Let’s Go Out for…Indian

Published May 23, 2019

What to know:


Whether your Indian restaurant resembles the Taj Majal or serves its food out of the window of a truck, you’re sure to encounter some tempting staples of the Indian table. Here’s how to make the most of your meal while minimizing extras that will tack on hidden SmartPoints values.

Settle for a taste
While Indian food can be calorie-intensive, it’s not always necessary to do the full-course meal for an authentic taste. Rather than sit down for a monstrous meal, incorporate Indian flavours into your day with a smaller takeaway nosh from places that specialize in one item, like an order of tandoori, vegetarian dosa or kadhi, a spicy dish with thick chickpea gravy, for example.

Go easy on the naan
Naan, the most popular bread in Indian restaurants, can easily measure 10 inches across and comes brushed with ghee (clarified butter) and garlic. Having one is like eating an entire personal pizza crust; each has a SmartPoints value of about 6. Unlike naan bread, roti is unleavened and is available in white or whole-grain. A typical 6-inch round has a SmartPoints value of about 3. Chapati is similar to roti in character and calories, also with a SmartPoints value of 3. Made on a skillet, it closely resembles a whole-wheat tortilla.

Avoid the app trap
The “pakora,” “samosa” and “bhaji” families of small bites all indicate deep-frying. Be really careful about portions here if you’re looking to cut back SmartPoints values. Instead, request a cup of lentil soup.

Eat more tandoori
The flavour of grilling with the moist succulence of baking, tandoori dishes are that elusive combination of flavorful and healthful. Meats are traditionally marinated in spices and yogurt for up to 24 hours, delivering amazing flavour and moistness. Chicken, fish or meat, this is absolutely one of the best methods of cooking and should be top of your list.

Choose your chutney
The Indian restaurant table is a build-your-own feast, set with chutneys as key condiments, usually one red and one green. If you can handle the spice, the green chutney is the best choice. Made with mint, cilantro, and spicy chillies, this herbal and fiery condiment brings big flavour, with 1 SmartPoints value. That sweet red chutney, on the other hand, is loaded with fruit sugars from tamarind, dates or mango, meaning you’ll pick up 3 SmartPoints value for each tablespoon.

Turn up the heat
As with Thai and Chinese cuisine, it’s perfectly acceptable to request your dish to be made mild, medium, or spicy. The calories and SmartPoints values will be the same, but most people tend to eat less of a mouth-searing dish.

Get the raita stuff
Raita is a cooling condiment of yogurt, cucumber, and cilantro flavoured with cumin, coriander, and other spices. While the yogurt is generally of the whole-milk variety, with no additional calories, you’ll find a 1/2 cup of raita has a SmartPoints value of just 3. To quell the burning from a hot spice, a spoonful is a much better solution than chowing on rice and bread.

Don’t get creamed
“Masala” is your friend, a word that denotes a rich mix of Indian spices. Occasionally, however, you’ll encounter some other “m” words in place of, or alongside, masala. “Makhami” refers to a rich sauce oozing with ghee and heavy cream. “Malai,” popular in the dish Malai prawns, among others, refers to rich, clotted cream with up to 55-percent butterfat.

Verify the vegetarian
Most Indian restaurants have a large selection of vegetarian meals. However, there are many fatty vegetarian dishes where you still need to watch portions. For instance, malai kofta are vegetarian dumplings swimming in heavy cream. And “paneer” indicates firm cheese, which is almost always fried.  


What to eat:


Enjoying this exotic cuisine doesn’t have to mean a SmartPoints blow-out. Try these strategies to make healthy choices.



Potato samosas

Like most Indian apps, this potato-filled fritter, a common street food and home snack in India, is a fried treat to be portioned. A typical order includes two samosas, but many Indian meals are presented family-style, so you might encounter a tempting platterful. At a SmartPoints value of 4 for each medium-size piece (about 1 oz.), watch your intake. 

Lighten it up: Potato or meat is the most common filling, but you can opt for vegetable versions to pick up some filling fibre like peas.

Vegetable bhajias

Onions are seasoned with spices and peppers, then battered and deep-fried into fritters in this popular street food. One serving (a cup) of these fritters clocks in at 13 SmartPoints value, so we suggest sharing with the table. 

Bhel puri
This cereal-like salad is crunchy and light as air thanks to a foundation of puffed rice, resulting in a SmartPoints value of 6 for a typical 1-cup restaurant serving. Just be aware of the puri and papdi, fried breads often served with Bhel puri. Add 1 SmartPoints value for each one.

Masala dosa
A crepe filled with potato and chutney and dunked in dipping sauce, masala dosa is the workingman’s breakfast burrito in India. A restaurant-size serving of just one 8-oz. serving of rolled masala dosa can deliver a SmartPoints value of 16.

Lighten it up: Look for a “spring dosa,” filled with raw and steamed vegetables and skip the sauce to save the SmartPoints. 


Tandoori chicken
All tandoori dishes — especially this moist and flavourful chicken — are top picks. This chicken is marinated in yogurt and spices, most notably paprika (which lends the distinctive colour), and then cooked in the Indian tandoor (the equivalent of the Italian brick oven) sealing in juices without the need for oil. A skinless tandoori chicken breast has a SmartPoints value of 4, while the thigh and drumstick will have about 6 SmartPoints value combined.

