Nov 21, 2013

Vegan City Guide for Mumbai is out!

I have kept this little piece of information rather quiet until now. A few months ago, I was chosen by Amelia at Vegan City Guides to write a guide for Mumbai. The guide, as the name suggests is meant to give travelling vegans and new vegans an idea of how to eat their way through Mumbai. The guide is being launched today (21st November, 2013) as an eBook and will sell on Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes & Nobles for around $3 or Rs. 190.

The guide covers all the information you need about restaurants, what to eat, where to eat, some common local dishes that are vegan and vegan stuff in grocery stores and super markets. It will be updated every year to include new entries in the vegan scene.

Go buy one now!

 Barnes & Nobles

You can follow Vegan City Guides on Facebook to keep updated on everthing they do and vegan travel tips!

Oct 29, 2013

Richa's (Brilliant) Vegan Diwali Sweets E-Book

It’s Diwali here in India and over this coming weekend, so many homes will light up with lamps, lanterns and  colourful lights. It is also when kitchens will be bustling with all the sweets and savouries being made to bring in the festival. I come from a South Indian family and the sweet stuff made in traditional kitchens involve some form of dairy. So how does a vegan get around this festival of Diwali surrounded by not-so-vegan sweets?

And that brings me to what this post is about. Richa Hingle the super talented kitchen goddess and brilliant photographer behind Vegan Richa has made things easier for people like me looking to make vegan traditional sweet-treat recipes this Diwali. She has put together a lovely e-book called Vegan Diwali Sweets. The e-book is for sale for $5 (which is a steal) and ALL the proceeds will be donated to two animal welfare organisations, one of which is in India working for animals affected by the Cyclone Phailin and the other to PeacePigs Sanctuary.

The recipes in this E-Book cover everything from Mysore Pak, Nan Khatai, Sandesh, Kaju Katli to Rasgulla, Rasmalai, Coconut Barfi and more! The recipes are easy to follow and must be doubled when you make it because it’ll be over before you know it.
I tried the recipe for the Mysore Pak (Chickpea fudge squares) because that was something I ate a lot before I turned vegan. I was so well known in my family for my love of Mysore Pak that whenever my uncle used to travel to Coimbatore, the headquarters of the most famous makers of Mysore Pak - Sri Krishna Sweets, he used to make it a point to get me a box of Mysore Pak. My uncle passed away a few years ago and when Richa asked me if I wanted to take part in the blog tour of her E-Book, I thought making Mysore Pak is my way of remembering him and everything he did to make my day when he brought me the Mysore Pak back then. It is also my way (through Richa's recipe, of course) of showing you all that in spite of choosing this lifestyle, almost any food can be adapted and can still taste absolutely delicious.

The colour of my Mysore Pak is not as yellow as Richa’s because I used unbleached brown sugar to make it.
I also made thinner squares.
If you have eaten a Mysore Pak you should know that if you eat more than two pieces of the one with ghee (clarified butter) it’s going to leave you feeling sick with a sugar high. The best part about making and eating vegan Mysore Pak is that you can enjoy the taste and texture of the Mysore Pak without feeling heavy or sick after stuffing yourself (read myself) with the whole batch.
Perfect texture!
Richa is generous enough to share her recipe of Amaranth Burfi with the world wide web. Try it and tell her how (delicious) it turned out.

Makes 15-20 . Easily doubled

1/2 cup Amaranth flour(Rajgira atta)
1/2 loaded cup dried coconut flakes. Pulse in a blender a few times to make coarse flour.
a generous pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon 
chai masala (or cardamom powder)
6-7 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon oil (optional)

In a wide pan, add the amaranth flour and heat on medium heat.
Dry roast until the flour gets fragrant and changes color. 5-7 minutes.
Reduce heat to low-medium. Add coconut flakes, salt, oil and chai masala/cardamom. Roast for another 1-2 minutes so the coconut flakes release some oil. Mix well.
Add the maple syrup mix into the flour mixture to get a very soft dough consistency. Use more for a soft sticky dough or less for just about all together dough for crumbly Burfi.
Add the oil, keep mixing and cook for a minute. The dough will become less sticky.
Transfer the dough onto parchment and flatten it out using a spatula or hands. Top with coconut flakes or almond slivers or pistachio slivers.
Let cool for a bit, then cut up into desired shapes. Cool and store in airtight container for a few days.

