5 Desi Foods which are Totally Vegan and Tasty

There are a lot of great Vegan South Asian dishes. DESIblitz looks at how they are prepared and some of their key health benefits.

5 Desi Foods which are Totally Vegan and Tasty

Karela can really help if you are trying to achieve clear skin

Vegan dishes and vegetarian foods form a key component of South Asian cuisine.

For centuries, South Asian food has been influenced, adapted and changed by an array of different cultures and religions.

In recent times, a plethora of meat-based dishes have started surfacing under the South Asian cuisine umbrella.

Despite this, pure vegetarianism is still commonly practised in India.

Traditional Indian food does not rely on meat and of the most recipes can actually be classed as vegan.

Fresh ingredients like ginger, onion, garlic, turmeric and so many more have become staples within Desi food. They add a unique flavour to this tasty cuisine which is enjoyed all over the world.

DESIblitz looks at some of these delicious staple South Asian dishes that most of us probably didn’t know were vegan.

Daals

Vegan daal

Daal is probably the first dish your South Asian parents will try and teach you.

This is because Daal is actually quite simple to make and has several health benefits.

The most common way to make daal is to boil it in hot water and add the signature ingredients which are onion, garlic and ginger.

The unique yellow colour comes from turmeric powder.

South Asian cooking has used this spice for centuries. However, recently turmeric powder has become a popular ingredient in smoothies.

Incorporating daal into your normal diet is easy and there are many styles, types and ways it can be prepared. Not to mention each specific daal having an array of health benefits.

Tarka Daal

This daal is very popular in North India.

Interestingly, it has also become a popular dish in South Asian restaurants across the world.

A key feature of this daal is that most of the ingredients have anti-inflammatory properties, making this a particularly good dish to eat if you suffer from arthritis.

Tarka daal is made out of garlic, onion, ginger, cumin, coriander, garam masala and turmeric.

The best way to make this daal is to boil the lentils in a pressure cooker. The dish can be prepared in a pan, but this method will take a lot longer.

Although the recipe for this daal is easy, the cooking and preparation time for tarka daal is around 1-2 hours.

Urd Daal

A big struggle with Veganism is trying to find plant-based foods that are high in protein, as most people get their main source of protein through meat.

However, Urd daal is actually one of the best sources of protein and Vitamin B.

You can make a lot of different dishes with urd daal and there are there are two main types of this daal:

  • Whole: most popular form on urd daal, this is because you can make Punjabi makhni daal
  • Washed: This is very popular in South India

Mixed Daal

Many Desi household’s like to mix their daals into one dish. The four main daal’s used in mixed are:

  • 150g mong daal
  • 150g urd daal
  • 150g channa spilt daals
  •  50g of toor daal

Other key ingredients in this daal are onion, garlic, ginger, chilli. Once you have put all of your ingredients into the pressure cooker and added 3 cups of water, leave to simmer on a medium-high heat.

The idea with this daal is to leave it to simmer until the lentils become visibly soft. Once the daal is soft, add salt to taste, turmeric and garam masala and with oil.

This daal is most popular in India and is high in protein.

Each daal also has individual benefits. For example, mong daal has iron and channa daal is high in calcium.

Moth daal

Moth daal is commonly eaten in India and Pakistan.

This type of daal is very high in protein.

An interesting fact about Moth daal is that the moth bean can survive without water.

There are a lot of creative ways to eat this daal, for example, you can use moth daal to make vegan chaat:

  • Boil moth daal in water and add salt
  • Once the lentils become soft drain the water
  • Mix chopped onion, chilli, chaat masala, tomato and cucumber (optional) into the daal
  • Stir before serving

If you want more vegan recipes, check out Vegan Richa’s website here.

Cholay (Chick Peas)

Vegan Cholay

This dish is served with batura or puri and is very popular in North India. The dish is rich in flavour as an array of different spices are used.

Cholay is made out of chickpeas which are low in fat and high in fibre.

The significant amount of fibre helps reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

Chickpeas are also high in Vitamin C and E.

