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Vegan South Indian Tomato Rice

Its November and the month of Veganmofo! Veganmofo’s schedule of posting all days of November is far too hectic for me to aspire to, but it is such a fun event that I cant stop myself from putting my name on the list. So that’s what I did this time too.

I totally enjoy looking at all the amazing food pics vegans around the world are posting; flooding the webs with amazing vegan chow. Usually I notice a lack of South Indian food on veganmofo and my goal is to bring that balance.

Today’s dinner was South Indian tomato rice and kale daal. My two year old, bless her heart, has taken after me in her love for all-things-tomatoes. I used a can of diced tomatoes and cooked it down with all the usual seasonings – mustard, cumin, urad (black gram), and channa dal.

South Indian Vegan Tomato Rice

South Indian Vegan Tomato Rice

Butternut Squash Curry

The best thing about mofo, even if I dont get to post regularly, is that I buy vegetables that I normally dont buy. Butternut squash is one of them. After trying it, I ask myself why I dont buy it more often. Butternut squash is sort of sweet, so I wanted to try it with a variety of other flavors – tangy and spicy. So I decided to cook it into a black-pepper-tamarind base, but ended up using far less liquid than I originally intended. So what started as a kozhambu, ended up resembling a stir fry. But no regrets as I took it to a friends place for a potluck dinner and we nearly wiped it out.

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Ingredients

  • Tamarind paste – 2t
  • Butternut squash – 1 medium (yields about 3 cups chopped)
  • Coconut, fresh or frozen, grated – 3T
  • Peppercorns – 1t
  • Cumin seeds – 1T
  • Chana dal – 1T
  • Salt – to taste
  • Cilantro – to garnish
  • Cornstarch mixed with water to thicken (optional)

Directions

  • Peel and chop butternut squash into 1 inch cubes or smaller.
  • In a saucepan, place chopped squash and pour just enough water to cover. Add tamarind paste and bring to a boil.
  • In the meanwhile, dry roast the cumin, chana dal and peppercorns. Add more pepper if you like black pepper. Add more chana dal if you dont like it spicy.
  • Grind the roasted stuff in a coffee grinder.
  • Add the salt, ground spice mix and coconut to the now boiling mixture.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for 10 minutes. The mixture will thicken, stir well to coat the squash with the sauce.
  • Garnish with cilantro.
  • Enjoy with rice or bread.

Spinach and Beluga Lentils with Quinoa

During a recent visit to Rainbow grocery in SF, I picked up some beluga lentils. These tiny, black lentils cook quickly and dont loose shape. I had eaten beluga lentils before, but never cooked them myself. My fail-safe way of trying out any new variety of dal or any new type of green leaves is to cook them together – like a spinach-dal. When served on a bed of quinoa, it makes for a highly satisfying and nutritionally balanced meal.

Once the lentils are cooked, this dish comes together in 15 minutes. There used to be a time when every greens ‘n’ dal I would make would comprise of onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and tons of dry spices, with the same formula used over and over again. But lately, I’ve come to realize that omitting a bunch of these ingredients and simplifying the process leads to a highly flavorful and vibrantly green entree. 

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Ingredients (measurements are very flexible)

  • Chopped Spinach, frozen – 1 1lb. packet (of course you can use fresh)
  • Tomato – 1, medium sized, chopped (~ ½ cup)
  • Green chilies – 1, minced (I used a super-sized serrano chilie)
  • Fresh Red chilies – 2, minced (optional)
  • Ginger-garlic paste – 2T
  • Beluga Lentils – ¾ cup
  • Salt – to taste
  • Oil – 1T
  • Asafetida – A pinch

Directions

  • Cook/pressure cook beluga lentils in sufficient water to cover it. 
  • Heat oil in a pot and oil is hot, add ginger-garlic paste; stir it around.
  • Add asafetida, minced chilies and tomatoes; stir and let cook in medium heat.
  • Add spinach and about ½ cup of water and cook for about 5-7 minutes, until spinach is soft and mixture is bubbling.
  • Add beluga lentils and salt to taste and cook for 5 more minutes.
  • Serve hot with quinoa or rice.

