Wake Up Vegan Meals With Indian Fare

Jul 2, 2012
Originally published on July 2, 2012 2:40 pm

Anupy Singla wants to spice up your vegan diet with some Indian flare.

"If you look at Indian cuisine," the food writer tells NPR's Michel Martin, "it really is one of the only cuisines that highlights vegetarian food, so it's not a far stretch."

Singla's latest cookbook is Vegan Indian Cooking: 140 Simple and Healthy Vegan Recipes. A mother of two, Singla was born in India and now lives in Chicago. She was inspired to cook at age 10, when her paternal grandfather, visiting from his tiny village in Punjab, taught her how to cook eggplant "properly," and she has been cooking ever since.

"Americans are seeking more and more flavor," Singla says. "[That's] precisely why in America now folks just cannot get enough of Indian cuisine — especially when they also learn of the many health benefits of the spices."

Singla says misconceptions about Indian food run rampant. It doesn't have to be spicy, she says, and it's anything but heavy and unhealthy. In fact, she contends that Indian spices can treat everything from a common cold to a stomachache and even help heal broken bones.

Several years ago, Singla gave up a career as a TV reporter to focus on her culinary career. Her food stories have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago-Sun Times. Her first cookbook was The Indian Slow Cooker.

Anupy Singla blogs about her culinary journey on

Chickpea Poppers

Yield: 4 cups

4 cups cooked chickpeas, or 2 (12-ounce) cans chickpeas

1 tablespoon masala (garam, chaat, chana, or sambhar — also, feel free to substitute any other spice blend from Chinese to Italian)

2 teaspoons coarse sea salt

2 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon red chili powder, cayenne or paprika

1. Set an oven rack at the highest position and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum for easy cleanup.

2. Drain the chickpeas in a large colander for about 15 minutes to get rid of as much moisture as possible. If using canned, rinse first.

3. In a large bowl, gently mix together the first four ingredients.

4. Arrange the seasoned chickpeas in a single layer on the baking sheet.

5. Cook for 15 minutes. Carefully take the tray out of the oven, mix gently so that the chickpeas cook evenly, and cook another 10 minutes.

6. Let cool for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the red chili, cayenne or paprika.

Street Corn Salad/Bhutta

Yield: 4 cups

4 ears corn, husked and cleaned

Juice of 1 medium lemon

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1 teaspoon black salt (kala namak)

1 teaspoon chaat masala

1 teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne

1. Roast the corn until slightly charred. This can be done many ways. I simply do it right on my stove top. I have gas burners, so I turn them to medium-high and roast 2 ears at a time, turning them slightly as they roast. If you have an electric stove, you can do the same, but put a small metal rack over your burner so that the corn does not sit directly on it and make a mess. If you don't want to go this route (though I find it to be the simplest), you can roast the corn on a grill.

2. Remove the kernels from the corn. Either use a fancy gadget designed for this purpose, or do as I do: Take a serrated knife, hold the cob with one hand and work your way carefully down the length of the cob with the knife.

3. Put the corn kernels in a bowl and mix in all the other ingredients. Serve immediately.

Try This! If you truly want to go traditional, put the spices in a small plate, and serve the ears of corn whole, accompanied by the spices and a lemon half. Have your guests pat the lemon (flat side down) in the plate of spices and rub the spiced lemon down their corn cobs until all of the corn is seasoned. Squeeze the lemon slightly as you go down the length of the corn to give it as much flavor as possible.

Note: If you wash the corn first, be sure to dry the cobs completely before putting them on the stovetop, or they will splatter when cooking. I learned this the hard way.

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Switching gears now. You might be thinking about your 4th of July feast. And if you think it has to include meat, meat and more meat, think again. Our next guest is going to tell us why vegan doesn't have to mean boring and tasteless.

Anupy Singla was born in India and lives in Chicago. A number of years ago she gave up a career as a TV reporter to focus on her culinary career. Her food stories have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. Her first cookbook, "The Indian Slow Cooker," is a top seller on And now she's back with another cookbook. It's called "Vegan Indian Cooking: 140 Simple and Healthy Vegan Recipes." And Anupy Singla joins us now from member station WBEZ in Chicago.

Welcome. Welcome back, I should say.

ANUPY SINGLA: Thank you so. It's great to be here.

MARTIN: And, of course, there's a long tradition of vegan cuisine in Indian cooking. But why did you, who was raised here, turn to vegan cookery?

