Going vegan or reducing your carbon footprint does not mean you’re losing your lifestyle or giving it up, when in fact you’re actually gaining a better relationship with your health, with nature and especially the environmental legacy you leave behind for future generations.
The facts are simple, says Seema Vaid. Every day a vegan saves one animal’s life, 11 hundred gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 20 pounds of CO2, and 30 square feet of forested land.
Seema Vaid grew aware of veganism when she joined a campaign by Beatle Paul McCartney to save an Indian temple elephant. It was a change that lead to her vocation as a climate change activist who walks the walk to incorporate sustainability in her daily life. Seema has lived in the Bay Area for a long time with her family and has 3 children, and works at Intel. She talks to DesiCollective about her choice to go vegan and why.
Two years ago, I could not imagine cooking and eating oil-free food. Cooking good food was synonymous with a liberal splash of cooking oil in everything from simple sabji to biryani.
I loved cooking all my recipes with lots of oil, though I knew it was bad for my health. Every dish began with a bottle of cooking oil right beside me. As a foodie I relished food glazed with oil.
Homemade chakalis were my favorite. As a vegetarian, I assumed that oily snacks were okay, given my healthy vegetarian diet of fruit smoothies, brown rice, sambar, vegetables and beans.
But I often wondered why I was putting on weight despite my plant-based diet. In Atlanta, I met Shobha, and my perspective drastically changed. Shobha is an advocate of plant-based foods, inspiring folks to thrive on plant-based fare with zero oil! That simple conversation with her had a profound impact on me.
I joined Shobha’s WhatsApp group and my plant-based health education began.
I discovered that the persistent ache in my knees was inflammation from the excessive oil in my diet.
I was shocked to find out that all cooking oils, from soybean to canola oil are highly processed. High temperature and chemicals are used to extract oil, a process that make their nutrients go rancid.
When I learned that one tablespoon of oil has 120 calories, I nearly fainted. I felt so guilty! All that processed oil in my everyday food!
The more I discovered, the more I realized how little I knew about how cooking oil affects the body.
Processed oil is responsible for so many health issues – obesity, constipation, inflammation, heart attacks, and more.
And yet, the information you read on websites and news articles is really so confusing and overwhelming.
Are cold pressed sesame oil and coconut oil safe? Is olive oil as healthy as nutritionists claim?. And what about using “just a little oil’. Vloggers and sharers of recipes suggest 4 to 5 tablespoon of oil per pound of vegetables. Doctors and nutritionists urge folks to include oil in their diets, as oil fat is essential in the absorption of some vitamins, and the healthy functioning of cells and tissues.
So what’s the truth?
Our modern diet and lifestyle is driving the upsurge in diabetes, heart disease, and blood pressure. The reality is that oils have extremely low nutritive value. Both the monounsaturated and saturated fat they contain is harmful to the endothelium, the innermost layer of the artery, and that injury is a gateway to vascular disease.
So it doesn’t matter if it’s olive oil, coconut oil, or canola – my takeaway is to avoid all oil. And since diabetes and heart disease run in my family, I made an intentional decision to drastically cut back on oil in my everyday cooking.
At first, it was hard. I automatically reached for the oil when I started cooking. I had to really make a conscious effort to stop myself!
Magically, my WhatsApp group delivered. They shared amazing pictures of oil-free recipes and dishes.
In the span of few months I was cooking up a storm of tasty, zero-oil dishes, from upma to masala vadas, and cookies to cakes. No unhealthy oil!
Now, I’m on a roll. Here’s how.
In delicious cakes and cookies, I substitute applesauce and banana for oil .
I get healthy fats from fresh coconut, guacamole, almonds, walnuts and sesame seeds. My zero-oil channa masala and rotis are delicious. To sauté onions, I just use a tablespoon or two of water instead! Going oil-free has helped me to explore so many interesting food items and cooking techniques . Fortunately, my family loves it too!
I’m simply awed by the tasty and nutritious dishes I can make without a drop of oil!
Growing up, I loved deep-fried peanuts and spicy lentils. Now I simply roast sprouted green gram, channa dal and peanuts in the oven, and while it’s still warm, I mix in chili powder and salt. Yummy! My husband couldn’t believe it had no oil at all!
Studies show that Indian Americans have high rate of heart disease. In fact many vegetarians assume that they are thriving on a healthy diet, even though their food is rich in carbohydrates, fats, cholesterol and sugar. Sugar and all-purpose flour are white poison. I realize that cooking oil is colorless poison.
