India's food reflects its geographical variation—the north eats wheat, the south consumes rice, and the coasts thrive on coconut milk and fish—as well as its religious diversity. While ingredients and specialties vary depending on the part of the country you consult, there is one common element: the masterful use of spices. From Portuguese-influenced pork vindaloo from the coastal region of Goa to Bengali fish simmered in mustard oil–scented curry, these main dishes are some of our favorites from each corner of this vast and varied country.
Curry is a catchall term used to describe richly spiced dishes popular in South and Southeast Asia. They are hugely important to the cuisine of India. Much of India's population is vegetarian, so meat-free curries are common. Try a vibrant, hearty cabbage and potato curry from the western state of Gujarat or a simple daikon curry flavored with an aromatic blend of coriander, cumin, turmeric, and other spices.
In other parts of India curries are often made of meat. In our Telangana chicken curry, the poultry is marinated in coconut, lime, garlic, ginger, cardamom, and more. Coconut is also used in our mild Rajasthani white chicken curry. Along parts of India's coast seafood has a place in the kitchen. Check out our green mango-infused south Indian fish curry and Goanese shrimp curry with a rich, chile-spiked coconut sauce.
Indian cooking isn't all rich stewed dishes. For something different try shami kebabs—ground beef stuffed with a spiced onion mixture and then fried until crisp and savory. These patties are a popular street food amongst Indian Muslims.
Find all of these recipes and more in our collection of Indian main dishes.
Carved out of ten former districts of Andhra Pradesh, Telangan officially became India’s 29th state in June 2014. For this eponymous dish from Telangana home cook Padma Reddy, the skin is removed from the chicken to allow the flavors of the marinade—coconut, lime, garlic, ginger, cardamom, mace and more—to penetrate. Get the recipe for Telangana-Style Curried Chicken Stew »
Cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey describes sambar as “a split-pea stew which is varied daily with the addition of, say, caramelized shallots or tomatoes or okra or aubergine (eggplant) poached in tamarind juice.” What we discovered in our test kitchen is that any combination of vegetables, such as yams, zucchini, or eggplant, can be added to this aromatic south Indian stew, which is often served with dosas.
The recipe for these kebabs, which can also be made with lamb, is adapted from Charmaine O’Brien’s Recipes from an Urban Village (The Hope Project, 2003).
Dishes from the south Indian state of Kerala, along the Malabar Coast, are heavily influenced by the area’s abundant supply of seafood. In this Anglo-Indian recipe from cookbook author and cooking instructor Smita Chandra, mussels gathered from local waters are cooked with tomatoes in a richly spiced coconut broth.
Descended from Persian Zoroastrians—followers of the prophet Zoroaster who began emigrating to India around the eighth century—Parsis in India have their own distinct food. This Parsi fish dish, commonly featured at weddings, is adapted from a recipe in Raghavan Iyer’s 660 Curries (Workman, 2008). White-fleshed fish is bathed in a spiced coconut-tamarind sauce and steamed until tender in fragrant banana leaves.
Rajasthani White Chicken Curry (Safed Maans)
A seasoned coconut chicken curry is tempered with yogurt.
Beef shanks or brisket may be substituted for short ribs in this version of a long-cooked Muslim Indian beef stew, a luscious dish traditionally cooked with trotters, which thicken the sauce. The recipe is adapted from Charmaine O’Brien’s Recipes from an Urban Village: A Cookbook from Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti (The Hope Project, 2003), a book highlighting the cooking of an ancient Delhi enclave.
Hard-cooked eggs get a golden sheen from frying in bright mustard oil and are served in a rich, spicy sauce made from oven-dried tomatoes.
No Bengali meal is complete without maacher jhol, fish simmered in a tomato-based curry scented with mustard oil and the region’s distinctive mix of five spices: toasted fenugreek, nigella, cumin, black mustard, and fennel seeds.
Goan Pork Vindaloo Curry »
Hyderabadi-Style Lentil Stew (Khatti Dal)
In early spring, green, unripe mangoes are a featured ingredient in the daily menu at Raja Sulaiman Khan’s home in Lucknow, India. Here, amchoor—dried green mango—adds sour pungency to creamy lentils.
This richly spiced chicken dish is adapted from a recipe in Madhur Jaffrey’s classic Flavors of India (West 175 Publishing, 1995). According to Jaffrey, “What gives this a very special southern flavor is the use of fennel seeds, curry leaves, and, of course, the pulse (legume) urad dal. This is definitely a dish you will want to make very frequently.” We couldn’t agree more. Get the recipe for Chettinad Pepper Chicken »
Writer VK Sreelesh’s in-laws live in the south Indian state of Kerala, along the Malabar Coast, where people’s diets are heavily influenced by the area’s abundant supply of seafood. One of his favorite dishes is this fried bullseye fish, seasoned with turmeric and chile powder and fried in coconut oil. While small bullseye fish or sardines are traditionally used, salmon, shrimp, or snapper, as we’ve used here, also work.
Smoky red Kashmiri chile powder and rich ghee are the foundations of the sauce for tender lamb shanks in this classic dish served as part of the Kashmiri feast called wazwaan. Cooked for weddings and other auspicious occasions, the wazwaan is comprised of 36 dishes, the majority of them lamb. The wazas, or cooks, who prepare the meal come from long lines of chefs schooled in the art. Get the recipe for Kashmiri Chile-Braised Lamb (Rogan Josh) »
In the Indian city of Hyderabad, this dish is traditionally made using goat, but lamb makes an excellent substitute; including the bones adds an unmatched depth of flavor. While peeled muskmelon and watermelon seeds are usually used to thicken the dish, we’ve substituted pumpkin seeds in our version.
This creamy dish from Toronto-based Indian cookbook author Smita Chandra makes a phenomenal spread, with oven-baked naan bread on the side. It’s made with the fresh Indian cheese called paneer, peas, and whole peeled tomatoes, along with plenty of tangy fresh fenugreek greens, and it’s spiced lavishly with turmeric, coriander, garam masala, and more. If you can’t find fenugreek greens, kale, Swiss chard, or another green can be substituted.
Get the recipe for Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani »