Gluten-Free Recipes from a Vegetarian Dinner Party in India

vineetsdin8.jpgOur recent trip to India is beginning to seep away, crowded out by a bewildering collection of new experiences in Austria and Germany- two countries that are a world away from India in both flavor and geography. When I think back on India, it comes to me in flashes of sensory experiences- the smell of Aloo Jeera, twanging of cumin and rich oils, the colors of women’s saris lit up like butterflies under a hazy sun, the sound of chanting and music from a nearby temple- the suffocating exhaust from rickshaws and the honking of their horns negotiating for space. But in all the confusion and excitement that we experienced in India, I think my favorite memories are of two occasions when DH’s co-worker and wife opened their home to us for two exquisite dinners enjoyed with their family. When I came to India previously two years ago, I was only there for a week and got the briefest brush with the country. I soaked up experiences and sensations as best I could, but everything was strange and new to me. I skimmed the surface of this new culture like the lightest of water bugs, shopping, sightseeing, and viewing temples just as I was supposed to as a tourist. The closest I came to experiencing home life in India was a peaceful stroll through a local grocery store. This trip I decided, like any good tourist, to fulfill a life-long dream to see the Taj Mahal but I also hoped to spend some time out of the tourist circuit just enjoying spending time with some of DH’s friends in India. When one of his friends (who had visited the States the previous year) invited us to his home with wife and young son for dinner, I was thrilled- and visiting their peaceful apartment complex and home offered a welcome break from a hotel lifestyle in noisy Bangalore. I was really happy to meet DH’s friend’s lovely and hospitable wife and clever young son, and being me, I was practically hyperventilating with excitement at the prospect of a home-cooked meal and the chance to learn some new recipes or preparation methods. The meal and evening surpassed my wildest hopes, and it was such a pleasure to enjoy a meal with fellow vegetarians. (The family is vegetarian and of course, so was our meal.) In Bangalore, people tend to eat dinner far later than we tend to in the vineetsdin7.jpgStates, so our meal began late, which was good as I had eaten a late lunch and definitely needed lots of room for the extensive array of dishes our hostess had planned. After being shown around their home and admiring their son’s cool bike and toys on his request, the relaxing meal began with a delicious and light boiled peanut salad with fresh cilantro leaves and onions. One thing that eating in Indian restaurants in the States or simply reading Indian cookbooks hadn’t shown me was that crisp, fresh salads (rarely involving lettuce) are often a refreshing beginning course or accompaniment to heavier dishes. vineetsdin4.jpgThe yummy peanut snack was followed with a crunchy salad of sliced red tomatoes, red onions, radishes, green chilies and wedges of fresh lime or lemon. These crisp vegetables were sprinkled only with salt (sometimes pepper is also added, both black or chili) and I was amazed by the sweetness and flavor in the simple tomato slices garnished with salt and just a squeeze of lime. When I exclaimed over the flavor (in December, no less), DH commented that a great deal of Indian produce is naturally organic- something I hadn’t known. Here’s an interesting article on the issue of organic farming in India if you’d like to know more about this. I also loved the simple salads of lightly salted red onion slices and limes served in Indian restaurants- while I’ve always found lettuce a bit dull, I think I’ve discovered a new style of “salad” that I will be enjoying in my own home now that I’ve returned. Who needs corn syrup filled “lowfat” dressings when a light sprinkle of salt and lime juice enhances the flavor of vegetables so beautifully? The star of the meal for me, though, was the satisfying “snack” of fried Chana Dal Pakora or Dal Vada, fried croquettes of chana lentils that had an amazing “bready” texture and crisp exterior, with heavenly, perfectly balanced seasonings. The meal was prepared by our hostess, her mother, and their son’s caretaker, and it was actually the natively South Indian caretaker who had introduced the family to the recipe. I watched the patties being prepared from a bowl of the mashed ingredients and felt my mouth water- and when they were fried to golden perfection and served with delicious green chutney their flavor surpassed my wildest imaginings. DH enjoyed his with ketchup, but I scooped the green chutney onto mine for a completely harmonious pairing. I had to have the recipe in order to try to make them at home later- and of course, to share with you all (see recipe below). After our round of snacks and salads were over, we adjourned to the table for more amazing dishes. vineetsdin21.jpgThe first night, we had a salty, smoky (and yet completely vegetarian!) dal dish that I still hope to get the recipe for, hearty aloo gobi (potatoes with cauliflower), and an amazing rich cheese dumpling dish in a tomato gravy (another dish I’d love