Although restaurant-prepared Indian cuisine draws raves from ethnic-food fans, many health-conscious cooks shy away from making it at home. The lineup of unfamiliar spices may seem intimidating, and traditional preparations often require cream and butter to enrich and mellow the pungent flavors.

So why bother? Because, just like other cuisines, home-style Indian meals can be made with fresh, whole foods that offer healthy fats and nutrient-dense calories. Sure, the signature spices may have exotic pedigrees, but today they're readily available at natural foods stores and are commonly used in everyday cooking. (They'll also fill your house with luscious scents.) Plus, using creative alternatives, Indian dishes made at home can be lighter and fresher than their restaurant counterparts. And they taste just as good! Start with these no-stress recipes, and serve them guilt free to your friends and family.

3 tips for authentic Indian cuisine

  1. Buy whole spices and grind small amounts with a spice grinder as needed. Whole spices retain their fragrant oils longer. Once ground, they immediately start to lose intensity.
  2. Dry-toast whole or ground spices for 30 seconds before using. This step can significantly increase a dish's flavors.
  3. Add a touch of sugar to balance the spices. Without it, too much of the strong, pungent flavors may take over.

Garlic-Ginger Paste

Makes about ⅓ cup

1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
A touch of water and lemon juice

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Scoop into plastic snack bags to store, or freeze in ice-cube trays in handy tablespoon-size portions.

Curry Spice

Makes ½ cup

3 tablespoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
¼-½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all spices together. Adjust amounts to get just the right flavor and heat for your taste.

Coconut-Cardamom Kheer

Serves 4-6 / The exotic flavors of cardamom and coconut make this sweet rice pudding a comforting treat to end any meal. Using brown rice, it's even healthy enough to serve as a high-protein, high-fiber snack for kids. Prep tip: If you like rice pudding very moist and creamy, drizzle with additional coconut milk. View recipe...

Spinach Palak

Serves 4 / Without the typical cream and cheese, this palak version is much lower in fat and calories. View recipe...

Cucumber-Mint Raita

Makes about 2 cups / This yogurt sauce balances and ties together an Indian meal's flavorful elements. It also makes a cooling dressing for green salads or a dip for fresh vegetables. View recipe...

Grilled Flatbread

Serves 6 / Similar to but healthier than traditional naan, this is grilled over a charcoal, gas, or stovetop grill. Prep tip: For flavor and flair, top with sesame seeds, green onions, or sautéed shallots and garlic. View recipe...

Cashew-Coconut Korma

Serves 4 / Milder and sweeter than most Indian curries or kormas, this stewlike dish is a hit for those new to exotic flavors. Ingredient tips: Coconut cream rises to the top, so vigorously shake the can before opening.

Garam masala, a spice blend liberally used in Indian cooking, typically contains cinnamon, cumin, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom, and has many variations. It's readily available in most natural grocery stores. View recipe...

Tandoori-Style Lamb Chops

Serves 4 / Don't have a tandoor brick oven in your kitchen? This marinated lamb is grilled or broiled on high heat to mimic the traditional taste. Prep tip: You can also use lamb chunks to make kabobs. View recipe...