Honestly, no one really needs a reason to enjoy Indian cuisine. But if you need some, here’s at least one. If you’re vegan and are feeling the chills lately, get some Indian food into that belly! Indian spices like garam masala used in dishes like chana masala and biryani stimulate a gentle warmth in the body, and that’s not even to mention the how soothing these foods already are on the tastebuds!
Even if you aren’t vegan, here’s another reason why you’d like to get more of these vegan Indian foods into your diet. Veggie Indian dishes, I find, tend to be more balanced energetically, with the warmth of the spices balancing the cooling nature of veggies. Indian dishes typically aim to balance the 6 tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, astringent) which truly satisfies the tastebuds resulting in a fulfilling eating experience.
Need some inspiration getting started? Here are 3 simple dishes I learnt during Vegan cooking school – Aloo Tikkis (Potato Cutlets) and Coriander-Mint Chutney, Keralan Eggplant Curry and Vegetable Masala (Vegetable Butter Masala). These recipes are not complicated and easily made vegan should you manage to find an excellent non-vegan version to start with.
1. Aloo Tikkis and Coriander-Mint Chutney
Aloo Tikki literally means Potato Cutlet. And this baby is seriously a dead simple process of combining mashed potato with some spices and simple seasonings, dredging in breadcrumbs and letting sizzle till crispy golden brown in a pan. We did ours with just chopped garlic, onion, garlic and coriander leaves, combining with mashed potatos and breadcrumbs to get a nice consistency to form patties.
Coriander-Mint Chutney is a cool dip-cum-sauce accompaniment to the cutlets but don’t underestimate its intensity of flavor. The strong, fresh taste of herbs plus chilli, garlic, shallots and cumin make it spicy and intense while lemon juice and a bit of silken tofu in ours provides a tart and refreshing creaminess in place of yogurt. This green chutney really provides much of the kick paired with the healthy and considerably mild cutlets.
Do you like or not like eggplants? It doesn’t really matter with this curry because the eggplants are generously coated with gravy and soak up all that richness it hardly matters if you aren’t a fan of them. People tend to misconceive the complexity of Indian cuisine but this curry really shows that it can actually be quite simple on the contrary.
You start by sauteing the eggplant rounds which makes them more savory, then leave aside as you temper curry leaves and cumin seeds in a clean pan. This infuses the oil with their lovely aroma before you add the finely chopped shallots, garlic, ginger and chilli to saute. Then, this is usually the point where powdered spices go in to be roasted as the contents become dry. Chopped tomatoes go in and must be cooked through, an essential step to bring out their full flavor and to avoid any raw taste, in which case the oil starts separating making the surface look glossy. Once that’s done, the rest is a matter of finishing what’s been started. Add coconut milk, some sugar to taste and tip the sauteed eggplant back in. Squeeze lime juice over and really, you’d be smiling to yourself how little the effort was compared to the payoffs in taste.
Feel free to use tinned tomatos and packaged coconut milk, as we did, to make this vegan dish accessible even on weekdays.
3. Vegetable Masala
Done right, vegan ”butter” masala dishes can be low-fat and retain all of its flavor. Yes, I’m telling you that you can be vegan, have your butter masala and eat it…. all within the comfort of your own home.
You start by sauteing chopped vegetables to retain their crispness and set aside. Then temper cumin seeds and add garlic and onion to saute, then green chilli, ginger and kasoori methi/ dried fenugreek leaves, a common Indian herb with a deep earthy fragrance. Then the spice powders — chilli, turmeric, coriander and garam masala to roast before tomatos are added in and cooked till the oil separates. Note the similiarities with the eggplant curry?
At this point, there are a few options to replace the cream. We used pureed silken tofu and lemon juice, but I’ve also used cashew cream from pureed soaked cashews and coconut cream with equally great, more rich and buttery results. Once you obtain a beautiful creamy sauce, it’s time to tip the sauteed vegetables in and let cook briefly. Using tinned tomatos and tomato puree/paste again shortcuts the cooking process and ups the flavor. Additionally, the sauce is freezer friendly, just leave out the vegan cream you’re using, allow the tomato sauce to cool and freeze for an easier, quicker vegetable masala the next time round.
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I hope you’ve been convinced that full-bodied, full-flavored vegan dishes can easily be made without very much elbow grease involved. And guess what, this is just the tip of the iceberg in vegan cuisine! Check back what we’re cooking next week for more delicious vegan eats and inspirations.
Plus check out my previous vegan culinary class posts by clicking on the tag for more of what we’ve done (Thai/Korean/Vietnamese/Raw Vegan/Local Singaporean). See you again soon!