Learn all you need to know about Indian curries and get some easy and authentic recipes that’ll get you cooking in no time. You’ll love this collection that includes 30+ traditional recipes from all over India!
What is curry?
Curry is generally understood to be a spice-infused dish, usually, in a sauce or paste base in which vegetables, lentils, and meat are cooked.
The most popular Indian curries have an onion-tomato base to which coconut milk, cream or yogurt is added to give it a creamy texture. There are curries in the South that use more indigenous ingredients like tamarind instead of tomatoes (after all the tomato was introduced to India less than 800 years ago).
Usually, the curries with more sauce (wet curries) are accompanied by rice and the dry ones (with reduced sauce) are served with Indian flatbreads such as roti or naan.
It’s also interesting how quite a few dishes take their name from various sources like their place of origin, the primary ingredients, cooking style or cultural influences.
- Place of origin – The popular Udupi Sambhar, a frequent accompaniment to dosas and idlis, for example, refers to Udupi in South Canara (now called Dakshina Kannada) and similarly Chettinad Chicken refers to the Chettinad area in Tamilnadu.
- Ingredients used – Butter chicken or chicken makhani got its name because of the copious amounts of cream and butter used in the curry. Other examples would be Achari (pickled) chicken or Bhindi Dopiaza (okra cooked with twice the amount of onions), etc.
- Cooking style – An example would be Dum Aloo where whole potatoes are cooked in a spicy sauce on low heat for several hours (also called dum cooking). Other cooking styles include bhuna (stir-fry), tandoori (made in clay oven) to name a few.
- Cultural influences – Curries with names that are suffixed by Mughlai, Afghani, Parsi, etc indicate the culture it was influenced from.
The most common curries on any Indian Restaurant’s menu include the ubiquitous makhani, tikka masalas, korma, etc. However, there are many other curries that are just as delicious. Check out these 30+ different Indian curry types and hopefully, some of them will inspire you to try something new!
Curries named after a place of origin
Chettinad Chicken Curry
Chettinad is a region in central Tamil Nadu that is famed for its rich culinary heritage and repertoire of excellent dishes. An example would be this Chicken Chettinad dish – a spicy and aromatic chicken curry that is infused with curry leaves and chana dal and goes well with either rice or rotis or even dosas.
Goan Fish Curry
Goa (a state on the west coast of India) is famous for its beaches and good food especially the fish curries. These tangy curries use local ingredients like kokum and at times even vinegar, a result of Portuguese influence in the area. To top it up, they almost always have coconut added to it like in this fish curry recipe below.
Hyderabadi Bagara Baingan
This style of curry takes its name from the city of Hyderabad in the South of India. The city is known for its distinct cuisine which is a flavorful amalgamation of many different influences. Don’t be surprised when you see people chewing on a chili despite the curries being spicy, to begin with!.
Kashmiri Dum Aloo
These are basically curries that come from the gorgeous Kashmir region of India. The cuisine is distinctive and relies on yogurt, fennel, and cinnamon to make delectable dishes such as this Kashmiri dum aloo. You’d have noticed there’s no spice in the sense of heat and these are generally softer on the palette but nevertheless very flavorful.
Curries named after ingredients
Curries that use the same spices that are used for making Indian pickles (achaar in Hindi) are called Achari.
Unlike the American version of a pickle, largely a cucumber preserved in salt and vinegar, Indian pickles have more ingredients – they are usually made from limes, mangoes and have a longer shelf life and used as an accompaniment to fire up the taste buds. The most common spices used are fennel, nigella, and red chilies.
These curries have a tangy flavor and can be mild to very hot. Mostly, these curries are dry with the spices coated around the chicken, paneer or vegetable. They go really well with roti or naan.
This is a curry which has its origin in the Parsi cuisine. These curries have a sweet and sour taste and are mildly spiced. Dhansak generally consists of meat and vegetables cooked with lentils and sometimes spinach or fenugreek greens.
Minced meat is known as kheema or keema in India. Usually, ground meat is stir-fried with onion tomatoes, garlic, ginger and a number of spices before it is cooked to a gravy-like consistency.
Makhani refers to makkhan or butter in Hindi. A makhani curry may refer to the smooth silky thick texture of the gravy as well as the inclusion of butter and cream in the sauce. Makhani curries may have paneer or chicken as the main ingredient.
Green leafy vegetables are called saag in India. When referring to curries, it generally means blanched green leafy vegetables that have been blended into a paste and cooked with herbs and spices. Potatoes, Paneer and meat are added to this green sauce to make a saag dish.
Curries that contain goat meat (also called lamb or mutton in India) are named gosht. These curries can be made in any number of ways and sometimes combined with lentils as in the Daal Gosht recipe below.
Methi Malai Paneer
Cream is called Malai in India. A malai curry almost always contains a paste of cashew or some other nut paste as the base along with yogurt and cream. The curries are mild and aromatic and tend to be a little on the sweet side. Spices like cardamoms and cloves give this dish its distinct taste and smell.
The word vindaloo is derived from the Portuguese word ‘carne de vinha d’alhos’ which means meat in a marinade of wine (vinho) and garlic (alho). A Goan specialty, Vindaloo curries are known for being spicy. While it is traditionally made with pork, other meats such as lamb or chicken have become popular replacements over the years.
