Sweet and Sour Potatoes, Gujarati-Style

I was at the dying Border’s in downtown Silver Spring the other day, browsing through mostly-bare shelves of fiction, travel guides and cookbooks and trying to spot bargains along with just about everyone else in the world, or so it seemed.

For those of you who don’t know, Border’s is one of those mammoth bookstore chains here in the United States that has become a victim of e-progress, a turbulent economy, and, by some accounts, its own stupidity — or rather its inability to adapt to the e-reader revolution that lets people download books to nifty gadgets faster than they can say “instant gratification.”

Earlier this year Border’s filed for bankruptcy followed inevitably by the closing of several stores. As the outlets near where I work and near where I live have gone belly-up one after the other, each heaving out a giant gasp of a sale before dying, I’ve felt lucky, sad and old-fashioned by turns. I do read books online and on my smartphone, and I won’t deny the convenience. And I’m one of the most environmentally friendly people I know. But I also enjoy bookstores and browsing through them for hours. I love the heft and volume of a paper-and-ink hardcover in my hands. I love the promise in that new-book smell. And I love feeling the crisp, never-turned-before pages crackle under my fingers as I flip them to see if this one is worth reading, after all.

But as nostalgic as I feel about bookstores and books, a wicked part of me can’t help but see divine justice in the death of these big-box brick-and-mortar chains: after all, it wasn’t that long ago that they were pushing underground all those mom-and-pop bookstores-around-the-corner. Maybe what goes around does come around.
At that last grab-and-shop session at Borders, I bought a few cookbooks that I had been wanting to buy for some time now. Two of these I really love: Niloufer Ichaporia King’s My Bombay Kitchen, a compendium of recipes traditional to India’s culinarily gifted Parsi community; and Sanjeev Kapoor’s How to Cook Indian.

Neither of the books is entirely vegan or even vegetarian, but both have lots of vegan and vegetarian recipes and what’s not vegan can easily be veganized.

Today’s recipe for Sweet and Sour Potatoes, cooked in a Gujarati style, is adapted heavily from Sanjeev Kapoor’s book. I found a bag of these really cute, really tiny white potatoes while grocery-shopping this past weekend, and I’d been saving them for a really special recipe. This one looked perfect. The traditional recipe uses regular-sized potatoes and you can certainly substitute with any waxy white potato if you don’t have the baby ones.

I haven’t shared a spud recipe here on Holy Cow! for a while, but as many of you already know, I do not shy away from this mighty vegetable. Potatoes (when they are not deep-fried, smothered with sour cream, or mashed up with butter) are intrinsically healthy and loaded with nutrients. Don’t eat them every day if you’re watching the waistline because they are a starchy vegetable. But ever so often– especially when they are cooked healthfully– potatoes can be happy members of a well-balanced diet. Always try and leave their jackets on, because most of the nutrients in potatoes sit right under their skin. Besides, those skins are delicious, so why throw them away?

This recipe, which Kapoor describes as a quick-to-make favorite in Gujarati kitchens, is utterly simple, extremely healthy and almost fat-free. I cut down Kapoor’s suggestion for oil (5 tbsp!) to just a light spray to coat the bottom of my pan. The sauce, with tamarind, jaggery, and chili, delivers a wallop of sour, sweet, and spicy flavors that is sure to please just about anyone’s tastebuds. Who needs the oil?

Enjoy the recipe all, and the weekend ahead!

Sweet and Sour Baby Potatoes, Gujarati-Style


1 pound really tiny baby potatoes (these were about 1 1/2 centimeters in diameter. Use diced yukon gold or other waxy white potatoes if you can’t find these)

1-inch diameter ball of tamarind, soaked in 1 cup of water for about 15-30 minutes. Crush the tamarind pulp with your fingers before straining. Discard the solids and set the pulp aside.

