Vegan Indian Cooking Guide

 Bringing India Home to Your Kitchen

The romantic roots of Indian cuisine lie in the exotic spices of the Silk Road, myriad smells and brilliant colors of the local markets, and complex exciting flavor combinations.

You can bring the richness of the Far East home with a delicious tapestry of Indian cuisine emerging from your own kitchen. Each meal will be a journey through ancient culture brought to life by your hands and your adventurous spirit.

Travel with us through this Vegan Guide to Indian Cooking. We’ll help you set up your pantry, demystify Indian spices, share our favorite vegan Indian recipes, and simplify the cooking processes so you can easily create a feast of Vegan Indian dishes for your friends and family. 

About Indian Cuisine


Indian cuisine is built around the contrast of flavor and texture. Hot and spicy, sour, umami, sweet, and salty emerge in surprising combinations. Mild breads and dals come to life with exciting chutneys. Lively curries dance with cooling raita (yogurt sauces).

An Indian cuisine meal is intended to be a symphony of distinct flavors. A single dish doesn't stand alone, they're meant to be mixed and eaten together. You may find this to be quite different if you grew up with your serving of green peas not touching your mashed potatoes. 

Preparing and eating vegan Indian recipes whisks one away on a culinary adventure! 

Learning to cook Indian recipes is about developing relationships with spices and, for most of us, learning a few new cooking techniques. For most westerners, learning how to use sauces and condiments to contrast with other flavors will rock your culinary world. What you learn here about Indian cooking can inspire new variations to any vegan recipe.

You may feel intimidated by a new palette of spices, grains, lentils, and cooking techniques. We did in the beginning! I recall feeling wowed 20 years ago when a dear friend from India helped me make a pot of dal for 30 people and began by tempering whole spices. Just take it all one step at a time. 

Last summer we decided to dive into Indian cooking. We declared June 2019 the month of Indian food. We ordered our new spices and lentils and got cookbooks from the library. Having our pantry properly stocked meant we could explore hundreds of recipes without running to the store or ordering online every time we wanted to make something new. Your time is valuable. Get set up once, get set up correctly, and have some fun!

We have an adventurous and active family with two boys, ages 6 and 9. Between schooling, skateboarding, tennis, and exploring the beach, cooking, and writing, we don’t always have a lot of time to prepare complex meals. Sometimes our priority is a healthy meal our kids will love that takes under 30 minutes to make. Your desire for complexity (to satisfy your curious and adventurous mind) and your need for simplicity and efficiency are easily met with vegan Indian recipes.

You’ll also find that it’s easy to meet health and nutrition needs with this genre of food. The recipes we focus on are protein and nutrient-dense and the spice combinations have health benefits too. If you need nut-free, soy-free, or gluten-free recipes, you will find all you need to keep your palate happy with world fusion Indian food.

Making vegan Indian food need not be complex. While specialty equipment isn't required to make most Indian dishes, we’ll share some fun recipes that do use uncommon devices. We will introduce you to spices that will likely be new to you, and you can choose to explore these and make your own blends or purchase pre-made curry powders from your local grocery. You can make your meals as simple or complex as you desire. 

 

What You'll Learn in this Guide

(Click on the box to jump directly to that section of this guide or scroll down)

Vegan Indian chutneys

Essential Sauces and Chutneys

kid eating vegan Indian food

Help Your Kids Love Indian Food

India in large bold letters with images of travel

Read more about India

Latest Blog Articles

Indian cuisine is a favorite in our home. As a busy vegan family, we have gathered recipes that are quick and easy to make, enliven a variety of flavors, and enhance your health. 

