Vegan Vegetable Vindaloo is my meatless take on a spicy pork dish created in Goa, India, at a time when the state was colonized by the Portuguese. Chunky veggies like mushrooms, cauliflower, potatoes and onions are drowned in a flavorful sauce of spices and an ingredient unusual to most Indian, but not Goan, cuisine: vinegar.
Vindaloo is a dish that sprang from the belly of Goa, a lush paradise along India's scenic west coast.
When the flower children went east, this is the land where many found the spiritual fulfillment they were seeking. Not surprising because not only is Goa indescribably gorgeous, but it was home to inclusive, diverse, happy people steeped in the intoxicating culture of "susegado" -- taking it easy. The locals joked that there were three things Goans do best: khavap, pivap, nidap. Or eat, drink, and sleep.
The drinking, of course, refers to Feni, a popular homestyle liquor that runs thicker than blood in many veins here and that is brewed from the quirky, upside-down cashew fruit that grows abundantly in Goa's emerald valleys.
My stepmother, who passed on earlier this year, was a Goan and, like all Goans, she had a fierce love for the land of her birth. Thanks to her, I developed my own fascination, and love, for this, the tiniest Indian state, where I spent many summers.
Goa played host to Portuguese colonists from the 1500s all the way until 1961 and modern-day Goa is a mix of that colonial culture and the demands of its present in a globalized India. Old, faded but magnificent Portuguese-era homes with wide verandahs and intricate iron grillwork in the windows sit on the narrow streets that were once lazy pedestrian pathways and are now clogged with noisy cars spitting out gray exhaust. The beaches, once strewn with Goans and hippies who assimilated effortlessly with the locals, are now consumed by expensive resorts accessed by a privileged few. Young people leave homes tucked in scenic valleys dotted with mango and jackfruit orchards to work at the many call centers that have sprung up around the state.
Despite the changes, Goa's charm is hard to smother, as is the delightful nature of its diversity. The state has large populations of both Hindus and Christians who speak the same language, Konkani, with vastly different accents. Churches like the Basilica of Bom Jesus are as much at home here as the colorful domes of the Mangeshi temple. In fact, Hindus and Christians. as I remember, would cross-worship at both churches and temples with unbridled gusto. "The more gods to get blessed by, the merrier," my Goan aunt, Vilas maushi, an avid temple- and church-goer herself, once explained very logically.
The cuisine of Goa-- or rather the cuisines-- are just as diverse and delightful. Both the Hindus and the Christians cook a good deal with rice and coconut but they cook these ingredients up into vastly different dishes. Because Goa is along the coast, fish figures prominently in both cuisines, although Christians in Goa, whose food absorbed stronger Portuguese influences (because of large scale conversions by the colonizers), use pork just as frequently in dishes like Feijoada, Cafreal and Xacuti.
The vindaloo I have for you today is a classic Goan Christian dish, and it is arguably one of the state's best known foods. But this is, of course, a vegan version, although it is no less tasty.
What is a vindaloo
A vindaloo is a vibrant, spicy, tangy, sweet and salty dish of a meat (traditionally pork, although chicken versions appear to be seen more widely on the web now) cooked in a fragrant sauce of spices like coriander, cumin, mustard, red chili peppers, garlic and vinegar.
The dish is believed to have originated from a Portuguese dish, carne de vinha d'alhos, or meat cooked in wine (vinha) and garlic (alho). Vindaloo was an Indian corruption of that term and it stuck, perhaps because it was easier to pronounce.
There is a common misconception that the "aloo" in "vindaloo" stands for potatoes. That's not only a bit simplistic, but "aloo" is a Hindi/Punjabi word for potatoes and not one used in Goa (where potatoes are called "batate" or "batato" in the local language, Konkani). Meat vindaloo recipes do not usually have potatoes in them, although I do frequently use them in my vegan version because hey, they are delicious.
Ingredients for a vegetable vindaloo
- Vegetables: Use vegetables that are chunky and retain some texture when cooked. When I last shared this recipe with you all the way back in 2009, I used eggplants, and they are great here. This time I used cauliflower, potatoes and mushrooms. Bell peppers of any color are also fine here, as are carrots. I would stay away from veggies that get watery and cook quickly, like zucchini, for the best texture and flavor.
- Olive oil/vegetable oil: I don't usually recommend olive oil for Indian cooking because most Indian food needs to be cooked at high temperatures, which olive oil is not suited to, and also it adds a flavor that's alien to Indian cooking. Goan Christian food can be an exception though because the flavors are very complimentary and marry well with olive oil, because of the Portuguese influences. I use a mix: extra virgin olive oil for the masala paste to marinate the vegetables and vegetable oil for the sauce.