1 tbsp jaggery, grated (unrefined Indian sugar. You can buy golden lumps of these at any Indian grocery store)

1 tsp mustard seeds

10 curry leaves (optional)

A pinch of asafetida (hing)

2 dry red chillies

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tsp roasted cumin seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric

Salt to taste

Oil to spray the pan

Powder the red chillies, coriander and cumin seeds and set aside.

Spray oil in a pan and add the asafetida and the mustard seeds. When the seeds sputter, add the powdered spices and stir well, for about 30 seconds.

Add the tamarind pulp, jaggery, and 2 cups of water.

When the sauce comes to a boil, add the potatoes. Return the mixture to a boil, slap on a lid, and let the sauce simmer for another 10 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.

I like to take a potato masher and mash some of the potatoes at the end, leaving the rest whole. This gives the sauce some body.

Garnish with fresh coriander leaves, if desired.

Serve hot with rice and dal or some rotis.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Brown Rice Dhokla

Gujarat is a beautiful swath of land not unlike an alligator’s head that sweeps into the Arabian Sea and kisses Pakistan’s southeast border. This is the state where India’s most illustrious son, Mahatma Gandhi, was born. A land that was once the playground of Krishna, the charismatic child-god and friend of cows whose antics cram the pages of India’s holy and mythological books. The state that is home to the Jain community, a religious group who have — for centuries and long before the term “ethical vegan” was coined–believed in shunning cruelty to every living creature, including insects.This is also land of incredible beauty, with beaches that stretch forever, ancient temples that glitter under clear, moonlit skies, and an abundant wildlife that  includes solemnly majestic tigers, lightning-fast leopards, and bone-lazy sloth bears. The Rann of Kutch, the exquisitely mysterious gulf that lies between the two alligator jaws, is a bird-watcher’s paradise with raptors, bustards, cranes and hundreds more bird species.As a teen, I had a chance to travel around Gujarat, thanks to my cousin Deepa who fell in love with and married a Gujarati. Raju Bhai’s family was from Surat, but at the time of their wedding he was living in Mithapur, a small, neat city created by the Tatas, one of India’s biggest industrial families. Mithapur literally translates to “Salt City,” and that’s what it was– it was where Tata Salt was manufactured and packed and shipped off to grocery stores around the country.

I often traveled to Deepa’s home with her mother, my dad’s sister, who lived in Bombay. More often than not, we’d take off for side trips. To Surat, a buzzing city that looked like Bombay on a smaller scale. To Dwarka, the place where Krishna is said to have lived, and which was a major attraction for my deeply religious aunt.  To Okha, a port city at the very tip of the state, right where the gulf swims out to the sea.

There’s one more thing that make Gujarat special: its food. Gujarati cuisine is rich in vegetarian dishes and chickpea-based snacks, each unique, many extremely healthy. One of these healthy and uber-special snacks is dhokla, a pillow-soft, savory delicacy made with rice and lentils and then steamed. On top goes a tadka of spicy brown mustard seeds sputtered in oil, and lemony-bright coriander leaves. Imagine.

I wanted a really special, very authentic dhokla recipe to share with you rather than many quick versions around the web made with chickpea flour. I turned to my friend, Roshani, whose family moved here from Gujarat when Roshani was just a little girl. Her mom, who lives in Houston, immediately sent me two recipes for dhokla– one for the more ubiquitous yellow version, made with chana dal or bengal gram dal, and the other a white version made with udad dal or black gram dal.

I made the white version and, to make it healthier, I replaced half the rice in the recipe with brown rice. The dhokla was delicious, and neither Desi nor I could have enough of it.

Keep in mind that this recipe makes a ton of dhokla, so halve it if you are just making it for one or two people. I steamed the dhokla in a round baking dish that fitted into my pressure cooker base, but if you have an idli mold you can use that too, although you will of course end up with idli-shaped dhokla rather than little square pieces.

