25 Delicious Indian Side Dishes
A traditional Indian meal usually calls for a wide variety of food to be served. Whether a wedding ceremony, housewarming, or the birth of a child, the community goes out of its way to prepare a lavish spread to celebrate the joyous occasion.
Food is also an integral part of ritualistic ceremonies in most Indian religions, and thanksgiving for food and reverence to the deity are offered before the celebrations can begin. One of the key courses in a traditional Indian Thali are accompaniments or side dishes.
In India, side dishes play a key role in the rituals surrounding meals. If you’ve ever dined at a traditional Banana Leaf meal, you’ll know the sequence of service begins with salt being placed on the table first followed by an array of sides dishes or accompaniments varying from pickles to pappads, from sweets to savories. This is to prepare our senses for the main course coming up. It build anticipation and sets your taste buds alight: the perfect appetizer.
Let’s take a look at some famous and interesting dishes Indian cuisine has to offer. We give you links to recipes, which are so simple to prepare, you’ll sweep your guests off their feet.
1. Mangai Thokku
Summertime is synonymous with mangoes in India. There is a wide variety of the fruit, ranging from large with a thin outer skin and sweet juicy flesh, to more robust and citrus-flavored mangoes which are preferred for pickling or savory dishes. Every region has its own method of preserving the abundant summer mangoes using ingenious techniques.
Some use them for pickles, some prepare relishes, while other use them for wine or aam papad, a sweet and sour dried mango pulp-based candy. Thokku is the general term for a mash of vegetables seasoned with dry spices, vinegar, and/or lime which is prepared during the summer months to last throughout the year.
Traditionally, thokku is the third dish to be served during a banana leaf meal or thali. It is generally grated to a fine consistency, almost mashable, and spiced with red chili powder, mustard seeds, lime, tamarind, sesame oil, and jaggery, giving it a mild, sweet, and spicy burst of flavors. Pair it with curd rice or rotis, or enjoy it straight out of the bottle as you sip on your favorite beer.
2. Kannimanga Achar
This is an absolutely delectable side dish prepared with baby mangoes. These tiny mangoes are sweet and have a thick and robust inner flesh. They are usually brined in a solution of salt and water for a while before being pickled with a mix of spices oil and masalas. From the southern region of Kerala, this pickle usually finds its way onto the banana leaf for the infamous Onam sadhya, or any special occasion for that matter.
The tender, young baby mangoes are picked just before the start of the mango season, during early summer, providing a sneak peek at the bounty of mangoes still to come. Mustard, red chili, and asafoetida are the main seasonings, creating a sharp, tangy, and spicy taste, which is best paired with bland foods such as curd rice or idlis.
These tiny mangoes are also eaten as a snack depending on the time of the day, are a favorite among children, and are relished right across the country. The Punjabi and Tamil versions are famous. In the Punjab they use a simpler, milder salt and chili spiced brine, whereas the Tamil prefer more spices.
3. Tomato Thokku
It is not just the Italians who prepare large batches of tomato sauce at harvest time for using throughout the year. We Indians love our tomatoes too and have devised many ways to preserve this wonderful fruit.
Tomato thokku refers to a spicy yet slightly tart and tangy taste and is usually served as a condiment or side dish to go with the morning dosa or idli. It is bright red in color and has a texture similar to that of a paste.
One bite of this tomato relish and you’ll be going back for more. Some of the common seasonings are ginger, chili, sugar, salt, aam papad, raisins, dates, and spices. Onion, garlic, and peanuts or dal often go into the South Indian version. Try it with green chutney, adding another dimension of sweetness.
4. Aam Muraba
This simple yet absolutely mind-blowing preserve is made with raw Totapuri or Parrot Nosed mango. It şs famous for its tart flavor and thin, sweet skin. It is a childhood treat and transports most Indians down memory lane, to long, simple summers.
This is a sweet and tangy preserve with a touch of heat from the dry red chili powder. Hints of cardamom and saffron give it a nuanced yet rounded flavor profile. Prepared during the peak of the mango season, most homes produce it in batches and store them in pickle jars. Make it at home, store it in a mason jar, and it will keep for months in your refrigerator.
Muraba is best paired with fresh hot rotis with a side of ghee or a hot naan straight out of the oven. The sweet taste is a favorite with kids. Add a pinch of ground cinnamon if you want to take it up a notch.
