February is always a busy travel month for me, and that’s one reason I’ve failed to feed my blog these last few days.
Now I travel a lot- both for work and pleasure- and I truly enjoy it. But since I went vegan, travel has posed some new challenges. Being on the road is not always easy for a vegan, and particularly for one who won’t just settle for salads and soups.
There are many stories of woe: I have struggled with French onion soup covered in a layer of thick cheese even after telling the room service repeatedly that I DON’T want any dairy in it. I have had tomato soup and pasta served up to me as “dairy-free” when it clearly contained cream or cheese. And I have been asked at meetings, after making a request for vegan food, if I would eat chicken or seafood?
Still, it is not impossible either. I almost always have managed to feed myself fairly well even while stuck in the middle of nowhere. And sometimes there are surprises along the way that make you just want to scream for joy!
Last year, for example, Desi and I took a road trip into parts of the deep south. You can imagine how nervous I was. And while I did eat more than a few salads, I found at least two restaurants that served truly memorable vegan meals- one in Huntsville, Alabama, and another in lovely Louisville, Kentucky. Both had a variety of sandwiches that were not just vegan but simply delicious and very very nutritious- always an important consideration when you’re on the road.
In Mexico, on vacation, I found restaurants willing to substitute leche de soya for regular milk in my morning cereal. In Costa Rica’s Monteverde, we stayed at a resort run by a Quaker couple that served the most delicious vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes. And in New Orleans, known mainly for its seafood and meat dishes, we managed to track down a handful of restaurants that served many delicious vegan-friendly dishes.
Big cities like New York, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco and Boston are typically easier to find vegan food in, as is my hometown of Washington DC where there are some vegan restaurants and even a vegan bakery that whips up delicious treats.
But no matter where we are, Desi and I look forward with great excitement to eating, as often as we can, at Indian restaurants: we have often walked miles and miles, be it Paris or Amsterdam or Mexico City, to track down a restaurant we had heard of. He because he loves Indian food. I because I not only love Indian food, but as a vegan I know I can find something that’s safe for me to eat as well as hearty and delicious.
It’s not always that simple, though. India’s long tradition of lacto-vegetarianism encompasses kindness to animals, but Indians also consider milk and other dairy products gifts of the cow who, as everyone knows, is revered by Hindus. Veganism is rarely practiced among Indians, although Mahatma Gandhi came pretty close to it many decades ago (he did return to drinking goat’s milk, he said, for health reasons). Of course, Indian cattle suffer the same cruel treatment that cattle bred for dairy or meat anywhere in the world suffer, but that’s another story for another day.
Anyway, the result of this love for milk, of course, means that even Indian vegetarian food is not always animal-product-free. And finding out what is free of ghee or butter or cream is not always easy.
While I often have to shun my old restaurant favorites like Dal Makhani and Palak Paneer, I have found ways to veganize these recipes in my own kitchen. The results almost always have been good beyond belief. A big advantage is, veganizing the recipes also ends up making them more nutritious.
Today I am sharing my recipe for Dal “Makhani,” a popular lentil dish from North India that’s often found on restaurant menus. Of course, there is no “makhan,” or butter, in this dish which I substituted instead with vegan sour cream. If you don’t have any on hand, coconut milk- although not a typical ingredient of North Indian food- would give equally delicious results.
To go with the dal, I made a pretty easy but delicious nut-and-raisin pilaf.
Hope you enjoy this vegan version of a classic Indian dish!
Dairy-Free Dal “Makhani”
1 cup udad dal or black gram
1/4 cup red beans or rajma
Soak the gram and the rajma for at least four hours or preferably overnight, then cook until tender with a little salt.
1/4 cup vegan sour cream (like Tofutti’s Better-than-sour-cream, available at Whole Foods)
1 tbsp oil
1 large red onion, chopped
1 large tomato or 2 medium tomatoes, chopped (can substitute with a 14-oz can of diced tomatoes)
1 tbsp ginger, grated
1 tbsp garlic, chopped into a very fine mince or grated
2 tbsp sugar
2 heaping teaspoons of garam masala
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
Heat the oil in a large saucepan (you can also use a mix of vegan “butter” like Earth Balance and oil)
Add the onion and saute for a few minutes until it becomes translucent. Add the sugar and continue to saute until the onion starts to brown.
Add the ginger and garlic and stir for a minute.
Add the tomatoes, chili powder, turmeric and garam masala. Stir and cook until the tomato starts breaking down and the juices thicken.
Add the cooked lentils and beans. Let the dal come to a boil, then turn the heat to low and let it simmer gently for about 10 minutes until all the flavors come together.
Add the lemon juice and stir in.
Add the vegan sour cream, turn off the heat, and stir to mix the sour cream into the dal. Check seasoning and add more salt if needed.
Garnish with fresh coriander (I didn’t have any, so I used some kasoori methi which I added to the dal in the final few minutes of cooking.)
Raisin and Nut Pilaf
2 cups basmati rice
4 cups water
1 tbsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1/2 cup peas
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped cashew and/or pistachio nuts
Salt to taste
1 tbsp canola oil
Heat the canola oil in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and oven-safe handles.
Add the cumin seeds and stir until they sputter, flavoring the oil.
Add the rice and stir until the grains start to turn opaque.
Now add the water and salt and let it come to a boil.
Turn the heat to low and add the peas.
Cover the saucepan with tinfoil and place the lid over it, to ensure a tight seal.
Place the saucepan in a preheated 350-degree oven.
Remove from the oven after 20 minutes. Be very careful because the handles will be screaming hot. Do not open for at least 10 more minutes because the rice is continuing to cook in its steam at this point.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat 1 tsp of canola oil. Add the nuts and toss them about until they start to turn golden. Add the raisins, stir for about 30 seconds, and turn off the heat.
Pour the nuts and raisins into the rice pilaf and with a fork, fluff gently to mix.
Serve hot with the Dal.