Thanks Roshani and mom, for a great recipe.
Dhokla, gluten-free and vegan

Brown Rice Dhokla
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 8
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 cup white rice
  • ¾ cup udad dal
  • ¼ cup chana dal
  • 4-5 green chillies, minced
  • 1 12-oz package of silken soft tofu
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ½ tsp Eno Fruit Salt (you can find this at any Indian grocery store-- it's primarily meant to fight indigestion)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp oil to sputter the mustard seeds
  • 2-3 tsp mustard seeds
  • ½ cup finely chopped coriander leaves
  • ¼ cup shredded coconut
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper to sprinkle on the dhokla (optional)
  1. Soak the rice and the dals together for about 8 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain, then blend with some water to make a rather smooth paste. You will need a fairly powerful blender for this, like a Vitamix or one of those hardy Indian blenders. I just put it into my dosa grinder which does a great job.
  3. Add the tofu and lemon juice and salt and blend a little more until everything's nicely mixed.
  4. Set aside for 2-6 hours to ferment. I would recommend two hours if you don't want your dhokla sour-- Desi and I prefer it that way.
  5. Grease a baking dish or any dish with sides at least 2-3 inches high. Heat about 1 inch water in a pan that the dish will fit into and let it come to a boil.
  6. Pour the batter about 1 inch deep in the greased dish. Now add the Eno Fruit Salt and stir gently, in a single direction, until just mixed. You will start to see the dough bubble and fluff up right before your eyes.
  7. Carefully place the pan inside the boiling water, reduce to a simmer, and sprinkle some cayenne on top. Cover the pan with a snug lid, and let the dhokla steam at least 10-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  8. Remove, allow it to cool a little, and then cut into squares.
  9. Heat the oil and sputter the mustard seeds. Pour over the dhokla pieces. Sprinkle the coriander and coconut on top.
  10. Serve warm with some coconut chutney or on its own.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Okra With Onions and Potatoes

Vegetarians and vegans are always pointing to famous vegetarians and vegans, because– I guess– not only is it gratifying to know that there are successful people out there who embrace a cruelty-free lifestyle, but also because it is a small defense tactic. After all, people tend to view us meat-free people as kooks, a myth perpetrated in no small measure by television and the rest of the media which tends to usually present us as airheads acting on a whim.

In real life, however, studies have shown that the most intelligent among us are more likely to embrace a meat-free lifestyle early in life. It does make sense, doesn’t it? After all, one would have to be sensitive and strong to make and carry out life-changing decisions that run counter to what the rest of the world is doing. Besides, the greatest intellects of the past are on our side. From Pythagoras to Leo Tolstoy to Gandhi to Einstein and George Bernard Shaw, each one of these great people embraced and expounded the virtues of a vegetarian diet.

I am also often thrilled to find glimpses of sensitivity toward the creatures of the world in some of the greatest works of contemporary art and literature.

Recently, I finished reading what must be one of the most evocative books I’ve ever laid my hands on, Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys. This 1996 book documents the lives and times of a happy, bustling family that goes through a terrible tragedy, careens helplessly toward a breakup, then reunites toward the end of the book.

Oates is a great writer who needs no introduction to any book lover, but I especially love her liesurely, indulgent style, her way of grabbing your attention and then keeping you hanging in suspense before you get the answer, her remarkable eye for the smallest of captivating details that most of us might just brush past without noticing.

One of the things I loved about this book was how beautifully Oates portrays the chemistry between humans and animals. There are plenty of animals in this book, because the story begins on a farm. Among the most evocative of relationships is that between Marianne Mulvaney and Muffin, her cat. Here’s what Oates writes about an aging Muffin.

“Marianne waved away a swarm of mosquitoes, seeing that Muffin was sitting, or lying, in the grass, sphinx-style, forepaws neatly tucked beneath his chest, tail curving around his thin buttocks. She picked him up gently and held him. How thin he was! Yet how soft and fine his fur. He did not resist her; but neither was he kneading his paws against her as usual, nor did he begin to purr immediately.”

