I was born in a vegetarian household and grew up with only vegetarian food, so technically this should have been my first book. When I wrote Italian Khana and Travelling Diva, my mother was proud of me, but never bothered to open either book because they were not vegetarian cookbooks. Now, finally, I have a book that will make her both proud and happy. Better late than never!
Everyone in my family is fond of food, and along with our staple Indian food, we ate a lot of European, Middle Eastern and Asian food. The authenticity of the dishes was another story altogether, for they were normally prepared by the maharaj who followed the cookbooks given to him, substituting ingredients willy-nilly. The epitome of ‘continental food’ while I was growing up was macaroni baked with Amul cheese and vegetables.
The day I started experimenting with cooking, I knew that I would be willing to eat everything. For one, I was curious and wanted to know more about the styles of cooking meats and fish, and secondly, the vegetarian cookbooks available at the time were a total disaster. The ones published in India had Indianized versions of recipes from all over the world, substituting pane er for most cheeses and using overly sweet tomato puree for any pasta sauce. As for cookbooks published abroad, they only tackled the vegetables and did not treat them as we vegetarians did. For many years after that I was a pure carnivore. In fact, my friends who were not vegetarians laughed at me and said I was more of a meat-eater than they were. But as I get older, I find vegetarian food more delicious, more wholesome and more uplifting. As they say, you really cannot get away from your roots.
At all my restaurants, the vegetarian section of the menu is fairly large because I suffered a lot as a vegetarian while travelling abroad. I remember going to a restaurant called La Tour D’argent in Paris, France, where the chef first told me I should go elsewhere if I was a vegetarian and then, when he finally gave me a plate of steamed vegetables, he charged me close to 50 euros! My parents told me that in the sixties and seventies, apart from Italian restaurants, ‘Hare Krishna’ temples were the only places in Europe where they could be sure of getting a totally vegetarian meal, without the fear of being served anchovy fish! For most vegetarians it was embarrassing being in a restaurant, because their friends or hosts would be in a fix trying to arrange for something for them to eat.
For many years foreign chefs thought that a vegetarian would only eat vegetables. Even in Italian restaurants, where there is always a large vegetarian selection, if you made the mistake of mentioning that you were a vegetarian they would just shake their heads, and say there was nothing for you. For the life of me I could not understand why these chefs did not understand that vegetarians need a complete meal rather than just a plate of grilled vegetables or steamed kohlrabi. For my first event in Italy, when the caterers proposed ratatouille and grilled mushrooms as vegetarian options for the main course, I did not know how to explain to them that that alone would not make a meal for us.
The situation has changed remarkably over the years, and today a good chef and a good restaurant anywhere in the world will have fabulous complete vegetarian meals on their menu. At Michelin-starred restaurants like Per Se in New York or La Calandre in Padua, Italy, you will be able to enjoy a full vegetarian tasting menu! Recently, for some of the events I have catered, we have had chefs come from all over the world and created extravagant vegetarian menus.
Even now, I am not really a true ‘vegetarian’; I don’t even know what that word exactly means. Some vegetarians don’t eat eggs in any form while others eat them in desserts but not otherwise. Some Americans who call themselves vegetarian say they eat fish. Some vegetarians in India don’t eat garlic and onion. It is a tough one!
But what we do know is that it is time to cut down meats in our diets, not only for the environment but also for our own sakes, to be healthier and feel better about ourselves.
In Diva Green, I have divided the chapters based on how I think of my recipes. There is always one prominent flavour or ingredient and the remaining components of the recipe dance around this cutie so that the hero is presented in the best manner possible. When I think of beetroot, my aim is to create a dish which highlights its uniqueness, so when I make the Pearl Barley Risotto with Beetroot and Goat Cheese, it is not about the risotto or the goat cheese. The hero here is the beetroot. mainly, ingredients I love, some a tad more than others. This also means that I have not been able to cover all vegetables and all ingredients. That’s why vegetables like pumpkin, eggplant, tomato and potato have greater prominence than, let’s say, a fancy vegetable like asparagus. And you will find no recipe that has broccoli because that is one vegetable I truly detest. I should say here that this book cannot be used by a vegetarian who does not eat eggs or is strict about eating Parmesan or other European cheeses which have rennet, an animal product that is used in the production of cheese the world over. My books reflect what I love to cook and what I am good at cooking, and how I see and serve most of my vegetarian guests. However, altogether it contains a large number of starters, soups, entrees and desserts. At the end of the book I have suggested some meal plans for you, to serve at an intimate dinner for two or a grand cocktail for fifty.