Cranberry Cardamom Banana Bread

I have been under the weather for the past 4-5 days, which is a pity as it happenend right in the middle of vegan mofo. Food was more or less the last thing on mind, and I am slowly getting back to normal. Towards the end I had decided that enough was enough and proceeded to satisfy my sweet cravings by baking this low fat banana bread from Veganomicon

Its such a versatile and flexible recipe and it withstood the many modifications I made to it:

  • whole wheat flour instead of all purpose flour
  • brown sugar in reduced quantities instead of granulated sugar
  • a bit of agave nectar instead of the molasses I didnt have on had
  • I threw in dried cranberries
  • I replaced the cinnamom and nutmeg with cardamom, my favorite spice

It turned out really moist, dense and delicious and was a great way to greet the weekend!

 

Methi Chole With Cashew Cream

A while ago, I had made Methi Malai Matar (fenugreek leaves and peas with cream) using soy creamer and having loved it, I had bought frozen methi leaves with the idea of making it again. When I saw the Vegan Mofo Iron Chef challenge to make something with chickpeas, I wanted to give it a shot. I also wanted to cook with Methi leaves this weekend, so I decided to make a ‘Methi Malai Chole’ instead. Not terribly original, I know! But I love chickpeas and doing something for the Iron chef challenge sounded like fun!

Having run out of soy creamer, I used cashew cream instead of malai. I had soaked cashews in the fridge overnight and the resultant cream is so potent, just a little goes a long way! I had also soaked the chickpeas for about 16 hours, so thanks vegan mofo for the chance to do a bit of stress free cooking on a Sunday morning. My husband is warding off a jet lag by sleeping, so its a quiet morning!

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Ingredients

  • Methi/Fenugreek Leaves, tightly packed – 1 cup
  • Chickpeas – soaked and cooked/ canned – 1.5 cups
  • Cashew Cream – ¼ cup [soak cashews overnight and blend until really smooth with enough water to achieve the consistency of heavy cream]
  • Tomatoes, chopped – 2
  • Onion, chopped – ½ cup
  • Ginger – garlic paste – 1.5 tbsp
  • Red chilis, finely minced – 3
  • Garam Masala powder – 1 tsp
  • Paprika/ Cayenne – 2 tsp
  • Oil – 2 tsp
  • Salt – to taste
  • Juice from half a lemon (optional)
  • Something to garnish – cilantro or spring onions

Directions

  • Heat oil in a wok/pot/saucepan
  • When the oil is hot, add chopped onions, ginger-garlic paste and red chilis; stir occassionally under the onions change color
  • Add tomatoes and cook the mixture for 5-7 minutes, until tomatoes are cooked
  • Add the methi leaves and a bit of water to prevent sticking.
  • In about 4-5 minutes, when the methi leaves have somewhat cooked, add the cooked chickpeas
  • Add salt, cayenne, garam masala and chickpeas and cook for another 5-7 minutes.
  • Add cashew cream and bring the heat down to a gentle simmer, for about 4 minutes.
  • Mix lemon juice and garnish with chopped spring onions.

Enjoy with carbohydrates of choice – rice, bread, rotis, quinoa, anything! According to the Methi leaves packet, 4.5 ounces of methi contains 39% of daily value of Calcium. Pretty neat!

Vegan Indian Masala Chai (Masala Tea With Soy Milk)

For someone embarking on a vegan diet, milk is one of the easiest things to replace, especially with the widespread popularity of soy milk and recently other non dairy milks. Even my parents, who live in the suburbs of Chennai in India have easy access to soy milk in their local supermarket. It took a while for me to get used to soy milk coffee (I make my coffee by mixing instant coffee and sugar with a glass of hot soy milk).