to have the recipe for). They’d kindly made rice for me, and then made (gluten containing) roti flatbread from scratch for the other guests. I peered around the corner to watch our hostesses mother make the roti- she used a small,solid wooden cylinder rolling pin to flatten the dough and then placed the dough on the heating surface until it puffed lightly, then skillfully flipped it and put it into a basket, beginning the whole process over again. Crispy pappadam completed the meal, adding welcome crunch and a contrast in flavor. The cheese dumplings melted in the mouth and made me wish I had five more stomachs so that I could eat more (thanks to my greedy enjoyment of the dal vada I was getting quite full by this time), the cauliflower in the aloo gobhi was delightfully seasoned and reminded me again why I like cauliflower in Indian food, and the dal was so rich and salty I decided I need to expand my dal repertoire. For dessert we had prepared rasgulla, which I was delighted to find was gluten free. Sometimes store prepared and labeled food is the most wonderful thing in the world- I wouldn’t have dared to try unlabeled rasgulla, but this stuff was safe! Unfortunately by then I was so full that I couldn’t eat much of the very concentrated sweet rasgulla, to my dismay- but it had been a wonderful meal. I especially appreciated the gracious hospitality of our hostess, who patiently explained all the ingredients to me and was able to make me feel so safe and comfortable when eating out with gluten intolerance can be such an intimidating prospect. Our hostess worked so hard to make us all comfortable that she didn’t take time to eat herself, which made her American guests feel rather as though we ought to start serving her food so that she could enjoy her own feast! It must have been after midnight by the time we finished, and we were so full we could barely waddle to the car so our host could take us home. It was strange to drive through the dark and relatively silent streets of Bangalore that late at night- usually we burrowed into our hotel no later than nine or ten at night. A drive that during the day would take at least forty-five minutes in stop and start, honking rickshaw traffic took barely minutes, and before we knew it, we were back at the hotel bidding farewell to our host. Although I feared that might be our only chance to enjoy dinner with their family because we were flying to Delhi to see the Taj Mahal the next weekend, we had one more opportunity later to have dinner with their family before we left. This second meal was just as delicious as the first, and they made those divine dal vada again as a snack- DH and I ate so many we were quite ashamed of our greediness, but they were so good we couldn’t help ourselves. This second meal featured a delicious potato dish, another tasty dal, and a tomato gravy paneer with green peas. It was so delicious that again, we wished we had brought some extra stomachs along to help. Dessert was a delightful surprise, and one that DH and I thoroughly enjoyed- our hostess had prepared a slow simmered rice pudding richly spiced with freshly ground cardamom and bits of tasty nuts. DH in particular has a weakness for fresh cardamom and we were sorely tempted when our hostess offered us some to take home, but we didn’t trust our unreliable hotel refrigerator (with its inability to keep even soft drinks cool) to keep a milk dish safe for later consumption. *sigh* Luckily, I got the recipe so you can bet I will be making some of my very own sometime soon. Both the company and the food were absolutely wonderful, and we were both grateful to our host and hostess for welcoming us so graciously into their home. In particular, I was touched that they went to such effort on our behalf when I’m such a hassle to cook for, being both vegetarian AND gluten-free. I always feel awkward when explaining to potential hosts or hostesses the complex assortment of things that I can’t have- and the best of intentions can’t always compensate for the difficulties of preparing gluten-free food. Luckily, our host’s family was vegetarian, and Indian food really does have many naturally gluten-free dishes, and so perhaps it wasn’t as complicated for them to prepare a meal for us as it would have been in other food cultures- but still, I am immensely grateful for their hospitality, their company, and their gift of amazing, vegetarian, gluten-free home-cooked food in Bangalore, India. Thanks to their entire family (and congratulations, on their recent good news!), and thank you, Bangalore. Agra and its Taj Mahal may offer the world the most wonder, but Bangalore has somehow crept into my heart and become, in a small way, a place that feels like home- a place with friends, and memories, with places that I nested in and places that I gazed at with wonder- favorite coffee shops and un-favorite streets to cross- good experiences, like the rickshaw driver that DIDN’T charge more than the fare meter, and people that remembered me from two years ago, and bad experiences, like the ever present noise and air pollution… but nevertheless, a place I will think of fondly. And of course, Bangalore is a place with flavors that I expect to provide inspiration for dishes for years to come.


