Indian food is one of the most colorful and flavorful cuisines out there!
With the use of various spices – turmeric, coriander, cardamom, ginger, etc. – these foods have so much flavor.
In fact, Indian dishes can be a little too rich for some, which is why it’s essential to serve them with sides.
And that’s what I have in store for you today: 21 side dishes that are sure to complement your Indian main course.
Serve these fabulous sides along with your tandoori, marsala, and makhani for a memorable Indian-themed celebration.
1. Basmati Rice
Let’s start with the basics. Since Indian food has strong, rich flavors, you can’t go wrong with simple steamed basmati rice.
Apart from the long and slender grains, basmati rice is also well-known for its fragrant aroma.
If you want more flavor in your basmati, add some turmeric and golden onions for a spicy variation.
Or, infuse your basmati with tomatoes, lentils, and spinach for a creamy side.
Pulao is a pilaf that’s famous in India and the Middle East. It can be made with couscous or cracked wheat, although it’s more commonly made with rice.
The rice is cooked in a broth with meat, vegetables, fruits, and spices, giving it such a deep flavor.
The most coveted part of the pulao is the tahdig – or the crisp, golden crust that forms at the bottom of the pot.
Pulao may be served as a main course, eaten with salad and yogurt, or as a side dish.
If you’re more of a bread person, try chapati (or roti) with your curry, paneer, or masala!
Chapati got its name from the Hindi word, chapat, which means to slap.
Back in the day, the dough was formed by slapping the flour mixture between the palms.
Today, the flatbread is made by baking a mixture of wheat flour, water, and salt on a griddle.
There are several variations of chapati to choose from: paneer or cheese chapati, vegetable-stuffed chapati, radish chapati, and more.
What makes chapati the perfect accompaniment for thick stews is that you can use it to scoop up both meats and sauces.
4. Naan Bread
Naan is a fluffy flatbread that’s so tasty, I can eat it on its own. But it tastes fantastic with tandoori chicken, kebab, and curry too!
Many people confuse it for chapati and roti (which we now know are one and the same), so let me explain the difference.
Chapati/roti is an unleavened flatbread, so it’s thinner than naan. Naan, on the other hand, has yeast, giving it its fluffy, pillowy goodness.
Aside from plain naan, you can also eat it buttered or stuffed with garlic, mutton, or potatoes.
Puri is crisp bread that’s deep-fried in vegetable oil or ghee. It becomes puffy, golden, and stunning to look at.
It makes a fantastic side to creamy stews and spicy curries.
You can also have puri stuffed with mashed potatoes and other vegetables, which is wonderful for breakfast.
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It can also be eaten as a dessert, with ripe mangoes or semolina halwa.
Rasam is a tamarind juice-based soup spiced with cumin, chili, lemon, pepper, and tomatoes. Its tangy and makes a wonderful appetizer.
Rasam used to be made with just tamarind and black pepper, but it has evolved over the decades.
Today, several versions of rasam exist, such as the nellikkai (gooseberry) rasam, vepam poo rasam (rasam with neem flowers), and inji rasam (rasam with ginger).
Pakora is a deep-fried dish made with potato and another vegetable (usually eggplant or cauliflower) or meat.
Pakora is seasoned with salt, chili, turmeric, and more spices.
It’s more of a street fare than a homemade dish, but it still makes a wonderful appetizer.
Serve it with chutney for dipping for an extra-addictive dish.
Papadum is a crisp cracker bread made with either chickpea flour, rice, gram, or lentils.
Variations include the masala papadum, which is infused with black pepper, cumin, garlic, and chili.
Then there’s the jackfruit papadum, which is a combination of chickpea flour and jackfruit.
Last, there’s the rice papadum, which is boiled rice dried under the sun.
It’s great on its own as a snack, topped with chutney or raita sauce, but even more fantastic as a side to curries.
You can even use it as a vessel to scoop up the meats and the sauce!
A dhal (or dal, or daal) is a soup made with either lentils, beans, or peas. There are a plethora of dhal varieties out there, and they all make great sides to Indian dishes.
Chana dhal is made with chickpeas. Toor dal is made from split pigeon peas. And the famous makhani dhal is made from black lentils and red kidney beans.
