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India's Rich History of Veg Eating

September 16, 2020
Time to read: 6 minutes

Plus a recipe for madras curry and jeera rice!

India’s roots of vegetarianism can be traced back to 2300 B.C. with the founding of Hinduism.

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When you think of veg-friendly cuisines, one of the top choices is always Indian cuisine. India has a long, diverse, and rich tradition of vegetarianism both in philosophy and in cooking. There are currently more vegetarians in India than anywhere else in the world. About 33% of India’s massive 1.3 billion population identifies with this way of living.

India’s roots of vegetarianism can be traced back to 2300 B.C. with the founding of Hinduism. Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world and was founded near the Indus Valley. There is no one holy book in this faith, rather, there are several holy books all focusing on a range of topics. The idea of vegetarianism comes from a variety of concepts in Hinduism and is mentioned in multiple sacred books.

The three main ideas that influence the idea of eating animals in Hinduism are Ahimsa, Dharma, and Karma. Ahimsa is defined as “the law of non-injury, non-violence and non-killing as part of dharma.” In Hinduism, it is believed all beings have a soul, but are in different bodies, as all soul’s have equal value. Ahimsa extends to animals. Dharma means 'duty', 'virtue', 'morality', even 'religion' and it refers to the power which upholds the universe and society. In this case, Dharma means to uphold the values of the Atma (soul) in all living beings through Ahimsa. Finally, the law of Karma believes that what we do unto others will ultimately come back to us, Hindu’s consider this a universal law: if we inflict cruelty onto others, we will eventually experience the same cruelty ourselves.

By default, much of Indian cuisine is vegan and there is a growing vegan movement in India as well.

While dairy is consumed in India and by vegetarians, most “pure vegetarians” in India do not consume meat, fish or eggs. By default, much of Indian cuisine is vegan and there is a growing vegan movement in India as well. Vegan Outreach has opened an Indian chapter, and there has been more activism around animal welfare in the dairy industry, illegal beef trading, and the environmental impacts of dairy consumption.

With dairy and leather being massive industries in India, there are some serious concerns around the water that is required in these processes. India is estimated to have serious water shortages by 2025. Cow waste pollution, pollution from the dyeing process of leather, and lack of adequate water treatment can be alleviated through transition to plant-based dairy and leather alternatives.

Remember, going vegan does not mean giving up the foods we loved growing up, rather, improving them to be better for the animals, planet and our own health!

As a part of FFAC’s traditional foods campaign, I decided to make a vegan version of one of my favorite curries, Madras Curry! The only substitutes were coconut cream for dairy cream and plant-based ghee for traditional ghee!

If you are lucky enough to live near an Indian store, it is almost always cheaper to buy items like dry beans, lentils, spices and incense. Remember, going vegan does not mean giving up the foods we loved growing up, rather, improving them to be better for the animals, planet and our own health!

Here is all you need to make this delicious vegan spin on a classic Indian curry!


  • Cooking time (preparation: 30 mins, making meal: 45-60mins)
  • Rice should be soaked for 30 mins before cooking (see instructions below)
  • Servings: 3-5


  • Jeera Rice
    • 1-2 cups of long-grain basmati rice ( if you can’t find basamti any white rice or even quinoa could work if you want extra protein. You could also do half basmati rice, half quinoa)
    • Miyoko's cultured vegan butter if you have it, otherwise any cooking oil (ideal would be grapeseed, mustard, or vegetable oil)
    • 1-2 Tablespoon cumin seeds
    • Salt to taste
    • 1/4 of a red onion
  • Madras Curry 
    • 2 cups of chickpeas or red lentils (I believe buying these dry, soaking them overnight or at least 6-8 hours, then cooking separately while you make the curry would be ideal and tastes best, but canned works as well)
    • Miyoko’s cultured vegan butter if you have it, if not any cooking oil (ideal would be grapeseed, mustard, or vegetable oil)
    • ¾ Large Red Onion
    • 4-6 cloves of garlic (depending on how much you like garlic, I like 6+ lol)
    • 1 large thumb of ginger
    • 1 small-medium red chili or 1 TBS chili paste or chili powder/flakes (you can leave this out if you don’t like spice)
    • 2-3 Tablespoons of Curry powder
    • 2-3 Tablespoons of Madras Curry Paste if you can find it, should definitely be at an Indian store, could be at other stores as well. If you can’t find this specific paste that is okay, try to find the most authentic Indian curry paste you can find near you!
    • 1 can of tomato paste
    • 3-4 cups of water
    • 2 TBS Veggie stock concentrate or 2 tbouillon cube
    • 1 can of coconut milk (I prefer full fat for best flavor but up to you)
    • 1-2 Lemons
    • Optional garnish: Cilantro
    • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Vegan Ghee (Optional) 
    • Miyoko's Cultured Vegan Butter

