Nov 24, 2010

Korean Miso 'Fish Egg' Soup

This recipe started off as a usual stir fry and ended up with the title of a Korean Miso 'Fish Egg' Soup. The story will unfold itself eventually, I hope.

It started out with a 'what to make for dinner' thought. The family was eating out so since I had to cook only for myself, I thought why not put a few vegetables that cook real quick together. But the kitchen had other plans for me.

So I open the fridge pick out half of a Yellow Zucchini, half a pack of Mushrooms, some tofu, a Green Chilli, few florets of Cauliflower and some pieces of Yam. I steamed the cauliflower and yam, cut the rest of the vegetables and proceeded to make my usual stir fry dinner. Oil, green chilli, tofu, yam, cauliflower, soy sauce etc all in, stirring around. Suddenly I remember I have some miso (which I have been treating like it was made out of gold) bought from Auroville. Miso is a fermented soybean paste that adds a lot of flavour to soups, stews and is used in many Japanese recipes. Though it is common in almost all of South East Asian cuisine, Miso Soup is a popular Japanese appetizer. It has a sour-sweet taste and it is usually added to the dish after everything has cooked. (I am not sure where it is available in Mumbai but I will find out and update this post. Also it is totally optional to this recipe.)

So I remember that I can make my stir fry in to a miso soup and while I'm doing that I spot the 'fish eggs'. Of course they are not fish eggs, they don't smell like fish eggs, but they look slimy, gelatinous and look very much like fish eggs. More about that later.

I added water, salt and pepper to the vegetables, covered them so they could cook a bit, took it off the stove and added a teaspoon of miso. Let it all sit for a bit and served myself the soup and added a spoon of the 'fish eggs' on top. This is what it looked like...

So I thought to myself why not search if there is any such thing as a fish egg soup and there actually is a Korean fish egg soup I found online made with tofu, vegetables and fish eggs of course. It looks nothing like what I ate and I'm sure it tasted nothing like it either. My sister saw me clicking pictures of my dinner and with a lot of disgust on her face asked me what the hell I was planning to eat.

Okay, if you know your Indian dessert you probably know what my 'fish eggs' were. They were basil seeds or sabja seeds or sabza seeds, infamous for their addition to Falooda here in India. It is usually soaked till it becomes all gelatinous and then added to the dessert. It is also consumed because it is known to treat digestive problems and also bring down the pitta or heat in your body.

They have no taste, they look like little speckled eggs and have a rubbery texture. Except for the taste, colour and smell, the texture is very much like what people eat as the real fish eggs. They added nothing more than a novelty to my soup, which is what I look for in most of what I eat, even if I have eaten the very same thing gazillion times before.

Nov 16, 2010

What does a vegan eat?

This is an ever growing list of things a vegan can eat off the shelves of a store or at a restaurant in India. Most of them just happen to be accidentally vegan. Of course it might not be all healthy but it's just a list we should all be aware of.

I have this note on Facebook that keeps getting updated by people living all over India. But for those who cannot see it on Facebook, it's pasted below. I will keep updating it from time to time.

I'm not going to include fruit juices, fruits or veggies. Feel free to add restaurants from your respective cities that might have some vegan options in the comments and I will add them to the main article.
Please add stuff you know for sure that is vegan because I may not be aware of all things vegan!

This is an ever growing list of things a vegan can eat off the shelves of a store or at a restaurant in India. Most of them just happen to be accidentally vegan. Of course it might not be all healthy but it's just a list we should all be aware of.

I'm not going to include fruit juices, fruits or veggies. Feel free to add restaurants from your respective cities that might have some vegan options.

Please add stuff you know for sure that is vegan because I may not be aware of all things vegan!

Biscuits and Other Junk:
Hide & Seek by Parle with choc chips, nuts, orange and coffee flavours
Hide & Seek Fab with vanilla chocolate and strawberry cream centers
Parle's Golden Arcs available with Chocolate, Apple, Strawberry and Orange fillings
Pickwick Biscuits - Chocolate, Strawberry, Vanilla
Parle's Coconut Biscuits
Parle Bourbon Biscuits
Oreo's Cream Biscuits (now made in India)
Sunfeast Snacky
McVities Hobnobs (almost all other McVities biscuits are also vegan ONLY THE IMPORTED ONES the Indian ones are not vegan).
Britannia biscuits that are vegan: 
  - Pure Magic Praline Creme
  - Mango cream
  - Pineapple cream
  - Good day chocolate chips
  - Timepass Nimkee
  - 50 - 50
  - Brita High count
  - Time Pass - Mindless Masala & Topori Tomato variants

Dr Oetkar's Eggless Diet Mayonnaise (please make sure it says 'Eggless' and 'Diet' because they have other varieties which are not vegan
Kissan's Creamy Spreads (all flavours are vegan, but a little sweet)

Haldiram's Bhujiyas and other fried stuff
Haldiram's Soanpapdi
All local fried chips - potato, jackfruit, sweet potato, banana,....
Most Khakras (unless it mentions 'pure ghee')

Kellogs Chocos and some other cereals
Coconut Milk Powders - Beware of the powders because most of them (like Nestle) have milk powder added. Coconut Milk in tetra packs by Dabur and Godrej are good.
Nestle's "Nestum" - Baby Cereal Food 
Britannia's "Healthy Start": "Multigrain Porridge", "Tomato Spinach Upma".

Staetta Soy Milk in all flavours
Sofit Soy Milk in all flavours
A few new imported brands of Soy Milk are now availabe at Haiko,Powai and Hypercity outlets in Mumbai
Imported Rice Milk is available in Dolce Vita, Lower Parel, Mumbai
Vegan Shake and Irish Coffee at Cafe Coffee Day
Soyvita - is a soy protein isolate powder available sweetened and one non sweetened for diabetics
Oat Milk and Quinoa Milk is available at Garden Fresh, King Circle, Matunga East

(Im not going to list the sodas because they are way too unhealthy for this list!) :)

Morde's Dark Compound
Amul's Dark Chocolate
Heidi's Dark Chocolate & Hazelnut

Frozen Food:
All stuff by Fry's - Fry's Veggie Burgers, Veggie Polony, Schnitzel, Hot Dogs and Veggie Sausages... (Currently not distributing in India)

Street Junk:
Paani Puri
Bhel Puri
Sev Puri
Ragda Pattice (A growing trend I have noticed is to fry the pattice in ghee, so it might not always be vegan)
Samosa Chole
Chole Bature
Vada Pav
Samosa Pav
Misal pav

Jalebis (Always check if they have added yogurt to the batter and/or fried it in ghee)
Kaju Katli (Again ask if milk or ghee has been added)
Dhoklas (Ask if curd has been added to the batter. Most shops don't do it to increase the shelf life of the dhokla.)
Khandvi is not vegan, contains yogurt.

Restaurants in Bombay with Vegan Stuff:
Ray's Pizzeria, Bandra - Has a vegan menu with a different vegan options.
Swati Snacks, Tardeo - Has some good gujarati snacks most of which are vegan
Bagelwala and Bagelshop both in Bandra west have vegan bagel options

The Green Stove in Mumbai for vegan cakes, cookies, breads, cheesecakes, chocolates and appetizers. Only on order.

Vegn Bites has healthy vegan tiffin service in Mumbai for everyone who wants their lunch delivered to their doorsteps or offices.

Indian cuisine is easily vegan if you know what to avoid - paneer, ghee, butter, cheese, curd.Barbeque Nation always has a vegan mousse in the desserts section and the dal is not always vegan. The complimentary green chutneys at most north indian places has curds and also Naan almost always has eggs.

All Udipi restaurants have vegan options. So this means all Dosas (except the ghee spcials), Idlis, Vadas, Rice Dishes, Sambhar, Coconut Chutney...Madras Cafe in Matunga will also make your dosas oil free.

All Italian Restaurants (Except Mia Cucina, Bandra) will avoid the cheese on your Red Sauce Pastas (or make stuff for you without cheese or butter) which include LittleItaly outlets,  Spaghetti Kitchen outlets, Botticino at BKC, Quattro in Lower Parel, Woodside Inn in Colaba, Cafe Mangii in Powai.

South East Asian Vegetarian dishes are vegan, but by popular demand (!) have started adding paneer. So ask them to avoid paneer and the MSG - The Bowl House at Ghatkopar, China One at Dadar, Joss at Fort, 5 Spice outlets, Shiro's at Lower Parel, Flavors of spices (earlier known as Peter Wang) on Ghodbunder Road, Thane has many vegan options and they also customize your dishes if you specify that you want them dairy free.

Mediterranean and Fusion Cuisine - Blue Frog, Lower Parel (even made a non vegetarian dish vegan for me), Cafe Basilico at Bandra, Falafel's outlets, Bistro Grill outlets. It's important to know that in almost all falafel dishes, the tahini has been invaded by mayonnaise, so ask them not to add that. Kajun spice potatoes on most restaurant menus are vegan, but please check always. At Moshe's you get an amazing Balinese curry that is vegan but you must let the table attendant know that tofu is ok because they avoid tofu if you ask for vegan curries. Moshe also has a unique roasted fruit smoothie that is vegan.

Bangalore Brownies and Cakes:-
Bagels and Bakes brand chocolate brownies and chocolate muffins (available at all Namdharis).-
Carnival Bakery has a separate vegan menu filled with delicious cakes, pies, puddings, mousses, breads, donuts and cookies. They're a delivery only bakery.

Bangalore Restaurants (specialty global cuisines):
Bangalore now has a vegan restaurant called Carrots
Soo Ra Sang on Wind Tunnel Road (off old Airport Road) - Korean - nearly all the vegetarian dishes (including all the little kim chees, veggies, beans, pancakes etc... that they serve on the side) happen to be vegan by default.
Fava at UB City - Mediterranean - a lot of the vegetarian dishes can be veganized. Just make sure you specify many times that you do not have dairy products and cross check the dips (they have a habit of sneaking a yogurt based dip into some foods so ensure that isn't there).
Monsoon at The Park Hotel - all cuisines - call them in advance and they will prepare a special vegan meal just for you, including a deliciously decadent vegan pastry.
Shiro at UB City - Japanese, Balinese, Chinese (the authentic kind) - limited vegetarian and vegan choices but whatever is available is very tasty.
Tasty Tangles-vegetarian dishes on their menu are vegan except for the dessert section.
E-inn near electronic city in Bangalore serves complete vegan from starters to desserts.Call them in advance.

Nov 15, 2010

My Freckled Stir Fry Dinner

This is one was tonight's impromptu dinner stir fried by my brother. I just put together a bunch of ingredients, nothing special, just whatever I found around the kitchen and in the fridge that I thought would go well together.