Once or twice in a week, I use cold-pressed sesame or peanut oil as they offer a healthier option than highly processed vegetable oils. Occasionally, I have a deep fried treat, during festivals and on special occasions, but no longer need to open my chakali box!
My mindful eating habits have produced a happy result – fortunately, I no longer suffer from knee pain and my weight has stabilized. I know my new plant-based diet with zero oil, and thirty minutes of exercise, is playing a pivotal role in my leading a healthy lifestyle.
Kumudha Venkatesan is based in Atlanta and often writes about the vegan lifestyle and spirituality.
I was raised in India as a vegetarian and our family’s diet excluded meat. We did consume a lot of dairy products, mostly milk, yogurt and ghee, and eggs if they happened to be in store-bought cakes. When I entered my teens, my skin broke out into really bad cystic acne. My mother took me to all kinds of doctors, to no avail. Finally, a naturopath suggested to me that I should try avoiding milk products. My mother would not hear of it! Among Indians, it is a long-held belief that milk products are essential for good health. However, when I moved to the US and away from my family, I decided to try avoiding milk products. Immediately, my skin started breaking out far less. So, even before I knew what the word “vegan” meant, I became one.
As a graduate student in the nineties, completely avoiding dairy was hard since I did not always have control over the ingredients that went into my food. I was on antibiotics for several years to keep the flare-ups under control. This was problematic. Eventually, the disease would periodically become resistant to some antibiotics and I would have to be switched to another.
Even after all the medical interventions, I found that my skin continued to react to dairy. When my life became more settled, I finally had the time and the resources to control what I ate and take care of my skin without medications. Today, I have been vegan for almost 26 years. I have remained vegan and healthy through many life events – two successful pregnancies (my gynecologists were not concerned in the least).
Today, I look back on my cystic acne problem as a blessing in disguise. Without this issue, I never would have found out about the health benefits of a dairy-free diet. Over time, as the plant-based movement became more prominent, I also learned more about how cows are treated in dairy farms. Prior to this, I had the notion that cows lived idyllic lives grazing on green pastures suckling their young.
What I’ve learned since then has horrified me. Dairy cows are continually subjected to forced insemination to stay pregnant and lactating. They live in cramped, often sordid, living quarters, and their constantly-used udders often become infected and bloody. Most distressing, they suffer the cruelty of losing their young ones who are snatched away almost immediately after giving birth. Many calves are slaughtered as babies since they are considered “waste products” of the dairy industry. I was stunned to discover the eventual fate of the mother cows; once their milk production declines, they are also sent to slaughter. A cow’s natural lifespan is 18-20 years; but after repeated impregnations and constant milking, a dairy cow is considered “spent” – the industry term for a useless cow – by the age of 3-5 years old.
I also learned that cows produce an enormous amount of greenhouse gases, which contribute strongly to climate change. According to an article published by the BBC, in 2015, the dairy industry’s emissions were equivalent to more than 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2! This makes up around 3.4% of the total of all human-made greenhouse gases. This means that dairy’s contribution to global warming is comparable to that of all aviation and shipping combined (which are 1.9% and 1.7% respectively)! Also, in order to grow food for livestock, prairies, wetlands and forests are being cleared. This makes livestock raising the number one cause of deforestation, which is also a leading contributor to climate change.
So, here is my message to my fellow South Asians.
Some of you feel that dairy is an essential food for health, or maybe you possibly worry about being deficient in key nutrients such as calcium if you avoid dairy.
What I would like you to know is that consuming dairy is absolutely unnecessary for human health.
In fact, recent studies have linked dairy consumption with a number of major health problems, including heart disease, breast cancer, obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses. It is possible to get all the calcium, protein, and other essential nutrients you need while eating a healthy, balanced, and cruelty-free plant-based diet. These days, delicious non-dairy milk such as oat, hazelnut, cashew, soy, almond, and hemp, as well as non-dairy cheeses and yogurt, can be purchased from most grocery stores. All you need to do is to try some of these non-dairy products, find the ones you like, and stick with them for about a month. After this, your taste buds begin to adapt and you eventually lose the desire for dairy products. There are also tutorials on YouTube on how to make your own plant-based milk and yogurts at home. I urge everyone to entertain the thought of going vegan! And I know you can make it work for you. Do it for yourself, for the cows, and for our Mother Earth.
Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!
I’ve always believed that using freshly ground spices elevates a meal, even everyday food, so I blend whatever combo a recipe calls for almost daily. My trusty Secura grinder stays on the countertop, at attention. However, this daily grind is not always the best option, especially now, when we are all working from home and eating multiple meals a day. Slaving, even for a few hours, in the kitchen is a thing of the past.