SINGLA: Sure. Several years ago, I'd say about 15 years ago, I wasn't feeling so great. I was getting my graduate degree at the East-West Center in Hawaii, and that's not a place not to feel well. I just felt tired and lacking in energy and I went to a naturopath and she suggested pull out the dairy, pull out the meat from your day-to-day. I wasn't eating much at the time. My family has a history of being vegetarian Indian but not necessarily vegan. But I listened to her for a period of a couple of months and I felt great. And so ever since I've been, I have to say, vegan-ish. I'm not dogmatic about the way I eat. I don't really advertise it. I don't wear it on my sleeve. I don't really talk about it a lot, because I don't like food labels, but I do like to share the fact that there's different ways to eat on any given day for folks.

MARTIN: And vegan simply means what? A mainly plant-based diet, no dairy, certainly no meat, but not dairy either?

SINGLA: Right. No dairy. No eggs. Nothing that came from an animal source. And as I like to repeat, Mark Bittman's saying peanut butter and jelly is vegan. So vegan doesn't have to be an outlandish sort of concept. Just pull out the meats, the chicken, the turkey, the red meats, as well as the eggs and the dairy.

MARTIN: What's the biggest misconceptions that people have about vegan?

SINGLA: Well, I think one of the biggest is there's really nothing to eat. If you turn vegan, what do you eat? And what I wanted to do through this book is talk about the fact that there so many different options if you use spices in the right way. And if you look at Indian cuisine, it really is one of the only cuisines that highlights vegetarian food, so it's not a far stretch to take it that one step and go vegan.

And another misconception is that folks that write books about veganism want to change you. And I just want to say I don't want to change anybody. I just want folks to be really open to the possibilities of another way to eat and the possibility of eating real food. You don't have to put fake meat on your plate to enjoy your meal.

MARTIN: As I mentioned, we're thinking about the 4th of July, and there a lot of, you know, family picnics and family get-togethers. And you can imagine where some people might say, well, gee, this is great for me serve at home, but if I'm going to like a family get-together or a picnic I want to have something that everybody is going to eat - particularly kids. And you have kids. Can you identify a couple of recipes that you think might be great for that family get-together that you're pretty sure people of all ages, even your picky eaters, would probably enjoy?

SINGLA: Oh, absolutely. My kids love this one recipe in the book called Chickpea Poppers, and it's essentially chickpeas that were spiced with a little bit of Indian spice, a little bit of oil, some sea salt, and then they're baked in the oven. So it's almost like chips, so you just pick them up with your hand. There's no sauce there or anything like that. You can make a bowl of those.

I also have a couple of really fun homemade veggie burgers. I find the store-bought veggie burgers just don't have a lot of flavor and taste. But I have one that's made from a garbanzo bean, so a white chickpea. I've got lots of fun other recipes, like a Punjabi Cabbage, almost like a stir-fry, kind of like a coleslaw but using Indian spices. So there's so many fun, easy recipes in this book that everybody, including kids, will love.

MARTIN: What about people who worry about not getting enough protein, particularly if they're raising kids? And if you cut the dairy out, if you cut the meat out, they're worried about getting enough calcium and worried about getting enough protein.

SINGLA: Well, you know, and that's a great question. I think we're really at a pivotal point in terms of understanding how much protein our bodies actually need on a day-to-day basis. We - I'm not a nutritionist, so I never pretend to be one on TV either, but it's worth, you know, Googling, researching how much you actually need every day and it's probably less than what you think, so that's one thing. The other part of it is protein can be found in lentils, beans, tofu is a great one, satans out there as well. There's so many vegan options on protein.

MARTIN: If you're joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with cookbook author Anupy Singla. Her latest is called "Vegan Indian Cooking: 140 Simple and Healthy Vegan Recipes."

And when you say simple, you really do mean simple. Because when I just flipped the book open, one recipe that just kind of fell open was for cashew cream. Tell us about that.

SINGLA: Well, it's a fun little find. I was at a raw food restaurant here in Chicago that's pretty well-known and they made this raw cashew cream sauce for linguine. And I begged the waiter to tell me how he made it and it's a really simply soaked cashews overnight. You take them and you grind them. Preferably you have a high-powered blender like a Vitamix, and you've got a cream that mimics dairy. So I'll take that and if I'm making Alfredo sauce I'll put it in there. If I'm making my mushroom curry, I'll put that in there instead of regular dairy creams. So now you've got an option for something that's not dairy, not heavy.