However, the one thing I never got right is the masala chai. The spicy, ginger-y, cardomom-y goodness that many Indians love to drink during the day has evaded me for a long time. My friends here in the bay area love and swear by the creamy concoction where they boil milk and water with loose tea and then spice it up with chai masala, ginger, cardamom and what not. Its hard for many people to imagine a day without chai and dont think a vegan version is possible. This masala chai is very unlike the chai tea latte that one gets in Starbucks and the like, which has a very different spice mix (I taste a lot of cinnamom in the American chai, while ginger and cardamom dominate the Indian version)

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When I attended the World Veg Fest on October 2nd, I returned with a strong glimmer of hope after having tasted a really delicious vegan masala chai handed out by one of the stalls there. It was made with soy milk and I just knew I had to somehow recreate it at home. I had tried it a few times before, but it was always bitter or too strong or just off. 

I have tried it a few times now and this is the closest I have been to masala chai that I used to drink with dairy milk. So yes, it is indeed possible to have a very good cuppa masala chai that is made vegan! The directions are a little different than using dairy milk

Ingredients (makes 2 cups of about 6-7 ounces each)

  • Black tea – 3 tsps
  • Sugar – to taste, but 3 tsps works for me
  • Water – 1 cup/ 8 ounces/ 240 ml
  • Unsweetened soy milk – 1 cup/ 8 ounces/ 240 ml
  • Cardamom powder/ Elaichi powder – ½ tsp
  • Chai masala – ½ tsp (Fromthe Indian store)
  • Ginger, freshly grated – 1 tsp

Directions

  • Pour water in a pot and bring to a rolling boil
  • Add loose black tea and bring down the heat to medium, a minute or so
  • Add chai masala, sugar, Cardamom and ginger. Stir well.
  • Add the soy milk and turn off heat in about a minute
  • Let tea steep for a little while (2 minutes) and now you can pour into mugs through a strainer.

Masala chai with vegan murukku from my mother in law (murukku usually has butter, but she made it without):

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I bet the number of ways in which masala chai can be made is likely mind boggling – so this is just one more way that works. But I am happy to note that it is possible and tastes quite like the real thing. I just need to make some for my chai loving friends now.

Easy Dal and Collard Greens

As a vegan, I often get asked where I get my calcium from. I must admit that getting the recommended amount of Calcium takes a bit more mindfulness than I would like to let on, but I have come to realize that this applies to everyone, no matter what their dietary restrictions. Mindfulness in eating healthfully is key, no matter what the diet. Of course I have a bottle of Calcium supplements and I drink a lot of fortified non dairy milk, but I feel most satisfied when I get my Calcium through leafy greens. I had bought of bunch of Collards after reading Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe for Collard greens in her book World-of-the-east Vegetarian, which is really a delightful book. Its vegetarian, but nearly every recipe is adaptable to be vegan.

The collard greens (or Haak as its called in the book) is very simply cooked – stir fried with mustard oil and then cooked until tender with nothing but salt, asafetida, hot red chillis and green chillis to add to its flavor. The recipe calls for ½ cup of oil, while I only used 1 tbsp for about 4 loosely packed cups of chopped collards. I appreciated the simplicity of the dish as I could detect each and every ingredient.

Based on a quick research, I cooked one average sized bunch of collards and it has about a 5 cup pre-cook yield, so at least 300mg of Calcium to estimate conservatively.

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And the protein for the day was a very simple and really quick dal that came together in under 30 minutes. A simple search will result in a million variations for making dal, but here is my go-to recipe when I need it really quick. My super easy version, which is really perfect after a long day’s work!

Ingredients and Directions For Ridiculously Easy Dal:

  1. Pressure cook a cup of dal – I used ½ masoor dal and ½  mung dal (both skinned and split) with salt and turmeric. These cook really really fast, and hence my lentils of choice.
  2. In the meanwhile, chop ½ an onion, ½ a tomato and 1-2 green chilies very finely & do something else while dal cooks.
  3. After dal is cooked, heat 2 tsp of oil and add 1 tsp cumin and 1 tsp mustard seeds when the oil is hot (med-high heat).
  4. Add chopped onion, green chilies and 1 tbsp of ginger-garlic paste and let it brown a bit. 3-5 minutes
  5. Add tomato and stir another minute.
  6. Now add dal + 1 cup of water or more if you like it a thinner consistency.
  7. Here is where you go all out with spices: I used cayenne to taste, 1 tsp amchoor powder, ½ tsp cumin and ½ tsp coriander powder.
  8. Close the pot, bring to a boil, garnish generously with finely chopped cilantro and done!
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We had this with store-bought rotis and an evening of Netflix and quickly called it a night!

