Which Indian curry has no dairy?

Indian cuisine is renowned worldwide for its complex flavors and aromatic spices. While most Indian curries contain dairy products like yogurt, milk or ghee, there are many delicious dairy-free options as well. For those with lactose intolerance or vegan diets, knowing which curries to order or cook can make Indian food accessible. This guide will explore common Indian curries that traditionally contain no dairy products.

What Makes a Curry Dairy-Free?

First, it’s important to understand what ingredients make a curry “dairy-free”. Traditional Indian cuisine uses several types of dairy products:

  • Ghee – Clarified butter used for cooking
  • Milk – Often added to curries or used in cream-based sauces
  • Yogurt – Added to marinades or as a raita condiment
  • Paneer – A fresh cheese added to many curries
  • Cream – Used in kormas and other creamy curries

A curry prepared without any of these dairy ingredients can be considered dairy-free. However, there are a few things to watch out for:

  • Ghee – Some restaurants may use ghee to prepare dairy-free curries, so check first.
  • Cream substitutions – Coconut milk or cashew cream may be used instead of dairy cream in some “dairy-free” curries.
  • Flavorings – Dairy products are sometimes used to flavor oil-based curries. Ask about yogurt or milk in the tempering.

When cooking Indian food at home, leave out the dairy and substitute non-dairy alternatives like coconut milk or almond milk to make your own dairy-free curries.

Common Dairy-Free Curries

Many classic curries and dry vegetable dishes are traditionally prepared without dairy products. Here are some of the most popular dairy-free Indian curries:


Dal is a staple dish that is served throughout India. This lentil curry gets its thick texture from simmered split lentils, with no need for cream or dairy. Simple dal is made from split yellow lentils simmered in a vegetable oil-based sauce flavored with onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger and spices. It’s often served with rice or flatbreads like roti or naan.

Chana Masala

Chickpeas star in this hearty, protein-rich curry. Chana masala features a thick, spicy sauce made from onions, tomatoes, and spices like coriander, cumin, turmeric, chili powder, and garam masala. The creamy, soft texture comes from the chickpeas alone. No dairy products are used in traditional recipes.

Aloo Gobi

This cauliflower and potato curry gets its thick consistency from the vegetables. Traditional recipes call for cauliflower florets and cubed potatoes simmered in an aromatic sauce of onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and spices. No cream or milk required – the natural starch from the potatoes helps thicken the sauce.

Baingan Bharta

Baingan bharta features mashed roasted eggplants as the star ingredient. Onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, chili, and other spices lend flavor to the smooth eggplant puree. This Indian curry relies on the richness of the eggplant alone – no dairy or cream added.

Navratan Korma

While most korma curries rely on dairy cream for a rich texture, navratan korma is traditionally prepared without. The “navratan” refers to the nine vegetables used in the curry – potatoes, carrots, beans, cauliflower, peas, and more. The vegetables and nuts provide plenty of thickness, so dairy is not needed.

Palak Paneer

While traditional palak paneer contains dairy in the form of cheese, this spinach curry can be made dairy-free by omitting the paneer. The pureed spinach provides a lush, creamy texture. With onions, garlic, ginger, spices and tomatoes, this veggie version has plenty of flavor.

Malai Kofta

Traditionally containing fried cheese balls, malai kofta can be adapted to be dairy-free. Instead of paneer, fried vegetable balls are simmered in the creamy tomato-based sauce. The “malai” or creaminess comes from cashew cream or coconut milk instead of dairy.

Tips for Ordering Dairy-Free Indian

When dining out at an Indian restaurant, there are a few tips to ensure your meal is prepared without dairy products:

  • Ask about ghee – Request that your meal isn’t prepared with ghee or clarify what oil is used.
  • Specify no milk products – Clearly ask for your curry to be made without yogurt, milk, cream or cheese.
  • Avoid paneer – Cheese-filled curries like saag paneer or paneer tikka masala contain dairy.
  • Watch out for cream-based curries – Rich, creamy kormas, pasandas, malai koftas often have dairy.
  • Ask about toppings – Spiced yogurt or cream drizzles can sometimes be added to finished curries.
  • Choose wisely – Opt for traditionally dairy-free curries like dal or chana masala.
  • Request substitutions – Ask to replace cream with cashew cream or coconut milk if needed.

With the right modifications and smart menu selections, you can enjoy the full range of Indian cuisine without dairy. Many restaurants are happy to accommodate dietary restrictions – just ask!

How to Make Indian Curries Dairy-Free

Recreating dairy-free Indian curries at home is easy with a few simple ingredient swaps. Here are some tips:

  • Use oil for cooking – For the curry base, saute aromatics in vegetable oil instead of ghee.
  • Substitute coconut milk – For cream-based curries, use full-fat canned coconut milk.
  • Use cashew cream – For a richer texture, blend soaked cashews with water to make a creamy base.
  • Add nut or seed butters – Tahini, almond butter or cashew butter can lend creaminess.
  • Puree veggies – Blend roasted veggies like cauliflower or potatoes into the sauce.
  • Simmer lentils – Red or brown lentils simmered into the curry add natural thickness.
  • Finish with cilantro – A fresh cilantro sprinkle adds flavor and color without dairy.

