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Book Reviews

Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen

Book Review:
Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen
: Traditional and Creative Recipes for the Home Cook
Richa Hingle
review by Marla Rose

Once in a while, a food blogger comes along who goes the extra mile or 70, making everyone else look like a hack. A lazy hack at that. I have been following Richa Hingle’s blog VeganRicha.com for a while and I have been very impressed by not only the stunning food photography and adventurous spirit of her recipes but also the sheer body of work that she produces. Blogging since 2009, Richa is not only very prolific and generous with her recipes, but her love of the native Indian cuisine she grew up on infuses every post. As the daughter of a highly skilled home cook in India, Richa taught herself how to prepare the traditional meals she missed when she moved to the US as well as improvise and boost the nutritional profile of the recipes she knew. In her impressive new cookbook, Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen: Traditional and Creative Recipes for the Home Cook published by Vegan Heritage Press, Richa rolls up her sleeves and teaches the rest of us how to do the same.

A cuisine that many vegetarians turn to for its diverse array of plant-centered, extravagantly spiced recipes, Richa first walks us through how to create amazing Indian home cooking in our own kitchens by teaching us the common spices, dals (lentils, peas and beans), grains and flours and fresh ingredients that are classic components of Indian cuisine. Given the international scope of life today, many of these ingredients can be found now in well-stocked grocery stores but some may be easier to find at an Indian market. For those that are harder to find, Richa often suggests alternatives, like cilantro for fenugreek leaves. If you can get your hands on some new-to-you ingredients, though, I think that it’s very fun to experiment with less familiar flavors common to Indian cuisine, like asafetida, mango powder and nigella seeds and there is no more deliciously rewarding excuse for it than puttering around with this cookbook.

Richa combines a respect for tradition with a modern cook’s pragmatism and in doing so, many recipes trade painstaking effort and hours in the kitchen for much more convenience without sacrificing the most important detail: fantastic food. We see an example of this in her recipe for Mashed Spiced Eggplant (Baingan Bharta), which is a smoky, creamy dish traditionally slow-baked or roasted on an open flame; here, Richa simply combines the ingredients in a skillet and cooks it on the stovetop. Would her more traditional mother approve? Maybe not, but to get one of my favorite dishes on the table without the mess of roasting over a gas flame, I approve.

This spirit of fusing the traditional with the improvisational and practical pervades Richa’s cookbook, which not only removes the dairy-laden elements common in Indian cooking but also uses a much lighter touch with oil than one would typically find at the local Indian buffet. She also includes recipes that incorporate ingredients that are not often found in her native cuisine but are popular in the West, like quinoa, kale, dairy-free yogurt and tempeh and adds classic Indian spices, resulting in recipes that taste like they have always belonged together.

At 275 pages and with ten chapters ranging from Breakfast to Chutneys, Spice Blends and Basics, Richa includes all one would need to pull off a sumptuous Indian feast, including flatbreads and desserts; many of the recipes are also gluten-free or offer gluten-free options. The recipes are written with clarity and directness, and they range in difficulty level from novice to more experienced cooks, though the balance of the recipes seem to be well within reach to even beginning cooks. With gorgeous, highly tempting food photography throughout, the main challenge will be narrowing down what to cook.

I finally decided on the Mashed Spiced Eggplant, Tempeh Tikka Masala and Vegetables in Smoky Tomato Sauce (Vegetable Jalfrezi). (Sorry, I forgot to photograph the last one.) They did not disappoint. While the eggplant dish did not quite have the depth of flavor and smoky richness of the traditional recipe, I think the trade for convenience and ease makes it well worth it. The tempeh dish was a great example of combining elements that are not usually seen together in Indian food but once you taste how harmonious and balanced the recipe is, you think, “Why don’t we see this more often?” The vegetables in tomato sauce tasted just like something I would enjoy at my favorite Indian buffet. Again, these recipes are decidedly lighter and with more of an eye toward boosting the nutritional profile than you might associate with Indian food but there is nothing wrong with that. With the intoxicating spices and the rich, complex, multifaceted sauces, you can have the best of both worlds with this cookbook: soul-nourishing Indian food that will not break the calorie bank.

Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen: Traditional and Creative Recipes for the Home Cook is a valuable and deeply worthwhile cookbook for novice and experienced cooks alike. Similarly, whether you are a diehard fan of Indian cuisine, curious or completely unfamiliar, you cannot go wrong with this accessibly written, generous and contagiously passionate homage to one of the most comforting and complex cuisines in the world. Like all good cookbooks, just a quick glance through its pages will make your stomach growl. I highly recommend Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen.

2013-2015, Vegan Street

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