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Intro to Indian Food

Tandoori, Tikka, Naan
 + Other Classic Dishes


Indian Spices

We decided to write this article because we love Indian food. The spices, the sauces, the flavors - it's one of our favorite cuisines. If you're not familiar with Indian cooking, or you haven't strayed from a few familiar dishes, we've created this introduction to help guide you through some of the most common Indian dishes.


Naan is a leavened, oven-baked flat bread that is cooked in a tandoor oven and served hot and brushed with butter, or clarified butter (called ghee). It's great for scooping up sauce or can also be filled with meat or other tasty morsels. It can be served plain, or you can add herbs, garlic, cheese or other simple toppings to give it a bit more flavor. 

Tandoori Chicken

Tandoori-cooking comes from the word Tandoor, which is a specific kind of clay oven heated by charcoal or wood flame. A lot of different foods in Indian cooking are cooked in a tandoor, but the dish Tandoori Chicken is a specific preparation where a whole chicken, or large, bone-in pieces (thighs, drumsticks), are marinated overnight in yogurt and a mix of spices, then cooked in the tandoor. Often, these include bright red or yellow-orange spices like turmeric or red chili powder that color the meat.

Chicken Tikka

Like Chicken Tandoori, Chicken Tikka is prepared by marinating chicken in yogurt and spices then cooking in the tandoor. However, the meat is marinated more quickly by just brushing with the yogurt and spice mixture, and the meat used is boneless chunks that are cooked on a skewer.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala uses Chicken Tikka, but is served in a Masala (a sauce). The sauce is a mix of yogurt, tomato and coriander that is thick and creamy with a lot of flavor although generally pretty mild in heat. If you've never had Indian food before, this is a great place to start.

Saag Paneer or Palak Paneer

This is one of the many tasty vegetarian dishes in Indian cooking. Paneer is what you often see described on Indian menus as "cottage cheese". This has nothing to do with American-style cottage cheese, but is a fresh, mild farmer's cheese that's lightly salted. In this dish, cubes of paneer are cooked with pureed spinach and mild spices. This dish is both very healthful and still hearty.


We're including vindaloo because it's an item you can frequently see on Indian-food menus, but there are really two different dishes. Vindaloo is a traditional dish from the Goa region, but the name was co-opted by curry houses in Britain where it refers to a slightly different dish. The 'Curry House' version is a spicier style of their standard curry and meat dish with potatoes. The true original dish is also a curry, however without potatoes, and the meat is marinated in spices and wine or vinegar for more of a sweet-sour effect.

Rogan Josh

This is Mike's all-time favorite Indian dish. In Kashmir, the name means 'red lamb', which refers to the color imparted by the Kashmiri chilies to the meat. This gives a lot of color and aromatics but not a tremendous amount of heat so if you're a bit sensitive to spice, don't fear. The lamb is served in boneless cubes braised in a fragrant sauce with yogurt and shallots, and is just absolutely tender and well-flavored.

What's your favorite Indian food dish? Share with us at amyandmike@easyfoodandwine.com.

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