What Indian dishes are dairy-free?

In this blog post, we will answer the following question: What Indian dishes are dairy-free? We will discuss the variety of Indian cuisine, and finish with a recipe for dairy-free chicken tikka masala. 

What Indian dishes are dairy-free?

The Indian dairy-free dishes are a new option if you are lactose intolerant or a vegetarian and want a variety of flavors. Being a vegetarian, you probably know how difficult it can be to find a restaurant that meets your expectations. Although lately the options for those who choose not to eat meat have increased, the offer is usually limited to salads, making it difficult to find something rich and more elaborate.

India hosts nearly 18% of the world population with a rapidly changing socioeconomic context, whereby traditional agriculture and traditionally processed food are progressively being replaced with intensive food production systems and industrially processed food (4).

You can start by trying a lovely bread called Naan, a true vegetarian delight that can be made with garlic, sesame seeds, potatoes, cheese, onion, coriander, or other spices. They are truly wonderful to begin your venture into this vegetarian culinary adventure.

Another excellent choice is the exquisite vegetable patties or Samosas, something moderately spicy for the palate and that will surely remove you from your conventional vegetarian comfort zone. 

It is also advisable to start with an Onion Pakora: appetizing chickpea flour and onion croquettes that are worth trying. However, one of the favorites is the Alu Tikki, croquettes stuffed with ground potatoes, Garam Masala – Indian spices – and coriander, in the Indian style.

You can also try a multiplicity of atypical main dishes, such as the Saag Mushroom: mushrooms prepared in an Indian-style spinach stew. Very, very rich. Or for the brave who like spicy, a Vegetable Jalfrezi: a mix of fresh mixed vegetables, cooked with spices and herbs from India.

Another extremely tasty option is the Malai Kofta: fresh vegetable meatballs of grated potato with dairy-free cheese in a mild coconut sauce. However,iIn the southern and eastern regions of India, koftas are made from fish and shrimps. The meatballs are then served in gravy made of broth, milk, and cashew paste (1).

And if you want to crown your day with a dessert, we recommend an original Gajar Halwa: a carrot, almond, and cardamom sweet. Or an Indian-style brownie, the Choc Brownie: a smooth dark chocolate cake with walnuts and chocolate shavings.

What are some other examples of dairy free Indian dishes? 

Dairy-free dishes or vegan dishes are common in Indian households. Here are a few examples: 

  • Chana masala.
  • Kitchari.
  • Dosas.
  • Samosas and Pakoras (as appetizers)
  • Basmati rice.
  • Idlis.

Are dairy products important in Indian cuisine?

Indians consume a lot of dairy products for several reasons. Most pragmatically, many of them are vegetarians for religious reasons, and milk is an easy source of protein. 

Moreover, if the cow is sacred in India and if it is forbidden to kill it, it is mainly because we consider that it is better to have a cow producing a lot of milk for several years, rather than an animal providing a little meat for a few days. 

In addition, milk is truly part of the Indian collective imagination. It has very positive connotations in Hinduism, in which the gods love dairy products: Krishna, the most famous of them, is a cowherd and he loves butter!

In what forms are dairy products consumed in India?

It’s quite diverse. The Indians eat raitas every day, a kind of small yogurt salad with vegetables or fruits that accompany all the dishes of the “thali” (Indian meal). They also use milk to make desserts, such as rice pudding with spices. In the north, they prepare pastries with “khoya”, a paste of condensed milk. 

As for drinks, the Indians drink milk daily, especially in milk tea (“chaï”) or coffee with milk and spices. They also consume a lot of “lassi”, a traditional drink made from yogurt, as well as “buttermilk” or “buttermilk”, this liquid resulting from churning. Children, for their part, love “rose milk”, which is nothing more or less than grenadine milk!

Some other examples of Indian dishes that contain milk or dairy are mentioned: Sweetcakes called apupa, or malpua contain milk. The batter would be flattened into cakes and fried in ghee. Before serving, the fried cake was dipped in honey and various condiments. Today, the batter is made with refined wheat flour or semolina flour and milk. Rabri is a sweet made by boiling milk at low heat with sugar and spices. A porridge called odana was made by boiling barley in milk. Yet another preparation called karambha had yogurt mixed with barley, and it is still popular in parts of Gujarat. 

Phirni is one of the recent additions of an Afghan dish into Indian cuisine and is made by boiling soaked rice in milk along with nuts and khoa. Karhi is a preparation of chickpea flour with yogurt and sour milk which has been mentioned in the Ni’matnama and is still made in a lot of Indian houses. It is served with pakoras.

