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Dining as a Gluten-Free Veg in India: Decoding a North Indian Menu for Allergies
Posted By yum On December 5, 2007 @ 5:01 am In Bangalore, Indian, Indian Flatbread, North India, Punjab, Travel | 23 Comments
  
The first time I came to India two years ago, we stayed in an unpretentious guest house with an extensive room service menu of inexpensive, naturally gluten-free Southern Indian dishes like Dosa, Idli, Sambar and Upattham. (Don’t worry, a post on Southern Indian cuisine will follow soon!) However, for this, my second trip, Justin’s work put us up at a more posh hotel called the Nandhana. It’s a lovely hotel with much more privacy than the guesthouse, but the only unfortunate thing is that the connecting restaurant, Ebony, focuses on international cuisine and Northern Indian cuisine more than my favorite (and safe) Southern Indian dishes. However, while Northern Indian fare is more difficult for the gluten-free diner, as it relies on wheat-based flatbreads like Naan and Roti, you can still find reasonably safe and delicious veg dishes with some care. Unfortunately besides the very well known classics like Saag Paneer (spinach with paneer homemade cheese), Channa Masala (Chickpeas in Masala spice sauce), and Mattar Paneer (green peas and paneer homemade cheese), I’m not all that familiar with the name of some of these dishes, so our hotel room service menu was a bit of a mystery to me.  I thought this might be a good opportunity to learn about some Northern Indian specialties and the gluten-threat offered by each dish, as servers are not always well versed in specific English terms for gluten (or for that matter, the content of each dish), and as they say, forewarned is forearmed. For those of you following along on my gluten-free adventures in India, I thought you might enjoy learning about these dishes along with me. Learning about these dishes may also help you make informed decisions in Indian restaurants at home OR abroad, or inspire you to make them at home in the safety of your own gluten-free kitchen. Many of the dishes I was unfamiliar with on our hotel menu originated in the Punjab region, so this has served as a crash course for me in Punjabi cuisine.
India is one of the best places in the world for vegetarians, as caste and religion informs many aspects of diet, including vegetarianism. Vegetarian food is referred to simply as “veg” and non-vegetarian food is referred to as “non veg.” Simple enough, right? The tricky part may come into play for vegans, as veganism is not a natural part of the “veg” dietary scheme. There is a delineation for a “true veg” but this just means someone who doesn’t eat eggs. It may be difficult to explain a vegan diet to restaurants, and dairy products including ghee, butter, milk, cream, curd (yogurt) and paneer cheese are found in many, maybe even most, dishes. The Lonely Planet recommends street vendors as a source of food, but this may be problematic for those who must also follow a gluten-free diet. One food which immediately comes to my mind is the simple idli, a steamed rice and urad dal cake, paired with sambar soup and coconut chutney. This should be suitable for vegans and those who are gluten free (just avoid rava idli!!! rava=semolina/wheat), but many of the delightful dry and gravy “curries” will contain dairy. Nut allergies would also be tricky in India, as some sauces rely on the cashew nut or peanut for their body and flavor. Unfortunately it is often difficult to discuss allergies with servers, as even someone quite fluent in English might not be well versed in “wheat, rye, oats, or barley.” Here is a very good article about dealing with allergies in India .
Items on the Menu likely to be Gluten-Free
*barring gluten elements in spice mixes, and cross contamination factors. One unavoidable issue with ground spices and flours (even GF ones) in India is that they may be ground on a mill shared with gluten flours. This also applies to imports… Asafoetida is a spice that contains either rice or wheat flour and should be avoided if possible. Read comments for where you might find this ingredient, and check out this interesting article on asafoetida/hing .
 Rice Dishes
“People often can’t differentiate between biryani, fried rice, and pulao. ‘For the first, one needs to fry the rice first, in the second the cooked rice is fried with the other sautÃ©ed ingredients. In the pulao, everything is cooked together.’”(source:hinduonnet article)
Pulao is a rice pilaf that is probably gluten-free but unlikely to be dairy free.
Variations: Jeera Pulao  is a Jeera (Cumin seed) pilaf dish. Recipe for Jeera Pulao . Paneer Pulao is a pilaf dish made with homemade Indian paneer cheese.
