Vegan Fare from India

By Sunita Pant Bansal

India has always been a vegetarian-friendly country, not so much because of religion, but more so because of tradition. Indian scriptures include the Ayurveda, which teaches a healthy lifestyle, including diet. It is important to note that Ayurveda does not ban eating any food; it only advises what is good or bad for the human body at different times.

Contrary to common belief, traditional Indian cooking is done not in clarified butter (ghee) but in oil. The type of oil used varies from region to region as per the availability of oilseeds. For instance, mustard oil is commonly used in the northern and eastern parts of India, whereas sesame oil is often a cooking medium in the southern and western regions.

Below are recipes for some popular Indian dishes that normally contain yogurt and cottage cheese; here, I have replaced yogurt with soy yogurt and cottage cheese with tofu. Uncommon ingredients can be found in the international section of some supermarkets, in gourmet shops, in Indian or Asian food stores, or by shopping online. Enjoy!


(Serves 4)

This recipe combines two popular Indian dishes. Pakoras are battered and fried dumplings, often served as appetizers in Indian restaurants. Kadhi is a mild curry that is delicately flavored with aromatic herbs.


  • 1 cup chickpea (gram) flour
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger Salt to taste
  • ½ cup water
  • ⅓ cup sesame, sunflower, or vegetable oil to fry

Mix all ingredients except oil and make a thick batter of dropping consistency. Heat the oil in a deep skillet. Drop small balls of the batter into the oil and fry until golden. Remove and drain on paper. Set aside.


  • 1 cup plain soy yogurt
  • 1 Tablespoon chickpea (gram) flour
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder Salt to taste
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 2 sprigs curry leaves

Beat the yogurt and flour together until there are no lumps. Add turmeric, coriander, salt, and water. Beat to an even consistency. Heat oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. As soon as the seeds begin to splutter, add the curry leaves and the yogurt-flour mixture. Bring to a boil, and let simmer for approximately 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally.


Add the pakoras to the kadhi and simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve hot with steamed rice.

Total calories per serving: 209 Fat: 11 grams *
Carbohydrates: 21 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 24 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams


(Serves 4)

Kofta is India's vegetarian alternative to meatballs.


  • ⅓ pound tofu
  • 3 Tablespoons chickpea (gram) flour
  • ½ teaspoon garam masala (mixed spices) powder
  • Chopped green chilies to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • ⅓ cup sesame, sunflower, or vegetable oil to fry

Pat the tofu dry with a paper towel and crumble. Mix all ingredients except oil together. Make equal-sized balls out of the mixture. Heat the oil to a high temperature in a deep skillet. Drop the balls into the oil and fry until lightly brown. Drain oil and put kofta aside.


  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 3 black cardamoms
  • 3 cloves
  • One 1-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf,
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 large onions, grated
  • 4 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste (available in Indian or Asian markets)
  • ½ teaspoon red chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 cups water

Pour oil into another large pan. When the oil is heated, add the cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaf and allow them to brown. Add the cumin seeds. As soon as the seeds begin to splutter, add the onions and fry until golden brown.

In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, ginger-garlic paste, chili powder, turmeric, coriander, and salt. Add this mixture to the onions in the pan and fry until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan. Add water. Bring to boil and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.


Fresh coriander sprigs to garnish

Add the kofta and fresh coriander leaves just before serving. Serve hot with bread.

Total calories per serving: 182 Fat: 11 grams*
Carbohydrates: 16 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 17 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams


(Serves 5)

Tikkas are cutlets or cubes, while masala means a mixture of spices.


  • 1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste (available in Indian or Asian markets)
  • ¼ cup soy yogurt
  • 1 pound tofu

In a small bowl, whisk the gingergarlic paste into the soy yogurt. Cut the tofu into 2-inch cubes (tikkas) and coat them in the yogurt mixture. Allow tikkas to marinate for 2 hours.


  • 5 tomatoes, puréed
  • ½ teaspoon grated ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves
  • ½ teaspoon red chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon garam masala powder
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 cups water
  • Salt to taste

In a deep pot, mix all ingredients together. Bring to a quick boil and then simmer over low heat until reduced to a thick sauce, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, add the tikkas to a dry, non-stick skillet. Sauté until golden brown.


Green chilies to garnish

Arrange the tikkas in a small serving dish. Pour the sauce over them and garnish with chilies. Serve as a snack with tea.

Total calories per serving: 115 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 9 grams Protein: 10 grams
Sodium: 13 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram

*Note: The fat content of these recipes is approximate and will vary depending on the type of oil used, cooking temperature and time, and other factors.

Sunita Pant Bansal lives in India and enjoys creating Indian recipes for people with various dietary needs.