I was looking for black sesame seeds instead of the white ones but found Nigella Seeds (on left)
instead (Nigella sounds like a person!). These seeds are commonly used in Indian cooking. They are also called Onion seeds or Kalonji. To me they taste like Ajwain (Carom Seeds) but lots of people think otherwise.

Why did I add them? For some colour actually. It adds some nice looking black freckles and some nice flavour too.

I used:

1/2 a pack of Button Mushrooms (about ten of them)
1 Green Pepper (Capsicum) chopped in to chunks
1/2 a pack of tofu (about 100 gms)
2 stalks of Celery
1 Onion sliced in thin strips
Sesame Seeds
Nigella Seeds (Also called Onion seeds or Kalonji in Hindi)
1 tsp Rice Bran Oil
Pepper or a Red Chilli

Heat the oil in a wok. Add the Red Chilli, Sesame and Nigella Seeds. Add the tofu and stir it for a bit till the tofu starts getting light brown. Add in the onions and let them cook a bit (I'm not a big fan of raw onions) After a couple of minutes add the mushrooms, capsicum and celery. I used the entire stalk of celery, with the leaves. Cover it for about 4 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Eat!

How easy was that?!

You can put it on top of some toasted bread, add some cooked noodles or rice to it, or just have it as is. Makes a nice, light and healthy dinner.

Oct 10, 2010

Veggie Burgers

Once in a while I like to eat burgers and this is a result of that craving and also because there were too many veggies at home!

This is my version of a healthy burger. Of course you can go ahead and buy the frozen ones from the store but if you're crazy enough like me you'll like these better.

You need:
Any kind of vegetables. It's better to use a few of the starchy veggies so they all hold together.
Sweet Potatoes
Raw Bananas

Onions (optional)
Garlic (optional)
Chilli Flakes / Red Chilli Powder

1/2 cup soy granules if you like

Rice Flour

Steam all the veggies and mash them up.

Chop up the onion and garlic. Sauté them with the herbs and a little bit of water or oil till the onions are caramelized or dark brown.

Soak the soy granules for 5 minutes in some water. Once the veggies are steamed, you can grate
them up or mash them all together. Drain the soy granules off the excess water and mix them with the vegetables. Add the onions, herbs of your choice, the red chilli, salt and mix it well. It's best to use your hands for this.

Make them into your burger patty shapes and put them in a plate with some rice flour. Cover up them up.

In a flat frying pan, put about 2 teaspoons of oil. Once hot, start putting the patties in.

Cook both sides till dark brown like in the picture on the left.

Have it with some burger bread, salad leaves, diced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, with some mustard and pepper on top.

I put it on white bread (picture on the right) with vegetables and
grilled it all together.

Yes that is a cucumber, almost the size of the patty! It's an organic cucumber grown on the outskirts of Mumbai.

Oct 5, 2010

Vegan Peanut Pesto

Pesto is a paste/ sauce, made usually with Basil, Pine nuts, Cheese and Olive Oil. Basil is now easily available here and if you're not growing it in your herb garden, you should start now!

Since pine nuts are not grown in India and are pretty expensive, I prefer to use something that is locally available and doesn't affect the taste at all. Actually, pesto can be made with any type of nut (cashews, walnuts, almonds, peanuts)

Here's what I used:

A handful of basil leaves
A handful of roasted peanuts
A teaspoon (may be less than one) of sea salt
A clove of garlic
A teaspoon or two of olive oil
A pinch of black pepper

Blend everything and it's done.

Serve it with some cooked plain pasta, or on top of toasted bread or as a dip for some raw veggies or in your salad dressing or in your tomato based pasta sauce or with some cooked rice. The possibilities are endless.

I just had it with some plain Penne. *Bliss

Vegan More Kozambu (Buttermilk Gravy)

More Kozambu (pronounced More Koyambu) is a typically South Indian gravy that is usually made with More (Buttermilk). It is a spicy, sour mix of buttermilk and red chilli with vegetables.

This one is made with Peanut Buttermilk. It sounds complicated, but its's worth the effort.

So to start off, you need a cup of peanuts. Soak it in water over night. The next morning, drain it and put it in a blender with 2 cups water. Strain this pulp and what you get below is Peanut Milk. You can put the pulp back in with 1/2 cup water, blend it one more time and strain it out.

The Peanut milk now has to be set like you usually would set cow's milk. You could use dairy yogurt as a starter, but strict vegans prefer not to. So I set it with Rejuvelac. I'd suggest you soak the peanuts and the wheat at the same time, so the next morning you can use the rejuvelac to set the milk into curds. You might not get the same consistency as dairy curds the first time around. But if you continue to use this as a starter to set further trials of peanut or soy milk even, the end result will get thicker as time passes.

Since we are going to use it for a buttermilk type preparation, it's okay if the milk sets into a watery state. It takes about 8 hours for the peanut milk to set. I still get some curds that look like it's set on top but when you stir it there's only a watery mess below.

Seems like a lot of work! Anyway, once you have your (somewhat) set curd you can stir it up if you're going to use it as a buttermilk.

The buttermilk can also be made into a vegan Masala Chaas (Buttermilk with Masala)
Just add some Asafoetida, grind curry leaves and some green chillies together, salt and water. Chill it and have it after your meal. It's really really good!

