Plant-based foods for vegans and vegetarians has been growing and growing in popularity to such an extent, that it is now in the mainstream, as the diet of choice. With major celebrities such as Beyoncé preaching the benefits, it’s been hard not to notice the increasingly popularity.
Working in the food industry, we, here at Pure Punjabi, have noticed a major shift in consumer habits. At any market or food festival 10 years ago, a meat or poultry dish would be have the first to sell out – without exception. However, every show or festival, at which we have served food within the last year, it is the non-meat option of dhal / lentils (which is vegan) which sells out first, and this pattern shows no sign of ending soon.
Although veganism may be a step too far for some meat-eaters, there’s no doubt that adopting some of it’s philosophies would take your daily fruit and vegetable consumption closer to the quantity we all ought to be consuming! It’s an easy way to try and achieve your 5 a day.
Indian food is so naturally and accidentally ‘free-from’ in so many ways, and the best thing about it is that it is all natural food, with no factory processing or adaptations. So many foods these days are artifically manipulated to fit the ‘vegan’ market, purely for sales. Often these products have ingredients that are questionable. It is often a source of great concern for many parents when their child becomes ‘vegan’ as the risk of eating a diet that is deficient in nutritional content, is high.
Indian food is, and has always been, a fantastic choice for vegans and vegetarians, as there’s such a huge range of vegetables, lentils and pulses, as well as many different varieties of flour – all offering the range of flavours, but more importantly textures, which is something that many often fear they may miss with a vegan diet. So, lets run through some of the key food groups that Indian cuisine has to offer for satisfying and delicious vegan and vegetarian eating.
Lentils, Beans & Pulses
The list of lentils and pulses used in Indian food is extensive to say the least, and each one offers a different flavour and texture, from the delicate red split lentil to the hearty chickpea.
Here are just a few:
Red split, green and brown lentils
Red split lentils, green lentils and brown lentils are, in my opinion, most delicious when cooked as dhal (Indian lentils). If you are looking for a light but utterly satisfying taste, choose red split lentils. If you want the same delicious flavour with a little more bite, them opt for either green or brown lentils. Just make sure that if you use green or brown lentils, that you parboil them first.
My favourite way to eat mung beans is to sprout them before cooking them. It is believed that if you sprout beans before eating them, that makes them more nutrient dense. It’s so quick and simple, you just need to make sure you remember to do it in advance.
All Indian lentils (dhal), and vegetables (Sabjhi), are cooked using Garam Masala. We produce our own, hand-ground Garam Masala which we produce from scratch, always from whole spices, with nothing bought in pre-packed or powdered. This way we keep the original and traditional recipe and method of production. The freshly ground spices are what make Indian vegan and vegetarian food so tasty!
Delicious with Indian spices for a hearty dinner, chickpeas make the tasty Punjabi dish of Chole, traditionally served with Puri/(Bhatura). They can also be mashed down with garlic, ginger, fresh coriander and a little flour to make chickpea burgers or blitz in the food processor to make hummus (my favourite flavour is preserved lemon and garam masala hummus!).
This lentil is black before being split and skinned, after this process, you are left with a small yellow lentil – which is what we refer to as ‘urid dhal’ (sometimes spelt ‘urad dhal’). This yellow jewel is used to make dhal (Indian lentils), as well as a type of kofte (“meatball” or dumpling). Although it is fairly small, it requires overnight soaking before using. Just put a cup of urid lentils in a dish and cover with water. In the morning, drain off the water and use as desired – either to make dhal or to blitz them in a food processor and add lots of other delicious flavours to make kofte!
Kidney beans used in Indian cookery make a delicious dhal called Rajma dhal, which usually has the addition of Black Turtlle beans. Kidney beans are poisonous if not soaked and boiled and can never be cooked in the water in which they are soaked. It must always be fresh water. This should not deter anyone form using them, as once porperly boiled, these beans are both delicious and nutritious.
A meal of dhal and rice contains a complete set of amino acids. Every cell is in our bodies is made from amino acids and some cannot be made by the body, so we have to get them from our diet.
We all know the common vegetables used in Indian cookery, as well as most cookery across the world. The commonly known and used vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, peas, etc. are already familar to most people in Indian food.
Here we are looking at the lesser-used vegetable optins, that you may not have considered…
Aubergines are so versatile, whether it’s charring them and blitzing with garlic, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses and tahini to make a satisfying and flavoursome dip or making stuffed aubergines. You can stuff them with a spiced onion mixture with finely chopped pink peanuts (also called ‘monkey nuts’, these are the peanuts that haven’t been roasted and still have the skins on), bake in the oven and voila! An essential vegetable to have in your arsenal.