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3 Must-Have Indian Spice Blends and How to Make Them

 

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3 Condiments Every Vegan Indian Meal Needs

 

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Our Favorite Vegan Indian Curry Recipes

 

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The Culture of Indian Cuisine

Close your eyes and imagine the scent of curry, roses and fresh bread, the melody of sitar and drums and the rainbow of silks and gold. Let your imagination run wild over thousands of years of hand-picked anise and cloves and lentils. In your minds eye see cities and temples ruined and rebuilt, layered through time, and tales carried on wisps of incense smoke

Indian recipes lovingly and carefully handed down through generations, share this exotic history in every bite.

Culinary traditions can be thousands of years old, transmuted over time, influenced by the vegetables and spices grown and peddled through the area. A single recipe has myriad versions across the country, already a fusion of multi-cultural influence, and ready for your creative touch. 

Over time you may find that you prefer the cuisine of one area over another.

Here's what makes each region's cuisine unique:

  • Northern Indian Cuisine: The mountainous north India regions of Jammu, Ladakh, and Kashmir experience hot summers and cold winters with a wide variety of fresh seasonal produce. Their recipes have a strong central Asian influence with many recipes based on rich, thick curry sauces, tandoori oven slow-baked dishes that have yogurt and cream, dried fruits, and nuts. Breads like naan (think of a thick and soft tortilla), and roti (imagine a crisp and savory crepe) are common. Rice is transformed into a delicious pilaf. Garlic, tomato, and onions are often used together. 
  • Southern Indian Cuisine: The southern states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Goa are tropical, hot, humid, and coastal. Seasons are governed by monsoons. The hottest Indian food originates here. You'll find a southern Asian influence with coconut, lemongrass, and ever-present rice. Lentils and rice are included in nearly every meal. They're served boiled or ground as a flour to make steamed and baked bread, or as a part of spicy soups, curries and with vegetables. The Southern Sambar masala spice mix, made with roasted and ground lentils mark Southern Indian Cuisine. Other common spices include curry leaves, mustard, asafetida, peppercorns, tamarind, chilies, and fenugreek seeds. (More on these in our Spices section!) Southern Indian recipes are commonly vegetarian and easy to make vegan. 
  • Western Indian Cuisine: The geographical and cultural diversity of Western Indian states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Goa create the greatest culinary diversity in India. The hot deserts of Rajasthan brim with chutneys and pickles while vegetarian Gujarat is known for adding at least a pinch of sugar to most recipes. Their serving style is called Thaali, a large plate of food made from up to 10 vegetables, rice, bread, and sweet recipes. Gujarat is a land of small bites and snacks! The coastal port of Goan cuisine has a Portuguese influence of port and vinegar and also includes coconut, rice, and chilis.  Maharashtra cuisine is filled with coconut, fish, rice, and peanuts. 
  • East Indian Cuisine: East India ranges from beaches to mountains across the states of Orissa, Bengali and Assam. Simplicity rules the cuisine, rather than spices, allowing the ample fresh vegetables and fruits of the region to shine. Preparation is simple and foods are often steamed or fried. Mustard, chilies, and a 5 spice blend named Paanch Phoran flavor this cuisine. Coconut, maize, and besan (garbanzo bean flour), and Mustard Oil also highlight East Indian cuisine. This region is known for satisfying many a sweet-tooth with its desserts like our Rose Infused Coconut Ladoos.
Vegan Indian Recipes from map of Indian states and regions.

Setting Up Your Pantry

Like any new hobby, there are specialty items you need to have on hand. As you know, we grew up in the USA and we cook "world fusion" cuisine. This means we add our favorite flavors, ingredients, and cooking processes from around the world and often blend them together to create meals our whole family loves. We get creative and discover new flavor combinations and ways to integrate traditional dishes.

Because we incorporate many cultural cuisines into our plant-based diet and we live in a small house, we don't have space for a full-blown pantry for every country whose cuisine we love. We make a lot of Indian food and we do it efficiently for a busy household. After some fun experimentation, we have a list of pantry ingredients that will allow you to make a wide variety of delicious vegan Indian recipes without adding an addition onto your house to store them. 