Makhani dhal is flavored with ginger, garlic, paste, chili, and tomato sauce.
Since makhani means butter in Indian, it is loaded with lots of it, giving it such a rich flavor.
Dhal tastes great, topped with yogurt or cream, and eaten with naan or chapati. You can also serve it with curry and butter chicken. Yum!
This curry meat stew is packed with potatoes and green peas, and flavored with onions, ghee, garlic, chili, ginger, and garam masala.
While it’s more of a main than a side dish (eaten with naan or chapati), you can also use keema as a filling to samosas.
11. Papri Chat
Papri chat is another popular street food in North India. It’s made with fried wafers (the chapri) and topped with chickpeas, potatoes, yogurt, and tamarind chutney.
The dish is seasoned with cilantro, mint, and other spices, giving it a sweet, sour, and tangy flavor.
It’s crisp and creamy, too, which makes it even more irresistible. Add this to your menu, and your friends will thank you forever.
12. Bombay Potato
Bombay potato is a hearty side dish that’s packed with so much flavor.
It’s prepared by frying cubed and boiled potatoes and seasoning them with salt, pepper, garam masala, turmeric, mustard seeds, curry, chili powder, and garlic.
Just imagine all those beautiful flavors in one dish!
Chole is a curry made with chickpeas and is normally served with puri, naan, or roti.
The chickpeas are mixed with tomatoes, onions, garlic and ginger pastes, and of course, curry. This one’s definitely a crowd-pleaser!
Who can resist a sweet, spicy, and tangy chutney? It’s the quintessential Indian sauce, and I love it!
Whether it’s a sweet mango chutney, a rich tamarind chutney, or a refreshing tomato chutney, you can’t go wrong. It’s a must-have at every Indian-themed party!
15. Palak Paneer
This vegetarian dish is so rich, creamy, and just downright delightful.
I’m not a vegetarian, but palak paneer is one of my go-to dishes to order at an Indian restaurant. It’s just that delicious.
Palak paneer is a combination of cottage cheese and spinach, flavored with various Indian spices. It may be simple, but it’s so yummy.
Serve it with any flatbread for a side dish that’s to die for.
Upma is a porridge made with rice flour or dry semolina. It makes a great side to rich Indian dishes since it’s a bit on the bland side.
You can serve it as is, or flavor it with nuts, beans, and spices. Some Indian regions even add shredded coconut, corn, and milk to give it a creamier flavor.
Samosa is another one of my favorite Indian sides. Like the Mexican empanada, samosa is a fried or baked pastry filled with a meat or vegetable filling.
It comes in different shapes, such as a triangle, a cone, or a half-moon.
Samosas are crisp on the outside and savory and juicy on the inside. Traditionally, the pastry is made with maida flour and ghee, but you can use filo pastry, too!
As for the filling, you can use minced meat and spinach, and infuse with garam masala and other spices.
You can eat the savory dish on its own or serve it as a side with chutney and yogurt.
Samosas have a sweet variety, too, with a fruit filling such as mango, pomegranate and raisins.
18. Malai Kofta
Malai kofta are veggie-based meatballs that are perfect for your vegetarian friends.
They’re made with mashed potatoes, beans, carrots, corn, and peas, which are then infused with spices and paneer or cheese.
Serve malai kofta with naan or on the side of rice for a hearty, but healthy meal.
Who says you can’t serve dessert as a side dish? Rasgulla are round dumplings made with chena and semolina dough.
They’re cooked in a sugar-based syrup, giving them such a sweet flavor.
Modak is another popular Indian dessert. It’s a steamed, fried, or boiled dumpling with a sweet filling.
The dumpling is made with rice or wheat flour and maida flour, while the filling is made with grated coconut and jaggery or cane sugar.
Other varieties of modak use bananas, saffron, and nutmeg as the filling.
According to Hindu belief, modak is the favorite sweet treat of the god Ganesha. As such, it is commonly used as a religious offering during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival.
Last on our list is the barfi, an Indian dessert made with milk. It got its name from the Persian word barf, meaning snow.
It is made by combining condensed milk, sugar, and ghee, giving it that snowy ice characteristic. It can be served as is or flavored with nuts, fruits, saffron, and rose water.