Recipes

Celebrate Indian Home Cooking With This Plant-Based Thali Feast

Cookbook author Maunika Gowardhan shares her love of the feast-on-a-platter that is thali with vegan dishes from across India.

Photography by Erik Putz; Food styling by Ryan Barclay; Prop styling by Madeleine Johari

Growing up in Mumbai, Maunika Gowardhan always experienced movement around the dinner table, from quick weeknight meals to Sunday lunch. Her mother, who first inspired her to collect and record recipes, would put down a hearty dish with accompaniments doled out one by one throughout the meal: a soupy dal, then a pickle, then basmati rice topped with warm ghee. She loved when a glass of chilled chaas, a blitzed drink of buttermilk, ginger, cumin and cilantro, chased the food. “Even the most casual of dinners were like living thalis, though you wouldn’t immediately think of them that way,” she says.

Now a London, U.K.-based chef and cookbook author, Gowardhan is referring to the formal thali, a Hindi word that denotes both a large round platter on which food is served and a dining format in which a complete multi-course meal is served on a single plate. It’s also the name of her latest cookbook, released in Canada on March 22, which is a compendium of recipes from across India that represent different regions and home-cooking styles.

Think of thali as a feast on a platter; smaller portions of multiple dishes served in little bowls. As Gowardhan points out, a thali’s composition has historic roots in Ayurvedic nutrition and taste principles, incorporating ingredients that feature sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent flavours. Often celebratory in nature and breathtaking in variety, thalis highlight the flavours and cooking techniques of a region, or the best of what a restaurant has to offer.

I grew up in a half-Goan family, and restaurants were exclusively how I experienced thalis. They were a treat I looked forward to as much as diner-style breakfast platters or the Pizza Hut sundae bar—the highest praise a child of ’90s suburban Toronto can heap on a meal. For years, that’s where they remained in my mind: too extravagant to cook myself.

Bridging this distinction between restaurant fare and home cooking is what makes Thali such a useful resource and a joy to read. Gowardhan’s recipes, amassed through years of research and travel, can easily be scaled up or down. “The stir-fried chapter is a perfect gateway for something quick and delicious,” she says, “served alongside a vegetarian curry or even just a recipe from the dal chapter.” There are also prompts for incorporating leftovers and pantry items. From the book’s deep dive into the history of thali to its fresh preparations of vegetables—the malabar-spiced cauliflower is deceptively simple for how complex its flavours are—it’s not difficult to see why nearly a quarter of a million people follow Gowardhan on Instagram for cooking inspiration.

The thali Gowardhan has shared with us isn’t regionally specific, but rather recipes from across India that are mostly plant-based by nature—dishes that feature pulses and vegetables as star ingredients. “A lot of Indian food is inherently vegan,” she says, “and with a large percentage of the population having historically followed a vegetarian diet, it’s amazing to see how far we have come and amazing to see it have such a wide appeal.”

Photography by Erik Putz; Food styling by Ryan Barclay; Prop styling by Madeleine Johari

Bedmi Aloo (Spiced Turmeric and Coriander Potato Curry)

A delicious way to cook a classic potato curry with cumin, chili, turmeric and coriander in a light, soupy gravy. This simple-to-cook dish is savoured with puris (deep-fried bread). Get this bedmi aloo recipe.

Photography by Erik Putz; Food styling by Ryan Barclay; Prop styling by Madeleine Johari

Malabar Mezhukupuratti (Malabar-Spiced Cauliflower with Ginger and Curry Leaves)

As much as this is an everyday recipe, don’t let the ease of it fool you in terms of taste. The flavours are a delight, with a robust infusion of gingery curry leaves that soaks into the cauliflower and potatoes. Get this malabar mezhukupuratti recipe.

Photography by Erik Putz; Food styling by Ryan Barclay; Prop styling by Madeleine Johari

Rajasthani Palak Dal (Garlic-Spiced Spinach and Lentil Dal)

This creamy dal from the northwest of India is lightly spiced with cumin, turmeric and garlic, with the addition of fresh spinach. Get this rajasthani palak dal recipe.

Photography by Erik Putz; Food styling by Ryan Barclay; Prop styling by Madeleine Johari

Gujarati Vaghara Makkai (Spicy Corn with Ginger and Green Chili)

This stir-fried corn with ginger, green chili and turmeric is simple, quick and delicious, and a must to accompany every thali. Get this gujarati vaghara makkai recipe.

Photography by Erik Putz; Food styling by Ryan Barclay; Prop styling by Madeleine Johari

Andhra Carrot Pachadi (Mango, Mustard and Carrot Chutney)

This pachadi, or fresh pickle, hails from southern India and uses tadka—dried spices fried in oil to amplify their flavours—for its layered, complex taste. Get this andhra carrot pachadi recipe.

Photography by Erik Putz; Food styling by Ryan Barclay; Prop styling by Madeleine Johari

Paruppu Payasam (Sweet Moong Dal and Cashew Pudding with Cardamom and Jaggery)

Using lentils in desserts has always been common across India. This payasam can also be cooked with butter instead of coconut oil for a non-vegan version. Get this paruppu payasam recipe.

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