you caN HAVE VEGAN INDIA! POSTS DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX TOO! type your email id and click submit!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Seven Vegan Recipes from the State of Bengal on Janmashtami Eve

For more recipe-related articles featured in this blog, you can click this link.

The soil of Bengal bears the essence of the three great rivers, Ganga, Yamuna, and Brahmaputra, along with their myriad tributaries. This remarkably fertile soil provides nourishment to an incredible variety of flora. Bengal is one place in the country where, along with the vegetables and fruits, the stalks, leaves, as well as the flowers of the plants are made into tasty dishes. Did you know that fritters made from kumro phool (pumpkin flowers) and shojne phool (drumstick flowers) are relished with great indulgence. Well, so much for the infinite variety of Bengali cuisine.

Most people know Bengal as the “fish-eating” state of the country; however, what many people do not know, is the fact that Bengal offers the richest variety in vegetarian cuisine in the world, most of which are vegan! Not only this, the vegan cuisine of Bengal is extremely healthy, cooked with minimal oil and spices, and very tasty because the method of preparation elicits the best flavors from all the ingredients in the dish. The USP of Bengali cuisine is that all tastes are blended beautifully – tok (sour), mishti (sweet), nonta (salty), and jhaal (chilli hot).

Today, on the eve of Janmashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna, we take the opportunity to launch the State recipe series on Vegan India! blog. We are very grateful to Smt. Sanchita Paul (Pal), resident of Shillong, for contributing all the six main course recipes in the Bengal series. Smt. Paul originally hails from “East Bengal”, now Bangladesh, and therefore brings the taste of “opar Bangla” into her preparations.

The last dish on our menu is “Tal er Bora”, a sweet dish recipe contributed by Smt. Urmila Dutta, resident of Gurgaon, with ancestry rooted in West Bengal. The Tal (Toddy Palm) fruit is available in the monsoon season; so in Bengali homes, Tal er Bora (Toddy Palm fritters) is prepared on Janmashtami day and offered to Lord Krishna as bhog (offering made to the Gods). “Tal er bora kheye Nondo nache re!!” are famous lines in Bangla that roughly translated means, “Lord Krishna dances in ecstasy as He pops Tal er bora in His mouth!!” However, as you will learn from the recipe, just in case you are unable to find the toddy palm fruit in your city, you may well substitute with ripe bananas. Details in the recipe.

A note about spices in Bengali cooking: Before we get on with the recipes, it is fair that we introduce you to the “panch phoron”, the ubiquitous spice mixture used in most Bengali recipes. Panch phoron meaning ‘five spices’ is a mixture of the following spices: jeera (cumin), kalojeera (black cumin), methi (fenugreek), sorsae (mustard), and saunf (fennel). It may not be too easy to find the ready-made panch phoron mixture in shops outside Bengal. However, you can prepare the mixture in your own kitchens. You will need to lightly roast each of the spices separately, then combine them, allow the mixture to cool, and finally bottle the mixture. This now becomes your panch phoron.

Another noteworthy feature of Bengali cooking is the usage of sugar. Most recipes use between one pinch to ½ teaspoon of sugar – not to make the end product sweet, but to balance out the flavors of the different ingredients and unify them.

Suggestions for healthy cooking: Finally, this may not be specific to Bengali cooking but important for overall healthy eating: In all the recipes, we have used the cold-pressed varieties of cooking oils obtained from organic stores and used organically-grown raw ingredients to ensure that we are offering the healthiest food to our bodies. However, if you have difficulty procuring organically grown raw materials, please do not let that hinder your trial with the recipes. And, if you do manage to procure the organically grown counterparts of the vegetables especially, please do not remove the skins entirely, for example, from the ridge gourd, potato, pumpkin, pointed gourd, or any other such vegetable. Most of the goodies are sitting just below the skins of the vegetables. Since organically grown vegetables are pesticide-free, you can enjoy the goodies to your heart’s content eating them with much of the skin.

The recipes!

1) Jhinga Posto (Ridge Gourd with Poppy Seeds)

For three servings, you will need:
Jhinge – 1, medium sized and tender, light green variety
Posto – 1 tbsp, soaked for 10 minutes
Mustard powder – 1 tsp (can use by Weikfield)
Green chilli – 1 or 2 as per taste, 2 for garnishing
Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
Panch phoron – ½ tsp
Salt – As per taste
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Sugar – Less than ½ tsp

Preparation: Piece jhinge into small cubes and keep aside. Prepare a paste of posto, mustard powder, and green chilli, and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Add panch phoron and let it splutter. Add jhinge, salt, and turmeric. Cover and fry until jhinge is soft. Add the paste. Sauté for a minute or two. Add little water if too tight. Cook until mushy, add sugar, and remove from fire. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together. Garnish with split green chillies and serve.

