I grew up in the 80s/90s in comfort food central. My parents were second generation immigrants from India and brought much of those cultural influences with them to the UK, including the food. During this time, American dreams were definitely infiltrating British TV culture. My parents often fed us the classics – macaroni cheese, pizzas, chips and beans (though technically I think that was a British thing)! – Think @uglyvegan on Instagram which is a hilarious take on vegan junk food. That’s what, not all, but some after school dinners looked like for us. My mum would recreate the British dishes they served up at her work canteen such as cheese and potato pie. Let me take a moment here to reminisce on pizza cobs from my school tuck shop, which were such a treat. For £1.50 you could have a fresh white flour roll with a slice of homemade style pizza inside of it. This delicious bread cheesy saucy gooey-ness would hit the spot at break times, without a second thought about the virtually zero health benefits. A trip to Pizza Hut with our parents was the highlight, or stopping at wimpy for a veggie burger.
So yes there was a lot of pizza involved, but I think our parents back then were not as aware of foods other than Indian food that had high nutritional value and this is why alongside the dairy-lee cheeses and munch bunch yogurts, my mum was definitely big on us eating Gujarati food as that is what she knew to be healthy in its content. Also, her desire was strong for us to develop a palette for the common foods of our Indian society. It has served me well over the years as before I knew much about the benefits of plant based eating I could always fall back on the Gujarati dishes I had grown up with for a healthy hit. Gujarati cooking is a plethora of plant based dishes which are delicious and relatively easy to prepare. I’m not the most amazing Indian food cook but I have learnt all the basics from my mum and my mother in law, so I can serve up a decent Gujarati meal. Deliciously Ella herself said that Indian food is her favourite as it lends itself to amazing vegetarian cooking. Chick peas and lentils have certainly become trendy to eat in this day and age but this is not news to a generation of Indian people. My mum has been making chickpea and lentil curries forever, yet when I was younger I definitely didn’t regard that as a fashionable thing to eat. If she served up a chickpea curry with chapatti after school I was probably a brat about it wishing we could be like those families who ate fast food TV dinners almost everyday. Sorry mum!
Now I am truly thankful my mum persisted in teaching me to eat the foods of our lineage as it’s nice to resonate with the Indian dishes that grace the pages of plant based recipe books. What I’m most grateful for is my mum bringing me up vegetarian and teaching me how to eat consciously from a young age. I’m not a huge animal lover but I respect them and their welfare and care about eating high vibrational food as I believe it raises our consciousness and the consciousness of the planet. Plant based eating is such a thing now and rightly so. The benefits of eating this way are immense; it’s cost effective, provides antioxidants for health, contributes to weight loss and helps raise your vibration to name a few. The amazing thing is that people are becoming really creative with plant based eating and recipes and there are so many incredible people who dedicate their time and passion to making the most sustainable and delicious cruelty free food. Jess beautician, Lucy and Lentils, Caitlinn Shoemaker and Avante garde Vegan are amongst my YouTube favourites, and on Instagram @Girlboyfoodbaby massively inspires me on plant based eating and recipes. Recently I am very much in awe of Sahara-Rose who is bringing the principles of Ayurveda into food and her book Eat Feel Fresh looks stunning and celebrates so much of what was inherent in our culture. Mums used spices and balanced food in a way that was healing to the body and I think it was just the ancient knowledge of Ayurveda running through their veins that made it so unspoken yet very present. In a way it has always been a thing for my family and me growing up as intuitively I knew this was the best way to eat, so to celebrate that here are 5 ways Indian grandmothers and mothers were excelling at plant based cooking:
1 Curries and Chapatti known as shak and rotli
Such a humble meal, this would be a dinner staple in our household 98 per cent of the time. There is something so comforting about soaking up all the savoury flavours of a vegetable or lentil curry with whole wheat flour chapatti. When mum spoilt us with freshly cooked ones hot off the press that was even better and for an even healthier meal my mum would make thicker chapattis from millet flour known as ‘bajra rotlo.’ Mums knew exactly the right spices to use and it’s amazing that all the antioxidants and healing properties of spices like turmeric were incorporated in our food on a daily basis. Topped with tons of fresh coriander and served with yogurts, pickles and poppadoms this type of meal would always be elevated to something lively. Pulses and beans lent themselves to great curries and it was a way of adapting to the food available in the UK that perhaps mums hadn’t actually made when living in their home country, such as kidney beans, butter beans and even Heinz baked beans – Heinz baked beans curry is the best especially when served on toast with cheese (vegan of course if you are fully plant based) for a cross cultural delight.
2 Chickpea flour chapatti known as thepla
Chickpeas have become a plant based eater’s dream, and chickpea flour is a great healthy alternative to ordinary wheat. Thepla is made by mixing wheat and chickpea flour with spices, sometimes fresh fenugreek leaves and even sesame seeds. Oil and hot water help to bind the dough and then they are rolled out round like chapattis and cooked with sunflower oil on a flat pan. On picnics, family day trips or even travelling abroad for a longer duration, thepla would always feature, especially as they keep well. Thepla are so versatile, whether eaten plain, with some yogurt, chutneys and pickles or even as a meal with a simple potato curry, this spicy savoury roti is a firm family favourite and even made child friendly by serving with Jam or Ketchup.
3 Lentil Daals
Lentils are nutritional powerhouses and a variety of lentils were always present as a part of Gujarati cooking in the form of daals. Yellow split pea, black gram, yellow moong and green moong are a super dose of nourishment, bathing in the warm spices they are cooked in. Again served with rice or chapatti and all the trimmings, this makes such a special meal.
4 Spiced lentil and rice savoury cake known as Hondwo
The holy grail of Gujarati snacks, you can’t go far wrong with a slice of this vegetable and lentil packed oven baked dish made from rice and lentil flours combined to a batter with different vegetables and tempered spices. Yes it does achieve some of its sour dough like flavour from using yogurt in the mix but I’m sure that could easily be substituted with another plant based ingredient – maybe coconut or soya yogurt. Served with other spicy crispy snacks (again plant based like bombay mixes for example) and a steaming cuppa, this is the dish that elevates Indian afternoon tea and again packs well for picnics. The crispy sesame crust topping was always the highlight!
5 Roasted smashed Aubergine curry known Baingan ka bharta or Oro
I didn’t include this dish with the other curries as it’s such a stand out recipe and deserves a space of its own in this blog post. I spent many Saturdays listening to my mum complain about having to clean the gas cooker from roasting up aubergines on the open flames. Yet nobody was complaining when the intense smoky flavours hit our tongues at dinner time. Like a baba ganoush, the flesh of the roasted aubergine is mashed and stir fried into tempered whole spices, fried onions, chillies and garlic, some typical spice box ingredients such as ground turmeric and ground cumin-coriander and cooked down with juicy tomatoes to add tang. The appetising aroma and sizzling sound of the aubergines cooking in a hot pan makes mouths water.
All in all I think it’s safe to say Gujarati women across their home countries and the UK were pioneering plant based cooking and in the process were providing an amazing service to their families and justice to the state of the planet at large. The dishes I grew up eating has put me in good stead for switching over to more plant based eating, and I naturally cook this food for my children. Although it often gives me a sense of fulfilment when I witness them enjoying the food of this culture, more often than not I find this one of the easiest ways to put a healthy meal on the table, so in acknowledgement of that the beautiful sisters, Janki, Meera and Tulsi from the Instagram account @vegansistersjournal have kindly contributed a Gujarati recipe they grew up eating to this blog post. These ladies have inspired me to eat more vegan food, and they maintain an infectious enthusiasm and motivation for this. They are very dedicated to the cause, yet they keep food fun and lively, never being afraid to enjoy a vegan treat and that’s what its all about isn’t it. It’s thanks to them I have discovered Sriracha mayo! To view their food pictures, recipes and more as well as learn about their reasons for going vegan head on over to their Instagram page @vegansistersjournal. The recipe below is a combination of savoury and sweet, crispy and soft textures; an all encompassing delight of a dish.
Definitely growing up, despite a rocky childhood at times, one really good belief I have picked up from my family is that food is to be enjoyed and never to be felt guilty about – we rarely counted calories and adults always encouraged us to eat until we were satisfied, then eat some more and come back for seconds later in the day. They modelled this behaviour to us through their enjoyment and respect for food, and that is an attitude I carry with me now. Food played a massive part in celebrations and occasions. It has changed of course after having two children as I have had to make different decisions to start bringing my body back to a shape I am happy with but for me it’s always about eating intuitively and nourishing my body with what feels right at the time. If I need more carbs or sweet foods during busy times then I allow myself to have that and stay confident that once those times have passed I will regroup with greens and salads. It’s all about the balance and having a little bit of what you fancy.
|Chickpea and Potato Mix||Yoghurt Chutney||Date & Tamarind Chutney||Other|
|• 1 can of chickpeas
• 1 large potato (cubed)
|• 1/2 tub of Alpro plain soy yoghurt||• 6-8 pitted dates
• 1 tbsp tamarind paste
|• 12 mini samosas (fried)
• 100g sev
• 1 onion (diced)
|• 2 tbsp oil of choice
• 1 tsp mustard seeds
• 1 tsp jeeru
• 1-2 tbsp tomato puree
• 2 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
• 1/2 tsp haldi
• 1 tsp jeera powder
• 1 tsp chilli powder
|• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1 tsp thana jeeru
• 1/2 lemon
|• 2 tsp salt
• 1 tbsp thana jeeru
• 1 tbsp sugar
• 2 tbsp chilli powder
|• 1 1/2 cup water||• Coriander||• 1/4 cup water|
|Chickpea and Potato Mix||Yoghurt Chutney||Date & Tamarind Chutney|
|• Add oil to pan and let heat
• Add mustard seeds to the oil, once they start popping add jeeru and tomato puree
• Add chickpeas and potatoes and mix
|• Pour the yoghurt into a bowl||• Soak dates for 30mins in hot water
• Blend dates, tamarind paste
|• Add in the remaining seasoning and spices
• Add water to the mix
• Let boil until potatoes are cooked
*add more water if required*
|• Add in seasoning
• Squeeze the lemon
• Whisk all ingredients together
|• Blend the dates, tamarind paste, the spices and water to make a paste
*add water if required/in accordance to how thick you would like the paste*
|• Garnish with coriander||• Garnish with coriander|
Plating up (1 portion):
- Cut up 3 samosas
- Add chickpea and potato mix on top
- Add 1-2 tbsp of chopped onion
- Add both chutneys
- Sprinkle sev
- Add more chutney
- Garnish with coriander