Indian cuisine is more than a collection of spicy-hot curries, heavy on the turmeric. This is a vast country, with as many regional cuisines as the United States or Italy. And many Indian dishes have an ingredient list that’s easy on the wallet and can be adjusted to a gluten-free diet with minimal fuss.
Why Indian Food is Gluten-Free and Budget-Friendly
Unlike American food, Indian food is traditionally built around grains and pulses. Meat is used sparingly in many dishes, and not at all in many more. Often, the protein in these dishes comes from legumes: beans, lentils, and chickpeas. Occasionally, cheese and butter is also added.
This switch – from meat to vegetable protein – pays big dividends for your grocery budget. At the time of this writing, a pound of chicken breast (4 four-ounce servings) sells for about $4.50, while a pound of dried kidney beans (about 12 four-ounce servings) sells for $2. Even if you go for the shortcut of using canned, prepared kidney beans, six servings will still only come to $2.
Another benefit of this reliance on vegetables and legumes is that many Indian dishes are naturally gluten-free. Instead of breading, the occasional bit of meat is cloaked in a rich sauce. Rice flour, lentil flour, or garbanzo flour (chickpea flour) is made into papadum, a tortilla-like snack that can double as a cracker.
One small caveat before you start eating Indian dishes every day: with their emphasis on beans and lentils, people who previously didn’t include these items in their diet may have a few side effects, so enjoy your first meals in moderation. You may also need to use a digestive aid, such as Beano, until your system adjusts.
A Quick Tour of India, Foodie-Style
It would take a book, not a brief article, to give you anything like a comprehensive view of Indian cuisine. Here are a few very popular regional dishes.
1) Tandoori – Meat (usually chicken) is marinated in yogurt and spices, then cooked. Traditionally, it is cooked in a special clay pot with a lid shaped like an inverted funnel, but you can use a slow cooker. Tandoori can be served with rice, so a little meat goes a long way. The flavorful sauce helps satisfy hungry eaters too.
2) Palak Paneer – Palak is a spinach-based sauce, rich with ginger and packing a slow burn that gradually increases as you eat. Paneer is a type of mild, white cheese; if you can’t find it, mozzarella is an acceptable substitute. Served with brown rice, it’s a filling meal.
3) Dal – Dal is the catchall phrase for lentils, beans, peas, and other vegetable protien sources. Usually, dal has been well-seasoned and cooked in a thickly spiced sauce. Add some gluten-free bread or rice, and it’s a complete meal.
So why should you add Indian cuisine to your go-to list? It’s easy, naturally gluten-free, and cheap. Sounds like a great idea for dinner tonight!