For the More Kozambu, you need:

Any vegetable (carrots, red pumpkin, capsicum, drumstick) I used White Pumpkin which was steamed earlier
2-3 Red chillies
a little Tamarind
1 tsp rice flour
1/2 teaspoon Fenugreek Seeds (Methi)
1/2 Teaspoon oil (optional)

1 cup Peanut Buttermilk (recipe above)
Curry Leaves

Grind the Red Chilli, Tamarind, Fenugreek seeds and the rice flour. In a saucepan, add this mixture to some oil or just add it in the hot saucepan. Stir it around a bit. Add the Peanut Buttermilk, the vegetable, salt and water.

Let it simmer for about 6 minutes. Garnish with curry leaves. And it's ready to be served!

Sep 27, 2010

Pumpkin & Fenugreek Soup

This one is inspired from my non vegan days. I once had this soup at a restaurant in Mumbai. Of course it was a really thick, cream laden soup but I never forgot how much I appreciated the flavours. So I tried and tested one idea I had of replacing the cream with coconut milk and the result was a wonderful blend of flavours in a beautiful orange broth with speckles of green and red. (I will put up a picture soon!)

You need:

About 250 gms of Red Pumpkin (Lal bhopla in hindi / marathi), you can remove the seeds and the fibre around the seeds but don't remove the green skin
1 teaspoon Fenugreek seeds (Methi seeds)
1/2 cup coconut milk (I always prefer freshly made coconut milk)
3 Red Chillies ground to flakes or chilli flakes
Fresh chopped coriander / parsley / basil

Steam the pumpkin and the fenugreek seeds separately. Once the pumpkin is steamed, purée it in a blender.

Put this is into a saucepan and add the red chillies, fenugreek seeds and a little water. Once it comes to a slight boil, add the salt and coconut milk and take it off the stove.

You can make it as thick as you like. If you prefer thicker soups, omit the water and add just the coconut milk.

Garnish with chopped coriander or parsley and serve hot.

Serves two.

Sep 17, 2010

The wonders of Aspartame

Aspartame is a sweetener used in many products mainly those marketed as 'diet foods'. Aspartame is totally chemically derived and is marketed as a healthier alternative to sugar specially for diabetics and people looking to shed weight. It's three main components are Aspartic Acid, Phenylalanine and Methyl Ester (poison).

Aspartame was introduced in the US mainly through Diet Coke in the early 1980s after being approved by the FDA. Within a year of its introduction, millions of tons were consumed in the US and subsequently the number of brain tumors, aggressive brain cancers, diabetes, MS and many neurological disorders significantly rose.

I watched an old documentary called 'Aspartame, Sweet Misery- A Poisoned World'. The film chronicles a woman diagnosed with the degenerative neurological disease Multiple Sclerosis and her search for the cause of her disease. She interviews many people in the US who have suddenly had the shock of being diagnosed with brain cancer and other devastating diseases and had been told by their doctors (unofficially) that Aspartame was the cause. She interviews doctors active during the 80s and 90s and they talk about the harmful effects of the consumption of Aspartame as seen by them. She also talks to a former FDA inspector and a Doctor who tested the effects on Aspartame on people in a closed experiment. She ends on a note that she is convinced that Aspartame is the cause of her disease (manily because she consumed 6 to 10 cans of diet soda for 15 years or so) as it is with all the people she spoke to who suffered. The doctors gave a clear indication of what went behind the testing and final approval of Aspartame to be added for consumption.

An official list of the symptoms of Aspartame poisoning includes 92 outcomes. They range from hives on the skin, itchiness, dizziness, seizures, cramps, difficulty breathing, memory loss, change in menstrual patterns and so on – mostly symptoms related to the nervous system.

First of all, how did something that had such a wide range of reactions get through for approval is beyond me. Besides that the entire study done by the company (Searle) making Aspartame was redone by a Government Organisation (Foods Bureau) and the company's reports were found to be full of “shenanigans”. As with everything that needs to be tested, Aspartame was tested on animals and found to cause tumours and killed most of them. On the other hand the FDA still only approved Stevia (A sweet leaf) as a substitute sweetener in 2008 after years of oppressing the herb! It's a leaf!

In India, we have just started marketing this chemical as being safe for diabetics. Bipasha Basu attributes her curves to Equal while 'caring' wives are shown adding Sugar Free to their husbands desserts or coffees. A can of Diet Coke is the 'it' thing to add to your drink and 'Sugar Free' mithais are the way to go. All sugar free chewing gums contain Aspartame or one of its poisonous cousins.

Of course you're not going to get cancer the next day after you drink Diet Coke. Our body has the capacity to overcome toxins to some extent. But prolonged exposure to such toxins are bound to get to us one day. Doesn't it make more sense to not even take in one sip or one piece of gum or one bite? I would be wary of anything that says artificial sweetener including Splenda (sucralose), saccharin and many of the man made wonders of our times.

MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) also known as Ajinomoto in India is a neurotoxic/ excitotoxin just as Aspartame is. I have personally experienced the effects of MSG on myself  andwhen I eat out, specially Chinese food, I make it a point to mention that I would not like it to be put in my food. The standard response I get is “Toh madam taste nahi aayega”, in other words they don't guarantee that the food will taste as good! What baffles me even more is that ten years back when I became aware of the MSG effect, I found it was freely listed on packets of Maggi Noodles, Top Ramen noodles, Lays, and the works. Today it's gone. All I see is 'No Added MSG'. What does that even mean? 'We didn't physically add it but may be our neighbour did?!'