We live on a small island and have a limited range of ingredients available in our stores. While we do order some items through Amazon, we do try to support our local farmers first, and then small businesses with products that are cruelty-free, socially aware, and organic. We order our Indian food supplies from a small company called Pure Indian Foods. We appreciate their organic options and you can tell they care about their customers and the quality of their products. The links for the Indian grocery items in our guide go to their store where you can use the search bar to find what you need. 

Here are your lists of pantry staples you need to prepare a wide variety of vegan Indian recipes. We've broken them down into six categories for you. 

Spices

Spices are the core of Indian cooking. You may be tempted to go to the grocery store and purchase a Garam Masala* or Curry spice blend -- don't! There is no substitute for fresh ground Indian spice blends made from whole spices, and they're easy to make.

We have a small dedicated electric coffee grinder that we use to grind our whole spices into our favorite blends. Our favorite feature is that the metal mixing bowl is removable for easy cleaning. You can also use a mortar and pestle, which we do for smaller amounts. For larger amounts we use our most versatile piece of equipment, our Vitamix blender. You can click these links to see the ones we use: 

Coffee/Spice Grinder

Medium sized Mortar and Pestle

 

 

Vegan Indian Spices in large bags at a market

*What is Garam Masala?

Man people associate Indian spices with the words Garam Masala. Literally it means spice mixture. It's a pungent Indian spice blend made of whole spices like black peppercorns, cinnamon, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamon pods, mace that are toasted and then ground into a powder. There is no single Garam Masala recipe. Different parts of India and different kinds of recipes call for different Garam Masala recipes. In Southern India, they use a Sambar Masala as their local spice mixture. In Northern India, they're known for their Bengal Five Spice blend, Pancha Phoran. They're all easy to make and just the scent of these roasting spices makes the effort worthwhile! We use a homemade Garam Masala blend in our creamy coconut Vegan Moong Dal recipe. 

What is a Tempering, or Tadka? 

If you've made a lentil dal or curry from an Indian cookbook, you have probably seen instructions for making a tempering, or Tadka. Tempering is a method used where whole or ground spices are heated in oil (rather than ghee or butter, for those of us eating a plant-based diet) to draw out aspects of their flavor that you can't get with other cooking methods. The tempering is usually added at the end and mixed in rather than cooked in.

If whole spices are used, the larger spices like curry leaves and cardamom are traditionally picked out and set aside as you eat. This can be off-putting to those who are unaccustomed to using whole spices. Let it be part of the experience or grind the spices before adding them into the final dish. 

Indian Spices with Turmeric, red chili and garam masala with masoor lentils and lentil dal with cilantro

If you must limit the number of spices you start out with, save the spices with an * next to them for later. They impart unique flavors that make Indian food so wonderfully diverse, but you can explore them later if need be. 

We use our dollars to make the world a better place by supporting organic farmers and small, family-owned businesses like Pure Indian Foods. We hope you will order your spices and Indian cooking ingredients from them too. 

Ground Spices

  1. Turmeric Root: A peppery bitter rhizome related to ginger. It imparts a golden color to many Indian dishes. India consumes 80% of the world's production of turmeric!
  2. Amchur (dried green mango)*: Imparts a sour, fruity flavor to soups, chutneys, curries, and marinades. 
  3. Anardana (pomegranate)*: Adds sour and deep, sweet molasses flavors. Used often with vegetables and Indian desserts. 
  4. Mace: Found in cuisine around the world, it offers a light flavor and fragrance of nutmeg, cinnamon, and pepper. Use it in curries, garam masala, desserts, soups, and vegetable dishes.