Paneer (or Panir) is an example of a cheese that is extensively used in Indian cooking, especially in vegetarian dishes as a protein source. The cheese curd for Paneer is made by curdling milk with a fruit- or vegetable-based acid (like lime juice). Bandel cheese is a smoked semi-soft cheese made from cow’s milk. It has a dry, crumbly texture and is one of the very few Western-style cheeses indigenous to India (1).

Traditionally, dahi is a naturally fermented milk product obtained from boiled cow or buffalo milk and soured using mixed lactic cultures. It is used in daily diet as a potential source of B-complex vitamins, folic acid, and riboflavin. Dahi is rich in lactic acid bacteria and demonstrates probiotic effect, which helps in intestinal health. Bacterial cultures helps in controlling diarrhea in children (3).

What about the famous ghee?

It is absolutely essential in Indian cuisine. It is an ancient way of preserving butter. Prepared in this way, it keeps longer than French clarified butter. Cook the butter for a long time, until all the whey is “toasted”, then filter. 

This produces a fat which, like oil, can be stored at room temperature for many months and does not burn during cooking. Ghee is used everywhere, especially since it is considered an excellent fat for health according to Ayurvedic medicine. On the flavor side, it gives an ultra-gourmet nutty taste to all the preparations. 

Ghee may contain high amounts of conjugated linoleic acid, a newly reported anticarcinogen. However, it is also reported that, under certain circumstances, it may contain certain amounts of cholesterol oxidation compounds which may cause adverse health effects (2).

Dairy-free curry chicken tikka masala

For the recipe of this chicken Tikka Masala without lactose, we can use either coconut milk (which we can find in supermarkets and some exotic food stores) or soy or lactose-free cream. 


  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 250 ml. lactose-free plain yogurt
  • 2-3 tbsp. fried tomato
  • 2-3 tbsp. curry
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. Ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. turmeric
  • 1 cayenne chili (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. chopped dried fruit and raisins (optional)
  • 400 ml. coconut milk (or lactose-free cooking cream)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • black pepper
  • Garrison
  • 1 cup Basmati rice
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 2.5 glasses of water
  • olive oil
  • Pepper
  • Salt

In a bowl, we mix the yogurt with all the spices (garlic, onion, turmeric, ginger, curry, cumin, salt, and black pepper). We cut the chicken into medium pieces, add it to the yogurt, mix well and leave it to marinate covered in the fridge for at least an hour before cooking (better if we do it the night before).

In a wok with a little oil, sauté the crushed chili a little, and add the chicken marinated with all the yogurt. Sauté over medium heat.

When the chicken is already colored, optionally add a handful of dried fruit (raisins, walnuts, and crushed almonds) and the fried tomato. We continue to fry everything for a couple more minutes.

Finally, add the coconut milk and let it reduce for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time, over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens. We improve with salt or spices (cumin or curry).

Serve with basmati rice.

The bottom line

The Indian cuisine is rich in dairy-free and vegetarian dishes. The vegan cuisine of India is rich in variety, dishes, and influences, and is distinguished by the great use of spices. Hindus love dishes filled with fresh ingredients bursting with colors and aromas, and that is why even meat recipes are unthinkable without vegetables.

On a physical level, the easy digestion of green diets or the many properties of vegetables and fruit such as antioxidants or vitamins, confirm the many benefits of a vegetarian diet (5). 

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know!


  1. Antani, Vishu, and Santosh Mahapatra. Evolution of Indian cuisine: a socio-historical review. J Ethnic Foods, 2022, 9, 1-15.
  2. Sserunjogi, Mohammed L., Roger K. Abrahamsen, and Judith Narvhus. A review paper: current knowledge of ghee and related products. Int Dairy J, 1998, 8, 677-688.
  3. Sarkar, Preetam, et al. Traditional and ayurvedic foods of Indian origin. J Ethnic Foods, 2015, 2, 97-109.
  4. Sharma, Brij Mohan, et al. A comprehensive assessment of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in an Indian food basket: Levels, dietary intakes, and comparison with European data. Environ Poll, 2021, 288, (2021): 117750.
  5. Haldar, S., et al. Influence of habitual diet on antioxidant status: a study in a population of vegetarians and omnivores. Euro j clin nutr, 2007, 61, 1011-1022.

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