Vegetable Handi Biryani  is a heavily spiced Punjabi rice dish.  Often served with salan , a spicy thick chutney/gravy like sauce, and raita, a cooling yogurt sauce, often with cucumber or other fruits and vegetables. Apparently “A traditional Hyderabadi salan is made in a shallow wide flat bottomed handi. The salan is a sealed in this handi and kept on low fire to cook with all the flavours trapped inside to give that authentic rich taste.”(source: tarladalal.com) tomato salan recipe . Various raita recipes .
Curd Rice  seems to be a Southern rice dish made with liberal amounts of yogurt and other dairy products. Spices and additions seem to be a matter of the creativity of the chef, but this simple recipe evokes nostalgia  for many bloggers .
Curd Rice at IndiaCuisine . Curd Rice Recipe from Vineela .
Aloo Jeera  is a delicious dish of aloo (potatoes) seasoned with jeera (cumin). It goes well with rice and is highly likely to be gluten-free, barring any suspicious spice mixtures added. Here’s another simple Aloo Jeera recipe , as well as an authentic Punjabi version from Sanjeev Kapoor 
Paneer Tikka  is a snack of marinated, spiced paneer coated in yogurt cooked in a tandoor that is often associated with Punjab cuisine. This appetizer looks so tasty I can’t wait to try it, and seems to not usually be coated in flour, although you should always check with your server.Gorgeous and Tasty Paneer Tikka recipe  from the Manpasand blog. And, another Paneer Tikka Recipe .
Paneer Makhani  is a recipe for paneer (homemade cheese) simmered in a rich, creamy buttery sauce (makhani) that often has a tomato component. Not exactly low calorie but likely to be gluten free and very decadent. Paneer Makhani Recipe from Arad-daagh  an unconventional low-fat recipe for Paneer Makhani from Archana  And a recipe for paneer makhani  from a Bangalore local!
Soup (Shorba in North India)
Tomato Shorba  a tomato water soup which may  or may not contain coconut milk but may contain ghee. It does not seem to usually be thickened with flour, although I found one recipe  calling for a tablespoon of besan (chickpea flour). Tamater ka shorba recipe  Variations: Tomato Dhaniya Shorba: Dhaniya=coriander, so it may have fresh cilantro or coriander seeds added to the soup.
Dal/dhal/dahl/daal is “a preparation of pulses which have been stripped of their outer hulls and split. It also refers to the thick, spicy stew prepared from pulses [lentils]. . . In South India dal is used to make the [spicy] stew/veg soup called sambar. The word Dal derives from the Sanskrit term to split.” (Source: Wikipedia, Dal entry )
Variations:Yellow Dal Tadka  Tadka/ tarka (or chaunk/baghar) is a combination of (regionally determined) spices fried in oil. Spices may include: “cumin, chili/cayenne powder, onion, mustard seeds and garlic, asafoetida, fresh or dried chili pods, cilantro, garam masala and cumin seeds.” Like with some chutney preparations, the tadka oil is poured over the cooked dal for serving. (Source: Wikipedia, Dal entry ) Fabulous Video and Yellow Dall Tadka recipe 
Variations:Dal Makhani  (see entry for Paneer Makhani, above). Hearty Dal Makhani  from the Punjabi region is composed of black lentils and red kidney beans in a creamy butter, onions, tomatoes, and ginger-garlic sauce. A lighter recipe for Dal Makhani (use lowfat yogurt) .
Non-Veg Menu Items of interest to a Pescatarian:
Achari Fish Tikka (boneless fish marinated in yoghurt and pickle spices), Ajwani Fish Tikka (traditional fish tikka with ajwain), Pomfret Amritsari (pomfret fish with the chef’s secret spices) and Tandoori Goalda Chingri (tiger prawns in traditional kebab spices).
Veg Seekh Kabab , a grilled or fried vegetable mash on a kabob. Recipe for Veg Seekh Kabab  Note the usage of corn flour, which in British usage may indicate any “regular” flour, including WHEAT flour but alternatively might indicate corn flour or cornstarch. It is probably best to ask your server about this dish, and if possible to provide an allergy dining card. Other recipes I found online called for breadcrumbs or Rawa/Rava (Semolina=Wheat) flour coating.
