By Ella Walker
Chetna Makan is not the kind of host who’d sling a bowl of chopped iceberg lettuce at you and consider it a salad. The food writer and former Great British Bake Off contestant has very strong views on salad. “I can’t deal with just leaves,” she explains firmly, a slight laugh in her voice.
So often, plant-based options are lacklustre and under seasoned, watery and limp, or feeble imitations of meatier dishes. Vegetarians have long been fobbed off with plates of leaves; few croutons thrown on top, or flavourless mushroom risottos and goat’s cheese tartlets. Things are undoubtedly improving, but vegetables are still criminally underestimated.
But in her new cookbook, Chetna’s Healthy Indian Vegetarian, Makan emboldens greens and intensifies their flavour – “adding punch”, providing recipes that robustly push everything from pea shoots and tomatoes to mangetout and cabbage, to work harder.
Recipes are designed to be swift, straightforward and “happen to be good for you” – but vegetarian this time as well. “People think Indian food will take forever to cook – ‘I’ll have to soak this, I’ll have to make this and then I’ll have to marinate this’ – actually, everyday Indian food is not like that,” says Makan, 41.
The dishes featured are ones that are widely eaten in homes in India and include recipes busy, working Indian women shared with Makan on a research trip to Delhi – and the book is a chance provide a balance to ubiquitous korma and masala curries.
“I have tried to share really varied types of curries,” she says. “Not what people think are curries, but how they really are.”
And the cooking itself she finds transformative. “It still just makes me so happy. There’s something about the end result, where even if you’re not cooking for anyone, even if you’re just cooking for yourself, to sit down and enjoy that meal is just amazing.”
Cheese and Potato Chapatti Sandwich
For the chapattis
200g chapatti flour, plus extra for dusting
For the filling
100g paneer, grated
50g Cheddar cheese, grated
1 small potato, boiled and grated
1/4tsp chilli powder
1/2tsp amchoor (mango powder)
1 small green chilli, finely chopped
10g fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
For toasting the sandwiches
Black mustard seeds
To make the chapattis, put the flour and salt into a bowl and gradually add just enough of the water (or a little more, if necessary) to form a soft dough. Knead for two minutes, then cover and let rest for 15 minutes.
Divide the dough into eight equal portions. Roll out each portion on a lightly floured surface to a circle 15-18cm across. Heat a skillet until hot, and cook each chapatti for one minute each side on a low-to-medium heat, until slightly golden.
To make the filling, combine the ingredients in a bowl.
To toast the sandwiches, use the same skillet you used to cook the chapattis. Drizzle with a tiny bit of oil and, once hot, add a pinch of mustard seeds. When they start to sizzle, lay a chapatti in the pan and spread with a quarter of the filling. Place another chapatti on top and cook for a minute on a low-to-medium heat, until the underside is golden. Turn and cook for a minute on the other side, then remove to a plate.
Beetroot Salad with Carrot and Peanut
50g roasted peanuts, coarsely crushed
4 raw beetroot, about 400g, grated
1 red onion, finely chopped
20g fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
2tbsp lime juice
For the tadka
1tbsp groundnut oil
1tsp cumin seeds
2 green chillies, finely chopped
Use a pestle and mortar to coarsely crush the peanuts, then put them into a bowl with the rest of the salad ingredients.
To make the tadka, heat the oil in a small pan and add the cumin seeds. Once they start to sizzle, add the green chillies, give them a stir, then take the pan off the heat.
Pour the tadka over the salad, toss well and serve. This will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
Chetna’s Healthy Indian Vegetarian by Chetna Makan is available now