Planning an Indian Menu: What to Serve with What?

Wet.  Dry.  I had never thought of Indian food in these terms until I met my husband.  But thinking back, even the South Indian meals we had growing up could be broken into these categories.

MondaySambar.  Wet.  Stir fried eggplant.  Dry.

TuesdayRasam.  Wet.  Cabbage and peas.  Dry.

Wednesday –  Spinach daal.  Wet.  French style green beans.  Dry.

ThursdayGreen tomato kootu (stew).  Wet.  Crispy potatoes.  Dry.

Friday – Thin AND Crispy pizza (b/c when my parents order a thin crust pizza, they have to specify thin AND crispy).

How had I never seen it before?  When planning Sunday night menus, Rajat is always quick to point out that we need one wet curry and one dry curry.  Dry-Dry.  doesn’t work.  Wet-Wet.  no can do.  I internally roll my eyes during this back and forth.  But he’s right.  There’s an art to planning an Indian menu.  A science actually.  And it starts with wet-dry.

So for example, it would be okay to serve Rajma (wet) and Palak Paneer (dry)* but not Palak Paneer (dry) and Aloo Gobi (dry).   It would be okay to serve Bhindi Masala (dry) and Mattar Paneer (wet) but not Bhindi Masala (dry) and Aloo Gobi (dry) unless you added something wet to the menu like Dal Makhani (wet) or another dal.

Mattar Paneer (wet) + Aloo Gobi (dry) = yes!

Rajma (wet) + Kadai Tofu (dry) = yes!

Kadai Tofu (dry) + Aloo Gobi (dry) = no!

Kadai Tofu (dry) + Aloo Gobi (dry) + Dal Makhani (wet) = yes!

Of course, as with many things, these are just “rules” with big quotes.  You should eat what you like and any guest who shuns your dinner table because you served wet-wet should be made to starve anyways.

Any thoughts?  Do you follow the wet-dry rule for Indian menu planning?  Are there similar guidelines for other cuisines?

I’ve been seeing a lot of google searches reaching Hungry Desi asking things like “what to serve with Aloo Paratha” (answer:  just serve some raita and pickles. let the paratha be the star of that show!) or “what to serve with Dal Makhani” (answer: dal is traditionally served with a North Indian meal as a side, so you can serve it with any other North Indian curries).  So stay tuned for upcoming posts.  I’ll help you put together a full blown desi meal worthy of an Indian dinner party.

22 responses to “Planning an Indian Menu: What to Serve with What?”

  1. I’m so glad you actually made this into a proper scientific equation, hehe. I sooo know what you mean, my mom is always saying we are serving too many gravies and not enough dry dishes or vice versa, it’s all about balance and making your guests of supreme importance.

  2. Great post and so true. On another note, can you share the recipe for the nutella cookies you recently mentioned somewhere?

    I’d like to make them by this weekend, thanks!

    • @Ramani – I modified this recipe to make my nutella cookies. I used almond butter in place of the peanut butter (b/c it is what I had and b/c it is healthier) and 3 heaping tablespoons of nutella in place of chocolate chips. I omitted the almond extract. The recipe made about 18 cookies. They were a hit and were finished off between myself and friends by the end of the day. The texture was cakey, moist and very light. The cookies are very mildly sweet (so much so that I’m thinking about rolling them in sugar before baking next time – although that would take away from the healthiness). Also, the next time I might use 4 tablespoons of nutella (although you could taste the nutella flavor with 3) and add about 1/4 cup of slivered almonds to the cookie dough. Let me know how they turn out.

  3. There is a need to serve wet with dry and sometimes the raita on the side to neutralize the palette. There is plenty of research going on about why we eat the particular combination of food.It is kind of interesting because we always want to have protein in some form and vary the veggies and other ingredients.

  4. Me too. I’ve never thought of the wet-dry combination until I met my husband. Personally I don’t mind eating all dry or all wet dishes, but for a proper Indian meal I think there should be a balance between wet & dry dishes (so your guests & the HUSBAND are happy). Waiting to see what you’ll serve on your Indian menus.

  5. I never thought about it in so many words, but I do this instinctively whenever I cook. Especially for South Indian meals (that involve rice), there is no way one can do a dry-dry menu. You need something wet to eat with rice. For Roti-based meals, I don’t so much mind just having roti + a dry sabzi, though even then, something like raita or a bowl of curd helps to balance things out. I can eat pizza/burgers etc with no problem on an occasional basis, but on one of my earliest trips to the UK (as a teenager), I was amazed that Westerners could eat such “dry” meals. After a few days, I craved for the “wet” stuff 🙂

    • That is why the westerners always order a drink to “wash everything down”. Otherwise, I suppose the dry food will get stuck in their throats!! 🙂

  6. What a great post! I’m always faced with this dilemma. Esp because I have to serve and interchange both S. Indian and N. Indian food often. And dealing with a husband who likes everything dry but knowing I must learn how to make more “wet” sabzis for guests and family.

    Your site is great. I love it’s honesty and simplicity for those of us with busy lives but still need to put out good food on the table 🙂

    Thank you so much and keep up the great work.

  7. I am thrilled to find your website! I am an Iowan of Danish and German descent, living in Iowa. I discovered South Indian cooking by reading a cookbook and now I am hooked. Fortunately, I have acccess to a local Indian grocery. However, I have been very perplexed about how to figure out unfamiliar ingredients, menu planning and other things you would just know if you grew up eating this way. This is just perfect.

  8. Hi! I am loving your site! I am food writer and chef from NY (specializing in vegan and vegetarian cuisine). I just returned from Delhi and Faridabad.

  9. This is so interesting! I recently stayed with my aunt and uncle who had a friend from Gujurat staying at the time and he taught e to make a delicious dahl made with split yellow lentils. I wanto make it tomorrow night but I’m not sure what to serve it with – do you have any suggestions?

    • Courtney, sorry I didn’t back to you in time for your dinner. You could serve almost any vegetable subzi with yellow daal – dry eggplant or okra would be good choices. What did you end up making?

  10. I am happy but I want an perfect menu kit for all days of week I want to show that to my mother

  11. How wonderful that someone actually put this down in writing! I have also been not loving cooking as much because of this very need for not just one curry/subzi on the side, but two, and sometimes three! Being from a Kerala christian family, we end up having one more extra item coz non-veg is a must! sigh. I think that the main reason for the wet curry especially in the south is for the rice to be mixed well… I just wish that someone would help with ideas for a whole week’s meal planning. That would most definitely take out most of the stress of cooking. Great website you have here. Keep up the great work.

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  15. So glad to have found your post. I got here googling what to pair with Dal makhni!
    I find it always a tricky dal to pair things with. Thanks for the insight on the wet-dry dilemma

  16. I 100% agree with the wet-dry combination. I recently got married and keep having these discussions with my wife just as in this blog post. Such coincidence.

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