Vegetarians fight a unique battle. From answering questions such as, 'would you eat meat if you were stuck on an island alone?' to 'but even plants are living things', they are grilled on numerous occasions with several anti-vegetarian debates. And if you happen to be a food writer or a blogger who is a vegetarian, the plot thickens. Questions about how you can relish good food if you can't tell between rare and medium rare or know the pleasures of eating bacon, are not uncommon once a vegetarian is spotted.
Thankfully for many of us, there is no dearth of good, vegetarian food in India. And if rumour is to be believed, the world too is increasingly turning vegetarian. From hippies and health freaks to weight-watchers going au naturale, everyone is trying to get their hands on this piece of the pie. Albeit eggless.
What is gourmet about Gujjus?
Hailing from Gujarat, the state on the west coast of India, Gujaratis are known for their unique food peculiarities. Ever seen Indians eat homemade food on flight? Chances are he/she is a Gujarati, savouring turmeric-hinted Indian flat bread known as thepla. I'm not stereotyping, I'm only writing this piece sitting at Ahmedabad airport as my neighbour offers me the dinner she has foil-wrapped and tagged along.
Like charity, our love for gourmet and good food begins at home. The warm aromas and vibrant colours of traditional Gujarati fare has us filled up with a passion for cooking and extra jaggery at an early age. This is also the case with most Gujarati households where the menu-of-the-day is more important than the national budget.
It's this one section of the society that not only enjoys good food, but experiments with cuisines outside their region too. Take for instance saucy enchiladas or lasagna that are baked using cottage cheese instead of mozzarella or serving up a scrummy cabbage and carrot paratha with a garlic-ky beetroot borani instead of an ordinary raita. This knack of laying out an impressive homemade spread - day after day, is a penchant that runs deep within the community.
The Maharaj saga
This brings me to a favourite subject in any urban Gujarati household - the Superman of our times, the one who saves the day - a maharaj. The word is Gujarati term for home cooks, men who come home twice in a day to rustle up fresh and hot meals. There is an inside joke within the community- keep your friends close and your maharajs closer.
Each day, all of us ask ourselves two questions- what should I wear today and what should I eat. Fortunately, for well-heeled Gujjus, the second question is something we leave in the hands of our beloved maharajs.
While they may themselves hail from smaller villages of India, city life has made them adept at cooking everything from Laksa curry to quinoa bowl. The maharaj who cooks at my home, can even toss me a bowl of Sichuan tossed edamame on request. And for me, they are the true gujju gourmets.
Healthy as a horse (gram)
As I think about some of these meat-free recipes, especially those that are exotic and glamorous, it leaves me thinking of their health angle too. Unlike certain Indian cuisines that are notorious for their ghee and oil-soaked dishes, Gujarati fare may have its share of unhealthy dishes, but is predominantly healthy. From steamed pankis and dhoklas to well-cooked, moderately spiced vegetables - it's tough to make basic Gujarati food unhealthy.
Coming from homes that care so much about what they eat, it is only organic for us to care about what goes into creating what we eat.Going beyond mindless calorie counting towards understanding why local superfoods are better than international fads or allowing the body to relish good fats versus banning processed foods - this is how most urban kitchens of my community roll.
Take for instance simple ideas like swapping bulgur wheat for rice while making a wild mushroom risotto or adding home-pounded maize flour to make tortillas instead of refined flour - this community sure knows its kitchen hacks.
Guaranteed to make you fall head-over-heels in love with the ingredients that you are working with, gourmet Gujju food today celebrates the freshness of the produce and makes a hero out of the vegetables that most people regard as mere sides.
(Seasoned food writer and debutante author Sonal Ved's 'Gujju Goes Gourmet' - a book she dedicates to homely maharajs - is available exclusively on the Juggernaut app.)
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