with regional variants across the country. This light, healthy dish is fully vegan and gets its signature yellow color and delicious flavor from a mixture of cumin seeds, turmeric, dried mango powder, red chili powder, garam masala and coriander powder. In some regions, tomatoes, onions and ginger-garlic paste are added for more flavor. This dry preparation is usually paired with roti.
North Indian vegetarian cusine relies often on paneer, or Indian cottage cheese. One of the most popular Indian main dishes involves dunking the creamy cubes into a rich spinach (palak) gravy. The spinach is boiled and pureed, then mixed with tomatoes, garlic and onions before being spiced with chilis, red chili powder, garam masala, turmeric and kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves).
Some versions also add heavy cream, though this can be skipped. Palak paneer can be served with roti, naan, parantha, makki di roti (unleavened cornmeal bread) or even spooned over rice.
You’ve heard of meatballs. Now prepare to meet kofta! In North Indian cuisine, kofta refers to deep fried balls made from vegetables or meat. This dish is made by rolling balls of potato and paneer (Indian cottage cheese) with cashews, raisins, cornstarch and spices and frying them. Then, the balls are dunked in a velvety gravy made of tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger and green chili, which is cooked with bay leaves, cinnamon, green cardamom, cloves and caraway seeds, with heavy cream added at the end. The preparation is best eaten with garlic naan.
Lamb raan or roast leg of lamb has a rich history—legend has it that it was once served to Alexander the Great by King Paurava, the monarch he dethroned, as a gesture of friendship. Most popular in North India, this dish needs to be started at least a day in advance. Spices like cumin, coriander seeds, peppercorns and cardamom are ground together (use a pestle and mortar for authenticity) before being added to a marinade of yogurt, almonds, lemon juice and even more spices.
The lamb is marinated overnight, then roasted low and slow the next day. This is best served with naan and a mint and yogurt chutney.
Nothing beats the smoky, deep flavor of a good tandoori chicken. Traditionally made by marinating chicken thighs in yogurt and tandoori spices, then roasting it in a tandoor, this dish also traces its origins back to Punjab and Kundan Lal Gujral (of butter chicken fame). Its signature red color comes from red chili powder or often, Kashmiri red chilis. Don’t have a tandoor? You can also make this on the grill or in a sheet pan!
Chicken jalfrezi traces its origins to the eastern state of West Bengal, though some say it more likely came from the Indian cuisine served in Britain. The ingredients are stir-fried, a technique that was likely picked up from Bengal’s Chinese immigrant population.
The chicken and red peppers are spiced with turmeric, ground cumin and coriander, garam masala and plenty of chilis and chili powder, then dunked into a spiced gravy made with onions, tomatoes and garlic. It is best served with a pot of steaming basmati rice. Take a look at these other recipes using garam masala.
Originating from the city of Kolkata in West Bengal, kati rolls are a street food that can be turned into a light main dish. In their original form, they were made by wrapping a parantha around a spiced kebab (meat cube) that had just come off the skewer (the word kati means “stick”), which was slathered in coriander chutney. The dish has now evolved to include egg, paneer and various vegetables as a filling.
The coastal eastern region is full of wonderful seafood dishes, including maccher jhol (fish stew) which is popular in West Bengal and Orissa. The stew is thickened with potatoes and spiced with turmeric, red chili powder, coriander powder, cumin seeds, bay leaves and ginger-garlic paste cooked in mustard oil. For the true Bengali experience, serve this over rice.
Northeastern cuisine in India (in the seven sister states of Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura, Arunchal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, plus Sikkim) is made up of simple, light fare, but often uses ingredients that are hard to find outside the region, such as fermented fish and axone (fermented soybean paste).
Jadoh from Meghalaya, a dish closely resembling khichdi (a rice and lentil preparation), is a notable exception. Unlike khichdi, jadoh uses meat, usually luxuriously fatty pork, mixed with rice and spices such as bay leaves, turmeric, ginger paste and ground black pepper, resulting in a warm, comforting dish.
The mountainous north and northeast states of India are heavily influenced by neighboring Tibet, Bhutan and China, which has resulted in momos becoming incredibly popular here. The soft steamed dumplings are often stuffed with meat such as chicken, goat, pork or even yak, or vegetables like cabbage and carrots, and served alongside a spicy schezwan chutney.
Momos are most popular in the northeastern state of Sikkim and the district of Darjeeling in West Bengal, though you can also find them in Assam, Manipur and the neighboring country of Nepal. They are sometimes filled with soup, in which case they are eaten whole and burst with delicious savory liquid when bitten.
Though originally from eastern Tibet, the warm comfort of thukpa (noodle soup) is popular in the cold northeast states of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, the districts of Kalimpong and Darjeeling in West Bengal, as well as the northern regions of Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. Usually made with meat like chicken or vegetables like green onion, beans and carrots, the flavorful broth uses ginger, garlic and soy sauce for its signature taste. However, in some regions, cumin, garam masala and other quintessentially Indian spices may also be added.