Chana Dal Pakora or Dal Vada
250 gm Bengal Gram (Channa/ Chana Dal)
2-4 (sm.) red onions, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
2-3 finely chopped green chili (sm, not Anaheim)
2-3 cloves (Loung?)
1 stick (1 inch) cinnamon bark (dalchini)
salt to taste

Cooking Oil for deep frying
50 gm. Ginger (finely crushed but Not paste)
1/2 or 1/4 head of garlic (finely crushed)

Chutney to serve- mint or cilantro chutney is lovely, and then some kind of red chutney or even ketchup offers a nice contrast.

Soak 250 gm. (washed) Bengal gram for 5-6 hours. Strain the water and grind the strained dal along with crushed garlic, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon bark. Put the grinded mixture in a bowl and mix finely chopped onions, fresh cilantro leaves, salt, and green chilies. Mix it well with spoon or by hand. Make round, flat patty shaped balls and deep fry on medium flame in pre-heated oil. Maybe about 2.5 minutes, then turn for 2.5 minutes more.
This is a South Indian recipe that our friends (originally from Northern India) had been introduced to by their son’s caretaker. They liked it so much they adopted the recipe- and after weeks in India drooling over all the gluten containing fried snacks I couldn’t have, it was a thrill for me to enjoy this in their home. I begged them to make it again when we visited their house a second time- and it was just as wonderful as I remember! Probably my favorite thing I ate over the entire duration of our trip. :)

*Indian onions and other veggies may be smaller than some of their giant American cousins, so you may want to use your best judgment on quantities. When I’ve tested the recipe in my own kitchen I may update amounts…

Kheer Cardamon Rice Pudding
Dessert  Rice  Indian  
1/2 cup rice
2 liters milk
1/2 to 1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cardamom powder (freshly ground) (alaichi)
1 tbsp cashews
1 tbsp almonds (blanched)
Wash rice and strain it. Boil your milk and as soon as it boils put the rice in and simmer the rice. Keep stirring for 2-3 minutes and then leave it on the burner for 15-30 minutes, stirring occasionally so rice doesnt stick or burn. Add sugar, fresh cardamom, cashews and almonds. Let it simmer another 10 minutes or until mixture has thickened to desired consistency. Enjoy!

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4 Responses to “Gluten-Free Recipes from a Vegetarian Dinner Party in India”

  1. Sea,
    I so enjoyed reading about your meal in India. I can just picture you standing there watching in excitement. I’ll definitely be trying these recipes, once I figure out where to get the ingredients.

  2. Hey, SS:

    Happy New Year!

    Glad to see you back and with some great Indian recipes! Loved your descriptions and enthusiasm for India. You were very lucky to get to eat home cooking, and it sounds as if it was superb.

    I intend to try the Chana dal pakora and I’ll let you know how it goes. Keep the yummy recipes coming. And thanks!

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  4. [...] dal pakora recipe if you have some mint on hand. Enjoy! And, here’s my post describing the dinner party in Bangalore where I first enjoyed this [...]

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