Indian food is a real favourite of mine. I have always had a real weakness for luxurious coconut curries and rich balti’s with biryani, crisp poppadoms and of course, sweet peshwari naan.
Before I became vegan, a visit to an Indian restaurant was a common affair. Even the dishonorable ‘take away’ made plenty of appearances on my dinner plate. It tasted good. It was addictive. It was easy.
Becoming vegan has been a lot more than simply a decision to remove all animal derived foods from my diet. It was quite easy being a vegetarian, food packaging was labelled. If it said it was suitable for vegetarians, I could eat it. A vegetable korma from my local take away was vegetarian (and tasted amazing) so I would eat it.
Veganism, however, is not as easy. It’s not difficult, but it requires a more in depth consideration of what you are going to eat. Most packaged foods do not label vegan suitability, even if they are. It is starting to become a bit more common now in some supermarkets for their own brand products, but for the most part, you study the ingredients.
The early days of my change to a vegan diet, saw me needing to book an afternoon slot in my diary for a food shop. I examined the ingredients list of every food item I picked up before putting it in the trolley. I found a lot of the time, it was pointless. Why? Because the ingredients list may as well have been written in Martian.
What the hell are ‘Mono- and Di-Acetyl tartaric Esters of Mono- and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids’ in the loaf of bread I wanted to buy or Carboxymethylcellulose and Monosodium glutamate in my packet of dried noodles and what exactly are ‘natural flavourings’? Besides what they are, where do they come from? Are they animal derived?
So, I was led to question these alien ingredients and in the meantime refrain from eating anything I wasn’t sure of. I became so curious, I bought food additive guides and a fabulous A-Z guide of animal ingredients. I knew about food additives existing and even being bad for our health, but I’d never given this much thought to their presence until now. I’ve always considered myself as someone who eats relatively well. I didn’t see myself as someone who ate a lot of processed foods, I certainly avoided ready made meals and microwave meals and my weekly shop mainly consisted of fresh fruits and vegetables and grains. However, I’d failed to realise that even my loaf of multiseed bread and plain dried noodles were harbouring some unpronounceable components, foods I didn’t consider all that ‘processed’. Besides, the heath concerns of many (all?) food additives, how does the conscientious consumer know where these strange things come from? How many people know that an insect is boiled alive to make their strawberry laces rosy red? Even worse, ingredients lists often state ‘flavour enhancer’ – this could be many things, including Disodium inosinate made from animal or plant sources. We are left guessing. Or we book not just the afternoon for the food shop, but the entire day so that we make a call to each manufacturer every metre of the supermarket aisle.
The simple solution is to avoid all prepackaged foods containing the funny words. I have a strange habit of scanning people’s trolleys at the supermarket. I often find I feel proud that my trolley is packed with fresh vegetables and whole foods whilst many around me stock up from the ready meals and convenience sections. However, the reality is that I still have that vegetable bouillon in my basket and bottle of soy sauce, labelled premium yet laden with MSG. So who am I to judge? So many unapparent products are spiked.
Am I ashamed to admit all this? In a way, yes. Do I need some of the products I buy? No, of course I don’t. But I am human and I enjoy soy sauce with my noodles. I am ashamed that we are limited to these options however. We are limited by our budgets, why should we have to pay more money to not have to consume the crap? For many of us, it’s not even a choice we can make, we simply can’t afford the organic, all natural versions. We are limited by our locations and accessibility. My local supermarket certainly doesn’t stock the natural ingredients that the nearest health foods shop 12 miles away does. Worst of all, we are limited by our knowledge and understanding.
Had I known then what I know now, I may have reconsidered those fat swimming, flavour enhancer encompassing curries. No wonder they tasted so good, some guy in a lab tricked my taste buds in to it.
Nowadays, unless I can find a natural, vegan Indian food outlet. My curries are made by myself in my kitchen. They are made of food. And they taste good. They taste homemade, still luxurious and rich, just honestly instead of chemically.
Veganism has opened my eyes to food in its entirety. It has made me think before I put in trolley and mouth. It has also inspired me to cook more of the things I used to leave to the take away.
Like this peshwari naan bread. No thank you sugar filled, ghee slathered restaurant naan. This homemade version has got it all – minus the nonessentials. Naturally sweet with fruity figs, coconutty, and extravagant.
Makes 4-6 breads depending how large you make them.
- 70g desiccated coconut
- 40g dried fig (about 2 large)
- 1.5 teaspoons coconut sugar (or sugar of choice)
- 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
- 50g solid creamed coconut (not coconut cream)
- 250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 115ml non-dairy milk
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- Start by making the dough. Sift together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a bowl and make a well. Mix the milk and oil together in a jug then pour into the well.
- Slowly mix together the dough by working from the centre and incorporating the flour from the edges of the well until you have a smooth, soft dough. Knead for 8-10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes in a mixer with a dough hook, (adding a little flour if the dough is too sticky) until the dough is smooth.
- Place in a lightly oil sprayed bowl, cover with a damp tea-towel and leave in a warm place for at least an hour, until the dough has doubled in size. Then knock back and form into 4-6 equal-sized balls.
- Whilst the dough is resting you can prepare the filling. In a food processor, pulse together the desiccated coconut, figs, sugar and nigella seeds until the mixture forms a coarse powder then pulse in the creamed coconut until crumbled and incorporated. Divide into 4-6 equal portions.
- Place a griddle pan onto the highest heat on the stove.
- Roll out a portion of dough into a thick circle. Fill half of the circle with a portion of filling leaving about a one-inch margin around the edge. Wet the dough around the edges with a little water and fold the circle in half to enclose the filling. Pinch the dough around the edges to close.
- Gently roll out into a teardrop or oval shape then place onto the hot griddle for about a minute or two each side until coloured. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Serve hot.