Tag Archives: vegan food

Hostel Cooking: Vegan Pulao

I love cooking in hostels. Shopping for produce in a foreign country and using those ingredients to whip up a meal is an aspect of travel I enjoy quite a lot. South America is no exception, I came mentally prepared to cook a lot in hostels.

Rice is plentiful in South America, so when we stayed in a well stocked hostel, we made good use of the kitchen and whipped up a veg pulao. I was really happy to spot these tiny sachets of spices in the market and we got some cumin (comino) to use in our pulao. It was a bit bland, but we got by with what we have.

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I cook with whatever is available. In this case, I was glad to find some oil to cook with. Since we are backpacking, we are hesistant to buy anything that’ll require us to transport it.

We bought onions, tomatoes, peas, cauliflower, beans, rice and cumin powder from the store. We soaked the rice while cutting all the vegetables.

Vegan in Bogota, Colombia

Being vegetarian in Bogota is pretty straightforward, as Happycow has 36 listings for Bogota. However, as a vegan, I had a few accidents where I ended up with a bit of cream or cheese on my plate as I didnt make myself very clear in Spanish or forgot something from the list of things I cannot eat. But on the whole, since we didnt stay very long in Bogota, we got to check out only two restaurants there, both of which very good.

Boulevard Sesamo

Av. Jiminez 4-64 (at Carrera 3, in downtown near Museo Del Oro, Cudinamarca)

They are only open for lunch and have plenty of set lunch options. I tried the vegano burger and Swami tried the set lunch plate with rice and veggies and proteins and it comes with a free salad bar and a cup of juice with water. I think you can only use the salad bar once (not unlimited, but maybe I understood it wrong). They have a little store where they sell essentials like seitan, veggie burgers, soy milk etc.

A very hearty bowl of soup for Swami’s ejecutivo (executive) lunch

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My vegan burger. Even though it said “hamburgesa vegano”, it came with what looked like cheese. Luckily, Swami ate the cheese.

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Swami’s executive lunch plate, which looked and tasted a lot better than mine. Very balanced.

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The restaurant which we randomly spotted while walking down the road:

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This seemed customary, providing a banana with some jelly like thing:

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El Loto Azul

Carrera 5A N. 14-02 (at near La Candelaria historic district, Cudinamarca)

El Loto Azul is an establishment run by Hare Krishna devotees, so eggs are out of the menu. Be a little careful about the milk though, as its ever present as in most Indian dishes. But the service is really friendly and the food is excellent. They also have a tiny store selling veggie essentials.

A fresh salad from the salad bar with a mint-cilantro dressing:

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Vegetable soup with maize flour:

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Set lunch plate with garbanzo beans, greens, rice and bread:

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Another type of plate with coconut rice, avocado and friend plantain

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Fresh soy milk!

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We both loved this soup, it was really hearty and filled with vegetables and tasty to boot.

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El Loto Azul from outside:

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Being vegan in South America – an ongoing effort

My husband and I recently arrived in the city of Bogota, Colombia for our four month South American journey. We have always wanted to travel for an extended period of time and we finally got the opportunity to do so. So we quit our jobs and are backpacking around South America until April. Our tentative itinerary is to travel south from Colombia on towards Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Bolivia and head back to the States from there.

I am taking lots of food photos and will be sharing them here.

How is being vegan in South America so far?

Its not bad, but I’ve made mistakes. My spanish comprises of a few words and while I seemed to manage pretty well with it in Mexico, its harder in Colombia. Maybe because the accent is different and the pace much faster? Or is it because I am initimidated by new surroundings and forget to say key things? I dont know.

But there have been meals where I got a salad dressing that didnt look vegan or I got a dish with a layer of cheese on it. To turn it away or let it go waste goes against my principles of wasting food or respecting the pain and sacrifice that has gone into that dish. So I am trying and improving day by day.

However, we’ve managed to find vegetarian restaurants in unexpected quarters, while walking down the street and have had great fun exploring the grocery stores and cooking in hostels.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts.

Vegan 7 cup sweet for Deepavali (Gluten Free)

Today is the last day of vegan mofo. Unfortunately, I have been unable to blog every weekday as I had originally planned. Ah well, life just happened. However, I have been checking out vegan mofo entries from the blogosphere and having fun looking at all the food that’s being cooked.

For Deepavali this time, I wanted to branch out to Indian sweets, a domain which is held by copious amounts of ghee and milk. I found a vegan friendly recipe for the 7-cup-sweet, popularly known as the 7-cup-cake (though there is nothing cakey about it). This is a sweet my mom used to make when I was younger and I wanted to see if I could veganize it. Indian sweets are just not my forte, as my hand can rarely seem to part with the amount of fat it requires. The end result usually leaves a lot to be desired. So this time, I sucked it up, used the requisite amount of fat (I used Earth Balance vegan butter) and gave it some elbow grease. While my version looks nothing like the original version I was inspired from, I think I can explain what happened. J

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Ingredients for veganized 7 cup cake (makes about 15 squares):

I used a 1/3 measuring cup as 1 measure:

  • 1 measure dessicated coconut (the finely shredded almost powdery variety)
  • 1 measure chickpea flour (Besan)
  • 1 measure non dairy milk (I used Trader Joe’s drinkable coconut milk)
  • 3 measures (I used dark brown sugar, hence the brown color)
  • 1 measure melted earth balance

Directions

  • I followed the directions listed in the link above.

Tip:

You’ll be tempted to take it out as soon as it reduces and thickens. But it’ll only result in a gooey mass (which is also delicious). Be persistent as timing is key, the mixture will reduce considerably and when you stir the contents with a spatula, the contents should completely clear the pan, and you should be able to see the pan underneath. That turned out to be the best time to take your skillet off the stove. If its too gooey, put it back on medium heat and let it thicken some more.

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!