Go and get yourself a copy of the E-Book! It’s more than worth it!
Have a blissful and colourful Diwali! Be kind!




Oct 27, 2013

Travelling Vegan: Island hopping in Thailand

It's always scary for me to be travelling to countries with large coasts. For one they depend on what the Italians and French call "the fruits of the sea" and language being a big barrier, it is hard to explain to them what you need. I love Thai food and eating authentic flavours always gives me a high. So I was really excited about being able to eat the original Thai food in Thailand on one hand, but was having nightmares about what I was going to eat.

Before that I need to detail my experience aboard the pride of our nation, Air India. A fellow vegan having traveled on Air India before had figured out the way to ensure you get something to eat on the flight. The way to do it was to write to this one Air India employee who is in charge of the meals on the flights. I think some of the earlier people had success with this method. I did not. This in spite of doing this a whole month in advance and sending reminder emails to the said employee two days before my flight to Bangkok. The flight attendants did not know what vegan/ dairy-free/lactose-free meant and of course there was no meal reserved for me. While going from Bombay to Bangkok, it was manageable since it was a late night flight so most of it was spent sleeping (also because our "entertainment" systems weren't working) and listening to a French man complain about the substandard meal he got. While coming back, here was a shocker waiting for me.

So there we were in Bangkok on a hot Sunday afternoon wandering the streets in search of something to eat. We had a train to catch that evening so we spent the day walking around a sleepy China Town. It was past lunch time and we had no choice but to walk in to a small restaurant (something like an Irani of bombay). The women cooking there did not understand what we wanted because none of them spoke English and everything on the menu had pork in it. Hours before I left, I had jotted down words for Chicken, Pork, Fish, Beef and Egg. So I explained to her we did not want the 'Moo'. Sure enough she got us the broth from the same big pot of pork stew with noodles in it and tried as much as she could to removed the pieces of shredded pork. It was funny because while I am vegan, my friend did not eat pork. Both of us sat staring at our bowls for a whole minute before I decided I had to take my tiny little notepad and show her exactly what we wanted. 

I also had written the word 'Jay' which is Jain in Thai. In Thailand there is a sect of Buddhist monks who follow Jainism. This means that like the Jains in India, they also avoid all animal products, onions, garlic and other root vegetables. But the Buddhist Jains also do not consume dairy, unlike their Indian counterparts. This was something the young cook finally understood and she quickly made us a stir fried noodle dish with sauteed morning glory. It was quite tasteless, but I devoured it because it was my first proper meal in a while.

Chilled Coconut Water

An interesting way to eat Taro

From there we headed to a mall and after walking around we went up to the food court because I remembered vaguely reading somewhere that food courts had a few vegetarian options. The Food court system in Bangkok malls are quite incredible. You buy a prepaid card putting as much money in it as you like. With that card you can choose your meal from an array of tiny stalls each clearly marked on top with what they were serving. Each kind of meat had a separate stall with at least 8 kinds of preparations, Salads, Rice, Noodles and there was about 20 stalls. Among them was one Vegetarian stall which had an amazing variety of dishes to choose from and they all were vegan. You could choose to have either rice or noodles with one gravy and two vegetable sides. There were Mushrooms, two types of Tofu, Corn, Morning Glory, Peppers all for 50 Baht which is roughly 100 Rupees or less than $2. They also have complementary salads and sauces at every stall.

After that we headed for our over night train journey which took us to Koh Samui. Having stuffed myself with the food at the mall, I did not have it in me to have dinner on the train. The train had a vegetarian option which sounded vegan to me. It was a coconut milk based curry with rice and salad.

