You’ll love this collection of vegan Indian recipes! Indian cuisine is one of the most vegan-friendly as well as one of the tastiest! Don’t be intimidated by a long list of spices, the recipes in this collection are easy and accessible to make at home!
Essential Indian spices
Perhaps the most intimidating part of following Indian recipes is the variety of spices that are often called for.
While supermarkets carry a lot of the basic ones, less common spices will require a trip to an Asian or Indian supermarket or to be ordered online.
Spices lose their potency over time so if you’re not sure how often you’ll use them, try to buy the smallest package possible or opt for whole spices, which have a longer shelf life than ground spices, and grind them yourself in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
Below I’ve listed the most basic spices that I personally keep stocked in my pantry which are useful for making a wide variety of Indian recipes.
It is by no means an exhaustive list of Indian spices, but will get you started in the delicious and aromatic world of Indian cuisine!
Garam masala: Garam masala is a spice mix that generally consists of warming spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, cardamom, coriander and cloves. There is no single garam masala recipe and store-bought garam masala can vary in quality and flavor.
Curry powder: Curry powder is another spice blend that can vary greatly depending on who makes it. It generally contains turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon and ginger. Curry powder is not a traditional Indian spice blend, but rather it was invented by the British in the late 1700s. If you don’t have a large spice pantry, curry powder can be used in a pinch to approximate the flavors called for in Indian recipes.
Cumin: Cumin is one of the most common spices used in Indian cuisine. You will find recipes calling for whole cumin seeds, which are fried in oil at the beginning of the recipe, and ground cumin, which is added later on in the cooking process.
Turmeric: Turmeric is what makes curry taste like curry and is what gives curry powder its signature yellow color.
Coriander: Coriander can be used both in its whole form, which are the seeds of the coriander plant, or as a ground spice.
Cardamom: The most common type of cardamom is green, which can be purchased either as whole pods, which are often used to infuse flavor into oil, or as a ground spice. Black cardamom is a different spice and not as commonly called for in recipes.
Mustard seeds: Black mustard seeds are used extensively in Indian cooking. They are treated in a similar way to cumin seeds and fried in oil at the beginning of a recipe to add flavor.
Cinnamon: Whole cinnamon sticks can be used to flavor oil at the beginning of cooking and ground cinnamon can be used to season both savoury and sweet dishes.
Chili powder: Heat can be added to Indian dishes either by fresh chili peppers or chili powder. There are many different kinds of chili powder, depending on the pepper used. Personally, I like Kashmiri chili powder and use it in my vegan butter chicken recipe because it’s not too spicy and adds a lot of color.
Essential Indian ingredients
Now that we’ve covered spices, let’s take a look at some of the basic ingredients that are widely used to create vegan Indian recipes.
Keeping your pantry stocked with these ingredients, as well as the essential list of spices above, will allow you to quickly and and easily whip up an Indian-inspired meal any day of the week!
Chickpeas: Chickpeas are a staple in Indian cuisine and nearly every Indian restaurant will serve chana masala; a curry of chickpeas in tomato sauce and a blend of spices. Chickpeas are also often used as a meat substitute in vegan Indian recipes.
Chickpea flour / Besan: Made from ground chickpeas, chickpea flour is used for pakora fritters and savory pancakes (besan chilla), amongst other things. (It’s also a popular vegan egg replacer for omelettes, etc.)
Lentils: There are many different types of lentils but in my pantry I always have red lentils or yellow split lentils on hand to make dal (dahl) or red lentil curry.
Yogurt: Indian recipes often call for a dairy ingredient called curd to add creaminess, to cool spicy curry, or to make raita. It’s similar to (but not exactly the same as) yogurt. It’s relatively easy to find vegan yogurt nowadays to achieve this purpose or substitute it for a drizzle of coconut milk.
Coconut milk: Creamy coconut-based curries are a staple in South Indian cuisine. Coconut curries are also very popular amongst vegans!
Ginger and garlic: Many (if not most?) Indian recipes start with ginger garlic paste which is nothing more than ginger and garlic mashed together into a paste and bottled. You can use minced ginger and minced garlic in its place.
Chili peppers: Both green and red chili peppers are used extensively in Indian cooking for both heat and flavor. You can choose a pepper variety according to your tolerance for heat.
Rice: Basmati rice is the perfect accompaniment to all types of vegan Indian recipes.
Cilantro: Fresh cilantro is a delicious garnish to a spicy curry and pairs especially well with coconut-based curries.
Diced tomatoes: I always keep a can of diced tomatoes in my pantry for making tomato-based curries. When in season you can also use fresh tomatoes.
Oil: Many Indian recipes start by infusing oil with spices. For that, a neutral-flavoured oil such as sunflower oil is a better choice than, say, olive oil.
Tofu: Okay, this is not an Indian ingredient but it is widely used in vegan Indian recipes as a replacement for paneer, which is a type of cheese.
Limes: A squeeze of lime juice is a delicious way to brighten and finish Indian dishes.
Cashews: Cashews can be used as a garnish or they can be blended into a curry sauce. Cashew cream can also be a dairy-free replacement in recipes that call for curd (yogurt).
Indian food is great for vegetarians but vegans need to watch out for dairy. Milk, cheese, butter and yogurt are all used heavily. Even vegetable dishes that appear to be vegan on the menu can be cooked in ghee (clarified butter), although oil is usually used because it is cheaper. Just be sure to ask if the dish contains ghee or any other dairy product.
Some popular Indian dishes that are usually vegan are samosas, pakoras, chana masala, aloo gobi, dal, dosas, papadums, bhindi masala, aloo matar, and dum aloo.
Naan is usually not suitable for vegans because the dough contains yoghurt and it is brushed with ghee (clarified butter). If dining out you may be able to request vegan naan by calling the restaurant ahead. If dining at home there are some vegan naan bread options in larger supermarkets or there are many vegan naan recipes available online.
No, ghee is not vegan because it is made from dairy-based butter.
Vegan Indian Cookbooks
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While this collection of over 75 vegan Indian recipes features some of the most well-known and popular Indian recipes made vegan, if you’re wanting to explore vegan Indian cuisine more in depth, consider picking up one of these vegan Indian cookbooks.
Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen: Traditional and Creative Recipes for the Home Cook by Richa Hingle features restaurant-quality dishes that are easy to make in your own kitchen. You'll find delicious dals to rich curries, flat breads, savory breakfasts, snacks, desserts and much more.
Heavenly Vegan Dals & Curries: Exciting New Dishes From an Indian Girl's Kitchen Abroad by Yakhee Yadav features versatile recipes perfectly suited to becoming delicious, inexpensive meals with minimal effort. Each recipe is bursting with the robust authentic flavor of Indian cooking and packed with nutrient-rich ingredients.
The Essential Vegan Indian Cookbook: 100 Home-Style Classics and Restaurant Favorites by Priya Lakshminarayan is an essential guide for cooking up traditional plant-based delicacies and restaurant classics with a vegan twist. Create authentic Indian food at home with expert guidance and mouthwatering recipes.
Instant Pot Vegan Indian Cookbook: 80 Quick and Easy Plant-Based Favorites by Meena Agarwal features recipes made with basic supermarket ingredients that are super quick to make in an Instant Pot.
Vegan Indian Cooking: 140 Simple and Healthy Vegan Recipes by Anupy Singla emphasizes whole foods and features recipes from across the Indian subcontinent. Singla is an expert in simplifying and developing custom spice blends that help make Indian cooking accessible to everyone.