Whole Spices

  1. Ajwain (also called Carom)*: Hints of thyme. It's bitter and pungent and found in almost all lentil curry dishes. It's traditionally used to lower digestive upset due to an acidic stomach and improve digestion overall. 
  2. Black Cardamom Pod*: Smokey and camphor tones. Only the seeds are used. Commonly used in savory curries. 
  3. Green Cardamom Pods: Sweet, pungent, with hints of lemon and mint. Commonly used in Garam Masala and Chai. 
  4. Dried Red Chili Peppers are used extensively. Don't skip filling a pantry jar with these!
  5. Cinnamon sticks: Not all cinnamon is equal. We appreciate the sweeter and more smooth flavor spectrum of Ceylon Cinnamon, especially in our Vegan Chai Latte. 
  6. Cloves: Warming and sweet. Used in many deserts and our Vegan Chai Latte!
  7. Coriander: These are the seeds of the Cilantro plant. It's nutty, warm, and citrusy. It's used in most recipes from spicy to sweet. 
  8. Cumin: A signature spice of Indian and all East Asian cooking. It aids digestion. We use it in our Vegetable Explosion Chana Dal. 
  9. Curry Leaves: Uniquely bitter, sweet, pungent, and lemony. Buy them fresh if you can. They are unrelated to curry powder or curry plants and are part of the citrus family. We use them in most curries and for making Sambar Masala spice blend and  Garam Masala blend.
  10. Fennel: A mild licorice flavor used in many sweets and some curries. A bright green color shows they're fresh. 
  11. Fenugreek Seeds: Imparts a sweet, nutty depth to spice blends. We also sprout them for our salads and sandwiches! 
  12. Hing (asafoetida): Adds a deep savory effect to foods. You don't use much, but it's important! 
  13. Kalonji (nigella seeds)*: These impart a nutty, smoky, and peppery flavor. Used in curries, dals, with vegetables, and in samosas. 
  14. Mustard Seeds: A pungent and spicy flavor and a staple ingredient in curries. 
  15. Star Anise: Licorice and sweet flavors for spice blends, Vegan Chai Latte, and desserts. 
  16. Black Salt*: A salt with a sulfurous mineral taste. It doesn't sound appealing, but the flavor adds depth and is also great for imparting an eggy reminiscence to plant-based recipes like our Vegan Vegetable Souffle recipe.

Cooking Pastes

  1. Tamarind Paste: A complex sour fruit paste to flavor any dish. It makes an amazing chutney/sauce!
  2. Ginger Paste: This spicy paste can be a time saver for peeling and blending your own fresh ginger paste. 
  3. Garlic Paste: While not as potent as fresh-made garlic paste, this can save you time. 

Cooking Oils

  1. Mustard Oil: A pungent and spicy oil used to sauté. It adds an exciting dimension to a simple vegetable dish (a signature of East Indian cooking!)
  2. Coconut Oil: An easy to find oil enjoyed in Southern Indian cuisine. We often use this as a substitute for ghee (clarified butter) in our vegan Indian recipes. 
  3. Canned Full-Fat Coconut Milk: While not an oil nor a paste, coconut milk adds dimension to many curries and desserts, especially those from Southern India. We use it often in place fo dairy milk and cream, like in our Vegan Sweetened Condensed Milk recipe.  

This spice list can get you started on the road to amazing vegan Indian cooking. We like to order our spices from Pure Indian Foods because they have a wide selection that makes it easy to get what we need in a single order and many of their offerings are also organic. If you use our link HERE, we will receive a small commission for referring you. We wouldn't send you there if we didn't think the best of their company and products. We also appreciate the wee bit of support :-)

To learn more about using Indian spices, get on the waiting list for our Free Guide to Cooking with Indian Spices at the end of this page.

Vegan Indian Recipe Grains Barley, Amaranth, Millet, Sorghum, Besan: Ancient Grains and Flours used in Indian Cooking

Grains

When one thinks of the use of grains in Indian food, rice and naan are the first to come to mind. This may be true of recent Indian cooking (the last 70 years) but is not true of traditional Indian cooking. Why the change?

