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Vegan Indian spiced with can-do candor

Bill Daley

The Daley Question

July 25, 2012

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Anupy Singla scored big in 2010 with her first cookbook, "The Indian Slow Cooker," which used that most humble of American appliances to render delicious Indian dishes at home. Now the former broadcaster-turned-entrepreneur is back with a second book, this one called "Vegan Indian Cooking: 140 Simple and Healthy Vegan Recipes" (Agate Surrey, $19.95). And, as with her first book, readers can expect a can-do candor about cooking from the author.

"Anyone can do this," Singla insists, dismissing perceptions of Indian food as "difficult or cumbersome" to make. "A few simple steps and an understanding of spices and you can have an Indian meal on the table very quickly."

That's important to Singla, who is a businesswoman and the mother to two young daughters, and has a website Indian as Apple Pie. The title reflects the belief of this Indian-born and Pennsylvania-raised woman, a self-described "nontrained home chef," that there's nothing to be afraid of when it comes to Indian food — not even the cost of supplies.

"In this down economy, Indian cuisine is one of the cheapest on the planet," she says. Singla doesn't waste a thing, neither time nor ingredients. The slow cooker makes a return appearance in this book, most visibly to cook dried beans and lentils for use in dinners now and, with refrigeration or freezing, later. Her approach means less reliance on expensive canned products.

"I think this will change the playing field," she says.

Singla's second book does more than share a slow cooker with her first book. "Vegan Indian Cuisine" is now the best-selling book on Indian cooking found on Amazon.com, an influential barometer to public taste. Ranked second? The former No. 1: "The Indian Slow Cooker."

Though the book reflects her preference for a predominantly vegan diet, Singla prefers not to stick labels on anyone's diet. She says her audience encompasses vegans, vegetarians and others who want to put more flavor into their cooking.

"It's not a book that forces a lifestyle upon you," Singla writes in the introduction. "This is a book that tells you, 'Eat what you want, but make sure what you eat is real, whole food. And open your mind to all the possibilities.'"

Chickpea poppers

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Makes: 4 cups, 8 servings

Note: In "Vegan Indian Cooking," Anupy Singla recommends cooking a large batch of chickpeas in a slow cooker, using one-half of the cooked chickpeas in this dish and freezing the remainder for later use. If you do not want to make your own masala, experiment with commercial masala spice blends. Serve as a snack, in salads instead of croutons or in soups.

Ingredients:
4 cups cooked chickpeas (see recipe) or 2 cans (12 ounces each) chickpeas
1 tablespoon chaat masala (see recipe), garam masala or sambhar masala
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon red chili powder, cayenne pepper or paprika, plus more for sprinkling

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Drain the chickpeas in a large colander to get rid of as much moisture as possible, 15 minutes. If using canned, rinse first. Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl. Arrange the seasoned chickpeas in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet.

2. Bake, 15 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven; mix gently so the chickpeas cook evenly. Bake, 15 minutes.

3. Cool, 15 minutes. Sprinkle with additional red chili powder, if you like.

Nutrition information:
Per serving: 372 calories, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 57 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 555 mg sodium, 16 g fiber.

Cooked chickpeas
Singla says soaking the chickpeas first isn't necessary. They will cook up just as soft as if they were presoaked. Don't have a slow cooker? Use a heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven, reduce the amount of water by 1/2 to 1 cup, use a very low flame and keep a careful eye that the chickpeas don't burn.

Pick over and rinse 3 cups (about 18 ounces) whole, dried chickpeas. Place in a 3 1/2-quart capacity slow cooker with 5 cups water. Cook on high, 4 hours. Rinse the beans with cold water to stop the cooking process; drain excess liquid. Store in the refrigerator up to 1 week or the freezer up to 3 months. Makes: 7 cups

Chaat masala
"Try it on raw veggies, sprinkle it over boiled potatoes, or stir a pinch into your plain soy yogurt," Singla writes. Look for the mango powder, black salt and carom seeds in Indian groceries or spice shops.

Toast: Dry roast 1/2 heaping cup coriander seeds, 2 heaping tablespoons each cumin seeds and fennel seeds, and 8 whole dried red chilies, broken into pieces, in a shallow, heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir every 15-20 seconds to prevent burning. The spices should be just toasted and aromatic. After about 4 minutes of roasting, transfer the mixture to a plate. Let cool, 15 minutes.

Grind: Transfer spices to a spice grinder or the dry jug of a powerful blender. Add 1/2 cup whole black peppercorns, 2 heaping teaspoons mango powder (amchur), 2 tablespoons black salt and 2 heaping teaspoons each ground ginger and carom seeds; process to a fine powder. Sift after grinding to get a finer powder. Store in an airtight container up to 6 months.

Makes:2 cups