5. Prawn Pickle
A staple along the coast, this dish is made either with baby prawns or shrimp, either dried or fresh. It has the perfect balance of heat from the chilies, paired with vinegar made from wine or coconut sap, which transforms this humble pickle into something divine.
This culinary masterpiece can be eaten by itself as a snack, paired with some chips or even spread on a chapati. But my favorite is to add a large spoon of it to a plate of hot steaming rice top with ghee! Voila! Bliss!
Made with turmeric, ginger, cumin, and garlic, the Goan prawn pickle is a star in its own right and is a must in any epicurean’s cabinet. Here’s a neat hack: pair your prawn pickle with a Goan poe (traditional bread), fill it with a hearty spoonful of prawn pickle, and top with crushed potato chips.
6. Erachi Achar
Kerala, a state in Southern India, is recognized the world around as a hotbed of spices and was a key location in the pepper trade, supplying a majority of the world’s pepper for centuries. Meat is also a widely used in this region. Combining these two elements, let me introduce you to erachi or meat pickle.
Flavored with fresh black pepper, mustard seeds, curry leaves, red chili, fenugreek seeds, and vinegar, it is a medley of flavors that burst in your mouth. A well-made bottle of this pickle can keep for a year or even more.
7. Curd Raitha
This is one of the most famous side dishes served throughout the country. Best friends with the infamous biriyani, no meal is complete in Indian cuisine without curd to finish it off. It can either be curd rice or curd raitha with crispy boondis, or sweetened curd with honey.
Curd raitha usually refers to curd, or yogurt, blended with shredded cucumber, pomegranate seeds, onions, cumin powder, and freshly chopped coriander. It’s a fresh breath of air and sort of plays the role of sorbet in refreshing your palette before you sit down for your final course, which is usually dessert.
Add a pinch of amchur or dry mango powder and black salt to elevate this humble side dish into something marvellous.
8. Coconut Chutney
The most famous South Indian side dish ever, this humble yet robust condiment is something of a legend and has influenced multiple dishes throughout the world, sambal being the most famous.
One thing that is common in South Indian chutneys is the use of coconut combined with an array of spices and fresh herbs.
Related: 20 Famous Indian Chutneys
Pair with dosa or vada or idli or roti and complete your meal with a protein-packed flavor bomb. Each region in South India has its own take on this long-established and beloved recipe. Every home in the country says their chutney is the best. That’s how fierce the chutney game is in India.
9. Peanut Chutney
Another famous South Indian delicacy, this is the twin of coconut chutney, owing to its wide use and the multiple versions from different regions. Some peanut chutneys are prepared dry, as a podi, or powdered, which can be seasoned with ghee or oil and mixed with rice. Or you can find a blend of coconuts and peanuts, similar to the traditional coconut chutney.
It’s best served with poori or deep-fried flatbread. Usually, spicier than plain coconut chutney, it has a pinkish to light brown color, depending on how long the peanuts are roasted. Pair it with a paokda or deep-fried fritters and find yourself lost in the flavors.
An aperitif? A palette cleanser? A digestive aid? Or is it simply a soup? This humble dish has many claims to fame. It is a thin yet flavorful spiced broth with hints of black pepper and red chili, garlic and curry leaves.
Internationally known as mulligatawny soup, it literally translates to pepper water or spiced water. Either served as a soup to start a meal or as digestive aid at the end, rasam is almost if not always paired with steaming white rice and served just before the curd.
A perfect remedy for colds and sniffles, this is a go-to recipe in most South Indian homes and you will find multiple variations across the country.
Pakoda is a general term referring to an array of batter-fried snacks, usually dipped in a chickpea or rice flour coating and deep-fried till golden brown. Each region in India uses its own choice of vegetables, from onions, chilies, and potatoes to plantains, etc.
The most famous is the onion pakoda, which calls for rings of onions to be coated in a heavy, spicy batter and deep-fried till crispy.
Chili powder, cumin, black salt, dry mango powder, and ajwain are some of the spices preferred here. This side dish is usually eaten by itself or with a dip or served as an accompaniment in a thali or banana leaf meal.
A papadam, or appalam, is a thin, deep-fried or toasted side dish made with black urad dal or dried black bean flour that is sun-dried before being packed and stored. It is usually deep-fried and is ready instantly as the floury discs hit the oil. It is considered the most famous Indian side, being served with most Indian meals.