In 1947, the British occupation of India ended and India began to rely on foreign food aid to feed its people. In an effort to regain self-reliance, they moved toward growing inexpensive, high-yield crops of wheat and white rice. Wheat, requiring cooler temperatures, was grown in the north and rice in the warmer south.

What grains were historically used in Indian cuisine? Traditional and much more nutritious grains include barley, millet, amaranth, brown rice, and sorghum. Although not a grain, I am including besan, also known as chickpea or garbanzo bean flour here, because it’s used as one would use white flour in many recipes such as our Savory Chickpea Crepes.

These ancient grains are gluten-free, high in protein, and fabulously nutrient-rich. They add flavor and texture to your meals as well as the highest nutrient levels grains have to offer. Consider using them as replacements for white rice and wheat, no matter what kind of cuisine you’re cooking.

If you’re not familiar with these ancient grains, we encourage you to get each of them from the store and make a commitment to try them over a two-week period. You can find them in the bulk section of your store or from the brand, Bob’s Red Mill.

Barley (Jau)

Barley has been cultivated throughout the Middle East for more than 10,000 years. Until the 1500s, it was the main flour used for making bread. Barley is particularly high in fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, vitamins B3 and B6, and selenium. Pearl Barley can be substituted for rice as a side-dish and as a contributing flour in most recipes. It has a rich nutty flavor and texture. It cooks up in 8 minutes in our Instant Pot but takes about 40 minutes on the stovetop. At Your Vegan Family, it’s our favorite grain.

Amaranth (Rajgira)

For 8,000 years this gluten-free seed has nourished people around the world. It’s tiny and nutty and quite high in manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron. You can use it to thicken soups, pop it in a pan like popcorn, add it to bread and batters for crunch, and cook it into a spiced porridge or as a base for fritters. Amaranth is the tiniest seed listed here.

Millets

Millets are tiny, ancient whole grains with high protein, soluble fiber, and antioxidant profiles. They range from 7-14% protein by weight. They’re high in B-vitamins, iron, calcium, and magnesium. Like rice, it cooks on the stovetop in about 20 minutes. Soaking millet in water for several hours before cooking it improves the number of nutrients we can utilize. There are several kinds of millets grown around the world. 

Pearl millet, called Bajra, and Finger Millet called Raji, are the traditionally used Indian millets. 

Sorghum (Jowar)

It’s another highly nutritious grain that’s available as a round golden kernel, flakes, or ground into flour. Its texture and flavor are similar to whole wheat berries, mild and earthy. The flour is a good gluten-free replacement for whole wheat. It mimics the gluten that holds bread together and helps baked goods brown, which isn’t common in gluten-free flours. Like amaranth, you can pop in as you would popcorn in a pot on the stovetop. Use it to replace rice and add to salads and vegetables or serve as a side dish. All ancient grains benefit from soaking several hours in water before cooking to help nutrient acquisition. It takes 50-60 minutes to cook on the stovetop and 25 minutes in the Instant Pot. 

Besan

While it's not a grain, we include it here because besan is used to make baked and fried foods that can be used in lieu of cooked whole grains. This flour is also known as Garbanzo Bean, Gram, or Chickpea flour and is a traditional staple in Indian cooking. It’s used in savory crepes (See our Savory Crepe recipe!) and bread, as a porridge, a thickener for soups and gravies, and as a replacement for eggs (see our Eggless Souffle recipe!). The unique flavor adds dimension to savory foods. Just one cup of besan has over 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of folate, 25% RDA of Iron, 38% magnesium, 42% copper, and 74% manganese. You can find it in the Bob’s Red Mill section at your store under the title of Garbanzo Bean Flour. It’s a must-have flour for Indian cooking. We're always noodling about new ways to use Besan because we love the flavor. 

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Pulses (Dried Lentils, Beans, and Peas)

Pulses are a mainstay in Indian meals and, for vegan Indian recipes, they're essential. Pulses are the dried edible seeds of legumes and includes lentils, dried beans, and peas. 