- Tomatoes: Although tomatoes are a vegetable, I separated them out because they serve more as a base for the rich gravy that brings the other ingredients together. Use pureed tomatoes--canned or fresh are fine, although I prefer canned in this recipe because they add a bit more sweetness.
- Onions: Like the onions the tomatoes help create a flavorful gravy, but I like cutting them into chunky pieces so they don't quite disappear in the sauce.
- Black mustard seeds, cumin seeds and coriander seeds: All of these add complex, rich flavors to the vindaloo masala paste. Cumin brings earthiness, coriander adds lemony freshness and mustard adds a delicious tangy-pungent flavor.
- Garlic and ginger: This is a sauce of vinegar and garlic, so the garlic is quite key here. Add lots of it, at least six to eight cloves, crushed into a paste. As ginger is also present in this recipe you can use a ginger garlic paste if you have that around, but add at least 3-4 more cloves of garlic on top of it.
- Turmeric, red pepper flakes, ground black pepper and paprika: Turmeric and dry red chili peppers would be added to nearly any Goan dish. You can use dry red chili peppers in this vegtable vindaloo but I find that they tend not to break down easily, even in a high-powered blender, so I just use red pepper flakes. If you use dry red chili peppers use two and break them into smallish pieces before blending. A vindaloo is expected to be fairly fiery, so you can definitely use more of the pepper, but I hold back just a bit on the fire because of my son, Jay. Instead, I add some paprika for color.
- Vinegar: White vinegar or wine vinegar would traditionally be used in this dish, but I used apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Both add the tanginess that's needed along with some sweetness and more complexity. You can, however, just use the regular white vinegar.
- Sugar: You just need a tiny bit, to balance out the flavors.
- Garam masala: You don't absolutely need this, but a bit of garam masala stirred into the vindaloo toward the end of cooking adds more depth to the dish.
- Protein: I don't add any vegan meat to the vindaloo, but you can add sliced vegan sausages, if you like. Baked tofu, such as the air-fryer tofu I shared last, would be divine here. I don't recommend adding beans to this dish because the flavors of a vindaloo sauce won't work as well with beans. If you are looking for a Goan dish with beans, try this vegan feijoada instead.
How to serve vindaloo
- This vegetable vindaloo is divine with laadi pav, a soft, fluffy bread roll sold fresh in Goa by pav-wallahs who make the rounds of neighborhoods each morning with slabs of fresh-baked bread rolls balanced on their bicycles. Any soft bread roll that is not sweet would work.
- You can also eat the vindaloo with brown or white rice. It is delicious with both.
More Goan vegan recipes
- 1 small head cauliflower (separated into medium-sized florets)
- 8 oz crimini mushrooms (use button or even shiitake if you prefer), halved or quartered if very large
- 3 medium potatoes (yellow or red potatoes. Cut in a chunky dice)
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 medium red onions (cut in a large dice)
- 2 cups tomato puree (fresh or canned are both fine. I used canned)
- 2 tsp paprika (optional)
- 2 tbsp cilantro (chopped)
- 2 inch cinnamon stick
- 2 tsp garam masala (optional, but recommended)
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
For the masala marinade paste
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or balsamic or white vinegar)
- 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 6-8 cloves garlic (chopped)
- 1 inch knob ginger (chopped)
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes (use more or less per your taste)
- 1 tbsp black mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- Air Fryer Tofu (or any baked tofu, cut into cubes)
- Meatless sausage (cut into chunks)
- Make the masala paste by blending all the ingredients together in a blender into a paste.
- Place the vegetables--cauliflower, mushrooms and potatoes--in a bowl and toss in the masala paste. Set aside for at least 15 minutes or up to an hour, if you have the time.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot. Add the onions along with salt and ground black pepper and cook, stirring, until the onions are golden-brown, about 10 minutes. Do not hurry through this- you want the onions to develop a lot of flavor
- Add the marinated vegetables and cook, stirring about 5 minutes or until they have expressed some of their juices.
- Add the tomatoes, paprika, if using, and cinnamon stick. Add a cup of water or vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and allow the vindaloo to cook over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring once in a while to ensure the veggies get cooked evenly. The potatoes should get tender but the cauliflower will still have a bit of a bite.
- Add the garam masala, if using, and stir it in.
- Add more salt if needed. Stir in the cilantro. Serve.