Ahh, India. You beautiful, beautiful place. As part of my six months backpacking I spent a month in India earlier this year and it ended up being one of my favourite countries in the world (so far!)
It’s culture, vibrancy and colour just completely captivated me. And so did the food. I’ve always loved Indian food in Britain, but that of course is a whole different cuisine. Chicken tikka masala or lamb vindaloo are rarely or never actually eaten in India, so I was excited to see what new dishes I could discover.
I knew I was heading to the country with the biggest vegetarian population in the world (half a billion to be precise), so I thought ‘why not give veggie and vegan eating a try whilst I’m here?’. So for four weeks, I ate a vegetarian diet except when in Goa when I ate the famous Goan fish curries!
I was surprised to find some of my favourite Indian dishes were not only veggie – but vegan too. As it’s #WorldMeatFreeDay today and last week I wrote about eating less meat ’cause of it’s detrimental effect on our planet, I thought I’d share the top 5 vegan dishes I discovered in India…
This is most commonly found in southern India, and I ate this in the state of Kerala. Ignore the yogurt based dip pictured – that’s optional. This dish comes with a huge ‘dosa’ which is effectively a giant, super-thin pancake made from rice flour and ground pulses. The ‘masala’ part is a potato based dry curry (think soft ‘Bombay potatoes’) which is usually served in the middle. It’s served with a range of chutneys and dips – which really make the dish special imo. Who doesn’t love tearing, dipping and sharing?! These ‘dips’ are commonly a spicy dahl, a mild dahl, a coriander sauce and sometimes yogurt (optional).
I love rice, and always make veggie fried rice at home whether it’s part of an Asian-inspired brunch or a quick and easy supper. But, I almost always add eggs. India taught me, hands-down, that eggs are not required to make some of the tastiest vegetable rice dishes on the planet. Their biryanis, pulaos and pilafs (all amazing variations) are incredibly tasty and vary from location to location. Sometimes they may contain ‘ghee’ or butter but ask them to fry it with oil instead.
Pani and Sev Puri
These little street snacks or ‘chaats’ are absolutely divine! And also happen to contain no meat or dairy. Puri refers to the round, hollow, whole wheat crispy bread puffs. Pani puri (first picture above) is the puri crisps filled with a mixture of flavoured water (think fresh mint, lime, chilli and coriander), and potato masala, shallots, chilli, chickpeas and seasoned with salt, black pepper and spices. You get a plate of the stuffed puris then dip it in the watery sauce and shove it all in your mouth. It’s and EXPLOSION of flavours and textures and honestly is a taste sensation!
The sevi puri is a different variety but with no wet sauce. The recipe varies from place to place I ate these in Ajmer, and they were filled with potato masala, onions, tamarind chutney, diced tomatoes and topped with ‘sev’ (small pieces of crunchy noodles made from chickpea flour paste). DELICIOUS!
Apologies that the image sucks on this one, but I could not miss out aloo baingan. Aloo (potato) and baingan (aubergine) is a simple but super tasty curry dish. Again, aske for it to be cooked with oil instead of ghee, and mop it up with a chapati. It contains all the key Indian spices which make everything taste so good (think chilli, turmeric, garam masala, cumin) it really is so, so good!
Dal (lentils) and tadka (yellow) is a simple, home-style dish that is enjoyed all over India. It’s so simple, and I learnt to make it once in once in Kerala and once in Goa. The lady in Goa was actually from Mumbai. And even though she was very old, she took a cooking tip from her son’s friend who was from Goa, and adds tamarind to her traditional recipe to add a tangy twist. It’s so delicious, warming and comforting. Enjoy it with rice on the side and a chapati to soak up the goodness.