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Vegan additions to a non-vegetarian Diwali

Catering to guests from diverse communities may be a tricky challenge but it is uniquely pleasurable. Here are tips from a festival dinner that ranged from meat-eaters to vegans

A vegan bowl. (Istockphoto)

By Samar Halarnkar

LAST PUBLISHED 18.11.2023  |  09:00 AM IST

By the time you read this, Diwali will be done and dusted.

But the festive season will roll on. In the afterglow, you feel closer to your friends and family—well, in most cases—and you may have them over sooner rather than later. There’s Christmas, then new year.

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Parties at our home in noisy but breezy and multicultural east Bengaluru attract guests from diverse communities and backgrounds. All who attend accept the culinary diversity on our table. That means Hindus are okay with tenderloin and Muslims with roast pork. The Christians—well, they will eat everything. Catering to such guests may be tricky, but it’s always a pleasurable challenge.

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That is how it is at my mother’s annual Diwali party, which she hosts jointly with us at her house. The guest list includes the daughter’s preteen pals from her choir and school—Hindu, Muslim and Christian (she’s always anxious their food restrictions are addressed); my mother’s friends, mostly a bunch of retired police officers; our friends, ranging from the early 20s to the late 50s. A diverse bunch.

Two days before the party, we got to work. Rangoli had to be drawn, garlands of lights had to be affixed to the walls, mud lamps had to be lit, and—most importantly—dinner had to be planned.

The Diwali spread at my mother’s follows no theme but a meat dish has always been the centrepiece. Sometimes, it is my Khasi-style or rum-and-spices roast pork. Sometimes, it’s the best biryani in town, made by a woman called Ameena Ansari who uses the money to fund an old people’s home. This year, my dearest cousin down the road said she would make mutton biryani—4kg of it for about 30 people.

The rest of the menu was, as always, eclectic. A dear friend of my mother, Jyotsna Bhadarkar, offered to make fish curry. Her version is a family recipe from Goa, the best I have always had: tart, super smooth, and delicious. With so much non-vegetarian, I decided to skip the pork. There would be no need to issue the relevant warnings to those who did not partake.

A new challenge emerged. One of the daughter’s friends and her family were vegan. Now, that was a new frontier, requiring some careful thought and planning. I don’t mean to imply that having vegan guests is a big deal, just that we needed to pay the same attention to their requirements as we do to others.

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I have been happy to explore new culinary frontiers. I never forget that I began making only sausage masala with bread as my staple more than 35 years ago. I didn’t think then that I would ever have to expand my repertoire. In time, I realised I could not eat sausage masala all my life.

My biggest challenge came after marriage, learning to cook vegetarian food. Only early this year, I breached another frontier, pastry. So, although the grilled vegetables I often make are vegan, I have never expressly planned a vegan meal. I quickly googled some options, found these two on an Aussie website called taste.com.au, made my modifications, and here they are. If you ever make them, let me know what you think.

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Sweet potato, chickpeas, peas in a tahini-orange-juice dressing
Serves 6

Ingredients
1 large sweet potato or 2 small ones, cut into slim wedges or sticks
1 cup frozen peas, blanched
500g chickpeas, cooked
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

For the dressing
1 tbsp tahini sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp orange juice
Juice of 1 lime
Rind of 1 lime, grated
Half tsp turmeric powder
3-4 tsp water
1 tsp sugar, pounded fine in a mortar-pestle

Method
In a microwave steamer, steam the sweet potatoes for 4 minutes. Combine in a bowl with chickpeas, cumin powder, garam masala, 1 tbsp olive oil and salt. Preheat an oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Spread the chickpeas and sweet potatoes on oiled baking paper and roast for 10-15 minutes. Remove and mix in a serving bowl with the peas.

Stir together all the dressing ingredients, adding more orange juice if it is too thick. Pour the dressing over the sweet potatoes, peas and chickpeas. Mix well. Combine with the coriander and serve.

Roasted pumpkin and tofu with coconut-lime dressing (left); and sweet potato, chickpeas, peas in a tahini-orange-juice dressing. (Samar Halarnkar)

Roasted pumpkin and tofu with coconut-lime dressing
Serves 4

Ingredients
300g pumpkin with skin, cut in thin wedges
300g tofu, cut into small cubes
1 cup broccoli, small florets, steamed
1 large onion, thickly sliced
2 tsp coriander seeds, roughly pounded
2 tsp cumin powder
Half tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of one lime
2 tbsp fresh, chopped coriander
Salt to taste

For the dressing
Half tsp vegetable oil
100g thin coconut milk
3 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
Half tsp turmeric

Method
Combine half tsp turmeric powder with cumin and pounded coriander seeds. Use half to mix into pumpkin and onion, with 1 tbsp olive oil and salt.

Use the other half of the spice mix with the tofu cubes.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Grill the pumpkin and onion for 15 minutes, turning over occasionally. Add the tofu cubes and grill for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and mix with the steamed broccoli.

In a pan, heat the vegetable oil gently, saute garlic and turmeric powder. Stir in coconut milk. When it starts to boil, add lime juice and stir. Take off heat, pour over the vegetables before serving. Garnish with coriander.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. He posts @samar11 on Twitter.

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