The crispy, salty papadums are a treat with rice and curry as they give an additional texture to the entire meal and provide that much-needed crunch. They can be compared to crackers and have a similar texture and flavor palette. Papadums are usually spiced mildly, using cumin, chili flakes, pepper, etc.
They can either be deep-fried or grilled over a flame, depending on your preference.
13. Dal Tadka
Dal or lentils form the backbone of vegetarian protein in Indian cuisine. This dish is a staple in almost all Indian restaurants in India or abroad. Made with one or a mix of many lentils, it is thick, creamy, and mildly spiced: the perfect companion for that roti or pulav. Most Indians consider dal, rice, and papadams as their go-to comfort food, food for the soul.
This version calls for moong dal or mung beans paired with masoor or red lentils. Boiled with whole spices, such as bay leaf and cardamom and finished off with a tadka or tempering of curry leaf, red chili, mustard seeds, and hing.
14. Mirch Salan
Mirch salan, curd raitha, and biriyani are the holy trinity of Indian food. There is no better combination – though the jury is still out on which region prepares the best.
It is an unwritten rule that a biryani must be accompanied by a heavily spiced meat gravy, salan, and a refreshing curd raitha.
This salan is made with large sweet chilies as the base. They are low in heat but pack a lot of flavor. When roasted on an open flame and puréed, it adds a smoky note to the entire dish, making it even more delectable. This can be eaten with biriyani or parotas.
15. Papri Chaat
Available across India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, this is a common side dish or appetizer made with crispy deep-fried dough wafers topped with a medley of curd or yogurt, sev or chickpeas, a variety of sweet and savory sauces, and freshly chopped onions, mashed potato, and coriander.
The entire dish has a sweet and tangy taste and crispy texture. It’s usually eaten by itself or served as an appetizer. You can find vendors hawking this famous dish across the length and breadth of the country.
16. Curd Rice
The quintessential South Indian comfort food, referred to by its various names across the sub continent. In Maharashtra it is dahi bhat, in Tamil Nadu it is thayir saadam, in Kerala it is tayire chōre, and in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh it is perugannam or daddojanam, while in Karnataka, it is mosaranna.
Simply put, it is white rice steamed, cooled, and combined with thick probiotic yogurt, or curd. You can also find ingredients such as fresh ginger, green chilies, curry leaves, and pomegranate pearls being added to the mix. The rice is first tempered with black gram, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and asafoetida, then combined with curd, salt, and sugar. In some cases, cream or milk is added to give it a smooth consistency.
Slightly sweet with notes of savory flavors, it is usually served at the end of a meal or as a prasad on religious occasions. Personally, I love pairing it with spicy pepper chicken or chicken 65. The best way to eat curd rice, most would agree, is accompanied with a spicy pickle, typically mango. Seafood or meat work well too.
It is also good for your gut, as it aids digestion, and it helps cool the body, useful in tropical climates.
17. Garden Salad
The most common salad found at Indian buffets is a simple yet flavorful and colorful combination of tropical veg mixed together and combined with an earthy and savory dressing of dry mango powder, fresh lime juice, chopped green chilies, and chopped flat parsley.
You can use any vegetables, though onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers form the base. You can also add pomegranate pearls, toasted peanuts, or even boiled chickpeas to add more body and texture to the dish. Chat masala is also a common garnish and can be paired with lightly roasted cumin powder. Pair it with some hot papadams and, voila, the Indian equivalent of nachos and salsa.
18. Peanut Chaat
One of my personal favourites is this peanut chaat, which is a go-to in many Indian households when a snack needs quickly whipping for unexpected guests, or for those hungry bellies post-school. Peanuts, pomegranate pearls, cucumber, onions, chilies, tomatoes, mint, and coriander leaves are the bare minimum ingredients for this tasty yet simple concoction.
Some people dress the mix with a sweet and sour tamarind and date sauce, some with a green spicy and herby coriander mint and chili sauce, some blend tomato ketchup and mayo as a dressing. The most simple dressing is lime, pepper, and chat masala. It is a favorite among the bar-hopping community.
