Being a vegan is not easy as anything of animal origin (whether or not the animal has been killed to produce it) becomes total taboo. In terms of food, being vegan means not only giving up meat, fish, poultry and bones (the non-vegetarian diet), it also means zero eggs, butter, cream, cheese milk and clarified butter as well (the ovo-/lacto- vegetarian diet). Naturally, being vegan limits your option quite a lot whether you are eating at home or eating out.
Fear not, I have some good news for the vegans of the world. While veganism is not very popular in India, vegetarianism is. In any case, quite a few Indian dishes are already vegan. With a little adaptation in terms of milk products, most Indian vegetarian food can be made fully vegan.
First, let’s talk about the key anti-vegan ingredients in Indian vegetarian food and their vegan substitutes:
• Clarified butter (ghee) – This is used in most dals (pulses). Fortunately, ghee is usually the finishing touch in most items i.e. it is added in the end. It is spread over breads like hot chapatti/ roti/ naan and goes into the tempering that’s poured rather generously over the bean/dal dishes. On the other hand, most dry vegetable preparations such as aloo-gobhi, baigan bharta, aloo matar, karela and bhindi masala etc. are usually cooked using vegetable oil and are safe vegan options.
Our advice – If cooking an Indian recipe at home, just substitute clarified butter with any vegetable oil. You can have your breads without ghee as well, or you can rub a little amount of margarine on it. When you are visting Tandoori Flames Melbourne please ask us for guidance.
• Milk – Milk is used rarely in savoury dishes but it is a key ingredient in most desserts. Remember, anything made with Khoya (a kind of dried Indian milk product) is anti-vegan too. Kheer, gulab jamun, barfi, peda, kulfi, gajar halwa, rabri , rasgullas, rasmalai and sandesh are out for you unless these have been specifically adapted into vegan recipes. Boondi laddoos, jalebi, imarti, sooji halwa, badam halwa, kaju katli and malpua are usually vegan if made using vegetable oil.
Our advice – In an Indian restaurant, ask specifically for vegan dessert options without milk / ghee / paneer/ khoya. However if you are cooking at home, there are endless Indian recipes you can make using non-dairy creamer, coconut milk, soya milk and vegetable oil.
• Cream – Cream is used liberally in gravies, so skip dishes with gravy in a restaurant unless specifically marked vegan. Dal Makhni is another popular Indian dish that’s usually simmered with cream in it, so order a yellow dal instead that’s usually plain boiled with tempering added in the end. If you are cooking Indian food at home, skip the cream totally. Your gravy will be less thick and less rich but very waist friendly and totally vegan.
• Paneer – Paneer is an Indian variety of cottage cheese that’s made from milk.
Our advice: At Tandoori Flames Melbourne, please ask specifically for your paneer dish to be made with tofu. At home, just substitute paneer in your recipe with tofu.
• Yoghurt (dahi) – Again a milk product that’s used liberally in Indian cuisine. Stay away from raita, chaat, dahi bara and lassi. Also to be avoided are Kashmiri dishes which have yoghurt in plenty.
Our advice: At Tandoori Flames Melbourne, please let us know and we are able to make these dishes using soy yoghurt. At home too, just substitute yoghurt with its soy versions.
If you are a teeny-weeny bit disheartened about the abundant use of milk products in Indian food, take heart. Here a few safe vegan Indian food options for you:
South Indian food – South Indian food is mostly vegan if you take out ghee. Dosa, utthapam, idli, vada, sambhar,uppma, rasam – all these are vegan options. Just tell the restaurant staff that you want these to be made using vegetable oil. In fact, watery and spicy rasam is a great vegan soup substitute. Do ask about the coconut chutney though that’s served with South Indian dishes as it sometimes contains yoghurt.
Chaat – These are tangy Indian snacks like aloo tikki, matar chaat, golgappa and fruit chaat etc. Just ask these to be made in vegetable oil and served without curd and you can literally gorge on these delicious bites.
Golgappas (puffed balls with potato/ chickpea filling served with spicy water), bhelpuri (a blend of savouries and peanuts dressed in coriander and tamarind chutneys) and fruit chaat (diced fruits dressed in chaat masala – a tangy spice blend powder) are 100% vegan.
Savoury pancakes – Besan cheela, moong dal cheela and adai are three varieties of Indian savory pancakes made on hot griddles that are pure vegan when made with vegetable oil. Serve with tangy imli chutney of pudina-nimbu-green chillies chutney and you have a terrific snack to indulge on.
Pakore or bhajiya (Indian savoury fritters) – These are pieces of vegetable dipped in spiced chickpea flour batter and fried in hot mustard (or any other) oil. These are served with coriander-lime chutney and are finger-licking-ly yummy.
Aloo-poori and chhole-bhature – These are two delicious lunch/brunch mini meals that are pure vegan when made with vegetable oil. Serve with thin ginger juliennes soaked in lime juice and salt.
Paranthas- The staple and very filling north Indian breakfast, it is stuffed and shallow fried bread made on griddle and served fresh and crisp with pickles and margarine. You can make vegan paranthas by either dry roasting or shallow frying your parantha with vegetable oil.
Breads – Poori and kachori are 100% vegan if fried in vegetable oil. Chapatti is again 100% vegan (just ask to skip ghee on it). Skip naan and bhatura though as their dough often contains some amount of yoghurt.
Rice – Skip vegetable biryani as it may not have meat but it will have yoghurt. Boiled plain rice without ghee is fine. So is jeera rice when made using vegetable oil.
Our advice for eating out
The best course for vegans is to choose an Indian restaurant (that specifically serves vegan food, like Tandoori Flames Melbourne, which has a separate vegan menu. Most Indian dishes are easily adaptable into vegan avatars and good restaurants will ensure that you get great tasting food that’s assuredly vegan.
Cooking Indian vegan food at home
Highly recommended. Just use substitutes as indicated earlier and you can adapt any vegetarian Indian dish into a delicious vegan one.
Tandoori Flames 15 Vernon Street, South Kingsville and 583 Barkly Street, West Footscray