You probably know and love them because you've eaten them in the popular Indian dishes of dal (also spelled daal and dahl), which is made with a variety of pulses, and Chana Masala, one of many recipes made with chickpeas. Some of our favorite dal recipes include Vegan Instant Pot Three Lentil Dal, Vegetable Explosion Chana Dal, and Creamy Vegan Coconut Lentil Dal. The Vegetable Explosion Chana Dal is a 2-in-1 recipe and is the base for the beloved Sunrise Vegetable Curry Samosas.

Pulses provide high levels of protein, soluble fiber, and nutrient. Many pulses give you at least 25% of your daily recommended dose of fiber and protein. This makes them particularly beneficial for digestive health and the prevention of constipation, and for stable blood sugar levels. Their earthy, rich flavor takes on spices and blends well with vegetables. 

Dal is another word for an Indian stew made with pulses. They're often prepared very simply as a cornerstone of Indian meals. As you've learned, the plethora of flavors appreciated in a vegan Indian meal result from a variety of dishes and chutneys. No single recipe stands alone. A simple lentil dal accompanied by a spice-infused grain, pickled onions, a spicy tomato achaar, and curried vegetables with a bit of tamarind create a culinary adventure. 

The entire meal provides a parade of flavors and textures as one grand experience. 

If you're lucky enough to live near an Indian store or market, go stock your pantry with these essential pulses. If you're like us and do not, you can find organic sources of these from Pure Indian Foods, our favorite place to order from. The links for each pulse go to their home page where you can use the search bar or browse for what you want to order. 

Here are the pulses we use the most. Each one has a distinct texture and flavor. You'll come to have your favorites too! 

Toor Dal: Toor Dal, also known as Pigeon Pea, is a quick-cooking lentil.  It's a mild pulse that easily takes on the flavors you add such as coconut milk, ginger, garlic, and garam masala. Just 1/4 cup of dried Toor Dal gives you 6 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein. It's an easy go-to pulse when you have limited time to prepare dinner. A Toor dal can be made in the time it takes to cook up a grain and vegetable dish to go with it. 

Moong Dal: Moong Dal comes from the mung bean. Mung beans are so nutritious that I consider them a "super bean"! Just 1 cup of cooked Moong Dal gives you 14 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber.  They're rich in folate, which is important for a healthy pregnancy and brain function, calcium, potassium, B vitamins, and antioxidants. They're creamy and deliciously flavored. One of our favorite dals is the Creamy Coconut Dal, whose shining star is the mung bean. 

Urad Dal: Urad dal is a pulse, and is the edible seed of a bean. It's also called split black (or white if hulled) gram. We love Urad dal for the creaminess it imparts to stews. It's often roasted and used as a spice. You'll find it in our Southern Indian Sambar Masala ground spice blend. Urad dal holds its shape well and has a smooth texture. When we make a dal with it we prefer to use the Instant Pot for faster cooking.  It's a major ingredient in our Instant Pot Three Lentil Dal. and our Homemade Sambar Masala. 

Chana Dal: Chana Dal is made from small Chickpeas, also known as Garbanzo Beans. They're common in cooked dals throughout all of India. One cup of cooked Chana Dal has nearly 19 grams of protein which is 1/3 of an average daily protein recommendation. They're also high in B vitamins. They hold their shape well through cooking and have a slightly sweet flavor. They're also ground into a flour called besan and used in baking or thickening of soups. We use Chana in our Vegan Sprouted Falafel, our rainbow-colored dal Vegetable Explosion Chana Dal, and Sunrise Vegetable Curry Samosas

Masoor Dal: Masoor Dal is a small orange/red split lentil that is commonly found in grocery stores in the USA. It cooks down quickly and makes a wonderfully creamy dal. By weight, Masoor Dal has the highest level of protein behind hemp seeds and soybeans at a massive 26%. Their pleasant earthy flavor mixes well with vegetables and curry powders. 