Karele (known as ‘bitter gourd’ in English) have a naturally bitter taste which is remedied by soaking them in salt before cooking with them. Cut them into chips and deep fry along with carrots sticks and add them to a spicy tomato sauce.
This white marrow can either be chopped up and used to make ‘saabji’ (vegetable Indian dish – think Indian version of ratatouille) or finely grated and used to make a different type of ‘kofte’ (“meatball” or dumpling). When grated and mixed with turmeric, this vegetable gives a very meaty texture, so is a perfect dish to cook if you are hosting a meal and your guests are meat eaters, as they probably won’t even be able to tell that it’s not meat!
This vegetable is a relative of the cabbage and brussel sprout, I do not know of the English name as I haven’t seen it available outside of the Asian grocers. It is similar in size to a small cabbage, and it sold in tins (just look for the name ‘patra’ on the label). In the region of Gujerat (which lies to the South of Punjab) they make a spiced gram flour batter, coat the drained patra in the batter and fry in about 5cm of sunflower oil till golden. It makes for a delicious snack!
Another reason why Indian food IS a vegan’s best friend is the variety of flour that we use. In addition to some use of white flour, the majority of the flour we use, is not so much a part of the Western diet.
Besan/ gram flour/chickpea flour
Besan flour/gram flour is used to make the world-famous, as well as very popular, Punjabi snack, Onion Bhajis (called pakora in Punjabi). This delicious snack is usually served as a treat and is not everyday food. It s always served hot and fresh…never cold and soggy…as sorry leftovers! There are many recipes for Bhaji/Pakora, but the Punjabi version always uses potato and spinach with the onions.
Besan flour is also used to make a delicious, crumbly Indian sweet (named ‘besan’. It is very similar to fudge and always popular with children as it is fairly sweet! The main diference to fudge, is that it is protein-rich and high in fat. This sweet is made by the Punjabi mother for her daughter (in a similar form called Panjeeri), after the daughter has given birth to provide her with the energy and goodness for breast-feeding.
Chakki atta/ chappati flour
‘Atta’ is the word for ‘flour’, as well as the word for ‘dough’ in Punjabi and Hindi. The word ‘chakki’ refers to the flour being stoneground.
Simply mix the atta with water to make the dough for roti (chapattis). Cook over a flat hot-plate until you get little brown spots on one side. For a step-by-step on how to make Roti, see our blog post HERE.
Atta dough is also used to make the delicious breads of Paratha and Puri. You can see our blog post HERE for a step-by step on how to make paratha.
Maida is used to make the Naan bread dough, which is probably one of the most well known Indian breads, although not eaten anywhere near as often in the Indian home, as believed. This bread is typically for special occasions, as it is heavy and rich. It is vegetarian using milk for the dough, but this actually works incredibly well using almond milk for a vegan and dairy-free option.
Bajra rotis can be made using the same method as for the chakki atta. You can also make bajra rotis by doing a 50/50 mix of bajra and chakki atta, and again, following the same method. You can also make potato cakes using mashed potato and bajra, along with garlic, ginger and spices, and fry or bake till cooked.
Makki di atta/cornmeal
Makki di atta (or cornmeal) is mainly used to make a cornmeal flatbread called ‘makki di roti’. This is a very traditional corn chapatti, which is traditionally served with saag (spiced mustard leaves).
makki di Roti is also to make a delicious (but heavy) dessert called ‘choorri’ which is cornflour flatbreads, shredded and soaked in ghee or oil and sugar. The mixture is then ‘squelched’ until soft and mixed, and then formed into large dumplings- delicious!
So, whether you’re about to embark on a new chapter and begin a vegan lifestyle, or if you want to draw inspiration from the variety of plant-based ingredients used in vegan cooking, Indian food has so much to offer, so give some of these fantastic ingredients a try!
Foods from nature are always the answer when removing key food groups and sources of nutrients from the diet. To follow a meat-free diet, and become vegetarian or, vegan especially, Indian food is one of the best and most nutritious options to ensure a complete intake of the essential nutrients.
It should be noted that our meal kit box is called plant-based, as it is for dishes that contain and use no animal products, however the term ‘vegan’ is used here, for those following or wishing to folllow a ‘vegan’ or vegetarian diet, as opposed to a pure vegan lifestyle. The true vegan does not use any animal products in their life, that come from animal sources, i.e. leather.
“It is quite possibly the best dhal I have ever encountered..”
Annabel Venning, Journalist, eating our family recipe Masoor di dhal (red lentil) made with Pure Punjabi Garam Masala.
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Our Plant-based Meal Kit Box is the perfect gift to yourself and your family. It’s also a great gift for any vegan or vegetarian, and anyone wishing to explore this diet, or increase their range of dishes and learning. The e-method instructions take you through the cookery method step-by-step and provide the correct dried ingredients, as this is an essential part of making these dishes.
See more details here: