Love Indian Food But Want to Stay Vegan? Try These Alternatives

By Kaveri Jain

The Indian subcontinent has the largest population of vegetarians in the world. But in India, vegetarianism is associated with ‘lacto-vegetarianism’, which includes all dairy products except eggs. Veganism on the other hand excludes all animal products.

How difficult is it to do without milk, ghee, cream, cheeses? Not as tough as it sounds. Here is a quick guide to being vegan in India.

All pulses, rice, flours (like whole wheat, chickpeas, maize, and so on), nuts, vegetables, spices and herbs are vegan. Cook them as you like in vegetable oil. All fruits can be had in any form, frozen, fresh, and dried.

As far as oils go, choose from mustard oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, sesame oil and olive oil.

Non-dairy milk for your coffee, tea or shakes includes soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, rice milk, and hemp milk. To make any of these milks at home, all you need to do is soak the nut or grain overnight or boil in water. Then grind well and filter. Your milk is ready to use.

Proteins are the building blocks of human life but sourcing the right protein can be challenging for a vegan. The following are easily available in India and can be incorporated comfortably in your daily diet: green peas, quinoa, nuts, beans, chickpeas, tofu, leafy greens, sesame seeds and chia seeds.

There are also simple swaps you can make: try coconut yogurt instead of your regular curd. Peanut butter or almond butter can be used to butter that hot toast in the morning. Tofu can be used instead of eggs and cottage cheese to make bhurji, curries and even desserts. Swap your ice cream with fruit sorbets.

Last but not the least, what do you choose when you decide to eat out? Most vegetarian dishes barring anything with cheese can be done the vegan way. Do not hesitate in requesting your server to make your dal, vegetables or rice in vegetable oil instead of ghee. Make sure you tell them not to add any cream, milk or milk products.

Here is a small list of easily available eating-out options in India (with a few non-Indian items thrown in).

Vegetable biryani made in oil
Masala dosa with sambhar and coconut chutney
Pasta in arrabiata sauce or with garlic vegetables sautéed in olive oil
Dal tadka (in oil) with mixed vegetable or dry bhindi curry
Simple aloo gobhi with steamed rice and without butter roti
All soups and salads without cheese
Hummus, pita and falafel
Chinese greens with tofu

Don’t forget, your Starbucks can do you a soy milk latte too. There is no dearth of options for being vegan in India. Being vegan is a healthy way of life and the experience can be made totally enjoyable – all you have to do is choose wisely.

First published in the November 2017 issue of eShe magazine. Read it for free here. Or buy the print edition.