Four Vegans Go To San Francisco

Despite living close by in the south bay,  I dont make the trip north to San Francisco very often. So this past weekend, I went with three other vegan foodies from the PPK forum to attend the World Veg Fest and on to a trip to Rainbow grocery. We felt like tourists, but it was so much fun.

 

SF World Veg Fest
The World Veg Fest was held in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco – where they had a space for presentations, a space for vendors and booths to display their products and a courtyard with more booths and a food truck.

Pondering my options at the Flacos Vegan Mexican Food Truck which was serving at the WVF:

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I decide to settle down on this simply because eating from a banana leaf reminds me of home. Exciting!

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My little present unwrapped. I opted for the spicy sauce which was super spicy and the tamale was fabulous!

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Genuto nut based ice cream is next. Once again, I have choices!

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I settle down for a combo of Choclate Cardamom, Ginger and Pistachio ($5)

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This ice cream made my day. One of the vendors also gave me a sample of soy Indian masala chai, which was easily in the top-5 best chai’s I’ve ever had (I cant remember the other four).

Rainbow Grocery

Rainbow grocery is the mecca for vegan pilgrims. Dont let its unassuming storefront fool you into getting any misconceptions about the place. Its deceptively large interior stores everything from A to Z in the world of vegetarian groceries. I felt a bit silly taking all these pictures in front of all the cool San Franciscans who are lucky enough to have Rainbow as their local grocer, but its worth appearing silly to be able to blog about this place. I wish every city in the world would have a Rainbow Grocery.
Spices!!
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More spices and teas:
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Vegan baked goodies for sale (including some fancy stuff):
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An entire aisle dedicated to non-dairy milk:
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And non-dairy protein powders:
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And non-dairy cheese:
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I had a fabulous time thanks to the wonderful company of my three vegan friends.

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Sweet Potato Kuzhambu/ Sweet Potato In Thick Tamarind Sauce

The very popular cookbook ‘Appetite For Reduction’, which I recently acquired, celebrates the sweet potato in various ways. So when I chanced upon a bag of organic sweet potatoes, I remembered the cookbook and glowing mentions of sweet potato dishes on the PPK forums. 

I havent cooked much with sweet potatoes; so when I spoke to my mom in India, I was curious to know how she made it. I was surprised by the simplicity of the recipe she gave me. I proceeded to make it and it went perfectly well with steaming hot white rice. I love brown rice and its health benefits, but for some dishes you just got to have the real deal.

Beans Poricha Kootu/Green beans and mung dal stew

Today is my first blog post for Vegan MoFo 2011, a very awesome collective vegan blogging event. So for the month of October, I’ll be blogging a lot about vegan food and discovering tons of new stuff from 650+ other blogs.

I’d spent quite a bit of time about what the first post would be and fantasized about making something complex and time consuming, or kicking off with a sweet dish like any self-respecting Indian would do. But the week came and went and soon it was a Friday evening (after a long day at work) and I had to make a quick and nourishing meal in under an hour for couple of friends who were joining me for dinner.

As much as I’d love to throw a fabulous spread, the reality is that I am (like most others) starved for time and need something that is healthy, tasty and quick. It’s no wonder that the humble south indian kootu has a permanent place in my recipe repertoire. And to think I used to turn my nose up at this dish when I was young! Poritha means fried in Tamil and kootu is a general-purpose name for a stew that contains vegetables and lentils/beans seasoned with spices. I really don’t know what is fried here, as I certainly did no such thing. There really are innumerable combinations, and this is definitely not the first or last time a kootu will feature on this blog.

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But the real icing on the cake is: it is extremely rare that I come across a poricha kootu recipe that is not vegan – even the omnis make this vegan! To me, that is alone worth extolling its virtues.