Anjum Anand, founder of The Spice Tailor, has just launched her eighth cookery book, I Love India. Here she gives her top 10 tips on how to create delicious vegan Indian food
“Two-thirds of India has followed a meat-free diet for thousands of years, either because people can’t afford meat on a regular basis or because they believe in the ancient Ayurvedic teachings that eating meat is bad for the body and the soul (in a country that believes in reincarnation, they aren’t taking any chances). This has given them a lot of time to perfect the culinary uses of vegetables, lentils and beans – all firm favourites of the vegan diet!!”
Must have ingredients for the vegan pantry
These are a great source of protein, fibre and many key minerals. I always keep a store of my favourite dried beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, Indian chickpeas (smaller, nuttier and with a yellow interior) and black-eyed peas as they keep really well over a long period of time. I do also keep a can of chickpeas and kidney beans in the larder. The texture and flavour of dried beans are better but, where beans are concerned, they do need to be soaked overnight before cooking and the cans are perfect for when you need to satisfy a sudden craving. There are a whole panoply of beans and they are your friends in the kitchen, adding texture, nuttiness and protein to everything. Try fashioning into beautiful curries, stir-fries, savoury cakes and delicious filling burgers!
Lentils - Daal
A traditional daal has to be one of my favourite ways to enjoy lentils; simple, easy and full of flavour. It is my comfort food and the first thing I make when back from a trip away from my kitchen. I never buy canned lentils, as these do not need soaking and apart from one or two varieties are fairly quick to cook up. There are probably more lentil dishes in India than there are combined in all other cuisines around the world. Although they were considered the ‘poor man’s protein’, they are so intertwined with an Indian meal that you will find enriched daal dishes on menus in every Indian restaurant and cooked in every Indian home and even cooked with meaty dishes. Lentils are one of the most versatile ingredients in the kitchen, you can make a curry, stir-fry with spices, used to stuff into breads or vegetables, made into savoury spongey cakes and little patties, made into batters for dipping and frying and even made into desserts! If you haven’t got time to make daal from scratch then my Classic Tarka Daal from The Spice Tailor is an ideal alternative. Ready in five minutes, it’s perfect for getting your daal fix mid-week.
Essential to the Indian diet; Indians are alchemists of the spice rack. I recommend you try a new spice and use it in a few ways to understand the flavour and slowly increase your understanding of the flavour it adds and they can really add a wow factor to your daily diet. My super spice is turmeric, it has a musky flavour and a vibrant yellow colour which characterises most Indian dishes. Trending across the food-spectrum, turmeric has been a staple in Indian cuisine and culture for many years. In India it’s often used as a ‘cure all’, due to its anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. Best absorbed into the body when eaten in combination with fat and black pepper, a curry is literally the best way to reap the benefits of this amazing ingredient! The rule with turmeric is little and often.
Desert island ingredient
My desert island ingredient has to be the humble coconut! The water is full of healthy, hydrating minerals, the flesh of a young coconut is like jelly and really delicious scooped out with a spoon or layered into desserts. The more mature coconut, as we recognise it offers, oil to cook with, flesh to chop or grate and sauté in stir-fried dishes or to blend into coconut milk and make mouth-watering curries or desserts!
Grains – rice, Bulgar wheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa and semolina
These don’t have to be dull, in fact these days they are positively fashionable! Some can add protein to the diet too. Carbohydrates are a staple of Indian food, a typical plate is a balance of protein, carbs and vegetables.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts have always been a luxury in India, they are expensive and are often given as gifts on Diwali as they are considered so precious. Probably the cheapest nut is the peanut and then the cashew nut, so these were used in regional cooking. Almonds and pistachios are still very expensive in India. The use of nuts in Indian restaurant food was an effect of the early Mogul rulers. They added nuts as a garnish to show their wealth and added nut pastes (often almond) to do the same and temper the new spicy food. Of course, this caught on but even now adding nut pastes to curries really only happens in Indian Mughlai (Mughal cuisines inspired) restaurants. Of course, now we know that we should include these in our everyday diets so my cupboard has a variety of raw nuts.
Fresh, seasonal vegetables are always a part of any Indian meal. some may consider it a side but actually an Indian meal is an aggregate of the vegetables, the protein and the carbohydrates. Mostly, they are stir fried with Indian flavours, spices, ginger and tomatoes but every now and then, they are made into a curry. Mushroom and aubergine are some of the best to use in a curry (try the Mushroom and Bean Caldine from I Love India, so delicious and vegan), as they hold their shape well and provide a meat-like texture (ideal when catering for vegans and meat-eaters). Adding lentils and chickpeas to the meal, alongside a rice or bread, will also help to give it more substance.
Street food may be a booming trend in the UK but it’s long been a staple of Indian cuisine. Indian street food is mostly regional, inexpensive and accessible to those who work in the area – it is India’s fast food! I have so many memories of eating food from street stalls and enjoying all the different ingredients as they came into season. One of my favourite vegan street foods, which I included in I Love India, is sweetcorn cobs barbecued and then rubbed with lemon, chaat masala and chilli powder.
Thoran is a simple Southern stir-fry with mustard seeds, curry leaves, shallots, cumin and fresh coconut. It is a typical vegetable side dish served in Kerala, especially on feast days but can also make for a delicious main course when combined with chickpeas to make it extra filling. I’ve included a fairly typical recipe in I Love India, using beetroot as the central ingredient, alongside ruby chard for added texture and earthiness – plus it makes the dish feel even more virtuous!
Sharbat is a fantastic fruit juice which contains a pinch of salt and pepper. Traditionally sold on street stalls in India, the salt helps to replenish minerals lost through sweat. It doesn’t taste salty but seems to heighten the sweet, sour flavour of the fruit. Incredibly refreshing, sharbat is a great alternative to a milkshake or traditional fruit juice.
I Love India is available to buy now from Amazon.co.uk (RRP £20). #ILoveIndiaCookbook
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