19. Mint Cilantro Chutney
Use this as a dip, a salad dressing, or a sauce for your favorite Bombay sandwich. Hands down one of the most iconic side dishes in Indian cuisine, it is a favorite the world over. Its simple, fresh, and robust flavors can be paired with sweet and tangy date and tamarind chutney and hot samosas. Or blend it with some mayo and make a delicious sandwich. Or combine it with oil and lime juice and make the easiest salad dressing. Or simply marinate your meat in it for an added twist.
This recipe is one of the most versatile and will always help you out of a tight spot. Simply combine equal portions of mint and coriander with green chili and ginger, depending on your heat tolerance, and season with salt, pepper, and yogurt.
20. Ghee Rice
One of the most aromatic and comforting side dishes on this list, this is a favorite with kids and adults alike and is prepared in most parts of the country.
As the name suggests, it’s a delicate combination of rice, ghee, or clarified butter, along with aromatic whole spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, mace, and star anise. Topped with golden brown onions, cashews, and raisins, it has an intense and welcoming aroma which is comforting and warm. I usually pair it with butter chicken or something more robust and spicy like Chettinad chicken curry. Either way, it’s a hit in my book. Some people also add fresh mint, chopped carrots, and green chilies for even more flavor.
And the best part is, this recipe can be made in one pot. Try this simple yet stunning recipe for your next dinner party and watch your guests literally eating out of the palms of your hands.
21. Onion Bhajji
Bhajji is a generic term that refers to any battered and deep-fried vegetable. It is often eaten as a side dish or an accompaniment in a vegetarian thali or meal. It is also consumed as a snack and can be found sold by hawkers on the streets.
Often paired with a sweet and savory chutney, it is a common treat enjoyed by children on their way back from school. The most common varieties are made using red onions, sweet peppers, boiled eggs, potatoes, green plantains, etc.
Vada pav is an offshoot of this dish and pairs the vada or potato fritter with a pav or Indian soft roll. Topped with a spicy green chutney and sweet and tangy red one, it’s one of the most famous dishes around. Gram flour or roasted chickpea flour forms the batter of choice, whilst some regions prefer using rice flour or a mix of wheat flour and rice flour.
Naan refers to a leavened flatbread that is found across the Indian subcontinent. It is made from refined wheat flour and is traditionally cooked in a clay oven, a tandoor, or a flat topped griddle known as a tava.
Modern variations include butter naan, cheese-stuffed naan, garlic, chili naan, etc. Traditionally yeast is used to leaven the bread. It is best paired with butter chicken or a thick moong dal tadka. It’s a treat for the senses and a must-try at any Indian restaurant. Naans are also used as a base for wraps and are catching up fast with the pita rolls and sandwiches consumed worldwide.
23. Jal Muri
This typical Bengali side dish or snack has gained nationwide notoriety and can be found in most cities across India. It consists of puffed rice blended with a medley of spices, vegetables, chanachur, and mustard oil. Also, chopped onions, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumber, and chilies can be added to the mix. Peanuts are an added bonus and give a crunchy texture to the dish.
It is popular in other countries too and can be found in most Indian restaurants in the UK and USA.
Jhal in Bengali means spicy and muri means puffed rice; literally translating into spicy puffed rice. Bhelpuri is the Maharashtrian equivalent, Karnataka has its Churumuri or masala mandakki or girmit, while Andhra Pradesh has uggani or borugula upma.
24. Peanut Chutney Powder
Chutney podi or chutney powder is a traditional South Indian side dish or accompaniment consumed either with dosas, idlis, or steamed rice. Usually blended with ghee or clarified butter and made into a thick slurry, it’s a spicy and savory combination best paired with rice-based dishes. It is famous across the southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra-Telangana.
Modern recipes use it to sprinkle over hot and spicy bajjis with a savory chutney podi or powder. Some chefs even use it as a coating to create their own take on spicy or deep-fried chicken wings.
25. Jackfruit Chips
Locally called chakka upperi, this is a popular tea-time snack or side dish to accompany your cuppa chai. It’s prepared from raw jackfruit and is mildly spiced, having its own distinct flavor and shape. Jackfruit trees are common in most backyards across Kerala and the fruit is a delicacy eaten raw, ripe, cooked, dried, preserved, etc.
Jackfruit has a texture very close to that of meat and is can be used in mock meat recipes, either in pickles, stir-fries, or even biryanis.
This recipe is very simple and calls for just turmeric, salt, jackfruit, and oil. A simple straightforward recipe. Pair it with an evening glass of whiskey and surprise your friends.