Chicago-based cookbook author Anupy Singla has cultivated a devoted following by showing readers how to master Indian spices and make great-tasting Indian food at home. In her second offering, Vegan Indian Cooking, she tackles the perhaps more difficult endeavor of demystifying vegan cuisine.
Our Town spoke with Singla about the benefits of eating vegan.
Our Town What originally inspired you to write your first cookbook?
Anupy Singla I have always wanted to write an Indian cookbook for the slow cooker. I know. It sounds a little crazy, but my mother was one of the first in America to cook Indian food in a slow cooker. I always told her that I would write a cookbook filled with her and my recipes. She never thought people would buy it, but it's now been the No. 1 Indian cookbook on Amazon.com for essentially two years.
OT How did you go about compiling recipes this time?
AS The recipes in Vegan Indian result from years of being predominantly Vegan. I started eating like this in graduate school in 1994. Many recipes are also basic Indian recipes that I love to make and are inherently vegan to begin with. I also took many Indian recipes and made them with whole grain options like brown rice and quinoa - an ode to the way I love to eat and feed my family - also something I learned from my mother.
OT Why go Vegan?
AS I [compare] vegan eating to clean eating. It's just less taxing on your digestive system. But I advocate taking it day-by-day and meal-by-meal. Don't feel like you can never eat an egg again. Look for delicious recipes to fill the gaps for you and you may find that you don't even miss the meat. I grew up eating this way, and so home-style Indian just seems so intuitive to me. I was shocked to learn that it's not something many others know about. I'm so excited to share my way of eating now with the world.
OT What’s the most common misapprehension about Veganism?
AS That it's a 'kookie' way to eat - that somehow all of US want to convert YOU. That the folks telling you to do it are the ones that are looking to deprive you of the foods you know and love. That's why I approach it from a place of going vegan is not about what you can't eat. It's about what you can now eat. Add the flavor from spices and the beans and lentils and you'll just naturally need less and less meat to fulfill you. So many of my readers write that they are not vegan - but love my recipes because they are hearty vegan options that can serve as go-to recipes when they want to limit the meat in their meal or in their day.
OT What is a good replacement for ghee in vegan Indian cooking?
AS I never grew up cooking with or eating ghee so it's a myth that all Indian households must use ghee in their cooking. In South Indian households they rarely use ghee. I love any vegetable-based oil. My favorite these days is grape seed oil, because it's a clean tasting oil that pairs well when used with Indian ingredients, and it has a high smoke point. Other oils like canola and vegetable works fine as well.
OT Speaking of ghee, when going out to eat at an Indian restaurant, is it ok to ask for dishes to be prepared without it?
AS I would certainly ask. It's a fair question. But know that realistically many curries are prepped ahead of time, and thus it may be difficult to accommodate this request. It may be safer to order stir-fries that are usually prepped to-order.
OT Best Indian restaurant in Chicago?
AS This is a question I get all the time, and I find really tough to answer. The fancier restaurants usually don't interest me because they tend to be really heavy with oils and cream in their sauces. And I can usually do better at home. But, I love going out for chaat - or snacks. For this I like Annapurna's and Kamdar Plaza on Devon.
OT What’s your go-to recipe when you want to throw together a meal in a limited amount of time?
AS I love a great dal (lentil soup), stir fry (like an Aloo Gobi - Potatoes and Cauliflower), and Jeera Rice (Cumin Rice).
OT Your parents are were both born in India so I’m assuming they’re accustomed to more traditional Indian fare. What do they think of your vegan updates?
AS They actually are fascinated with the idea of using tofu and brown rice in various recipes. My mother has been trying some of my curries (the Tofu Curry) for parties and they have been a huge hit!
Catch Anupy Singla August 25th 10 a.m. at Culinary Historians of Chicago or September 15th at The Chicago Writers Conference.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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