Vegetarians can have a tough time of it in some parts of the world. Some countries are possessed of a cuisine which is defined by succulent meat dishes – think of the grilled meats of Argentina or the cured pork and seafood paellas of Spain – and explaining that you consume only vegetable-based dishes can result in confusion or misunderstanding. Fortunately, India is not one of these countries.
Of course, to say that India does not have an excellent selection of meat-based dishes would be misleading – influences from the Middle East and Europe have infiltrated the culture to produce wonderful fusion foods featuring a variety of meats – however, a significant proportion of the population choose to follow a vegetarian diet. As a result, vegetarians will find themselves very well catered for throughout India, and one of the top states for vegetarian specialities is the western state of Gujarat.
Gujarat has long been known as a vegetarian haven as many Hindus and Jains make their home in the state. These two religions both favour a predominantly vegetarian diet.
The key ingredients on the Gujarati menu include a wide variety of lentils, beans, breads and the ubiquitous grain, rice. These foodstuffs provide the bulk of many everyday meals in the state, offering fibre, carbohydrates and protein (from the pulses) that are essential for a healthy diet. Classic rice dishes might include the aromatic biranj, a traditional dish flavoured with strands of saffron and the sweet notes of dried fruit, or the pulao, a rice and vegetable preparation similar to the famous biryani though much easier to make.
One of the reasons that vegetarian cuisine is so easy to come by in Gujarat is that an abundance of seasonal fruit and vegetables thrives in the state all year round. Certain ingredients will become more prevalent on the menu depending on the time of year. Take, for instance, the mango. During the summer season, this juicy fruits will appear in dishes such as dal dhokli, a lentil stew featuring dumplings seasoned with fresh mango as well as in a range of pickles and desserts.
Curries are an integral part of Indian cuisine and Gujarat offers several delicious vegetarian options. Chora nu shaak is a black-eyed bean curry which is particularly popular due to its rich flavour and delicate use of spices. Fansi nu shaak is a green bean curry which is also enjoyed throughout the state and features green chillies and fresh garlic as its starring ingredients. And if neither of those appeal, perhaps the mag nu shaak curry, an aromatic mixture of moong beans, tomatoes and curry leaves might well have the ability to tempt you.
Of course, sometimes a vegetarian might just fancy an Indian-inspired snack as opposed to a full meal. Gujarati cuisine offers a wide variety of delicious options in the way of chaat, savoury snacks that are usually deep-fried and made up of dough, potatoes and vegetables. Pan puri is a great example, as are dhokla and the famous bhajjis and samosas that we enjoy along with our Indian takeaway here in the UK.