Hara Bhara Kabab , a fried vegetable mash with potato and spinach as the main ingredients. Has same issues as the Veg Seekh Kabab- may be dusted in flour or breadcrumbs and possibly fried in a gluten-contaminated fryer. Hara Bhara Kabab Recipe 
Harechanna Ka Kabab  refers to a kind of green gram/dal/lentil vegetable kabob that may have potato and possibly paneer in some permutations. As with the other veg. kabobs, may be dusted with flour or deep fried. Green Channa Kabab Recipe 
[Note: according to Aayi, if you are in Bangalore "donâ€™t miss the â€œJolad rotti ootaâ€ in Kamat Minerva (at Minerva circle). The taste is superb there. They serve jowar roti with 2-3 sides, one of them is always â€˜Ennegayi (stuffed brinjal)â€˜, and butter." I am dying to find out if they are truly gluten free..]
Southern Indian cuisine also offers some naturally gluten free “bread” options, although they do not tend to be much like flatbread. These include the dosa, idli, and upattham, among others. Post to follow.
*I’m just a novice at sweets, but tend to err on the side of caution. Even the dairy based rasgulla cheese sweet may contain minute amounts of flour, alas.. And gulab jamun, India’s milky answer to the donut, contains unadulterated gluten. Right now I’m more inclined to make them at home than to trust sweet shops… but I’d love to try them if I could find some safe varieties.
Whew. Figuring all this out has made me realize how much I DON’T know about the diverse food cultures in India… But at least now I can handle our hotel room service menu like a pro- as long as I’m ordering veg! Just don’t ask me about non-veg dishes… ;)
This information was the result of extensive internet research, but there may be mistakes. Please ask your server extensive questions and explain your dietary needs, with the help of travel cards if necessary. You may find that North Indian restaurants in the US are more likely to add wheat flour as a thickener than they are in India- or even that some chefs here add wheat where you wouldn’t expect it. Be careful and if in doubt- just don’t eat it! If you have additions, corrections, or compliments (tee hee) please post in the comments!
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 a very good article about dealing with allergies in India: http://www.indiamike.com/india/health-and-well-being-in-india-f2/what-we-learned-about-allergies-in-india-t27029/
 this interesting article on asafoetida/hing: http://www.indianspices.ru/encyclo/encyclo.php?enc=asafoetida&g=57
 Image: http://www.bookofyum.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/rice.jpg
 Jeera Pulao: http://www.cuisinecuisine.com/JeeraRice.htm
 Recipe for Jeera Pulao: http://www.indianfoodforever.com/rice/jeera-pulao.html
 Vegetable Handi Biryani: http://recipeofchoice.wordpress.com/2007/07/02/rci-for-punjabi-cuisine/
 Punjabi rice dish.: http://myworksh0p.blogspot.com/2006/09/vegetable-pulavpulao.html
 salan: http://www.nandyala.org/mahanandi/archives/2007/05/10/mirchi-ka-salan-from-hyderabad/
 tomato salan recipe: http://trialsnerror.blogspot.com/2006/07/moms-recipe-tamatar-salan.html
 Various raita recipes: http://www.indiavisitinformation.com/indian-recipe/raita/index.shtml
 Curd Rice: http://arad-daagh.blogspot.com/2006/06/curd-rice.html
 nostalgia: http://verboseviju.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/08/the-chicken-soup-for-my-soul-curd-rice.htm
 many bloggers: http://houstonvijai.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/06/curd-rice-poor-man-rich-meal/comments.htm
 Curd Rice at IndiaCuisine: http://indiacuisine.blogspot.com/2006/02/arf-6-bisi-bele-bath-rice-lentils.html
 Curd Rice Recipe from Vineela: http://vineelascooking.blogspot.com/2006/08/dadhojanamcurd-rice.html
