A Vegan Tikkā Recipe From A Chicagoland Doctor With An Indian Cookbook

Many people picked up hobbies while stuck indoors for the first year or so of the pandemic. Sheil Shukla didn’t hang around the house – he’s a doctor – and his hobby led to a published cookbook, with recipes developed, written and photographed by him. “Part of it was a creative outlet during the pandemic,” he says. “I was working in hospital and intensive care during the COVID heat, and I was looking for something to put my creative energy towards, and it naturally came in the form of a cookbook.”

plant origin india, which was published in August, is this cookbook. It features vegan Indian recipes drawn both from Shukla’s childhood as the son of Gujarati immigrant parents in Milwaukee and from his own recipe development over the past few years. “As the son of Indian immigrants, it was important to me to document many of my family’s recipes,” he explains.

Growing up, Shukla’s mother and paternal grandmother cooked mainly Gujarati vegetarian dishes, but it was the few Americanized dishes such as chicken fillets or spaghetti that Shukla and her brother looked forward to the most. It wasn’t until attending the University of Chicago that Shukla himself learned to cook, from home phone calls and videos – and that’s when he also learned how to cook. started craving Gujarati food which he had once rejected. plant origin india is dedicated to both his grandmother and his parents.

Shukla went vegan in 2015 and started a blog and Instagram to share his creations, photographed by him. He studied molecular biology and graphic design as an undergraduate, wishing to pursue an artistic education while heading towards a career in medicine. “Training in graphic design is sort of what drew me to photography,” he explains.

During his training to become a doctor – he now practices as an internal medicine doctor in the north-west suburb of Glenview – he became interested in integrating nutrition and diet into medical practice in greater depth than usually. “My general advice to most of my patients is that we already know which foods are good for us,” he says. “We don’t necessarily have to think about it too much. We know vegetables are good for us. We know that whole grains protect against heart disease. We know that excessive amounts of red meat can be harmful. Many of these things are fairly innately understood by most people.

plant origin india simply helps to encourage this innately understood healthy eating. “The overarching goal is to get people to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” Shukla says. “What I can do to make it more accessible is create images that look delicious and recipes that invite.”

Indian recipes were a natural starting point, not only because they reflect Shukla’s heritage, but also because many of them are already vegetarian or are made with healthy ingredients such as fresh produce and whole spices. Adapting some recipes to be vegan may involve replacing meat with plant protein and non-dairy yogurt with yogurt, as in the tofu tikkā recipe from plant origin india below, which approximates the char of a tandoor oven in a conventional oven. Others took more testing and ingenuity, like Mattar Tofu.

“I probably spent the most time developing that,” he says. Mattar Tofu is a “classic North Indian dish” with peas and soft cheese paneer in a creamy sauce, and happens to be Shukla’s wife’s favorite Indian dish. Her version replaces the paneer with tofu and thickens the sauce with homemade cashew cream instead of dairy. “It was a recipe where I was like, ‘OK, I think I have experience here that maybe other people don’t have,'” he says.

And yes, his wife likes his version. In fact, Shukla is now the designated cook for family gatherings, even over her own parents.

Although his recipes are vegan and healthy, he doesn’t sacrifice flavor or faithfulness to tradition for nutrition. “It comes down to an inclusive diet, in the sense that you put all the good stuff in, so if you need some of the bad stuff to balance things out, some moderation is okay,” he explains. “The recipes in the book best reflect the way I cook for myself and my family. It’s more true to that, instead of being so strict and unrealistic to myself.

So how does he find the time to cook for his family, develop and photograph new recipes, and work as a doctor? “As long as I’m doing what I love, it’s not really a question of time,” he says. “I can always find time for the things I really love and want to do.”

Tikkā is a North Indian dish consisting of pickled protein or vegetables cooked in a tandoor or clay oven. My version is made with marinated tofu cooked on skewers in a conventional oven to mimic the traditional cooking vessel, which adds shading and smoke to the dish. The use of smoked paprika pays even more homage to the traditional cooking technique. This tikkā is best served hot with refreshing Mint Cucumber Rāitā (find the recipe in plant origin india) or mint-cilantro chutney (find the recipe in plant origin india) and is also delicious in lettuce wraps. For the lettuce wraps, cut the tofu and vegetables into small pieces after cooking and fill the lettuce leaves just before serving. Note that this recipe requires marinating overnight to maximize flavor, so be sure to plan ahead!

Ingredients

2/3 cup (160 g) plain unsweetened non-dairy yogurt
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
6 garlic cloves, grated (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice (about 1/4 lime)
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon black salt
One 14-ounce block of extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed for 1 hour, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 medium red onion, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 to 2 bell peppers (any color), cut into 1-inch cubes
A generous pinch of cat masala
Coriander or mint coarsely chopped
Lemon or lime wedges

directions

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, tomato paste, garlic, ginger, lime juice, garam masālā, paprika, salt, turmeric, red chilli and black salt . Adjust seasoning to taste. The mixture should be hot, spicy and salty.

2. Add the tofu, onion and bell pepper to the mixing bowl and toss gently until each piece is well coated. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

3. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 450°F. Remove the mixture from the refrigerator and stir, then prick on 4 to 6 stainless steel or bamboo skewers. If using bamboo skewers, they must first be soaked in water for 1 hour. Alternate the tofu, bell pepper and onion on the skewers. Reserve any remaining marinade.

4. Line the bottom of a 9 x 9 x 2 inch square baking dish with foil (for easier cleanup). Balance the skewers on top of the edges of the baking dish so that the tofu does not touch the bottom or its neighbor.

5. Bake the tofu skewers for 15 minutes, until they begin to brown in spots. Remove from oven, brush with remaining marinade, turn each skewer 180 degrees, then return to oven for another 10 minutes, until browned again in spots. If desired, grill for a minute or two for a char reminiscent of tandoor cooking.

6. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chāt masālā to taste and chopped coriander. Serve hot with lemon wedges and rāitā if desired.

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