2) Green Tomatoes in Mustard Paste

For three servings, you will need:
Green tomatoes – 3, medium sized
Potatoes – 2, medium sized
Mustard powder – 1 tbsp (can use by Weikfield)
Green chilli – 1 or 2 as per taste
Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
Panch poron – ½ tsp
Dry red chilli – 1, small
Salt – As per taste
Turmeric – One pinch
Sugar – ½ tsp

Preparation: Piece green tomatoes and potatoes longitudinally, and keep aside. Prepare a paste of mustard powder and green chilli, and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Add panch poron and dry red chilli, and let them splutter. Add potatoes, salt, and turmeric. Cover and fry until potato is soft. Add the green tomatoes and the paste. Cook until tomatoes are soft, adding water if required. Add sugar and remove from fire. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together and then serve.

3) Tok-misti Kumro (Sweet and Sour Pumpkin)

For three servings, you will need:
Kumro – ½ kg
Tamarind – 1 lemon-sized ball, soaked for an hour
Green chilli – 1 or 2 as per taste
Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
Panch phoron – ½ tsp
Salt – As per taste
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Sugar – ½ tsp
Coriander leaves for garnishing

Preparation: Piece kumro into medium-sized cubes and keep aside. Prepare a paste of tamarind and green chilli, and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Add panch phoron and let it splutter. Add kumro, salt, and turmeric. Cover and fry until kumro is soft. Add the paste. Cover for 2 minutes. Add water, as required. Cook until mushy, add sugar, and remove from fire. Ensure the proportion of tok (sour), jhal (chilli hot), and misti (sweet) is as per your taste. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.

4) Pineapple Potol (Pointed Gourd with Pineapple)

For three servings, you will need:
Potol – 3, medium sized
Potato – 2, medium sized
Pineapple – 1, two-inch slice
Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
Panch phoron – ½ tsp
Turmeric – 1 pinch
Chilli powder – 1 pinch
Salt – As per taste
Sugar – 1½ tsp to ½ tsp (The amount of sugar will depend on the sweetness of the pineapple.)

Preparation: Piece potol and potato into medium-sized cubes and keep aside. Grate the pineapple and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Add panch phoron and let it splutter. Add potol and potato. Cover and fry until the vegetables are soft. Add water, as required. Add the grated pineapple, turmeric, chilli powder, and salt. Cook until mushy, add sugar, and remove from fire. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together and then serve.

5) Mocha Ghonto (Banana Flower Curry)

For five servings, you will need:
Banana Flower – 1
Potato – 2, medium sized
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Chilli powder – 1 pinch
Turmeric – 2 pinch
Ginger paste – 1 tsp
Bay leaves – 2 
Salt – As per taste
Mustard oil – 4 tbsp
Panch phoron – ½ tsp
Dry red chilli – 2
Sugar – ½ tsp
Garam masala powder – ½ tsp
Cashew butter – As per taste
Coriander leaves for garnishing

Preparation: Apply a layer of mustard oil on your palms and knife, and mince the banana flowers into very tiny pieces making sure that you remove the hard stick-like portion from each flower. You must grease your palms because banana flower tends to leave them black in color since it is rich in iron (greasing can reduce the blackening considerably, although not eliminate it). Parboil the banana flowers with one whistle in the pressure cooker. Strain the water from the boiled banana flowers and keep aside. Piece the potatoes into small cubes and keep aside. Make a paste of cumin powder, chilli powder, one pinch turmeric, ginger paste, bay leaves, and salt, and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Fry potato pieces with one pinch turmeric and salt until soft and keep aside. Add panch phoron and dry red chillis in the left-over oil. Add the paste. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add the boiled banana flower and potatoes, and cook until mushy. Add water, as required. Add salt, sugar, garam masala powder, and cashew butter before removing from fire. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.

6) Moong Dal (Green gram de-skinned and split)

For three servings, you will need:
Moong dal – ½ cup
Salt – As per taste
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Ginger – 1 inch piece, cubed
Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
Panch phoron – ½ tsp
Dry red chilli – 1
Bay leaf – 1
Green chilli – 1 or 2 as per taste
Sugar – Less than ½ tsp
Coriander leaves for garnishing 

Preparation: Roast the dry moong dal and then clean in water. Boil the dal with salt, turmeric powder, and ginger cubes in a pressure cooker with four whistles. Heat mustard oil. Add panch phoron, whole dry red chilli, and let the spices splutter. Add the bay leaf and green chilli, wait till aroma comes out. Add the boiled dal and water (if required) to bring the preparation to the consistency you want. Add sugar and remove from fire. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.