Interestingly, they’re considered to be one of the healthiest foods in the world.

Incorporating cholay into your regular diet can help you manage your weight and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Following a cholay recipe may seem challenging at first, but it is simple once you get the hang of it.

Cholay usually take a long time to prepare because you have to soak the chickpeas overnight.

Kala Channa (black-eyed-peas)

Vegan kala channa

Kala channa is particularly beneficial for women, as regular consumption can reduce the risk of breast cancer and minimise hot flushes for post-menopausal women.

Channa is high in iron which makes it a perfect dish to eat whilst menstruating because girls and women lose a lot of iron during this time.

In India, Kala channa is often served with roti or rice.

Some people add butter to this recipe for taste, but a vegan alternative could be swapping the butter for mashed avocado.

The Kala channa plant is quite small and can only really survive in tropical regions.

There are two different types of chickpeas, Desi and Kabuli.

Desi chickpeas have a rough outer covering and are usually dark and small.

The Kabuli has a smooth external coat and the beans are light in colour.

Kala Channa often acts as the main source of protein for most vegans and vegetarians.

Best Recipe: Moong Daal

Moong Dal is rich in iron and potassium and doesn’t have a lot of calories.

Ingredients:

  • Washed and drained Moog beans (skinned and split mung beans)
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/8 ground asafoetida (plant)
  • 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • One dried red chilli
  • One peeled and finely chopped red opinion
  • Salt to taste

Method:

  1. Wash and drain the Moog daal
  2. Place the daal in a medium sized pan and add 2 cups of water (800ml)
  3. Add a pinch of salt turmeric powder and stir once
  4. Leave Moog daal to boil
  5. Once the water is boiling, cover the pan partially
  6. Put the hob on its lowest level of heat and leave it to simmer for 45 minutes
  7. In another small pan add oil and set the heat to low to medium heat
  8. Once the oil is hot add asafoetida, cumin seeds and the red chilli
  9. Wait for the chillies to darken
  10. Finally, add the onion
  11. Once the onions are cooked mix everything in with the Moog daal
  12. Stir before serving

Saag

Vegan Saag

Sarson Ka Saag is so popular in Punjab, the dish has often been described as the pride of the state.

The spicy and tangy taste of the mustard leaves, when infused with the spinach, is incredibly palatable.

This is an intermediate dish but is easy to prepare once you get the hang of it.

Best Recipe: Sarson Ka Saag

Ingredients:

  • 5 tbsp of olive oil
  • 5-9 finely slices garlic cloves
  • 2 finely sliced pieces of ginger
  • 2 medium-sized onions
  • Salt
  • 2 tbsp cornmeal
  • 4 green chillies
  • 5 bunches of Mustard leaves
  • 1 bunch of Spinach leaves
  • 1 bunch of bathua (Chenopodium album)
  • Tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp maize flour

Method:

  1. Wash and chop the mustard leaves, spinach and bathua leaves and put into a pressure cooker
  2. Add onions, tomatoes, ginger, green chillies, garlic, salt and water into the pressure cooker
  3. Leave to cook for about 10 minutes
  4. Let your saag cool down
  5. Blend with maize flour in a blender.
  6. Place back on the hob for 30 minutes until cooked
  7. Fry remaining onions till golden
  8. Add chilli powder, coriander powder and garam masala

The preparation time of Sarson ka saag is 20 minutes, but cooking the dish will approximately take an hour.

Sarson ka saag help maintains cardio health and is commonly used as a detoxification tool.

Spinach is high in iron and can actually reduce the risk of cancer because the mustard greens have antioxidant and inflammatory properties in it.

Spinach also contains fibre which means it can sustain body weight by managing the metabolism.

Vegetable Subzis

Vegan vegetable

Vegetable Subzis are different to South Asian daal because they are cooked without water, whereas, Daal heavily relies on water in order to be prepared.

Aloo Gobi

Aloo Gobi is an easy dish to make and is a popular dish in India, Pakistan and Nepal.