Curries named after cooking style
Bhuna means stir-fried. Whole spices are stir-fried in oil to release the flavor and then rest of the ingredients are added. The most distinguishing feature of a bhuna dish is that the meat or vegetables are cooked in their own juices and no or very little water is added. This renders a sauce that is thick and viscous.
Balchao refers to the method of cooking where the seafood is pickled in a spicy and tangy tomato-vinegar based sauce. This style of cooking is popular in Goa. The curry is made with either fish or meat. It is almost like a pickle and can be stored for several days.
A bharta is a mash. It is generally made with aubergines or potatoes, sometimes onions, tomatoes, capsicums are also added to enhance the flavor. The vegetables are normally chargrilled or boiled which softens the exterior and the skin is then peeled off, following which the vegetable is then mashed before being cooked.
When the curry is cooked in a sealed pan over low heat, it is generally said to be Dum cooked. Once all the ingredients are added to the pot, it is generally sealed so the meat or vegetables cook in their own juices under pressure.
Chicken Karahi or Kadhai
The Indian version of the wok is called a kadhai. This curry is essentially cooked in the kadhai and renders a sauce that is thick and coats the main ingredients that could be any kind of meat, fish or vegetable. The main ingredients are stir-fried in the Kadhai before they are covered and cooked mostly in their own juices or with very little water. You may also see this type of curry referred to as balti.
The word Kofta has Persian origins and means ‘to grind’ referring to the ground meat used in making them. Though koftas are traditionally made from meat in the middle east, you’ll find vegetarian versions in India. Malai koftas are especially popular and often makes its way in restaurant menus – find the recipe below.
A korma sauce traditionally was made from yogurt, almonds, and saffron along with a few spices. Over the years, turmeric has replaced the expensive saffron and almonds are often substituted with cashews.
The word korma is derived from the Urdu word qorma which means to braise. Braising involves cooking at high heat followed by slow cooking to finish off the dish. This technique works particularly well for chicken since it locks in flavors and makes the meat succulent. If you prefer a vegetarian version, follow the recipe below.
Tadka means tempering. Most Indian gravies go through this process – either in the beginning or at the end. Some curries even call for tempering twice. This Dal tadka recipe is a classic example of when the tempering is done before adding the rest of the ingredients.
Curries named after cultural influence
Mughlai Kesar Murgh
This cuisine came to India with the Mughals. The curries are rich and cooked with aromatic spices, essences, dried fruits, and nuts. Most modern Mughlai dishes are cooked with nut pastes which form the base for a thick and creamy curry that is mildly hot.
Other popular curries
There are a few more curries that may not fit in the categories listed above but certainly, deserve to be called out.
Chicken Tikka Masala
This dish originated in England ( surprise, yes!) when boneless grilled pieces of chicken tikka were added to the mildly hot and aromatic gravy. Though it originally used chicken as the main ingredient, you can now find, Paneer Tikka Masala, Mutton Tikka Masala, and even Mushroom Tikka masala on many menus.
This spicy chicken stew comes from the state of Bengal and is distinguished by the presence of mustard in it. It is a thin gravy which may contain fish, meat or vegetables.
Jalfrezi is an anglicized version of the word jhal porhezi where jhal means spicy food and porhezi (derived from the Persian word parhezi) means suitable for a diet. This curry is a throw-back to the times when Brits ruled India and is a fusion of Anglo-Indian influences. It contains green chilies that are stir-fried with tomatoes and onions to create a thick sauce in which meat or vegetables are cooked. Check out this Paneer Jalfrezi recipe below – it is absolutely delicious!
Moilee or Molee simply means stew. Fish Molee (Fish Molly or Meen Moilee) is a Kerala style Fish Curry where fish is cooked in a coconut milk-based gravy. Enjoy this curry with a bowl of steamed rice or appam.
Kadhi is a thick yogurt-based curry that is mildly flavored. Chickpea flour or lentil paste is used to thicken the curry which may contain lentil balls or vegetables. There are many varieties of Kadhi and each region of India has its own version. Some may be sour, others may be sweet and sour. Some are very mild with very little spices; others may be more robust.
Mirchi ka Salan
In certain cultures and regions, curry is known as salan. So, any gravy-based dish can also be called salan. Mirchi ka salan or Green Chili salan is a famous curry from Hyderabad.
This curry derived from the word ‘pasanday’ meaning loved by all. It is mildly flavored with a cashew base. Though normally cooked with meat, it may also be made with Indian cottage cheese called paneer.
Masala is a mixture of various spices, onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, etc. Any curry that contains a mix of spices and herbs can be termed a Masala curry. The taste, ingredients and heat quotient of a masala curry depends entirely on the cook. It can range from mild to extremely hot depending on the cook.
Shahi cuisine normally contains highly aromatic spices and herbs along with nuts which creates a very thick and rich curry. It may contain meat, vegetables or paneer as the main ingredient.
This is in no way an exhaustive list of Indian curries – there are probably quite a few regional ones that I may have missed. If you know of one that should be part of the list, please leave me a comment and I’ll add them in.
What to serve with curries?
Soft and fluffy rotis, pooris, plain or jeera rice, naan, tandoori roti – all pair really well with curries. Typically, curries with a lot of sauce are consumed with rice and for rotis, most people prefer dry curries. There is no hard and fast rule – you be you! Enjoy your curries with any kind of bread or rice dish you like 🙂
Hope you enjoyed this list of authentic and easy Indian curries. Please feel free to share it with your friends who share our love for Indian food.