If you are of the opinion “Oh! Anything you eat is as dangerous, look at the pesticides on fruits and vegetables” or “Something has to kill me someday” then be my guest, I have nothing to say to you. There are somethings which we can avoid, and if we rather not then it's like putting your hand inside the blender when it's on, you know you're not supposed to, you know its not going to do you any good but you still want to do it.

What you need to look for:
E numbers are codes assigned to food additives.

Aspartame is E951
Monosodium Glutamate is E621

Here's a List of E numbers to avoid which I found collated on one website. Many other websites exist with such information.

Sep 8, 2010

Salad Dressing - Balsamic Vinegar DIY

The original recipe for Balsamic vinegar is a mixture of white wine and grape juice. It's more sour than normal vinegar and a good quality balsamic vinegar is healthier than plain ol'acetic acid! It's a lovely dark purple and goes very well with salads. It's also very versatile and can be made into many many different dressings. Here's a basic recipe, use whatever you want!

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
Pepper / chilli flakes
1/2 tsp Mustard (Freshly ground works well)
Oregano/ Thyme/ Parsley/ Basil/ Rosemary/ Coriander
Garlic minced
Dried onion flakes

You can use this over steamed veggies or as a dip for freshly toasted bread.

Salad Dressing- Greek Style Dressing

This one goes very well on steamed veggies. You can make a whole lot and store it in the fridge and use it whenever you like.

You need:

Juice of 2 Limes
1/2 tsp olive oil
Parsley/Coriander (Dried or fresh)

Mix them all and beat it with a fork.

Pour it over steamed beans, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, yams...

Aug 30, 2010

Shredded Carrot Salad

This is one of my favourite salads. I can eat just this for lunch everyday! It has a wonderful mix of the sourness of lime, spice of chilli and my favourite spice for indian foods - asafoetida.

You need:

2 Shredded carrots- shred/grate them to any size, I prefer the large hole grater for this salad
Juice of 1 lime
1 spicy Green Chilli
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder

Mix all the ingredients and chill it in the refrigerator if you like. Eat!

Aug 26, 2010

Sesame-Mustard Stir Fry Vegetables

This looks as good as it tastes!

You need:
2 tsp Sesame Oil (til oil)
1 Onion chopped in fine-long pieces
1 Green or Red Chilli
1/4 inch ginger juliennes (sliced long and thin)
1 Carrot Shredded or grated in a large holed grater
1/2 of a small Cabbage shredded or chopped fine and long
1/4 of a small Raw Papaya juliennes
1/2 Green/Red/Yellow Pepper (Capsicum) (optional)
A handful of Mushrooms chopped (optional)
100gms Tofu diced (optional)
2 tsp Soy Sauce
2 tsp Raw or Roasted Sesame Seeds (Til)
1 tsp freshly ground Mustard seeds (Rai)

Cooked Noodles or Rice (optional)

In a saucepan/wok heat 1 tsp sesame oil and add the tofu. Stir it around till the tofu is light brown, remove and keep it aside. If you are not going to use tofu, omit this step completely.

In the same saucepan/wok add 1 tsp sesame oil and add the onions, green or red chilli and ginger. Stir it around once in a while. When the onions turn translucent, add the other vegetables whatever your using. I always add the cabbage towards the end since it cooks real fast. Add the soy sauce, salt, sesame and ground mustard seeds. After about 4 minutes when everything starts sizzling, add the tofu and give it a quick stir. Take the pan off the stove and cover it and let it sit for about 3 minutes.

Serve it hot over noodles or rice or have it as is.

Aug 23, 2010

Cashew, Coconut, Cows and Cholesterol

Lets get this straight, Cholesterol is only made by animals (including our own livers) and hence found in animal origin products like milk, butter,curds/yogurt, ghee, cheese, eggs and all kinds of meats (fish is also meat).

When I tell people I make/ eat cheese made with cashews or I use Coconut milk, many times they are baffled about how much cholesterol I am putting into my body. A Vegan diet is absolutely free of cholesterol because it omits anything that comes from an animal.

What baffles me even more is that when I look at dairy product labels, they say it's cholesterol free. I once read the nutrient table on a pack of flavoured yogurt (Go Dahi by Gowardhan Dairy) and I was surprised that the cholesterol content was a nice, big zero. I wrote to them asking how is that possible? Are they actually removing the cholesterol out of milk?! I got a reply saying that milk contains 10mg of cholesterol per 100g and since they only have to list the 'nutritional facts' till the first decimal per 10gms of the product, they are not bound by law to mention how much cholesterol is there in 100gms or 200 gms or whatever the weight of their product.

I don't know how much cholesterol is there in milk. The site promoting the Indian dairy industry states that cows milk has 3.14mg of cholesterol per gram. But it could be wrong since there are many conflicting articles about the amount of cholesterol in milk. All I know is that it has cholesterol and I don't need it.

Anything that comes from plants including plant based oils like peanut and coconut oil, all the nuts like cashews, almonds, peanuts - do NOT have any cholesterol, despite what people tell you. Just ask them to do some reading (which they don't do and continue to believe some crazy things). I don't think that most doctors even remember what cholesterol is anymore, so asking doctors might not be a good idea. But you have to know that oils are highly refined foods and devoid of any nutrition. It is much better to eat some peanuts rather than add peanut oil to your food, that way the food is going into your body with the fiber intact. Oils have zero fiber like all animal products (meat, fish, milk and eggs) and when you consume a diet high in non-fibrous food you are asking for trouble. Many people have successfully reversed heart disease, diabetes and obesity just by eating only fibrous food and omitting all animal products, oils and other refined foods.