A key tip to reduce your cooking time is to cook the potatoes and cauliflower beforehand so you do not have to wait for them to soften.

In India, aloo gobi is usually fried, but a healthy alternative would be to use water instead of oil in the cooking stage.

When using water as an alternative, stir regularly and continue to sprinkle water over your dish whilst it is being cooked. As this will prevent the aloo gobi from sticking to the pan.

Bhindi (Okra)

Vegan

Bhindi is commonly found in West Africa, Ethiopia and South Asia.

Interestingly, bhindi was first discovered by the Egyptians around the 12th century B.C. Originally, the seeds were toasted and ground and actually used as a coffee substitute.

However, in South Asia bhindi is often served with rice, naan or roti.

This subzi can also be used as a paratha stuffing.

A key tip when buying bhindi is to ensure the pod easily snaps in half and has a rich green colour.

An interesting fact about Okra is that it is given to pregnant women because it is high in zinc and calcium.

Baingan (Aubergine)

There are a lot of different ways to cook baingan and it is a very popular dish amongst South Asians.

However, the best vegan recipe is cooked with potatoes and chickpeas. You can follow this unique recipe here.

The total cooking time for this recipe is 45 minutes and it is typically served with either rice, daal, roti or naan.

Baigan is actually colloquially referred to as the king of vegetables in India. This is because it is rich in flavour and has several health benefits.

Interestingly, aubergine contains a small amount of nicotine, which can help smokers quit tobacco.

The catch with this is that you have to consume 10 kgs of aubergine in order to get the same amount of nicotine in your body as a cigarette.

Best Recipe: Aloo Gajar (Potato & Carrots)

Interestingly, this dish does not require onion or garlic and is usually served with rice, roti or naan.

Aloo Gajar is simple to make and also has several health benefits.

It can help improve skin and lowers blood pressure.

The two main ingredients of aloo gobi are potato and cauliflower.

Take a look at the recipe below:

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 2 large finely sliced onion
  • 3-4 chopped garlic cloves
  • Grated or freshly chopped ginger
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp Chilli Powder
  • A tin of crushed tomatoes
  • 500-600 grams of diced Potatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • One medium cauliflower

Method:

  1. Heat oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat.
  2. Add the onions and cook for 6-8 minutes until golden
  3. Add garlic and ginger, cook for two minutes
  4. Add in mustard seeds, garam masala, turmeric, chilli powder an salt
  5. Cook for a further two minutes
  6. Add, potatoes, tomatoes and water
  7. Put on the lowest heat, put on the lid and leave to simmer for 10 minutes
  8. Once the cauliflower is tender garnish with coriander and green chilli
  9. Stir before serving

Karela (Bitter Gourd)

Did you know that karela is actually a fruit?

This fruit is mainly known for its bitter taste but is actually high in iron, magnesium, potassium and vitamin C.

Karela can really help if you are trying to achieve clear skin.

Dr Simran Saini from Fortis Hospital in New Delhi says that the juice from karelas consists of antioxidants and vitamin A and C which can prevent spots/acne treats eczema and also protects skin from harmful UV rays.

A key tip when cooking karela: add lemon juice or melon juice into the karela whilst cooking. This will make the taste slightly less bitter.

Vegetable Curries

These curries usually consist of fresh vegetables and a rich, spicy sauce. They are popular in South Asian restaurants, particularly in the UK.

Adrak Ki Tari – Ginger curry

Ginger can be considered as an innate ingredient when it comes to South Asian cooking.

Although, this traditional Punjabi dish, Adrak Ki Tari, the ginger is the primary ingredient.

This dish is also referred to as a stew or a soup because Adrak Ki Tari is mainly eaten in the colder months.

Eating Adrak Ki Tari can prevent heart disease, anxiety and diabetes.

