There are very few Indian foods that don’t have spices in them. Spices, however, are not always hot. You can have a dish full of spices and walk away with a mouth bursting with delicious flavor and nothing else. Hold onto that glass of cold water; you won’t need it for these spice-filled Indian breakfasts.
Medu Vada with sambar (Uzhunnu Vadai)
It looks like a doughnut, but the crisp, deep fried vada is anything but sweet and gooey. A traditional South Indian breakfast, vadas are made of rice flour, urad dal (split black lentils), green chilies, pepper and curry leaves. Vadas are served with coconut chutney and tangy sambhar (a thin, soup-like gravy loaded with drumsticks, pumpkin, onion and a whole lot of ground spices). This breakfast is most satisfying when paired with a South Indian filtered coffee.
The dosa is another ubiquitous South Indian meal that has found favor with Indians everywhere, which is not easy given that the population has very strong food loyalties. The original dosa is a crisp and thin pancake large enough to cover your plate when open. With dosa, there are options. You can have it plain, or with a potato filling. Get it tempered with spices (masala dosa) or try a contemporary variant like a paneer dosa (with cottage cheese). There’s even a noodle dosa (pictured), where a generous helping of noodles, julienned bell peppers, carrots and spring onions jostle for space within the neatly folded dosa.
From the state of Gujarat comes this colorful and spongy breakfast favorite. Gujarati food is not heavily spiced and has an edge of sweetness. The dhokla “cake” batter is made from fermented gram flour, semolina, split chickpeas and spices like asafoetida, black mustard seeds, cumin and sesame seeds. Turmeric gives the dhokla its distinctive yellow color. The dhokla cake is steamed and then cut into squares, making it a healthy option for a morning meal or tea-time snack. If you are not inclined towards the spicy, leave the green chilie garnish alone.
This traditional North Indian breakfast has made its way to restaurants across the country. You’ll find various versions of the chole (boiled chickpea) gravy depending on which part of the country you’re in. The authentic Punjabi or Sindhi version has a dark brown, thick gravy that coats the chickpeas. Add a whole lot of spices including dried mango powder while making the gravy and you have a tangy dish bursting with flavor. The chole is traditionally served with bhature, a large, puffed, deep-fried bread.
From the plains of North India comes the kachori, a versatile, anytime food. Dough is stuffed with ground lentils, fennel, flakes of red chilie, and assorted spices, and then deep-fried. Serve with date or tamarind chutney or chilled yogurt for a healthier option and you’re good to go.
Goa might be known for its sausage pulao and other meat dishes, but when it comes to breakfast, Goans head for the simple, yet flavorful bhaji-puri. The potato bhaji comes in different textures – in a “dry” version with just the potatoes lightly spiced, with gravy or mixed with other lentils. Have this with deep-fried puris or pao, the local bread.
This traditional breakfast from the state of Maharashtra (of which Mumbai is the capital) is a crowd pleaser. Flattened, dehusked rice is briefly soaked in water and then sautéed with onions, potatoes, curry leaves, mustard seed and chopped green chilies. Served with a slice of lime, this is a super-quick healthy breakfast that will make you want to reach out for seconds.
Chryselle D’Silva Dias is a freelance writer based in India. She writes about people and places for publications around the world. Visit her website at www.chryselle.net or on twitter @chryselled.
Top main photo by AJ CC BY