Food & Nutrition

Let’s Go Out for…Indian

What to know    What to eat    Menu decoder

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 flavors 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 flavor 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 flavor 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 chilies, this herbal and fiery condiment brings big flavor, 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 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 flavored 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.