Surely Oates must love cats, for who else but a cat lover could capture so vividly one of these classy, enigmatic, independent creatures! And I loved that throughout the book, she turns an equally compassionate, understanding eye toward animals.

Near the beginning, through the voice of Judd Mulvaney, she writes: “There were many deer on our property, in the remoter wooded areas, but it was rare for any to pass so close to our house, because of the dogs. (Though our dogs never ran loose at night, like the dogs of certain of our neighbors and a small pack of semi-wild dogs that plagued the area. Mom was furious at the way people abandoned their pets in the country– “As if animals aren’t human, too.”)”

Don’t you just love that?


Now on to today’s recipe, Okra with Onions and Potatoes, which is one of my favorite side dishes. I adapted this recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian where she describes the dish as being from the state of Gujarat in western India.

Although the original dish did not include onions, I added them because I love the complimentary flavors of onions and okra when they are teamed together. With its sweet-sour-spicy notes this dish is bound to captivate any palate, even one that claims to hate okra.

Here’s the recipe. Have a great weekend, all!
Okra with Onions and Potatoes


20 pods of okra, cut into 1/2-inch rings

3 yellow potatoes, cut into a 1/2-inch dice, then boiled until tender (I cover the diced potatoes with water in a microwave-safe dish, place a lid or a plate on top, and zap it for four to five minutes.)

2 medium tomatoes, diced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp ginger paste

1 tbsp garlic paste

1 tsp ground coriander seeds

2 tsp ground cumin seeds

1 tsp red chilli powder

2 green chilies, minced

1 tsp sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil

Heat the oil in a saucepan or skillet.

Add the mustard and cumin seeds. When they sputter, add the onions and stir-fry until the onions become translucent and golden spots begin to just appear.

Mix the coriander and cumin powders and the ginger and garlic pastes in a small container with 4 tbsp of water. Add this mixture to the onions and cook, stirring, until the water evaporates.

Add the tomatoes, okra, potatoes, chilli powder, green chillies and salt and stir thoroughly. Add half a cup of water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer over medium-low heat about 10 minutes or until the okra is tender.

Add sugar and lemon juice. Check salt and garnish with mint or coriander leaves if desired.

Serve hot with rotis or dal and rice.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Cucumber-Mint Subzi

Most of the fresh ingredients used in today’s subzi came from my own kitchen garden: the cucumbers, mint, curry leaves and green chilies. And that makes this recipe very special to me. That, and the fact that it tasted pretty darn good.

Now I’m not a great gardener, but I love it anyway. Every summer I try my hand, with help from Desi, at growing at least a few vegetables and herbs. In recent years I’ve planted, and reaped, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, beets, zucchini, cabbage, broccoli, basil, mint, thyme, rosemary, sage and a few other goodies. Some were half-eaten by bugs before I could get to them, but I had good luck with most.

This year, I planted a cucumber vine because I’d heard it’s one of the easiest garden veggies to grow, and before I knew it, it threatened to take over the entire vegetable garden. I’ve already harvested quite a few cucumbers. I had two on hand yesterday and was a little tired of eating them in raw salads. But I had never cooked a cucumber subzi before.
Roshani, a fellow DC blogger, suggested a classic Gujarati recipe that her mom, Pratima Kothari, makes. I modified it slightly, adding some curry leaves at the beginning and some mint at the end, as well as a sprinkling of coconut.

I loved this dish. The cucumber did not break down into a mush as I had expected, but held its shape beautifully. I cooked it until it was just tender. The mint (cucumber and mint do sound so right together, don’t they?) added a wonderfully fresh flavor.

This is one recipe I will be making all summer long. Thanks, Roshani!

I am sending this recipe as my entry to the wonderful “Grow Your Own” event created by Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes and hosted by Jugalbandi.

Cucumber-Mint Subzi


2 medium-sized cucumbers, cut into a small dice

1 tbsp canola oil

1 sprig curry leaves, separated

1 tsp mustard seeds

2 green chilies like serrano, slit down the middle

1/4 tsp turmeric (optional)

Salt to taste

3 tbsp mint, cut into shreds

2 tbsp coconut shreds

Heat the oil.