Best Recipe: Aloo Muttar  (Potato and Peas)

Vegan

Ingredients:

  • 3 diced potatoes
  • 1/2 cup of green peas
  • 2 medium chopped tomatoes
  • 2 large finely chopped onions
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 chopped green chilli
  • 1/2 tsp of cumin
  • 1 tsp of coriander
  • 3/4 tsp of red chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp dried fenugreek leaves
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves
  • 1 green chopped chilli

Method:

  1. Wash and peel potatoes, slice them into thin strips and leave them to seal in lukewarm water
  2. Wash and chop onions and tomatoes
  3. Heat oil in a pressure cooker and add cumin seeds
  4. Add chopped onions and green chilli, fry until golden
  5. Add ginger and garlic into the pan and fry
  6. Add tomatoes and fry for 2 minutes
  7. Add salt, chilli powder, garam masala, coriander powder and turmeric
  8. Fry until the masala starts to separate from the oil
  9. Add in the potatoes and peas, fry for 3 minutes
  10. Add enough water in the pan to cover the potatoes
  11. Put the heat down to medium-low and cover the pan with a lid
  12. Stir and check if the potatoes have softened
  13. Put the heat onto a medium heat and wait for pressure to whistle twice.
  14. Stir before serving

Samosa and Pakoras

Vegan samosa

Samosas

Samosas and Pakoras are very versatile snacks, as they can be eaten on the go and as a formal appetiser.

Samosas are mainly fried, but a new and (slightly) healthier vegan alternative would be to bake them instead.

The method is mainly the same, but once you have wrapped your stuffed samosa pastry. Lightly cover it with oil and leave your batch of samosas to bake for 50 minutes.

You can check out the full recipe here.

Pakoras

The main ingredients in the traditional pakora are potatoes, onions, peas and cauliflower and they are usually fried in a spicy batter.

However, the Vegan alternative advocates frying your pakoras in a pan and adding kale.

Firstly, pan-frying your pakoras reduces the amount of fat.

Secondly, kale is high in fibre and good for your immune system and has more iron than beef.

Although samosas and pakoras consist of a lot of healthy vegetables, their health benefits seem to get lost in the fried pastry it’s wrapped in. But sometimes you really do just have to treat yourself!

Health Benefits of Veganism

Despite veganism being predominantly known as a growing trend amongst millennials, there are several health benefits behind maintaining a vegan lifestyle.

A lot more people are moving away from consuming too much meat in order to preserve the environment as well as for personal health reasons.

Although meat is high in protein, consuming too much can significantly increase the risk of getting cancer. Plus it makes it harder for you to maintain a healthy body weight.

Subsequently, a vegan diet helps to prevent type 2 diabetes, arthritis and it also reduces the risk of suffering from heart disease.

Today, the South Asian community is becoming more and more health conscious. This means that people in our community are starting to notice some of their bad eating habits that once seemed innate.

Maintaining or partly maintaining a vegan diet can reduce the risk of several different diseases.

Health Line has listed why we should try veganism:

  • Maintaining a vegan diet means consuming a richer amount of nutrients.
  • A vegan diet can help you lose weight because you are following a plant-based diet.
  • It improves kidney function.
  • Veganism can help people who suffer from type 2 diabetes and reduces your risk of heart disease.
  • A vegan diet can have a positive impact on people who suffer from arthritis.

Therefore, maintaining a plant-based diet would definitely be able to fulfil and compliment the needs of veganism.

Adapting to a vegan lifestyle can positively impact the environment.

The initial stages of maintaining a vegan diet can actually help you lose weight because your diet changes to a higher consumption of plant-based foods.

The easiest dishes to make from this list are the daals and the subzi, which are actually staple dishes of South Asia.

Luckily for South Asians, so many Desi foods are already well-suited for the vegan diet and are very easy to make.

Shivani is an English Literature and Computing graduate. Her interests involve learning Bharatanatyam and Bollywood dance. Her life motto: “If you are having a conversation where you are not laughing or learning, why are you having it?”

Images courtesy of Vegan Ruchi Official Facebook page, Vegan Ruchi Official Website, Hebbars Kitchen Official Website, Greedy Gourmet and Serious Eats