 Image: http://www.bookofyum.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/curry1.jpg
 Aloo Jeera: http://sweetnicks.blogspot.com/2007/10/aloo-zeera-or-aloo-jeera.html
 Aloo Jeera recipe: http://www.quickindiancooking.com/2007/09/04/281/
 Punjabi version from Sanjeev Kapoor: http://luv2eathate2cook.wordpress.com/2007/05/22/jeera-aloo/
 Aloo Mutter: http://mysamayal.blogspot.com/2007/07/aloo-mutter.html
 Aloo Mutter Recipe: http://foodmasala.blogspot.com/2007/06/aloo-mutter.html
 Aloo Gobhi: http://onehotstove.blogspot.com/2007/01/is-for-aloo-gobi.html
 Ahaar’s recipe for Aloo Gobhi: http://ahaar.blogspot.com/2006/09/aloo-gobhi-potato-cauliflower.html
 Gluten Free by the Bay: http://glutenfreebay.blogspot.com/2006/12/aloo-gobi-mattar-potato-cauliflower-and.html
 Bhindi Do Pyaza: http://www.sailusfood.com/2007/08/23/bhindi-do-pyaaza-okra-onion-stir-fry/
 Okra with Onions recipe with yogurt: http://culinarychem.wordpress.com/2006/11/01/bhinid-do-pyaza-okra-in-a-bed-of-onions-with-yogurt-base/
 Image: http://www.bookofyum.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/curry3.jpg
 Paneer Tikka: http://www.indianfoodforever.com/snacks/paneer-tikka.html
 Gorgeous and Tasty Paneer Tikka recipe: http://manpasand.blogspot.com/2006/08/paneer-tikka.html
 Paneer Tikka Recipe: http://www.geocities.com/NapaValley/3925/recipe_paneer_05.html
 Paneer Makhani: http://www.hookedonheat.com/2006/10/23/when-twos-a-crowd/
 Paneer Makhani Recipe from Arad-daagh: http://arad-daagh.blogspot.com/2007/01/paneer-makhni.html
 Paneer Makhani from Archana: http://archanaskitchen.wordpress.com/2007/11/16/pan/
 a recipe for paneer makhani: http://curryandspices.blogspot.com/2007/03/paneer-makhani.html
 Tomato Shorba: http://recipebook.wikidot.com/tomato-shorba
 may: http://www.tarladalal.com/recipe.asp?id=1561
 one recipe: http://sorisha.blogspot.com/2007/09/tomato-shorba-not-shorbet.html
 Tamater ka shorba recipe: http://www.indianfoodforever.com/soups/tamatar-ka-shorba.html
 Image: http://www.bookofyum.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/tamarindyums.jpg
 Wikipedia, Dal entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dal
 Yellow Dal Tadka: http://www.sominty.com/food/dal-tadka
 Video and Yellow Dall Tadka recipe: http://www21.sbs.com.au/foodsafari/index.php?pid=recipe&cid=115
 Dal Makhani: http://www.sailusfood.com/2006/07/01/dal-makhani/
 Dal Makhani: http://isouthpotpourri.blogspot.com/2006/06/dal-makhani_30.html
 A lighter recipe for Dal Makhani (use lowfat yogurt): http://ahaar.blogspot.com/2006/07/jfi-dal-makhani.html
 Kadhi Pakoda: http://siri-corner.blogspot.com/2007/08/kadhi-pakoda-curry.html
 Recipe for Punjabi Kadhi: http://luv2eathate2cook.wordpress.com/2007/07/05/punjabi-kadhi/
 Veg Seekh Kabab: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2005/20050410/spectrum/food.htm
 Recipe for Veg Seekh Kabab: http://www.recipezaar.com/94053
 Hara Bhara Kabab: http://www.indiaexpress.com/cooking/hara_bhara_kabab.html
 Hara Bhara Kabab Recipe: http://recipejunction.blogspot.com/2006/11/hara-bhara-kababscutlets.html
 Harechanna Ka Kabab: http://www.tarladalal.com/ViewContributedRecipe.asp?recipeid=4251
 Green Channa Kabab Recipe: http://www.bawarchi.com/contribution/contrib4304.html
 Bhakri: http://sameekshaa.tripod.com/recipes/sn_joroti.html
 Aayis’ recipe for Bhakri: http://www.aayisrecipes.com/2006/05/31/jowar-rotijolad-rotti-an-easy-way/
 The Cook’s Cottage’s Recipe for Bhakri with Jowar: http://thecookscottage.typepad.com/curry/2006/01/bhakri_jowar_ro.html
 Nandyala’s recipe for Sorghum Roti/ Jonna Rotte/ Jowar Roti: http://www.nandyala.org/mahanandi/archives/2006/04/04/sorghum-roti-jonna-rotte-jowar-roti/
 List of non-wheat flours commonly used in India: http://www.indax.com/food.html
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