I watched nervously as the judges took their first bite. Could my Indian-fusion panini hold its own against gooey Swiss cheese, tender prosciutto, or buttery turkey bacon? My mind raced as I stood amongst the top 5 finalists in the “Panini-Off” at the Coral Tree Café in Los Angeles.  Seconds later, the judges voted my Mango Masala Panini first place.


I am a 22-year old vegan chef who recently graduated from The Natural Gourmet Institute. I specialize in health-supportive cooking. Inspired by my love for Indian food, I created a Mango Masala Panini, which is filled with spiced chickpea masala, roasted cauliflower curry, and tamarind mango chutney. While this recipe is far from that of a traditional Italian panini, the combination of spicy, savory, and sweet makes for a delicious fusion meal.

Fusing elements of Indian cooking with other cuisines is a great way to incorporate healthy ingredients and exciting flavors in food. From fragrant curries to savory sabjis, the delicious variety of flavor, texture, and color of Indian food makes eating healthy vegetables, beans, and whole grains exciting to the palate. Adding Indian spices to a recipe of another cuisine can replace excess fat, cholesterol, and calories while enhancing flavor. For example, instead of traditional French fries, try air-baked potato wedges, rolled in cumin with a pinch of cayenne, and served with a sun-dried tomato chutney. Your friends will enjoy the flavorful fusion version and no one will miss the extra grease!

Fusion cooking is about getting creative and listening to your palate. Don’t be shy to experiment with unique combinations, and most importantly, have fun!

Mango Masala Panini 

Perfect for a power lunch or gourmet dinner, this panini is protein-packed, cholesterol-free, and heart healthy!

4 panini rolls
½ cup spinach
salt and pepper to taste


Spiced chickpea masala
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
masala spice mix: 1 teaspoon turmeric, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ½  teaspoon ground cloves, 1 large pinch cayenne
2 cups cooked chickpeas
2 tomatoes, diced
¼ bunch cilantro, minced
Saute onion with oil and salt until soft and browned. Add garlic and spices and cook for a few more minutes. Add chickpeas, tomato, and ½ cup water. Adjust seasoning to taste and simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool and pulse in food processor. Mix in cilantro.

Roasted cauliflower curry

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
curry spice mix: 1 tablespoon curry powder, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, ¼ teaspoon turmeric, 1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 potato, peeled, cooked and diced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Preheat oven to 400° F. Toss cauliflower with ¼ cup olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast for 30 minutes or until florets are fork tender. In the meantime, saute remaining onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil with a pinch of salt until soft and browned. Add spices and cook for a few more minutes. Mash cauliflower, potato, and lemon juice into the onion mixture. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Tamarind mango chutney
1 mango, chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
Combine all ingredients in sauce pot with a splash of water. Cook on low for 10 minutes. Pulse in food processor and refrigerate.

Layer the 3 components on panini bread with spinach and press. Get it while it’s hot!