Meal Planning Ideas For Indian Menus
Meal planning ideas for Indian cuisine is not just about organizing your meals for the week, it is an art form that allows you to create flavorful and balanced menus tailored to your individual taste and nutritional needs.
When it comes to Indian cooking, meal planning becomes even more important especially if you’re new to it, as it ensures that you have the right ingredients and flavors on hand to create authentic and delicious meals.
In this article, we will explore some ideas for Indian meal planning and provide you with practical tips to help you create well-rounded menus that will tantalize your taste buds and nourish your body.
Why Meal Planning is Key to Indian Cooking Success
Indian cuisine is known for its rich, complex flavors and the use of various spices, herbs, and ingredients. Although I am all about minimal ingredients and easy recipes there are still a few basic spices you need to stock in order to cook Indian food. Read this blog for some meal-planning ideas as you get into cooking Indian food.
To truly embrace the flavors of Indian cooking, it is essential to plan your meals in advance. This allows you to ensure that you have all the necessary ingredients on hand and gives you the opportunity to explore a diverse range of dishes throughout the week.
For example, every weekend I make time to chope a few onions, and mince garlic and ginger separately (or if I have a lot going on I will buy jarred minced garlic and ginger). It’s perfectly fine to do that once in a while as long as you are buying a quality item. I will make sure that my masala dabba (spice container) has all the basic spices ready to go. If I am low I will fill it with what is needed- maybe turmeric or cumin or coriander or garam masala.
The 5 basic Indian spices that you must absolutely have are:
- Garam Masala
- Red chili powder
Apart from this, you would need to have onions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, and perhaps cilantro (if you like it). If you can tolerate more spice buying a few green Thai chilies is recommended.
Honestly, this is your basic Indian pantry and you can cook a lot of dishes with these spices alone.
If you’d like to have a couple of additional spices on hand I would recommend, pomegranate powder (anardana powder) and mango powder (amchur). These additional ingredients enhance the taste of Chana Masala and Jeera Aloo. Of course, you can cook these dishes without these two fun ingredients but they do add an extra zing!
Understanding the Elements of a Well-Rounded Indian Meal
A well-rounded Indian meal consists of a variety of components that come together to create a harmonious balance of flavors, textures, and nutritional elements.
It typically includes a main dish (such as a curry), a lentil soup (dal), with something crunchy, either papad ( a thin lentil round wafer that needs to be fried or microwaved) or fritters or potato fries, a side dish (such as a vegetable preparation), a carbohydrate (such as rice or roti), and accompaniments (such as raita or chutney). Each component plays a crucial role in creating a cohesive and satisfying meal.
Incorporating Flavorful Herbs
One of the hallmarks of Indian cuisine is the use of aromatic herbs. These ingredients add depth and complexity to dishes, elevating them from ordinary to extraordinary. When meal planning, consider incorporating Indian herbs into your menus to experience the full range of flavors that Indian cooking has to offer. Experiment with and utilize fresh herbs like cilantro, curry leaves, and mint to add a burst of freshness.
I’ve been told there is a genetic component that makes cilantro taste like soap to some people. In that case, you have to exclude it and not feel bad about it! Same for curry leaves. Of course, for most menu items from the Southern part of India, curry leaves are an absolute must! But experiment and see if you like dishes cooked with curry leaves. Dishes like Upma, masala dosa, and madras curry will have curry leaves in them. Mint is often used in biriyani a one-pot meat and rice dish and green chutney.
Balancing Textures for a Tantalizing Experience
In addition to flavors, Indian cuisine places great emphasis on textures. A well-planned Indian meal will incorporate a balance of textures, including soft, creamy, crunchy, and crispy elements.
For example, pair a creamy paneer curry with a crispy papad or serve a smooth dal alongside a crunchy cucumber salad. This interplay of textures adds interest and excitement to your meal, making it a truly pleasurable experience.
The Importance of Nutritional Balance in Indian Cuisine
Indian cuisine is incredibly diverse and offers a wide range of dishes that cater to different dietary preferences and requirements. When meal planning, it is important to consider the nutritional balance of your menus. Aim to incorporate a variety of vegetables, lentils, and grains to ensure that you are getting a good mix of vitamins, minerals, and protein.
Indian food lends itself to various dietary needs effortlessly. Here is a sample gluten-free, vegan menu: Peas and Carrots Pulao or basmati rice, with Kaali Dal, Chana Masala, and Vegan Raita ( a tzatziki-type yogurt dip).
Simplifying Meal Planning with Batch Cooking and Prep Tips
As you read some of these meal-planning ideas, it can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially when you have a busy schedule. However, there are several strategies you can employ to simplify the process and make it more manageable.
One effective technique is batch cooking, where you prepare larger quantities of certain dishes and components and store them for future use. This not only saves time but also ensures that you always have a variety of options to choose from during the week.
Additionally, consider incorporating meal prep techniques like chopping vegetables and marinating proteins in advance to streamline your cooking process. As I mentioned earlier in the blog, prepping onions, ginger, and garlic is the most beneficial prep you can do to make cooking Indian food on the weeknights a breeze!
Mince large quantities of ginger and garlic separately and use ice cube trays to freeze them and pop out a few cubes when you need them. Similarlychopping onions and storing them in the fridge is a great idea as onions last for almost a week in the fridge chopped. The only recommendation would be to have a lid that fits tightly over the container you are using so the onion doesn’t overpower your entire fridge!
Any rice dish will freeze well as well as any lentil soup, barbecue, or curries without potatoes. If you have added potatoes and would like to freeze the dish, take out the potatoes. Salmon Cakes freeze very well and so do desserts like Payesh (Indian rice pudding) and Vegan Gajar Halwa (a carrot cake of sorts).
Adding Variety and Flexibility to Your Meal Plan
While it is important to have a structured meal plan, it is equally crucial to allow for flexibility and variety. Embrace seasonal produce and don’t hesitate to leave some ingredients out if you don’t have them or want to buy them.
For the most part, I believe that whole spices mentioned in any recipe can be omitted. You can add garam masala powder instead. Here is where I would also tell you to not fret about ai=uthencity. If you have the basic ingredients of the recipe, you are authentic and it’s not at all wrong to make it a simpler version and or add something like broth instead of water to make the curry. It’s all good!
For fun, incorporate theme nights like “Meatless Monday” or “Spice It Up Saturday” to introduce new dishes and keep your meals interesting. Don’t be afraid to modify recipes to suit your preferences or make use of leftovers creatively to reduce food waste.
Final Thoughts: Embracing the Art of Indian Meal Planning
Meal planning is not just a task; it is an opportunity to explore the rich and vibrant flavors of Indian cuisine. By planning ahead a bit and incorporating different flavors, textures, and nutritional elements into your menus, you can create well-rounded meals that are both satisfying and nourishing.
Embrace the art of Indian meal planning and let your culinary creativity shine as you embark on this flavorful journey.
So, let’s get started on your Indian meal-planning adventure and unlock the full potential of your kitchen!