The recipes here are simple, straightforward and quick; no fuss, just great food that I love to cook. It just happens that they don’t contain any meat or fish. And, as I always say to all my readers, these recipes are just your guidelines. The real fun of cooking is when you create your own recipes by using your imagination, substituting, adding, deleting ingredients. At the end of the day you want to cook in your individual style; I am just here to point you in the right direction.
Writing this book has made me fall in love with vegetarian food once again and reminded me of the magic simple vegetables can create. I am raring to redo all my restaurant menus and add more vegetarian dishes in there. I feel inspired, and I hope these recipes will inspire you too, to embrace new tastes and methods of preparation.
Warm Caramelized Potato and Onion Salad
Pan-fried Gnocchi with Butter and Leeks
Risotto with Sweet Patato and Mushroom
Sliced Potato and Rosemary Pizza
Potato and Mushroom Tart
Sweet Potato Chupcakes
Pumpkin and Coconut Soup
Pumpkin Salad with Parmesan Cheese Pumpkin Seed Dressing
Pumpkin and Feta Cheese Dip
Tortelli with Pumpkin
Thai Pumpkin Curry
Sweet pumpkin Fritters
Chilled Eggplant Gazpacho
Begun Bhaja (Crispy Eggplant, Bengal-style)
Marinated Eggplant Sandwich
Grilled Eggplant with Pepper and Sesame
Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan in White Sauce)
Mrs M’s Divine Baby Eggplants
Melanzane Sott’olio (Preserved Eggplant)
Grilled Eggplant Salad with Yoghurt and Mint Dressing
Roasted Cherry Tomato Soup
Grilled Tomato Gazpacho
Burmese Tomato Salad
Italian Bread and Tomato Salad
Tomato and Couscous Salad
Kim’s Oriental-style Bruschetta
Pasta with Fresh Cherry Tomatoes and Ricotta
Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart
Carrot And Beetroot
Carrot and Ginger Soup
Beetroot and Green Mango Salad
Carrot and Orange Arancine
Beetroot and Pearl Barley Risotto
Anna’s Carrot Cake
Beetroot, Pineapple and Ginger Cooler
Mushroom and Coconut Soup
Spicy Mushroom Salad
Polenta with Mushroom Ragu
Wok-Fned Mushroom Rolled in Pancakes
Glass Noodles, Asparagus and Papaya Salad
Grapes Dipped in Cheese and Crusted with Nuts
Green Mango and Banana Flower Salad
Roasted Fig and Camembert Bruschetta
Spaghetti with Strawberries
Pear Skillet Cake
Halloumi Skewers with Cherry Tomatos and Onions
Papa a la Huancaina
Pita Pizza with Dipping Sauce
The World-famous Kadi
New Year Cheesecake
Zeppole di San Giueppe
Rocket Soup with Roasted Almonds
Green Bean Salad with Peanut Sauce
Zucchini and Basil Salad
Spinach Tempura with Radish Dipping Sauce
Green Pea Falafel Burger
Risotto with Green Beans, Chives and Goat Cheese
Roasted Asparagus Soup with Tomato Sprinklings
Easiest Chickpeas in the World
Corn and Pumpkin Fritters
Tofu and Vegetables with Wasabi Coconut Dressing
Corncakes with Mozzarella and Avocado Salsa
Red Pepper and Avocado Wrap
Saint’s Day Pasta
Orange and Campari Cake
Stocks, Dips, Sauces and More
Dukkah (Eqyptian Spice Blend)
Delicious Mustard Dressing
Spicy Honey Dip
Red Chilli Sauce
Set for a Feast: Suggested meal plans
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