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!
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