Originating in the eastern states of Bihar and Jharkhand, litti choka is a simple yet incredibly satisfying dish that was originally part of the staple diet in the region. It consists of a dough ball (the litti) made from whole wheat flour, stuffed with gram flour, pulses, and herbs and spices like cumin seeds, fennel seeds, ajwain (nigella seeds), ginger and garlic, which is then roasted over coal or wood and tossed with generous amounts of ghee. This is paired with a smoky choka (relish), which may be baingan bharta (roasted minced eggplant) or aloo bharta (spiced potato mash), for a full, delicious meal.
The famously vegetarian-heavy western state of Gujurat thrives on undhiyu, its signature mixed vegetable preparation. The first half of the word, undhu, means upside-down, and refers to the traditional method of cooking it upside down in earthen pots. Vegetables typically used include green beans, purple yams, eggplants, potatoes and plantain, with muthia (spiced chickpea flour dumplings). Some variants include a masala (spice mix) consisting of coconut and peanuts stuffed into the vegetables.
A dry curry paste made from cilantro leaves, ginger, garlic, green chili pepper and sugar gives it its flavor, and permeates the mixture as it is slow-cooked. (No earthen pots available? A pressure cooker works just fine).
Batata Nu Shaak
This simple potato dish from Gujarat can be made dry or with a gravy, and is spiced with a mixture of mustard seeds, curry leaves, turmeric, Kashmiri red chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder and asafoetida (hing). Ginger and green chilis lend plenty of flavor, and are tempered by sugar, a popular ingredient in Gujarati dishes. This is best paired with thepla (flatbreads with fenugreek leaves).
If you’re looking for some fire, laal maas is the way to go. Translating to “red mutton,” this fiery curry from the western desert state of Rajasthan uses tender browned mutton or lamb chunks flavored with onion, garlic, ginger and green chilis, and spiced with cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black and green cardamom, black pepper and of course, lots of red chilis! This is best paired with roti or bajre ki roti (a thick bread made from pearl millet).
Dal Baati Churma
This meal is a mainstay from wartime in the western state of Rajasthan, and while it might take a while to make, the end result is well worth it. Dal (lentils) is a staple of the vegetarian diet, and in this dish, chana dal (split Bengal gram), tuvar dal (arhar) and urad dal (black lentils) are mixed into tomatoes, onions and garlic, and spiced with bay leaves, cloves, cumin seeds, turmeric, garam masala and more Indian spices.
This is eaten with baati, baked spiced whole wheat and semolina balls. Historically, soldiers left this underground to bake in the sun and ate them upon their return. Churma, a dish made from whole wheat flour and semolina with cardamom and sugar, rounds off the meal to make a sweet and savory delight.
Dhansak comes from the Parsi communities based in the western states of Gujarat and Maharastra, which trace their lineage to Iran. Usually made on special occasions, dhansak consists of goat or mutton meat cooked with vegetables and lentils. Traditionally, four lentils are used—arhar dal, Bengal gram, red masoor dal and brown masoor dal—along with vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, brinjal and pumpkin.
These are slow cooked into a stew spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cloves, nutmeg and more spices, and served alongside caramelized rice.
Pav bhaji originated in the western state of Maharashtra and is a popular street food, especially in the city of Mumbai. In this dish, the bhaji is a mixture of mashed potatoes, peas and other vegetables in a tomato-based gravy, spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, red chilis, coriander seeds, fennel and peppercorns.
The spice mixture can easily be found in Indian stores, and is usually labeled pav bhaji masala. Pav is a soft Indian roll, though this tasty gravy can be paired with any soft roll (toast it on a pan with plenty of butter for authenticity).
Hailing from the coastal state of Goa and the surrounding area’s Konkan coast, vindaloo is credited to the Portuguese who colonized the area. Based on the dish carne de vinha d’alhos (meat with garlic and vinegar), vindaloo is traditionally made by marinating pork in wine vinegar much like the original. While vindaloo is popular in British curry houses, the UK version differs vastly from the one found in a Goan beachside shack. The authentic Indian version incorporates spices native to the area, and chilis, tamarind, black pepper, cinnamon and cardamom all make an appearance, alongside cumin seeds, poppy seeds and turmeric.
Bisi Bele Bath
Made in the south Indian state of Karnataka, bisi bele bath is a spicy, hearty dish made by cooking rice, lentils and vegetables together. Incorporating rice and split pigeon peas with vegetables like peas, carrots and beans, it is usually spiced with red chili, cinnamon, cloves, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds and a variety of other spices (a mix can usually be found in your local Indian store). Don’t forget tamarind for that zing!
If you’re looking to fight off the cold weather chill, look no further than rasam. This spicy-sweet preparation has a soup-like consistency and gets tons of zing from tamarind and plenty of heat and flavor from a mixture of garlic, black pepper, chili pepper, cumin, jaggery, lemon and tomato.
Steamed lentils and vegetables can also be added to make the dish a little heartier. If you’re looking to save time, head down to your local Indian store and grab a box of rasam powder!
Avial is a deliciously creamy, vegetable-packed dish hailing from the south Indian state of Kerala, though it is popular in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as well. It traditionally incorporates a variety of vegetables native to the area like carrots, unripe plantains, green beans, pumpkin and unripe mangoes, as well as drumsticks (better known as moringa), though you can use whatever vegetables you have on hand.
Cooked in coconut oil, flavored generously with curry leaves and served in a gravy of grated coconut and yogurt, this tasty preparation is usually served with rice.