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INDIAN VEGETARIAN CUISINE.

The exhibition hall at The American Dietetic Association annual meeting was bustling with activity as several hundred exhibitors attempted to grab the attendees' attention. And what is a better way to entice us than to feed us? As I picked up samples of food from the booths, I felt guilty for mooching, so I stood there and listened to their spiels.

There were numerous booths offering vegetarian samples. Companies know that dietitians are great promoters of "healthy foods" and are open to new foods. If you are a vegetarian, you have plenty of choices in the marketplace today. But I was surprised that most vegetarian choices were made to look like and taste like their meat counterparts. There were vegetarian chicken nuggets, vegetarian hot dogs, vegetarian burgers, etc. This was a shock to me. As an Indian, if I wanted to eat a vegetarian meal, I would definitely not choose something that looked or tasted like meat. I had to wonder why so many vendors were creating vegetarian meat analogs. I assumed that the customers must be demanding them, as these products basically provide familiar meals that converted vegetarians in America grew up with. After all, most people like to eat foods they were raised on (comfort foods, some call them), and when people give up meat, it may be hard for them to imagine a complete meal without the main course, which has traditionally been meat-based.

Americans often judge a vegetarian meal by how closely it can approximate a non-vegetarian meal. "Is it going to be as gratifying as my Mom's meatloaf, green beans, and potatoes, if I don't have the meatloaf?" "Can the vegetarian meal be nutritionally well-balanced, appetizing, and hearty without the meat?" These are the million dollar questions on the minds of those who are trying to eat a vegetarian meal for a day, are trying to feed a family, are converting to vegetarianism, or, for that matter, are vegetarians.

In a way, a whole shift of perspective is necessary when trying to understand and accept the reason that Indian vegetarians aren't trying to make a meatless meal look, taste, smell, or feel like a meal with meat. In fact, the Indian objective is dramatically opposite. For us, a vegetarian meal should be (and is) hearty, appetizing, nutritionally well-balanced, satisfying, and should still have a special flair and distinction of its own, even though all meat and eggs are excluded.

The vegetarian tradition in India is widespread. The acceptance and popularity of vegetarianism in India blossomed around the fifth century BCE (Before the Common Era), and today millions of Indians are vegetarian. How many people are vegan is only a guess. Part of the reason is that a "vegetarian" to most Indians is one who does not eat most animal products but does partake of dairy products. So they are basically lacto-vegetarians. But then there are people who live in the coastal region and call fish the "fruit of the ocean." They consider themselves vegetarians and include milk and fish in their diet. During the last 2-3 decades, some people have started to consider unfertilized eggs vegetarian (sold as vegetarian eggs), so they are lacto-ovo-vegetarians. So there is some variation in the definition. Still, the idea of vegetarianism is well-preserved and extremely popular. Even the non-vegetarian Hindus or Sikhs do not eat meat during any auspicious or religious occasions. Consequently, the variety in vegetarian dishes is unique to Indian meals. Beans, legumes, pulses (dals or beans), milk, and nuts provide the bulk of the protein in the diet. A typical Indian vegetarian meal consists of dal (beans), roti (bread) and/or rice, vegetables, and yogurt. The meal is often accompanied by relishes, papad (seasoned wafer-thin bread made from lentils or moong beans and rice flour paste), chutneys, and pickles. Wholesome Indian meals are expertly mixed to provide an abundance of essential nutrients.

Traditionally, Indian meals are often served in a thali (a large rimmed plate) lined with katories (small bowls). A typical vegetarian thali will have dal, one or more cooked vegetables, a raw salad of cucumbers, radishes, etc., yogurt, and dessert in the katories accompanied by roti and/or rice, chutney, pickles, and papad. The katories prevent the food and flavors from mixing with each other. Indians can be quite finicky about mixing their foods. Combining flavors is left to the discretion of each individual. One person likes the roti with vegetables and rice with dal, and the other likes a touch of chutney with every bite, while the next person mixes the chutney with his or her dal. Any way is socially acceptable, as it all goes in the stomach and is mixed anyway. But please keep my dal away from my rice!

Eating an Indian vegetarian meal is an adventure in itself. The spicing of food is taken very seriously. The food is not only seasoned to taste good but also to aid in digestion and promote better health. Indian cooks take pride in spicing their dishes to perfection. To most Americans, spicy food often translates as chili-pepper-hot, but to an Indian, spicy entails layers of seasonings that enhance the flavor of food. Food without spices is often characterized as bland food made for a sick person. Indian kitchens are usually equipped with 30 or more spices and their blends. Great pride is taken in spice blends. When talking to Indians you will often hear, "I use my mother's garam masala," or "This is my mother-in-law's sambhar powder; she makes the best." The dish could be flavored with two to ten spices without worry; every spice has a well-worn character and an Indian cook is a master at manipulating them into a textured, layered, exquisite flavor. It takes the same amount of time or effort to add one or ten spices--it all depends on the dish and what you are trying to get out of it. You will often hear two cooks sharing a recipe, saying "The secret to my dish is a pinch of...." A pinch or a dash of spice can alter the whole flavor of the dish, and an Indian cook understands the subtlety of these spices. Learning to use these spices is an art that is passed from generation to generation. I learned from my mother and she from her mother. You can understand how appalling the thought of a store-bought "curry powder" can be to an Indian cook! To think you would use the same "curry powder" for every dish! One blend of spices will create only one kind of dish with only one flavor.