Add the mustard seeds and when they sputter, add the curry leaves and green chilies

Within seconds, add the turmeric and then the cucumber pieces. Stir well to coat thoroughly with the oil.

Add salt.

Allow the cucumber to cook for about 15-20 minutes over a medium flame, stirring occasionally.

Once the cucumber is tender, add more salt if needed and turn off the heat.

Sprinkle with the fresh mint and coconut.



You will find me working on my blogroll the next few days: something I’ve been intending to do for months now. I hope to add each one of you wonderful bloggers out there that I have come to know these past few months, and the more the merrier. In case you don’t see your site listed in a few days, please don’t be offended because it is not intentional. Just drop me a note and I will take care of it pronto.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.


My favorite cousin, Deepa, is married to a Gujarati. Growing up in the melting pot of Bombay, I was no stranger to the culture of this colorful state because of the many Gujarati neighbors and friends I had. But having a Gujarati in the family gave me a chance to get even more closely acquainted with the land and its delicious cuisine.

Rajubhai, Deepa’s husband, was an engineer who was posted around different parts of Gujarat over the years, and as a teen I’d look forward to the holidays I enjoyed at their home. During those trips, which included nearly a dozen members of our extended family, we’d sometimes travel around the state: to the buzzing city of Surat, the quiet tranquility of the salt-making colony of Mithapur, and the piously alive Dwarka.

Under an impossibly clear sky in Somnath, my cousins and I, used to the smoggy skies of Bombay city, would try delightedly to identify the constellations.

Today, when I cook Gujarati food in my kitchen, I always think back to those long-ago days, gone but not forgotten.

This past week, I had a deep craving for Oondhiyu, perhaps my most favorite of all Gujarati foods. This wonderful mixed-veggie dish has an unbelievably unique flavor, thanks to ajwain seeds. To those unfamiliar with Indian foods, ajwain, also called carom seeds, are very similar to thyme in fragrance. Although the seeds look a lot like cumin, the flavor is sharply unusual and almost unbelievably appetizing. So much so that each time I cook Oondhiyu, I tend to snack on it all day straight from the pot until it’s gone!

A quick note: I used kasoori methi (the dried version of methi leaves) for the dumplings because I couldn’t find fresh methi at my local Indian store. But try and use fresh methi if you can because the taste difference is unbelievable.

So here is my recipe for this really special dish. I hope you enjoy its rustic deliciousness as much as I do!



1 cup surti papdi, stringed but whole (these stringed broad beans are available at most Indian stores. While I prefer the fresh version, you can substitute with frozen with good results)

1 plantain, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks

1 large or 2 small potatoes, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks

1 sweet potato, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks

1/2 a large eggplant or 6 small ones, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

A pinch of asafetida

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp ajwain

1 tsp sugar

Salt to taste

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped, for garnish

For methi dumplings:

1 cup methi leaves or 1/4 cup kasoori methi, chopped fine

1/2 cup besan flour

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp turmeric

Salt to taste

Oil for deep-frying

Mix together the ingredients with a little water to form a firm dough. Shape into small balls about 1/2-inch in diameter, or ovals. Deep fry in hot oil until golden-brown. Reserve.

Grind into a paste:

2-3 green chilies
1-inch piece of ginger
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped

Coat all the vegetables with the masala paste and marinate for at least half an hour.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a deep saucepan and add the ajwain seeds and asafetida. After a few seconds, add the vegetables and stir thoroughly to coat with oil.

Add turmeric.

Cover the vegetables and let them cook until tender, stirring a few times if necessary. Add some water to help them along.

When the veggies are tender, add the methi dumplings, sugar and salt to taste.

Sprinkle lemon juice and garnish with coriander leaves.

Serve piping hot with puris or rotis.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.