Healthier Dining Out: Indian by Toby Amidor in Dining Out, April 13, 2009
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With tons of vegetarian options and healthy sides such as steamed rice and naan, there are plenty of healthy Indian options. But you’ll also find many fried and fat-laden dishes — just with names you may not recognize. Here are some common items you’ll want to avoid and some lighter alternatives.
Fried or stuffed breads are typical appetizers but can be extra heavy. Go for the naan (a type of flatbread) or chapatti (thin, whole wheat bread) instead.
Samosas (stuffed and fried veggie turnovers) and pakora (deep-fried dough with veggies) are some of the more artery-clogging dishes. Either share these at the table or avoid them altogether. Instead, order papadum or papad (baked thin lentil wafers). Lentil or mulligatawny soup is also a better choice than the creamy options such as murg shorba.
Curries seem healthy, but some are cooked in a coconut milk or cream sauce — both high-fat ingredients. Choose vegetable- or dal-based curries. If you are unsure, you can always ask your server.
Korma also has a creamy sauce, which is used to flavor the braised meat. Instead, choose chicken or beef tikka, which is oven-roasted with mild spices. Chicken, fish or beef tandoori are also healthier as these dishes are marinated in spices and baked.
Saaq paneer is a spinach dish with cheese and, again, a creamy sauce. Trade that for gobhi matar tamatar (cauliflower with tomato and peas).
For rice, basmati rice or matar pular (rice pilaf with peas) is better than rice cooked with ghee (clarified butter).
As with most restaurants, eating out can be a portion control nightmare. Sharing dishes or taking a “doggie bag” home is always a good option. You can also order the rice on the side and stick to about 1/2 to 3/4 a cup.
Sauces, especially Indian-flavored ones, are delicious but can sabotage even the healthiest dish on the menu. When possible, order sauce on the side and take 2 tablespoons — a little flavor (especially of Indian food) goes a long way!