Of course, you know, cashews being nuts you have to be careful about the calorie counts and the fat levels and all of that, but at least you have one more option. And another thing that a lot of folks don't realize is when you take nuts and you soak them, you also increase their protein levels and also make them more digestible. You're releasing certain enzymes that help with your body to digest foods like that. So my book is not just about giving you great fun recipes, it's also explaining some of the science behind these foods, behind spices, why they're good for you and why you want to include them in your day-to-day.

MARTIN: For example, you have as a breakfast item soaked almonds.

SINGLA: It's so funny. We were just talking...

MARTIN: Which I thought was hilarious when I first saw that, but...


SINGLA: It is hilarious. But you know, South Asians, we grew up, especially folks from North India, having almonds that are soaked overnight - just in plain water - sitting on the table and we're forced to eat them in the morning. And I say forced just kind of laughingly because we love eating them. My kids, I'm raising them to eat more Indian food that anything else, and that's why I quit my job as a reporter to really focus on the way they eat every morning. We take our soaked almonds. They have to eat one almond per every year of their age. So my nine and seven-year-old have nine almonds for the older one, seven for the younger one. And I don't really have almonds according to my age. I've gone past that certain point, Michel. So...


MARTIN: I wasn't going to ask.

SINGLA: Exactly. But essentially, that's what we do. And in the morning that's what they have. It's a little protein boost. Obviously folks listening, be cognizant of nut allergies.

MARTIN: I understand that you feel - I know that you're not making extravagant claims about the health benefits of going vegan. But you have found that some home remedies are really helpful, at least at making people more comfortable. Could you just give us one or two of those? For people who are going on those car trips or staying in sort of drafty hotels on their summer vacation, what do you find is effective and works well?

SINGLA: Absolutely. Yeah. There's a lot of things that do work. And again, you've got to try them, see how it balances, you know, for your day-to-day and use them, use what works for you. But there's great things like turmeric. If you really understand what turmeric does and how it helps- it's a spice. It's that bright yellow spice that many often find in a curry powder that kind of gives it its color. But there is an element in it called curcumin that is being studied right now for the possible effects of preventing Alzheimer's, the onset of Alzheimer's disease. And it also is an anti-inflammatory. So for example, if I get up in the morning, I feel that I have a cough coming on, what I'll do is I'll take a hot cup of water, put a tea bag, black tea bag in there, a little bit of coarse sea salt, some turmeric and gargle with it. I'll do that a couple of times in that day, I'll feel better.

You can take a clove of garlic. If you feel a little bit sick, chop it up, mince it, swallow with water, don't even have to chew it. You can take, if you have a cough, ginger, and you can grind that ginger, squeeze that water out of there, mix it with a little bit of a honey and drink it down. And I have to say, my kids run into the kitchen, they actually mince garlic for me or for themselves or take ginger and grate it themselves and ask for that as a remedy before we go to the medications. I'm not saying don't do the medications, but if there's a way day-to-day that you can offset that with healthier means, then that is, I think, what you should go for and use what works best for you in your day-to-day.

MARTIN: So what are you serving for the 4th?


MARTIN: Make us jealous.

SINGLA: Well...

MARTIN: I know you're going to roast some corn. I know that you have a recipe for roasted corn.

SINGLA: Yeah. Yeah. Roasted corn...

MARTIN: Super easy. Just throw it on those burners...

SINGLA: Lots of.,.

MARTIN: Gas burners, not electric ones. I just wanted to...

SINGLA: Exactly. We're going to throw some black salt in there for some spices, some red chili powder, some lemon juice, and then we'll do some veggie burgers. And Michel, a little secret between you and I is that my husband is not vegan. I think he went vegan for one meal about three months ago. I was trying to get him to try it but he likes meat, so we're going to do some, you know, chicken burgers for him, Tandoori style, maybe some other Tandoori chicken on the grill as well. So like I said, there's a place for everyone at the table and there's a place for vegan too. So we're going to mix it up a little bit for the 4th.

MARTIN: All right. Anupy Singla. Her latest book is called "Vegan Indian Cooking: 140 Simple and Healthy Vegan Recipes." And she was kind enough to join us from member station WBEZ In Chicago.

Thanks so much for joining us today. Next time, could you bring something for us to eat, please?


SINGLA: Absolutely. You got it. Thank you.

MARTIN: And just a reminder, that if you want to check out some of the recipes we've been talking about, you can go to and search for TELL ME MORE on the Programs tab.


MARTIN: And we were talking about special days earlier. This is an exceptionally special day for our program because four new stations are joining our listening family, Atlanta's WABE, WGBH in Boston, and two Florida stations, WLRN in Miami and WUFT, Gainesville - we welcome you all.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.