Besides the questions and worried looks I get about cholesterol, I also get questions about calcium and protein. I found a good article about cows milk and implications of its consumption here:

Cholesterol is essential for our body, but our livers make it for us. Many people have been able to lead healthier lives by totally eliminating the cholesterol and the unnecessary saturated fats that are found in all products of animal origin. Plants do contain minuscule amounts of sterols (28gms in about 565 kgs) which are similar in their structure to that of animal origin cholesterol. But no one will ever tell you that the carrot on your plate is going to give you a heart attack.

Aug 17, 2010

Red Rice Dosai (Savoury Pancakes) & Idlis

We are all so used to seeing golden and white dosais (pancakes) in our South Indian breakfast menus, I think it's high time we make the switch to a healthier dosai.

Dosai is a simple rice pancake made in all south Indian homes served generally with a spicy red paste, coconut chutney and sambaar (any one of them or all of them)

White rice is without the husk and without most of the nutrients and fibre. So this recipe uses red rice, keeping all the nutrients intact, instead of white.

At home we use an electric grinder which uses stones (so that the dough doesnt heat up while grinding) to grind the soaked rice and urad dal (urad bean). I have tried this recipe with an electric blender with metal blades as well and it turned out as good.

You need:

2 cups Red Rice
1 cup Urad Dal
1 teaspoon Fenugreek Seeds (Methi Dana)
Salt to taste (I would say not more than two teaspoons)

2 Bowls to soak the rice and dal
A Flat iron pan (tawa)/ non stick pan
A Ladle
A metal spatula/ a turner to flip the dosai (pancake)
Oil (usually sesame/til oil)

Everything except the salt has to be soaked. The rice and dal must be soaked separately. Wash the rice and dal and soak it in water. The Fenugreek seeds (methi dana) can be soaked with the urad dal. Soak it for 4 to 6 hours. You might have to add water after a while since the grains soak up the water.

I would suggest that the grinding should be done at night because this dough will require fermentation and you can leave it out to ferment all night and have it fresh the next morning.

Start by grinding the urad dal and methi seeds. Drain out the excess water and put it in the blender. Keep it on for a while and in intervals, keep cleaning the sides of the blender so it is a uniform paste. You will notice that the urad doubles in quantity. Keep grinding it till it is a fine, fluffy paste.

Usually, the blender is not big enough to accommodate the red rice once the urad dal is done. So scoop out the urad-methi paste into a big enough vessel, we use steel, so preferably an opaque vessel.

Next comes the rice. Blend it little bit at a time if 2 cups seems like a lot and again make sure it's a fine paste. Mix both the pastes and you're ready to let it ferment. Just stir it enough for it to seem equally blended, cover it and keep it out for the night or for about 8 hours. The salt should only be added the next morning after fermentation, since salt inhibits fermentation.

The next morning it should smell different and should seem like it has risen. You can start using it immediately after adding the salt and mixing it a bit, keeping the rest in the refrigerator for future use.

To make the dosai, heat a flat iron pan. To start with, us South Indians usually make a small dosai using about 2 teaspoons of dough, mainly to test the dough, the pan and to heat it uniformly. You can splash some oil around this tiny one.

Once the dosai can be over turned easily means it has cooked on one side and needs to be flipped over so both sides are cooked.

This takes a bit of practise and getting used to, specially if you don't make dosais often or are doing it for the first time.

Once the testing is done, use a big ladle to scoop out some dough and pour it in the center of the
hot pan. With slow, circular motions in a single direction, spread out the dough into a flat dosai, so it looks something like the picture on the right.

Using a teaspoon spread some oil around the edges of the dosai and let it cook for sometime.

Flip it over to the other side when the edges look cooked and crisp. It's important to keep the flame / temperature low and at a constant.

Once it becomes darker and crisp on both sides it is cooked and ready to be served. Usually it is served with a dry red powder called 'molaga pudi' (I call it gun powder) made with a mix of dals, sesame and red chillies dry roasted and ground coarse. The molaga pudi is served mixed with sesame oil to make it into a wet paste. It can also be served with sambaar and a coconut chutney which uses raw mature coconut scraped out of the shell (1 cup) and ground with green or red chillies (1 or 2 depending on your spice tolerance level) and salt, then garnished with some roasted mustard seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida. A nice addition to the chutney is some raw mango when it is in season.

It's just as easy to make the red rice dosai and its so much more healthier.

I tried steaming the same batter to make mini idlis (steamed rice cakes) and they turned out awesome.

I was recently told that Namdhari Stores in Bangalore stocks RedRice Dosa and Idli Mix under the brand name Navdarshanam. So all the Bangaloreans who think the grinding process is too much, no more excuses! (Thanks for the tip Veena)

The Easiest, Yummiest Banana Sorbet!

This is as easy as can be and it's so good!

You need:
4 ripe Bananas (even if you have over ripe bananas, will do!) - peeled, sliced and frozen over two nights in an airtight container.
Walnuts or whatever nuts you like
A dash of Cinnamon

Take the bananas out of the freezer and thaw them for about 5 minutes. Put them in a blender and blend them till they are creamy. Add the walnuts and cinnamon and serve immediately. This won't keep after you blend it, but I don't think you'll have anything left over!

I have also read variations of this recipe adding peaches and other fruits. I'm yet to try those, mainly because I can't get over how good this one is.

Jul 21, 2010

Sticky Cinnamon Rolls with Jaggery

Let Cinnamon fill the air!