With these easy substitutions, you can enjoy all of your favorite curries free of dairy. Experiment with different ingredients to find the flavors and textures you love best.

Top 5 Dairy-Free Indian Curry Recipes

Here are some delicious dairy-free recipes to make at home:

1. Instant Pot Chana Masala

This protein-packed chickpea curry is easy to make in the pressure cooker. Onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and spices cook quickly with chickpeas to create a creamy, flavorful curry minus the dairy.

2. Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Dal

Yellow split peas are simmered with coconut milk and cubed butternut squash for a luscious texture. Warm spices like coriander, cumin and turmeric add flavor to this hearty vegetarian dish.

3. Vegan Saag Aloo

Potatoes and spinach combine to make a dairy-free curry that’s as comforting as the original. Just leave out the paneer for a plant-based take on this restaurant favorite.

4. Air Fryer Tofu Tikka Masala

Marinated, baked tofu replaces paneer in this simplified, dairy-free play on chicken tikka masala. Creamy tomato sauce gets its richness from coconut milk and cashews.

5. Dairy-Free Malai Kofta

For malai kofta without the paneer, use mashed potatoes to make tender veggie balls. Simmer them in a luxurious cashew cream sauce for an indulgent dairy-free dinner.

With these recipes, you can recreate creamy, flavorful Indian cuisine at home using simple dairy-free ingredients swaps and plant-based substitutions.

The Best Dairy-Free Substitutes

When cooking Indian food without dairy, having the right substitutions on hand is key. Here are the best options:

For Milk

  • Unsweetened soy milk
  • Almond milk
  • Oat milk
  • Cashew milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Water or vegetable broth

For Yogurt

  • Plain non-dairy yogurt
  • Blended silken tofu
  • Lemon juice or vinegar
  • Wine or vegetable vinegar

For Cream

  • Full-fat coconut milk
  • Cashew cream
  • Tofu mayo
  • Blended nuts or seeds
  • Pureed vegetables

For Paneer

  • Pressed tofu
  • Seared halloumi
  • Roasted cauliflower or potatoes
  • Fried tofu or seitan

For Ghee

  • Vegetable oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Grapeseed oil

With these simple swaps, you can recreate the creamy, indulgent textures of your favorite Indian curries, no dairy required.

Which Vegetables Work Best in Dairy-Free Curries?

When making vegetable-based dairy-free curries, opt for produce with some natural creaminess or ability to break down into a smooth sauce.

Some great options include:

  • Potatoes – Starchiness helps thicken curries
  • Cauliflower – Softens and purees smoothly
  • Spinach – Purees into a creamy sauce
  • Eggplant – Silky texture when roasted and pureed
  • Sweet Potatoes – Adds body and smoothness
  • Pumpkin – Purees easily for creaminess
  • Green peas – Starchy and help thicken curries
  • Beans – Break down into a thick consistency
  • Plantains – Impart a rich, starchy texture

Combining a few of these vegetables together, like potatoes and cauliflower, can result in an extra creamy dairy-free curry. Adding spices, herbs, nuts and plant-based milk allows you to recreate the signature flavors and textures of Indian cuisine without dairy.

Can Indian Curries Be Made Vegan? Tips and Ideas

Traditional Indian curries rely heavily on dairy products and often contain butter, cream, yogurt, milk and paneer. However, with a few modifications, Indian curries can easily be made completely plant-based and vegan-friendly.

Here are some tips for converting traditional Indian recipes into flavorful vegan curries:

  • Use vegetable oils like canola, coconut or sunflower instead of ghee
  • Choose dairy-free milks like almond, oat or soy
  • Use lemon juice or vinegar instead of yogurt
  • Substitute coconut cream, cashew cream or pureed veggies for dairy cream
  • Swap paneer with pressed tofu, jackfruit or roasted veggies
  • Flavor with nuts, coconut and vegan cream for richness
  • Add body with pureed veggies like cauliflower or potatoes
  • Use chickpea flour or cashews to thicken sauces
  • Finish with cilantro, chaat masala or chutneys

With these substitutions, the possibilities for vegan Indian curries are endless. Get creative with produce like eggplant, spinach, lentils, chickpeas and potatoes for thick, creamy dairy-free dishes. Spice it up with your favorite Indian spices.

Some especially delicious vegan curry options include:

  • Chickpea coconut curry
  • Lentil mushroom curry
  • Roasted cauliflower masala
  • Potato peas curry (aloo matar)
  • Spinach tofu palak paneer
  • Jackfruit Kerala curry
  • Punjabi dal makhani
  • Vegan tikka masala with tofu

With these tips and ideas, traditional Indian recipes can easily be customized into flavorful vegan meals the whole family can enjoy.


Indian cuisine offers a wealth of flavorful, vegetable-based curries that are naturally dairy-free. Classic dishes like dal, chana masala, aloo gobi and baingan bharta omit dairy products, relying on legumes, spices and produce for texture instead. With a few simple ingredient swaps like coconut milk and cashew cream, even typically cream-based curries can be customized to suit a vegan or lactose-free diet. Experimenting with vegetables like spinach, eggplant and potatoes allows you to recreate the rich, creamy textures traditionally achieved with dairy. With an abundance of aromatic spices, herbs and other flavor accents, Indian curries can be adapted deliciously for all dietary needs.

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