Indian vegetable cart
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Vegetables Used in Indian Cuisine

As you've learned, there are many growing climates in India. Harsh four-season climates at high altitudes, moderate eternal spring weather, desserts, and tropics. Each of these produces different fruits and vegetables which, in turn, create the unique local cuisine found in each part of India. 

Overall, many of the vegetables used in vegan Indian recipes can be found in most grocery stores. Some are less common in the temperate regions of the world and we've included descriptions of those. 

Many vegan Indian recipes are flexible and easily accept vegetable substitutions. Cook with what you have! 

  • Potato
  • Tomato (yes, we know this is technically a fruit)
  • Broccoli
  • Carrot
  • Zucchini
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Spinach
  • Green Bean
  • Green Pea
  • Bell peppers/Capsicum
  • Eggplant
  • Mushroom
  • Turnip
  • Ginger
  • Beetroot
  • Cucumber
  • Asparagus
  • Cilantro
  • Corn
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel Sprout

Others that may not be so common in your local stores are:

  • Daikon Radishes are long, cylindrical, crispy white roots with a spicy and slightly pungent flavor. 
  • Colocasia is a taro root, the tuber of a flowering plant grown in warm temperatures. They're used similarly to potatoes, as a starchy vegetable.  They're slightly sweet and are a sponge for other flavors. When purchasing them, look for roots that are uniformly cylindrical, crisp, and firm. 
  • Drumstick: This is a seed pod of the Moringa tree that grows in tropical regions. When small, the drumsticks are sweet and can be eaten like green beans. As they grow and age the skins get harder and bitter and taste more like asparagus. When these mature drumsticks are cooked in a dish you eat the sweet inner beans and throw out the skins. If you find them in the market, choose drumsticks that are less than 15" long. You can use the drumstick beans raw in salads too. As you can probably guess, drumsticks can be substituted with green beans or asparagus. The inner beans in the pod can be substituted with shelled edamame for a high protein addition to your meal. 
  • Snake Gourd, called Chichinda, is aptly named for its snake-like shape. It's most commonly used in the cuisine of eastern and southern India. Eaten young, they're tender and bland. As they age they get bitter. 
  • Round Gourd resembles a cross between summer zucchini squash and cucumber, and are mild, fleshy, and crisp. Zucchini squash makes a good substitute in the Northern Indian dishes you commonly find Round Gourd in. 
  • Okra (Lady's Finger) are crisp, bright green pods. Select okra pods that are 2-4" long and cook them by oil frying, air frying, or sauteing them. Boiling okra or using it in stew makes them slimy. A common way to eat them in India is to stuff small pods with spices and fry them. Okra has a unique grassy flavor, sometimes compared to green beans and eggplant. It grows in the warmer climates of the south. 

Fruits Used in Vegan Indian Cuisine

Fruits are used in vegan Indian recipes for chutneys, drinks, and desserts, and less commonly as a part of savory dishes. They provide the sweet and sour flavor spectrums. Fruits are eaten solo, sometimes sprinkled with a chaat masala, juiced, blended, and baked. 

Outside of apples and apricots, most of the fruits used in Indian cuisine are grown in the tropical regions.

Familiar fruits found in stores in the more temperate regions of the world include:

  • Apples 
  • Apricots
  • Bananas
  • Figs
  • Grapes
  • Limes 
  • Mangoes
  • Oranges
  • Papayas

Fruits that are rare in the stores of temperate regions include:

Sweet limes: Lemons and limes are a bit confusing. Limes grown in India are yellow and lemons and limes share the same name, nimbu. If a recipe calls for lemon or lime, consider whether it needs a sweet or sour flavor and compensate with a sweetener if you only have sour limes. 

Guava (amrood) is a sweet fruit that combines the flavors of strawberry and pear, giving it a flowery flavor and scent. Pineapple and strawberries can substitute for guava in some recipes. They're rich in calcium, potassium, lycopene, and fiber and are a low glycemic fruit. 