There's a new Cinnabon in town and of course I can't eat there, but nothing stops me from making my own cinnamon rolls! I tried this one with jaggery instead of sugar and it was awesome!

Here's how I did it:

200gms Whole Wheat Flour
10gms Fresh Yeast
5gms Salt
1/2 cup Jaggery Syrup plus little extra to brush
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
150 ml Hot water
20 ml Oil (Rice Bran, Sunflower, Safflower)
1/4 cup or more slivers of roasted almonds
1/2 cup raisins

Mix the fresh yeast with one teaspoon jaggery syrup in a tall glass and add some warm water to it. Cover it and let it sit for 10 minutes. After ten minutes, it should have risen and should look like a frothy mess of yeast.

Mix the flour, the rest of the jaggery, vanilla essence and add the yeast mixture to it. Mix it around and keep adding water little bit at a time till the entire mixture binds well. Add in the salt and oil.

Kneading the dough is always easier on a flat surface. Sprinkle some flour and put this dough on a flat surface. With one hand push the dough out, away from your body and with the other hand fold it back in. Keep rotating the dough and continue this pushing and compressing till the dough is smooth and not too sticky. After about 5 minutes or so put the dough back in to the bowl and cover it with either a wet cloth or cling wrap. Let it sit for about one hour at least. Sometimes more depending on the weather, but till you fell it has doubled in size.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C about forty minutes after keeping the dough to rise. After an hour or more, remove the dough out and put it back on a flat surface with some flour on it. Punch the dough out and remove the air. Repeat the same push- compress method for about three minutes. Roll out the dough brush it with some jaggery syrup and sprinkle some raisins, roasted almonds and cinnamon. Roll it as tightly as possible. Cut it into smaller pieces and put them on an oiled baking tray. Let them rise for about 15 minutes and put them in to bake.

Bake till they darken in colour. It takes about 25 to 30 minutes. I couldn't wait for them to cool down! They were absolutely awesome!

This recipe makes about 15 pieces.

Jun 30, 2010

Chocolate Upside Down Pudding

Here's an experiment that went wrong somewhere mid-way but turned out fine in the end after all.

This recipe has been adapted and modified from the book 'How It All Vegan' and The 'Compassionate Cook Cookbook'. The cake is a bit on the sweeter side but it's nice once in a while.

You need:
For the Cake
1 cup flour (Use whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup oil
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup soy milk or water
some walnuts or almonds if you like

For the fudge
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 and 1/4 cups boiling water

Preheat the oven to 270 degrees C. Oil a big baking pan say about 9 inches, bigger than what you would normally use for a cake. I will elaborate why.

Mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, soda and salt. Make a well in the center of this mix and add the soy milk, sugar and oil. Mix everything well. The batter will be thicker than a cake batter (almost like what a brownie batter texture) like on the right.

Spread this in a big baking dish. Mix the remaining cocoa powder and sugar and sprinkle it on top of this batter. Pour hot water over it and bake it.

I goofed on the size of the baking tin. I used a small baking tin. When I poured the water on the batter, the water level was just under the edge. I didn't realise that the batter will rise pushing the water out of the tin and into my oven! (Ya I know it's a dumb mistake).

So when I started out,everything was in a 9 inch round tin, mid-
way I heard steam and opened the oven to find a mess. Then moved the half-risen batter to a bigger rectangular tin and poured the same water on top. In the end, it was all good! The cake was moist and there was a layer of fudge at the bottom. To serve I cut out portions and turned them over so the fudge layer was on the top.

Jun 17, 2010

Desserts: Roasted Bananas With Peanut Butter

This one's inspired from what Dr Nandita Shah serves at her workshops. It's really easy and it's addictive.

You need:

Bananas, cut in half and then split lengthwise
Roasted Peanuts, unsalted ones
Jaggery Syrup/ Dates Syrup or Maple Syrup

I'll start backwards. If you don't have maple syrup, make some jaggery syrup with jaggery and a teaspoon of water on a low flame. The jaggery will melt in to a lovely dark brown syrup. If you're too lazy for that, just buy some Lion Dates Syrup.

To make the Peanut butter
Put the roasted peanuts in a blender and let it go on for a while till you hear the sound changing. Stop to scrape the sides occasionally. The peanuts will go from powder to butter consistency in about a minute or two. Thats it!

Heat a flat pan / tawa and put the cut bananas on top. They will start to sizzle and turn brown and soft. Turn it over till both sides are nice and brown.

Put the bananas on a plate, top it with the peanut butter and drizzle some syrup on top!

You can even use Tahini instead of peanut butter. Tahini is a paste made with sesame seeds. It's available in bottles or you can make it by toasting the sesame seeds and putting it in a blender. The natural oils from the sesame will be enough to make the consistency just right.

Jun 5, 2010

Travelling Vegan- Malaysia

I spent this last week in Malaysia on vacation and thought to dedicate a note about food in Malaysia. The Malays love their sea food and it's a bit disturbing (and smelly) for a family for four vegetarians and one vegan.

En route it's almost impossible to get any vegan food. Most international airlines offer vegan food as an option while booking tickets. I was so excited last year when I got to tick that 'vegan' option. It only resulted in me staying practically hungry on a 16 hour flight with the air hostess telling me "...get your own food next time". They didn't even know what 'vegan' meant, confusing it with Jain food. The low cost airlines don't allow you to eat any other food except the ones they sell you on their flights. But who's going to stop you from eating on a flight if they don't have anything to offer you.

