The real title of this blog should be "Food Blog Hero Q&A with Holy Cow Vegan: Vegan Indian Food You Didn't Know You Crave...But Must Tackle Immediately."
Recently, I was lucky enough to pick the brain of one of my favorite food bloggers, Vaishali of Holy Cow Vegan. Her tantalizing vegan recipes (many of them Indian) run the spectrum from signature Bombay street food, Misal (If you're not familiar, heck, even if you are, run, don't walk) to banana coffee cake with chocolate streusel (both pictured below, courtesy of author). Her blog makes pulling off seemingly-complicated dishes approachable and fun, and her recipes never fail to introduce me to a brilliant flavor-pairing (zucchini for dessert, who knew?) or clever ways to spike a dish with not-your-average-spice-rack spices.
1. What's your favorite vegetable to cook with and why? Is there a secret-weapon veggie you use to slip into salads or soups or entrees that makes it super special?
"I love cooking with most vegetables, but mushrooms are definitely one of my favorites. Although they've not been part of traditional Indian cooking, mushrooms go with virtually anything -- I've tried them in curries, dals, sabzis (Indian side dishes) and even stuffed them in a paratha. I also love how mushrooms of all kinds contribute rich textures to vegan cooking. And they're super-good for you, which is a huge bonus."
2. What are your tips for ordering vegan Indian food when out? It can get tricky sometime! Is non-vegan? Any tips for decoding a menu or how to ask a waiter to make a non-vegan dish (say a stew made with ghee or dairy) vegan-friendly? Any vegan desserts on menus when eating out?
"I am not one of those vegans who will quiz a waiter about every last ingredient, especially when I am eating out with friends. The reason is that I don't want to make a vegan lifestyle appear ridiculously unattainable to others. I usually ask the waiter if there is any ghee or cream in a vegetarian dish like a dal and if they say no, I will eat it. You might not always get dishes like dals and stews made to order because the ghee is part of the base when the dish is cooked, but with breads you have a little more leeway, since they will most often make them fresh for you and the ghee, in most cases, goes on the bread at the very end. It's a little tough to get vegan Indian desserts in restaurants since Indian sweets are almost always milk-based, but jalebis are an option, if available. They are swirly yellow sweets made of chickpea flour and dunked in sugar syrup. They are delicious."
3. What's your favorite vegan Indian dish that anyone can (and should!) add to their repertoire of dinner options?
"Most vegans are really into dals when it comes to Indian foods, but I'd encourage them to try more curries made with vegetables and often a coconut and spice base, like My Dad's Not-Mutton Mushroom Curry. While dals are wonderful for adding protein into your meal, curries like this one really perk up the taste buds and are a great introduction to the rich, varied cuisine of India."
4. What advice would you offer to aspiring food bloggers?
"I'd advise them to blog with love. There are a zillion food blogs out there today, each one better looking than the next and SEO'd to the eyeballs, but when I think of great food blogging I always hark back to the early days when bloggers wrote about foods they cooked at home for the people they loved and why they created them, rather than just cook and post the hottest thing on Google Trends. I might be old-fashioned, but I think blogs that really engage you and have a personality are the ones that pull in and retain a loyal following. And here's one more piece of advice: Check your grammar before you hit "publish." :) You don't have to be a great writer, but there's nothing as off-putting as a post with spelling and grammatical errors."
*proofreads three times*
If I had to pick, Vaishali's grain dishes are probably some of my favorites, and she's been kind enough to let me share the photo of one of my favorites, Tawa Pulao. A serious treat for your senses and time-saver on weeknights. Get the recipe here.