Lychee are a tender white fruit surrounding a big pit and wrapped with thick, leathery skin. They're one of my favorite fruits to pack as a snack because they hold up well while we're on the move. People describe their flavor as a cross between grapes and roses or pears and watermelon. They're used in beverages, cakes, and other sweets. 

Loquat are related to apples, pears, and quinces. They're fragile, fleshy, and juicy like a peach and are described as having a flowery flavor composed of apricot, plum, and cherry. Their skin is flavorless, hiding the sweet interior. These 1-2.5" fruits decay easily and are rarely shipped long distances because of it. If you're lucky enough to find them, take your time and enjoy their unique flavor. 

Passion Fruit are the egg-shaped fruit of a tropical vine. In my 20s, I was fascinated with tropical plants and grew passionfruit vines around the interior windows of my log house. The insides of passion fruit are a golden tart and sweet pudding dotted with gelatinous encased seeds. We admit this doesn't sound like a compelling argument to include them in your culinary repertoire, but their fragrant tartness provides a divine twist to desserts. 

 

Equipment to Make Cooking Indian Food Easier

We believe in using high-quality cooking equipment that we can rely on to provide decades of service. We're not fond of shopping nor throwing broken kitchen gear in the trash. We like efficiency and we don't like to have rarely used kitchen gadgets taking up space in our home. We're sharing the equipment that has survived heavy use over decades of cooking, and our new India specific tools.

Some of our favorite and most used equipment has a higher price tag and we've considered it an investment in our family's health. Having the right tools to prepare delicious food makes cooking easier and more fun, thus encouraging us to save money by dining in more than out. 

In this section we're sharing the tools we use most and at least twice per week. If you don't have them you can still make delicious plant-based foods, but they make it easier.

Where to start? If we had to choose just one item to have, we'd invest in a superb knife. Plant-based cooking involves a lot of chopping and a sharp, well-balanced knife makes this a joy. If chopping produce is difficult, you've hobbled yourself before you've even left the gate. Be sure you have a great knife and get sharpened with it. The knife we share below is the exact knife we use every day. We love it! 

There are a few pieces of kitchen equipment that make cooking easier in general, and a couple of items that are specific to Indian food. 

Vegan Indian Cooking Guide equipment hand squeeze juicer

Spice Grinder

We use this grinder to make homemade spice blends and small batches that would waste cleaning time in the Vitamix. We like this one because the mixing bowl is removable for easy cleaning and it has wet and dry mixing bowls. 

 

 

Vegan Indian recipe equipment, Vitamix blender

Pro  Blender

Outside of pots and pans, this is the most used equipment in our kitchen. We use it almost every day for smoothies, sauces, soups, fine chopping, batters... We've thrown out countless cheaper blenders. Our Vitamix is still going strong after 10+ years of heavy use. It's expensive, but worth it over time. 

Vegan Indian recipe cooking equipment Instant Pot pressure cooker and air fryer

Pressure Cooker-Air Fryer

So many Indian foods are fried and our air fryer lets us get the crispy effect without the unhealthy oil and mess. The pressure cooker is a time saver for all things made with beans, including our favorite dals. The double feature function makes this investment worth it. 

Vegan Indian Cooking Guide equipment mortar and pestle

Mortar and Pestle

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Chef's Knife

 

Vegan Indian Cooking Guide equipment Idli tray

Idli Tray

 

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Hand Squeeze Citrus Juicer

 

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Citrus Zester

 

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Cutting Board

 

 Get your free Guide to Cooking with Indian Spices.

(Coming soon! Sign up now and we'll send it to you as soon as we can!)

  • Learn how and when to use each common Indian Spice
  • Read descriptions of the flavor and common substitutions
  • Each spice is named in English and Hindi (helpful for ordering specialty spices and understanding traditional recipes)

How to Help Your Kids Love Indian Food