The Indian vegetarian diet, as mentioned earlier, typically includes milk and yogurt; cheese is rarely used. An Indian vegetarian meal can easily be modified to conform to the vegan requirements. You can create a delicious traditional Indian meal with the vegan recipes that follow. Serve them together and enjoy them thali-style, or make one dish at a time and include it with your favorite meal. I have been known to make a cooked vegetable and serve it with bread or pita (also great for picnics or road trips) or make coriander chutney sandwiches with chai (tea). A la carte or thali-style, Indian vegetarian meals will add a lot of zip and diversity to your vegetarian repertoire.

OVEN ROTI TANDOORI ROTI (Serves 8)

Roti, phulka, or chapati are all different flat breads made of whole wheat flour. Tandoori roti is usually made in a tandoor (clay oven), but I make it in a conventional oven. This is an easy and fast way to make roti as you can make several at a time. Since the oven tends to dry the roti, do not overcook or leave them in the oven too long.
2 cups durum wheat flour or 1/2 cups whole
 wheat flour and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
7/8-1 cup water
1/2 cup flour for rolling
2 Tablespoons vegan margarine (optional)


In a mixing bowl combine flour(s). (Dough can also be made in a food processor or bread maker.) Make a well in the center of the flour. Add water gradually as you mix the dough. (Depending on the type of flour, the amount of water needed may vary slightly.) The dough should be soft and easy to roll into a ball. Knead the dough thoroughly until smooth and elastic. Dough should resemble a western bread dough in consistency and smoothness. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes or longer.

Preheat oven to broil.

Place 1/2 cup flour for rolling in a shallow container. Divide dough into 8 balls. Roll each ball between the palms of your hands in a circular motion until the dough is smooth. Press to flatten. Roll each flattened ball in the flour. Then roll each into approximately 1/4-inch-thick oval or round flat breads.

Place 3-4 roti on a lightly greased baking sheet. Broil in the middle of the oven for 2-3 minutes (the roti will puff and become light brown). Turn over and broil for 1-2 minutes until slightly brown on the other side.

Serve immediately or place in an airtight container to serve later. Brush roti on the first-cooked side with vegan margarine, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 132

Fat: 1 gram

Carbohydrates: 28 grams

Protein: 5 grams

Sodium: 101 milligrams

Fiber: 3 grams

ROASTED RICE BHUNA CHAWAL (Serves 5)

This rice tastes and smells great. The whole spices add wonderful flavor without overpowering the rice. This is an excellent accompaniment to any meal. The whole spices, by the way, are not eaten. Remove them before serving.
1 1/2 cups basmati rice or long grain rice
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
6-8 black peppercorns
1/2-inch cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1 whole cardamom pod, crushed
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3 cups water

1 teaspoon salt


Rinse rice, removing any unhulled grains or other extraneous material. Wash in several changes of water until the water is relatively clear. Soak in cold water for half an hour or longer. (Soaking can be eliminated if in a hurry). Drain the rice in a strainer; set aside.

Combine cumin seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom, and bay leaves in a small bowl; set aside.

Heat oil in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the spices and fry for a few seconds until the cumin seeds are golden brown. (All the spices should puff up.) Add drained rice and fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Take care not to break the rice.

Add the water and salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Partially cover with a lid, leaving a small crack open for steam to escape. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. All the water should be absorbed. Check if rice is done by placing 1 or 2 grains of rice on the countertop and gently pressing with your finger. If the rice is not done, you will feel the grain under your finger.

Remove rice from the heat. Cover with a lid until ready to serve. Before serving, remove spices and fluff rice with a fork by gently stirring from the bottom.

Total calories per serving: 232

Fat: 3 grams

Carbohydrates: 47 grams

Protein: 5 grams

Sodium: 475 milligrams

Fiber: 2 grams

SPROUTED MOONG (Serves 6)

This is a very popular way to prepare moong beans in my husband's home. It needs a little planning as it takes two to three days to soak and sprout the beans. I have at times sprouted enough for two to three meals and frozen the sprouted dal. Once sprouted, it cooks very fast. My children love this served over rice with a little sugar sprinkled on top (of course, that is how my husband eats it too).
1 cup whole moong
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Pinch of asafetida (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water


Clean moong of any extraneous materials. Wash in 2-3 changes of water. Cover with water and soak overnight.

Drain the water from soaked moong. Wrap drained moong in a cloth (old kitchen towel or a large handkerchief works well) and place in a bowl. Pour half a cup of water over the cloth to keep the moong and cloth moist, and cover with a lid. Keep in a warm place like the oven for 24-36 hours. (To speed the process I sometimes turn on the oven light.) The moong should have little sprouts (1/4-inch or so).

Place sprouted moong in a colander and rinse in fresh water.