Chana masala
“Masala” indicates any dish with a blend of spices. In the case of this vegetarian dish, those exotic flavours contribute to a simmering sauce of onion, tomatoes and ginger over whole chickpeas. Lightly sauced, with just a bit of oil, this is a protein-packed main course (and a hearty one), and a 1/2-cup restaurant serving has a SmartPoints value of 5. Dal is a similar choice, made with yellow lentils.

Shrimp coconut curry
With its lemongrass flavours, coconut, and intoxicating aromas of Kaffir lime, this is a tasty but indulgent choice. Oil and coconut milk, combined with a big side of rice, mean the SmartPoints can really add up if you're not careful. Keep it to a 3/4 cup serving of rice and about five shrimp with a spoonful of curry drizzled on top for a SmartPoints value of 8.

Lighten it up: Pass on the plain white rice in favour of some steamed vegetables, and you can trim about 5 SmartPoints value.

Lamb biryani
Biryani dishes are slow-cooked meals of meat and basmati rice, featuring flavours of nutmeg, cinnamon, mint, saffron, pepper, and other spices. 1 cup of lamb biryani is protein-packed but delivers a SmartPoints value of 19, due partly to lots of ghee (clarified butter) and rice.

Lighten it up: While lamb is a tasty and traditional choice, it's loaded with saturated fat. Instead, opt for a vegetarian biryani made from chickpeas and vegetables. A 1.5 cup serving plus a dollop of yogurt on top will total about 5 SmartPoint value.

Kerala pan-fried spicy fish
With a minimalist presentation devoid of sauce, this heavily seasoned fish is more flavourful and less fatty than your typical restaurant breaded fish fillet. Similar to blackened fish, with added fat, this dish can add up to 14 SmartPoints value for 6 oz. 

Lighten it up: This fish is often dressed with coconut oil. Ask your server to forego the oil and you’ll shave at least 2 SmartPoints value. You can also skip the sauce served with the fish and ask for a lime or lemon wedge to squeeze on top.

Saag paneer
Found on every Indian restaurant menu, this vegetarian dish includes a Popeye-size portion of wilted spinach and small cubes of paneer (Indian farmer’s cheese), making it a fairly good choice. The whole-milk cheese is usually pan-fried, but the spinach (which is rich in nutrients and fibre) is worth the trade-off. A 1-cup portion has a SmartPoints value of 8, and you’re likely to get between 1 and 2 cups.

Lighten it up: You can request to have your paneer steamed rather than pan-fried. If that change saves you just 1 tsp of oil/ghee, you'll shave 2 SmartPoints value.


Mango lassi
This Indian smoothie is made with milk and yogurt (often low-fat) and usually flavoured with sweetened fruit. As far as desserts go, you could do worse: A refreshingly cool 5-oz. serving has a SmartPoints value of just 4. However, you can also do better: choosing fresh mango can be a treat in itself. And that enjoyment comes with 0 SmartPoints value. 

Even at around 7 SmartPoints value for a small scoop (half a cup), this sweet Indian ice cream, made with both whole and sweetened condensed milk, deserves your consideration for unusual flavours you won’t find at your local Baskin-Robbins. Often described as cooling or smoky, aromatic cardamom pods — a spice second in price only to saffron and vanilla — traditionally lend their flavour to kulfi. When it comes to kulfi or other Indian ice creams, refer to regular ice cream on your Tracker.


Cardamom rice pudding
Many cultures have their own version of rice pudding, but India is one of the most inventive, making this a treat worth tasting. Short-grain rice is simmered in milk, flavoured with cardamom and rosewater, with pistachios often added for texture. If you managed to resist the rice during dinner, this is a deserved treat when shared among the table — ideally, a large table, since a half-cup has a SmartPoints value of 9 to 13 (depending on if you add pistachios or not).


Menu decoder:


Here are some common terms you'll see on menus in Indian restaurants. 

Baingan: Eggplant

Bhaji: A fried appetizer or meal topping. Often chopped onions that are egg-battered, deep-fried and highly spiced.

Biryani: Any dish of spiced meat or vegetables with firm cooked rice.

Ceylon: A rich style of curry including coconut milk.

Chaval: Rice. Often spelled “chawal.”

Dahi: Yogurt.

Dal: Yellow lentil purée. 

Garam masala: A healthful and flavourful combination of dried, ground spices.

Ghee: Clarified butter used on bread and in most curry dishes.

Kaskmir curry: A sweet curry that often includes fruit, along with the usual ghee, cream, and coconut, making it a rich dish.

Kheema: Indicates any meat that has been minced.

Kofta: Meat or vegetarian dumplings. It can be okay, but beware of the sauce options.

Makhani: A dish cooked with butter and cream, one to avoid.

Malai: A dish made with cream, high in calories.

Masala: Any dish cooked with garam masala, a blend of Indian spices.

Pakora: A fritter similar to bhaji.

Paneer: A firm, whole-milk curd cheese.

Papadum: A tortilla-like lentil cracker. Nutrition depends on whether it is roasted, toasted or fried.

Raita: A condiment or side dish of yogurt, cucumber, and spices.

Saag: Spinach.

Seekh kebab: Meat cooked on skewers. Usually made with ground red meat, bread and spices, tikka is a better choice.

Tahiri: Basmati rice with some token peas and vegetables. It’s essentially white rice with butter.

Tikka: Chunks of marinated meat cooked in the tandoor, making it a good choice, provided it’s not sauced.

Vindaloo: A hot curry from the Portuguese colony of Goa.