In Thailand, most of the vegetarian Thai food is vegan. While eating at restaurants you have to mention that you do not want fish sauce and oyster sauce. The waiters actually know all this thanks to the many vegetarian Indians who hop on over to Thailand. One thing you must try everywhere is the chilled coconut water right from the young coconut. It is similar to what we get in India, but they store the coconuts in cold water which makes it a completely different experience.

The first island we went to was Koh Samui. Our hotel was on the busiest street of Koh Samui so we were close to the action. I ate some form of Thai Curry everywhere. I ate it with rice, as a Tom Kha Soup, as a starter, main and dessert. I also found some flavoured soya milks in the supermarkets. The ones with Black sesame and wild rice were the best. I was not close to any vegan restaurant in Koh Samui, but I wasn't complaining. I even managed to find something vegan on a group tour to Ang Thong Marine Park.

Tom Kha Soup at Khaw Glong, Chaweng
Our next stop was Koh Phagnan, famous for it's Full Moon Party. We were (thankfully) on the other side of the island, far from the adolescent Australians and Brits. The first morning we walked out of our hotel to find that right next door, about ten steps away, was a restaurant that served VEGAN food among other things. This was a pleasant surprise. Some force in the vegan universe was looking out for me, without me asking! A little further down was ANOTHER vegan restaurant! We explored our side of the island and realized we were in the "Brooklyn" of Koh Phangan. Have a look at what I ate -

Big Mountain in Haad Chao Pao, Koh Phagnan

Vegan Tofu Burger at Big Mountain

Massaman Curry at Big Mountain
Vegetrain Menu at a restaurant in Koh Phagnan

Art Cafe in Haad Chao Pao, Koh Phagnan

Art Cafe at Haad Chao Pao, Koh Phagnan
Vegan Banana Bread at Art Cafe
Vegan Bacon Sandwich at Art Cafe

In Bangkok I also found a restaurant with mock meat on the menu.

Mock Meat Menu at Charlie's Kitchen

Mock Fish at Charlie's Kitchen, Bangkok

Mock Shrimp at Charlie's Kitchen, Bangkok

On the way back, Air India did not have the meal for me even after multiple assurances after I complained about my flight to Bangkok. The stewards gave me a meal marked 'Low Cal' which had fish in it and were very confident that was my meal. I am pretty confident that was my last Air India flight ever.

I was surprised at how easy it was to eat vegan in Thailand. Thankfully dairy has not permeated the menu as much as it has in the Thai food here in India. I sure am going back to Thailand some day.

Oct 5, 2013

Travelling Vegan: London in pictures

This is going to be more of a picture essay kind of post. I did manage to hit a few vegan places in London, but I'm going to let the pictures do the talking.

(Spoiler Alert: Please make sure you have eaten before you look at these pictures)

At Ms Cupcake, an all vegan bakery. A must visit if you are in London!

So hard to choose!

Red Velvet Cookie

Raspberry Cheesecake Cupcake 

An Irish invention that is a bland version of Aloo Paratha. Usually served with butter, I made mine with some guacamole.

Raw, Vegan & Gluten-Free

Cookies And Scream at Camden Market

Gluten Free Baked Donut Hole

At Wagamama, a modern Japanese Ramen Bar

Saien Soba - Fried tofu with Noodles in a soup.

Yasai Itame - Noodles in a Coconut Milk broth

At Burough Market

I have never seen so many tomato varieties!

At Vx, an all vegan store

Some day I will have a neat looking fridge like this

Junk food = me!

The store stocks almost everything that you could possibly find vegan

Pear & Hazelnut Cupcake

There is one more left in my series of travel posts and after that I promise to start putting up some recipes! Last stop - Thailand!

Sep 24, 2013

Travelling Vegan: Road trippin' through Italy and France

After successful sojourns through Munich and Austria, we hit the road toward France as planned. Before that we were to pass through Italy and camp for a couple of nights.