In Malaysia the vegetarian movement is alive and kicking thanks to the Indians and the Chinese Buddhists. If you're Indian and don't really want to go to another country and eat Indian food all over again, then the Chinese vegetarian restaurants can be a breather. They serve u some nice soups, salads, noodles, rice varieties and also lots of mock meat. But if you've been vegetarian and do not fancy the idea of eating even a 'fake chicken' then they are almost always happy to omit what you do not want. One good decision was that we took along some theplas. There are a whole lot of places to get good south Indian food with the huge south indian population there. We tried Annalakshmi which is run by the Temple of Fine Arts and they offer a vegetarian buffet. All the proceeds of this restaurant help them in running their organisation, you eat and pay as you wish and all the food is prepared and served by volunteers. We also sampled some Malay/ Chinese street food and they were nice enough to avoid the MSG, meat and eggs. There are many north Indian restaurants also one of which we tried along the Cenang Beach route. We ended up eating only oil i think at that meal.

It was easier to find food in supermarkets and alter menus in Kuala Lumpur. All the food in the super markets contain MSG (a.k.a Ajinomoto) and Aspartame. You really have to look at the

ingredients and buy. Thankfully in Malaysia I found the food labeling laws have forced the companies to list everything in their products, unlike in India where Lays gets away with 'No added MSG'. It helps that the people are friendly and accommodative to your needs. In Langkawi things got a little more difficult. It's difficult to find food to snack on specially for a vegan. It's best to snack on the awesome range of tropical fruit they offer like the Dragon Fruit (pictured on the right), Durians, Mangosteens, Rambutans (on the left), Papayas, Pineapples, Mangoes. I even found Jicama, a crispy sweet
root that is widely used in the South Americas. They also have lots of dried and preserved fruits and vegetables and also potato and yam chips. Malaysians also use many types of mushrooms, celery, broccolli, corn and many vegetables common to Indian cuisine.

It also helps to do a little bit of research and learn a few key words if you're going to a country that speaks another language and also many foods list their ingredients in Malay in English script. So you can read it but you need to know what it means. For instance Milk is Susu (Really! It was amusing at first to see the different flavours of susu available at the supermarkets) and Egg is Telur. Soy milk is easily available for those who need it, though not in as many flavours. Tofu, also called bean curd is also available though some varieties are called 'egg tofu' and contain eggs.

It's not hard to travel with diet restrictions and it's always nice to try new foods. Most people are rigid and only stick to eating what they know and recognize. I think it's time to change, in so many ways!

Apr 30, 2010

Mango Avocado Guacamole/ Chutney

It's mango season and also avocado season. How can you not mix them both?!

This is my mother's idea. Using a raw mango and a not fully ripe (yes, I am to blame for that I couldn't wait to cut open the damn avocado) avocado we made this dip / chutney. I got lucky here because if the avocado is not ripe enough it tastes like socks, not that I've tasted socks.

You need

1 RIPE Avocado

1 RAW Mango
1 Green Chilli
1/2 a tomato cut in to tiny pieces
1/2 an onion cut in to tine pieces (I avoided the onions)
Some Coriander to garnish

Put the avocado, mango and chilli in the blender. Blender in to a fine paste. Add the salt, tomato and coriander and give it a stir.


Serve with chips, in rolls, or eat it as is!

Apr 27, 2010

Banana Rajgira Pancakes

If you haven't tried rajgira I suggest you try it now! Also known as Amaranth, it is a grain that has been growing in India for centuries. It can be made in to rotis, cakes, cookies and pancakes. It has an intense nutty flavour that's hard to miss and blends in easily.

This is my brother's favourite breakfast pancake.

You need:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rajgira flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 banana
1/2 cup sugar
water / soy milk
1 teaspoon ground flaxseed

Put the flours, cinnamon and sugar in the bowl. Mash the banana in to a pulp and add it in. Mix the ground flaxseed with 2 tablespoons of water and whisk it till it becomes gooey almost like an egg.

Mix everything together with some water or soy milk till it gets to almost a dosa batter consistency.

Heat a flat pan / tawa and spoon some batter on to it. Cover it if possible and flip it after a few minutes.

Serve with fresh fruit and some jaggery / maple syrup

Apr 7, 2010

Mango Thai Curry

I enjoy making Thai Curry specially the green curry because it's so easy and everyone at home loves it. This time I added some fresh ripe mango to the paste and it turned out even better.

For the gravy you need

A coriander-mint chutney made with ginger, garlic and green chillies
Pulp of one ripe mango

Blend the two together.

1 chopped onion
2 cups fresh coconut milk (always better if you've made it fresh) Or 1 tetra pack of store-bought coconut milk
3 fresh basil leaves
1 leaf of lemon tree if available
3-4 lemon grass

Steamed & cut vegetables of your choice like:
Lady Fingers
Red Pumpkin

Raw Vegetables of your choice like :
Green, Red or Yellow Pepper

Saute the onions in little bit of water and when they turn translucent add the green paste with mango. Add the turmeric, basil, lemon tree leaf and lemon grass. Add a quarter cup of the coconut milk and let it simmer for a few minutes. Add the raw vegetables and stir it around a bit.
Add in the rest of the coconut milk and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Put in the steamed vegetables and let it come to one boil.

If you use the ready made coconut milk you will need to add water since it is much more thicker.
Add in some salt and pepper and serve hot with brown rice.

The mango adds a sweetness and gives it a nicer colour.

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