However, I wasn’t really enthralled by what I found in the supermarket or at my local Indian store. Buying a jar of McCormick’s Perfect Pinch Cajun seasoning or Shan’s Chana Masala was anathema. How long had it been sitting there, I wondered? When we peruse supermarket spices, do we really think about freshness in the real sense of the word?
My best bet was to buy from a company with the shortest supply chain possible—ideally, one that sources spices straight from their origin and sells them directly to the consumer. Freshly ground, small-batch spices and blends with clarity of flavor and no additives. To my surprise, I didn’t really find too many places selling them, but I did find a renewed interest in single-origin spices. Individuals that had formed small companies with a strong commitment to social and economic equity, promoting sustainable agricultural practices and supporting the just treatment of farmworkers and food pricing that provides the farmers with a livable income. Once I tasted these, I was hooked! Flavorful, fresh, high-quality spices…now there’s no looking back.
So, during this holiday season, a very different one due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are still plenty of ways to make the evening feel special for you and your family. Whether it’s a Zoom dinner with friends or a nice sit down with the people you live with, here are some recipes that are quick and easy showstoppers.
Roasted Cauliflower Soup
1 large head of cauliflower chopped into small pieces
16 spring onions, cut into thin angled matchsticks
Start with the tofu. Cut into thin cubes and toss them in corn flour or rice flour. I use a combination of both, I find the rice flour gives it a nice crunch. Shallow fry or air fry till they are crispy and golden on all sides.
In a separate pan, add butter. Once it melts, add the shallots, chilies, garlic, and ginger. Sauté on low to medium heat till they turn soft.
Add the soy sauces, caster sugar, and crushed black pepper. Stir to mix.
Add the tofu to warm it up in the sauce for about a minute. Stir in the spring onions.
Inspired by the recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty
1 cup dry chana (chole)
2 tea bags (earl grey or any black tea that you have)
Soak the chole in water overnight till they double in volume.
Add them to your Instant Pot or pressure cooker. Add the tea leaves, salt, baking soda, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves.
Cook the chole over high heat for about 5 whistles, or 14 mins in IP. Once done allow the pressure to release naturally.
Once the pressure is released open the cooker and remove the tea bags and all the other whole spices. Discard.
Strain the chole, mash them a bit. Make sure to keep the water, we will use it as it is very fragrant.
In a pan heat some ghee, add the ajwain and jeera seeds, once they crackle add the tomato puree and the pureed onion. Cook for a few mins till the raw smell is gone.
Add the Chana masala, tamarind pulp, and 1 cup of the reserved water.
If you want some more gravy in the chole then add another ½ cup of water and cook on high flame for 2-3 minutes.
In a small pan oil, once hot add the finely chopped garlic and green chilies. Be sure to watch carefully as garlic burns very fast.
Once the garlic turns golden brown, add the red chili powder and cook for another 30 seconds.
Pour this tadka over the chole. Garnish with julienned ginger and cilantro. Serve Hot.
3 Ingredient Almond Cookies-Flourless almond butter cookies
1 cup Almond Butter (I use homemade)
6 tbsp sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten (to make it eggless: reduce the sugar and add half a banana)
In a medium bowl, mix the almond butter, sugar, and egg until well combined.
Take a small cookie scoop or a large tablespoon and spoon the mixture 1 inch apart onto baking sheets.
Flatten the mounds with the tines of a fork, making a crosshatch pattern on the cookies.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 mins.
Easy Lemon Cookie
Makes 12 large or 16 small
18.25 ounces lemon cake mix
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon
powdered sugar for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Pour cake mix into a large bowl. Stir in eggs, oil, lemon juice, and zest until well blended.
Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, or up to an hour
Form dough into small balls and roll them in confectioners’ sugar till lightly covered.
Line a cookie sheet with greased parchment paper. Place balls an inch apart.
Bake for 6 to 9 minutes in the preheated oven. The bottoms will be light brown, and the insides chewy.
Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: email@example.com
In early September, I joined my husband as he went back to his village in Palakkad, Kerala, after a ten-year hiatus. He had grown up in Palakkad in a large joint family with his grandmother, mother, brother, and sisters along with several uncles, aunts, and cousins, with about twenty-five family members under one roof. His grandmother’s home looked exactly as it did over fifty years ago. The kitchen had seen a makeover, but if the walls could speak, they would tell stories of the people who lived there—sons, daughters, cousins, grandchildren, marriages, births and deaths, celebrations and feasts all held under the watchful eye of his grandmother, the benevolent family matriarch. Her integrity and strength were the foundation on which this home had been built and sustained.