We drove towards Lake Garda stopping at a charming port town called Limone sul Garda. Limone, gets it's name from the famous Italian lemons and the people living there are proud of their heritage. All the houses have beautiful ceramic lemons adorning the top of the front doors. I read on wikipedia that Limone used to be accesible only by boat until the 1940s and it is now a very popular tourist destination. It also says that people from Limone possess a muted form of a protein that produces more of the good cholesterol and that enables them to live longer. How strange is that! I could not spot the tourists from the mutant humans, but it was worth the stop over to have lunch by the lake, walk through the narrow slopes and get lost in this wonderful commune.

Residents celebrate the lemons with these pretty ceramic pieces

Lemons of Limone

Mini Tomato varieties at a local shop

Gnocchi at a restaurant in Limone

We then ended up in Gorgonzola, Milan. Yes the very land the smelly blue cheese comes from. Our intention was to spend a day around Milan. Milan, much like Munich was a deserted city. But Munich is like that because there are fewer people. Milan was empty because more than 70% of the population was out on summer vacation. Even the restaurants and bars shut shop for the month of August. The ones that are open actually have signs that say 'We are open in August'!

I'm very confident about eating vegan in Italy because of my earlier experiences. This time was no different. I asked for the Pizzas and Pastas without the cheese and had enough gelato that would've otherwise lasted me the year. I tried a new flavour of sorbetto called ACE. ACE is a mix of Orange (arancia), Carrot (carota) and Lemon (limone) Juices named ACE not for the ingredients it is made from, but from the vitamins found in them.

ACE Gelato in Gorgonzola

Tagliatelle with Lemon

Pizza with Arugula and Mushrooms

Milan's famous Grom Gelateria has sorbettos that are vegan

After a brief night in Albenga, Italy we drove towards France. Our original route was to lead us to Provence via the Grand Canyon of Verdon. On our way to the Canyon we decided to stop at Castellane. Castellane is one of those remote ancient villages in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence area. Since it is very close to the river canyon Gorges du Verdon, it is a halt for a few tourists. The town is situated quite high up so the weather was beautiful. The houses and streets had an old world charm as if they were unchanged since the 18th century. Through the narrow cobbled streets was the town's most popular stretch with many restaurants, bars, creperies and shops selling vintage and touristy stuff.

Now in such an old, remote location the last thing I would expect to find would be vegan or vegetarian food. Mostly because I was pretty certain that people had rarely, if not ever, seen Indians there. I got a lot of "where are you from?" and "I love the colour of your skin" type conversations. To add to that we were in France, not a very friendly place for vegetarians. But to my utter disbelief, yes I was overly dramatic when I found this little place, someone had actually set up a cafe that served vegan food. I did three cartwheels in my head when I saw the word 'Végétal' on the menu. (Végétal is vegan in French).

We had dinner there and it was probably the healthiest I had eaten in a while. Healthy, vegan food in a remote town in the middle of nowhere in France! I still can't believe my luck.

Nature Café in Castellane, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence

Assiette Végétal at Nature Café.

Salad Végétal at Nature Café
Onward our journey led us through the gorgeous lavender fields of Provence until we ended up at our last stop on the road trip, Marseille. I managed to find something vegan almost everywhere and even found an Organic store in Marseille selling a lot of vegan, gluten-free stuff. There are a lot of Lactose-free milks in European supermarkets. Most of them are not vegan. I have no idea how they manage to process something that is already so processed, but read labels carefully. Even the gluten-free diet has caught on in Europe and it does not always mean it is vegan because all of the gluten free breads I saw had eggs, except one brand I found in the Bio section.

Lavender fields in Provence

Roasted Aubergine and Salad with Black Olive Tapenade in Marseille

Lima is a famous vegan brand found all over France.

Vegan Sablés (Cookies) that are also gluten-free

As Vegan MoFo is still on in full swing, here are two wonderful bloggers I came across.

Luca from Italy over at The Vegan Kitchen of Dr Caligari is making vegan sweet and savoury cupcakes all this month! You have to see all of them!

Paris Vegan has a lovely recipe for Breton Pancakes that are now popular in Mumbai thanks to a restaurant. Get the recipe and make them since Buckwheat is in season now!

My next post will be about London and all the vegan things I stuffed myself with!

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