Vegan 101

January 10, 2012 1 Comment

I grew up eating mostly Indian food.  Even our spaghetti usually had a hint of cumin.

This means my weeks were 99 percent filled with vegetarian meals of lentils, curried vegetables, and homemade rotis (not naan as everyone now mistakenly thinks). Meat made for that one percent. We did eat dairy in the form of paneer and drank milk.

In grad school back in the mid 1990's I started to get sick. My immune system was shot, my stomach would cramp up randomly, and I just felt listless. A naturopath suggested I eliminate dairy, meat, and seafood for 6 months.

The meat and seafood was easy but the dairy - as it is for many Indians - was tough.

I have never felt better.

I just replaced cows milk with soy milk and went back to eating all those beans and lentils I grew up on. I also started eating more tofu, which was easy because I lived in Hawaii at the time and had also learned to appreciate it while living in Japan.

I am not encouraging anyone to go to extremes that seem out of your norm. I'm just encouraging everyone to start thinking a little outside the box and realize that there's a whole world of plant-based foods out there that are delicious, wholesome, and fulfilling. AND you are what you eat - even if we're all trying to brainwash ourselves from believing it. More veggies, fibre, and anti-oxidents can only help, not to mention all the heart-healthy spices Indian food has to offer.

Try it for a meal, a day, a month, a lifetime. The choice is yours and yours alone.

I was on WGN helping my publisher promote a new book, Vegan 101. It's a compilation of vegan recipes from various cookbook authors at Agate Publishing and a great way to get you started. It takes you through soups, salads, main courses, and even desserts. My mustard greens recipe is in there. The tofu curry recipe below is one from my upcoming book, Vegan Indian. Thought I'd post the recipes for all of you to enjoy.

Mustard Greens with Spinach (Sarson ka Saag)
5-quart slow cooker, cook 6 hours on high, 1 hour on low (total 7)

1 pound mustard greens, trimmed and washed (8 packed cups chopped)
1 pound spinach, trimmed and washed (4 packed cups chopped)
1 large yellow or red onion, peeled and roughly chopped (1 1/2 cups)
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
10 - 15 cloves garlic, peeled
6 - 8 green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chiles, stems removed
1 tablespoon coriander powder
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
2 cups water
1 teaspoon garam masala

  1. 1. Put all ingredients except garam masala in your slow cooker.
  2. Cook on high for 6 hours.
  3. Add garam masala and turn slow cooker to low and cook another hour.
  4. Serve with roti, naan, corn rotis, rice, or over vegan cornbread.

Tofu Curry
We've all heard of chicken curry, but tofu? I wanted to try it, but had a very suspicious test subject - my husband. He is a carnivore and loves paneer, so I knew he'd be a tough sell. I managed to get this one past him by baking the tofu first. That's the key to a successful dish that may just get the carnivore in your life eating tofu too.

1 small red or yellow onion, peeled and cut into 4 pieces
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed
1 medium tomato, quartered
2 - 3 green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chile peppers, stem removed and chopped in half
1/2 cup plain, unsweetened soy yogurt (make sure it's not sweetened)
1 heaping teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi), lightly crushed to release flavor
1 teaspoon red chile powder
2 tablespoons oil (I use grapeseed)
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (hing - optional)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
2 green cardamom pods (slightly crushed)
2 whole cloves
1/2 cup water
14 oz. extra firm, organic tofu, baked and cubed *
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro

  1. In a food processor, grind onion, ginger, garlic, tomato, and chiles until you have a smooth, slightly watery paste. Transfer to a bowl.
  2. Add yogurt, salt, garam masala, fenugreek leaves, and red chile. Mix well.
  3. In a deep, heavy pan,  heat oil over medium-high heat.
  4. Add asafoetida, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. Heat for 30 seconds until the seeds sizzle.
  5. Add yogurt mixture and water. Bring to a boil and then turn heat down and simmer for 3 - 5 minutes until mixture thickens slightly. This step is key. The spices need to cook and blend evenly.
  6. Add tofu. Simmer for another 4 - 5 minutes. Remove whole spices, garnish with cilantro and serve immediately over a bed of brown or white basmati rice.

* For baked tofu, slice one 14 oz. package of organic, extra firm tofu into strips. Lay on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and spray lightly with oil. Cook in oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes on each side.

1 Response


January 14, 2012

These recipes are a great start to a new year. I am working my way through your first book and I am really enjoying the journey. Every time I use my slow cooker, I think the recipe will not work, but I have been proven wrong every time. There is nothing like coming home with a healthy Indian meal in the slow cooker. I am very fortunate to have a nice Indian market in my neighborhood in San Diego. I love going there with your book and selecting the proper spices and lentils or beans. Although I have been blessed with good health, I am watching my cholesterol and blood sugar and the healthy Indian diet and my slow cooker will be a big help. I am also watching my food budget and the Indian diet is very budget conscious. It is probably not too late to say thanks and wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2012. I just added mustard greens to my shopping list.

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