Cooking Tools

  • Medium sized pot (For Jeera Rice)
  • Instant pot/large pot if cooking lentils/chickpeas with the curry
  • Large pot for curry
  • Small butter warmer if making vegan ghee or small saucepan
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Can opener
  • Large wooden cooking spoon (whatever you have to toss onions/garlic/ginger/powder/paste in pot)
  • Serving ladle would be ideal for curry
  • Serving spoon for Rice
  • Small spoon for vegan ghee

Madras Curry Directions

  1. Heat a large pot over medium heat, add oil or vegan butter, soak rice before cooking
  2. Add large chopped onion with a pinch of salt, sautee 2-3 mins
  3. Add garlic and ginger and chili of choice, turn heat down to medium-low, let onion, garlic, ginger and chili cook for 4-5 mins until all oil is absorbed, stir frequently
  4. Once fragrant and oil is absorbed, add curry powder and dry roast the onion, garlic and ginger mix with the curry powder, keep stirring, add a bit of water as needed, “roasting” the spices with the base will bring out flavors, do this for 3-4 minutes, make sure it is not to “wet”
  5. Add Madras curry paste (or curry paste of your choice). Cook for 3-4 minutes
  6. Add tomato paste - this is now the “masala” or spice base of the curry. Let all the flavors cook, stir occasionally for 5-10 minutes (slow cooking on medium low, building each layer of flavor is the key to Indian cooking)
  7. Your house should smell incredible! Once the tomato paste thickens and combines well with the base add 2-3 cups of water and stir to combine
  8. Add either 1 cup of veggie stock (you could substitute this for a cup of water above), two veggie bouillon cubes, or 2 large TBS of veggie stock concentrate
  9. Let broth simmer on medium low with a lid for 20-30 mins
  10. Cook lentils or chickpeas during this time in instant pot or other pan if you are using dried. Also cook Jeera rice (instructions below)
  11. Add cooked chickpeas or lentils to the curry (or canned if you don’t want to use dry), turn heat off, and add the coconut milk or cream, add salt and pepper to taste
  12. Serve over Jeera rice with a fresh squeeze of lemon, chopped cilantro and a drizzle of vegan ghee if you would like!

Jeera Rice Directions

  1. Soak rice 30 minutes before, you can do this before you prepare the curry
  2. To a pan, add vegan butter or oil and cumin seeds, toast for 2-3 minutes on medium heat
  3. Add quarter of red onion add a pinch of salt let cook on medium-low for 3-4 minutes
  4. Add rice and water to a different pot
  5. Once the cumin seed and onion mixture are fragrant and cooked down, add it to cook with the rice and let it boil until water is absorbed
  6. Serve when ready

Vegan Ghee Directions (Nutiva has a vegan ghee if you would like to buy it ready-made)

  1. Use Miyoko’s cultured vegan butter or other cultured vegan butter (cultured vegan butters work best)
  2. Warm in a small saucepan or butter warmer over low heat for 5-10 minutes
  3. Let foam clear, and you are left with a clarified butter or vegan ghee!

Vidisha Rai is the San Jose Director of the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition.

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