The village consisted of some 100 plus row houses with clay tile roofs arrayed on the sides of a single road. The library was situated across the road from his ancestral home; the village pond was sure to fill up during the monsoons, and there were two temples at walking distance. My husband had spent many hours in that small library, reading all that he could lay hands on.
As we were walking to his aunt’s house, a man with a toothless, smiling face walked towards us. He looked like he had jumped out of the pages of R.K Narayan’s Malgudi Days. This tall thin man with thick glasses had a large man bun right on top of his conical head. His bare chest was disproportionate to his large tummy, and a white dhoti was tied around his small waist. “This is Ramu,” my husband said, a.k.a. “Kozhimuttai Ramu” as he was affectionately called by everyone in the village. “Kozhimuttai” literally translates into a hen’s egg. “Without him, I wouldn’t have passed my GRE exams and made it to America,” my husband reminiscences. “He was the head of the library, and he had the power to either let me in or keep me out—from Western novels to Wilbur Smith, from Perry Masons and Robert Ludlums to stacks of Reader’s Digests, encyclopedias and more, it was he who gave me the access.” Thank You Mr. Ramu for helping this man dream big, even as he grew up in this small village, I thought to myself.
Then there was Nallepilly Ayappan, who lived an hour away. He was a homeopathic doctor who treated children with issues from malnutrition to manic depression. He took time to share his extensive library of books and was full of interesting insights that made an impact on a teenager, eager for a sense of direction. His home had served as a quiet getaway. As I stood in Ayyappan’s backyard looking at the papaya and jackfruit trees, hibiscus, and pumpkin trails, he told me, “write about the panikoorka plants, they have so much healing power.”
So, this Thanksgiving, who are the Ramus and Ayyappans that have impacted your life in myriad ways? Who would you want to call or write and say two special words—Yours Thankfully!
As you think about who you plan to reach out to, here are some interesting recipes with papayas, jackfruit, and pumpkin for your Thanksgiving meal.
Ripe Papaya, Avocado, Cherry
Tomato Salad Ingredients 1 medium ripe papaya seeded and cubed 1 avocado peeled, seeded and cubed 10 yellow cherry tomatoes halved 1 Persian cucumber sliced 1 green chill minced
Dressing 1 teaspoon ginger 1 lime juice 1 teaspoon chaat masala powder Salt and black pepper to taste
Whisk the ingredients in the dressing together and reserve it in a small bowl. Place the papaya cubes, tomatoes, avocado, chili, and cucumber in a large serving bowl and refrigerate it. Right before serving, mix in the dressing, and adjust the seasonings to taste.
Jackfruit and Pumpkin Chili
This is an interesting recipe that requires a good quality root beer. This is a recipe that meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans can enjoy.
Ingredients 1 can green jackfruit, drained, washed and chopped ½ can pumpkin puree 1 tablespoon oil 1 clove 1 cinnamon stick 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon cumin seeds 1 large red onion minced 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste 3 tomatoes chopped fine 2 green chilies minced ½ teaspoon turmeric 1 teaspoon garam masala powder 1 teaspoon coriander powder ½ teaspoon cayenne Salt to taste 1 cup root beer ¼ cup water
Garnish: Cilantro chopped and sour cream (optional for vegans)
Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the clove, cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, and bay leaf. Add ginger-garlic paste and minced onion and sauté till brown. Then add the tomatoes, green chili, turmeric, garam masala powder, coriander powder, and salt to taste. Add the jackfruit and cook for 2-3 minutes with a little water. Once the jackfruit is soft and cooked, add the root beer and pumpkin puree and let it stew for another 10 minutes on low heat. Check and adjust seasonings. Serve hot with chopped cilantro and a dollop of sour cream.
Spicy Papaya, Pineapple Sangria
This is a great drink for the early afternoon before the Thanksgiving meal. The serrano can make it too spicy if you leave it for too long. If you can find edible dry hibiscus flower you can cook it in simple syrup and add it to the sangria. It gives it a sweet flower taste.
Ingredients ½ cup sugar ¼ cup water 1 bottle white wine (like Riesling) 1 ripe papaya chopped 1 cup ripe pineapple chopped 1 serrano chili slit Basil leaves for garnish
Heat the sugar and water and make it into a simple syrup. Place the chopped papaya and pineapple in a large serving pitcher. Add the white wine and simple syrup and mix. Add the serrano chili and refrigerate for a few hours. Remove the serrano in an hour if you don’t want it spicy. It gets spicier as you steep it longer. Serve cold with ice cubes and basil leaves.
Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team-building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area.
This article was first published in November 2017.