Heat oil in a heavy pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add a pinch of asafetida (optional) and the cumin seeds. Fry for a few seconds until golden brown.

Add sprouted moong, turmeric, coriander powder, cayenne pepper (optional), salt and 3/4 cup water. Stir. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Check moong for tenderness. It is done when soft to the touch but still firm.

Open the lid, increase heat and evaporate any excess water accumulated at the bottom. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Total calories per serving: 109

Fat: 1 gram

Carbohydrates: 18 grams

Protein: 7 grams

Sodium: 302 milligrams

Fiber: 5 grams

CILANTRO CHUTNEY DHANIA CHUTNEY (Makes 1 cup)

The bright green color and the hot and sour taste of dhania chutney adds a zip to any dish. It is the most popular chutney served with meals or snacks. It can be eaten with just about anything -- pulao, samosas, dal, and roti. It keeps well in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, although the color might change to a dark green. I often freeze the extra chutney to retain its bright green color.
1 small bunch (3 1/2-4 ounces) cilantro
1/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1-2 green chilies (depending on the size and
heat)
1 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons lemon juice


Clean cilantro of any discolored leaves and stems. Cut about 1 inch from the tips of the stems. Leave the rest of the stems intact. Cilantro is often full of sand, so wash thoroughly in 2-3 changes of water.

Place onion, cumin seeds, green chilies, salt, lemon juice, and cilantro in a blender and grind to a smooth paste.

Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Total calories per 2-Tbsp serving: 7

Fat: [is less than] 1 gram

Carbohydrates: 1 gram

Protein: [is less than] 1 gram

Sodium: 301 milligrams

Fiber: [is less than] 1 gram

CREAM OF WHEAT HALWA SOOJI HALWA (Serves 6)

Here is the most popular halwa throughout India. It is often the choice of sweets offered as prasad (communion) at prayer meetings or at the temples. I grew up eating it for occasional Sunday breakfasts. Traditionally, it is flavored with ghee or butter, but you can use vegan margarine to finish.
1/2 cup cream of wheat (sooji)
2 Tablespoons vegan margarine
2 Tablespoons blanched slivered almonds
2 cups water
1/2 cup vegan sugar
1 Tablespoon golden raisins
4 cardamom pods


In a heavy saucepan, combine cream of wheat and margarine. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the cream of wheat turns golden brown (about 15 minutes). Add almonds and cook for 1 more minute. Add water, stir, and bring to a boil. Stir in vegan sugar. Cover with a lid, leaving a small crack open to allow steam to escape. Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until most of the water is absorbed, stirring occasionally. (Stir carefully to avoid burning yourself, as the halwa tends to splatter.)

Add raisins and stir. Transfer to a serving dish.

Remove seeds from the cardamom pods and crush with a mortar and pestle. Garnish the halwa with the cardamom powder.

Total calories per serving: 177

Fat: 6 grams

Carbohydrates: 30 grams

Protein: 2 grams

Sodium: 49 milligrams

Fiber: 1 gram

CAULIFLOWER MIXED VEGETABLES GOBHI GAJAR KI SUBJI (Serves 8)

This is one of my family's favorite dishes; it is colorful and has a nice blend of flavors. Cauliflower is typically fried or cooked in a fair amount of oil, but I add the oil at the end, to bring a similar flavor with a fraction of the fat.
1 small cauliflower (3 cups), divided into
1-inch florets
1 1/2 cups peeled and thinly sliced carrots
(1/4-inch)
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced zucchini
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
Pinch of asafetida (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon garam masala
1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro


Wash and drain cauliflower, carrots, and zucchini. Set aside.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a heavy, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add asafetida (optional) and cumin seeds, and cook for a few seconds until seeds are golden brown.

Add vegetables and stir. Add ginger, turmeric, salt, and cayenne pepper. Stir thoroughly, and heat through. Cover with a lid and reduce heat. Simmer for 8-10 minutes. Stir the vegetables once or twice. Cook until vegetables are tender but firm.

Sprinkle ground coriander, lemon juice, and garam masala into the pot. Stir carefully, lifting and turning, so as not to mash the vegetables.

Add the remaining 3 teaspoons of oil around the sides of the pan, allowing the oil to get to the bottom. All the liquid from the vegetables should be evaporated; if not, increase heat to evaporate it. Fry for 3-5 minutes, stirring once or twice in the same lifting and turning fashion. (This final roasting or frying in the oil brings out the true flavor of this dish.)

Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with cilantro.

Total calories per serving: 47

Fat: 3 grams

Carbohydrates: 6 grams

Protein: 1 gram

Sodium: 457 milligrams

Fiber: 2 grams

The recipes in this article have been taken, with permission, from the book New Indian Home Cooking, by Madhu Gadia, MS, RD. This book was previously published as Lite and Luscious Cuisine of India, Recipes and Tips for Quick and Healthy Meals. To order this non-vegetarian cookbook, visit the website: <www.cuisineofindia.com>.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Vegetarian Resource Group
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes recipes
Author:Gadia, Madhu
Publication:Vegetarian Journal
Date:May 1, 2001
Words:3053
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