7) Tal er Bora (Toddy Palm Fruit Fritters): As said earlier, Tal er Bora is a sweet delicacy that is offered to Lord Krishna on Janamastami day. If you have difficulty finding the Toddy Palm fruit in your city, you can substitute with ripe bananas. Our contributor has tweaked the original recipe a bit to make it healthy, for example substitute whole wheat for maida, introduce sesame seeds, and use cold-pressed canola oil for any other. There is another purpose to using canola oil: it does not have a taste of its own, therefore will not interfere with the tastes of the other ingredients. 

You will need:
Tal fruit – 1 or 5 big ripe bananas
Whole wheat – 1 cup
Coconut – 2 cups, grated
Sugar – 1 cup
Fennel seeds – 1 tsp
Cardamom powder – 1 tsp
Sesame seeds – 2 tbsp
Canola oil – As per deep fry

Preparation: Extract the sap from the tal kernals and keep aside. You can take tips from My Saffron Kitchen to learn how to extract the sap from the Tal kernels by clicking this link. If using bananas, mash them in a mixie and keep aside. Dry roast the grated coconut in an oven or tawa. Add the roasted coconut, sugar, fennel seeds, cardamom powder, and sesame seeds to the fruit mixture and combine well. Heat canola oil. Wet your hands in water, form small lumps from the mixture with your hands, and lightly drop them in the oil, one by one. Fry until golden brown and serve hot.

Happy Janmashtami, Everyone!

“We manage to swallow flesh only because we do not think of the cruel and sinful thing that we do. Cruelty... is a fundamental sin, and admits of no arguments or nice distinctions. If only we do not allow our heart to grow callous, it protests against cruelty, is always clearly heard; and yet we go on perpetrating cruelties easily, merrily, all of us—in fact, anyone who does not join in is dubbed a crank.” ~Rabindranath Tagore, in 1894 at the age of 33, in Glimpses of Bengal Letters, a selection of his letters.~

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Who Pays For Your Leather Shoes? (Non Leather Shoes and Accessories in India)

We pay with currency. They pay with their lives.
Each time you enter a leather store, remember somebody paid with their lives for that beautiful bag/shoe/belt/wallet/purse/jacket perched on the snazzy shelf of the jazzy store and the way they had to die was not beautiful at all, and to describe their death as “gory” would be an understatement.
There are two common myths about leather and the leather industry:
1.    Leather items are made from animals who have died of natural causes.
2.    The leather industry does a great “service” by recycling the skins of dead animals into leather.

The caption in the poster is upsetting, while these myths do prevail, but then, what is the truth?

Consider this. The website of the Council of Leather Exports boasts of increasing leather exports from India. The same website declares that the Government of India has identified the “leather sector” as a “focus Sector” in the Foreign Trade Policy of 2010-2014. (Source). Do you think such lofty targets would have been set based on the expectation of raw material supply from animals who would die of natural causes?

The reality is that animals—cows, pigs, buffaloes, sheep, goats, and you name it—are being and will be especially slaughtered to meet the “target” set by the leather sector. Each time some body declares that leather sales or exports will increase by a certain percentage, it means that a proportionate number of animals will be slaughtered.

Consider this too. The companies that manufacture merchandise made from animal leather register constant production month after month. Would it be prudent to assume that production, sales, and profits depend on animals that die a natural death? The fact is that animals do not die naturally at the same rate to meet the “demand” of the burgeoning leather market. They are killed for the purpose.

To learn about the detailed truth, you can read an India-specific research on the leather industry by the organization, Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC), India titled, Commercially available leather is always from animals that are killed. Please click the title of the research to learn more.

If this is the truth, how does the leather industry thrive?

Sadly, the leather industry thrives on mass ignorance, and a misinformed and artificially created “demand” for leather. “Misinformed” because most people who buy “genuine” leather are unaware of the brutality based on which which the industry operates. Or, people are not aware of the availability of cruelty-free non-leather. The leather industry hoodwinks people into thinking that “leather” is durable and lasts longer. What they do not advertise is how the raw material is procured. The truth might turn off many buyers.

Also, the numerous processes involved in converting animal skin to an item for human use makes animal-derived leather cost more than non-leather. The society is conditioned to believe that costly items are better. Which is not always the case. Not in this case, at least.

Yet another aspect that the leather industry does not tell us about is the “human” concerns/costs around leather production in terms of the occupational health hazards of the tannery workers. A study published in the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine on the leather tannery workers in the city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh revealed a significantly higher prevalence of morbidity among them. Further, the study observes:
"Leather production includes many operations with different exposures, which can be harmful for the health of the workers, and particularly be carcinogenic. Some compounds in the tanning process are considered as probably being carcinogenic to humans (some benzene-based dyes and formaldehyde). Besides these, scores of other chemicals and organic solvents such as chromate and bichromate salts, aniline, butyl acetate, ethanol, benzene, toluene, sulfuric acid and ammonium hydrogen sulfide are used in the tannery industry."
You can read the study in detail by clicking this link on the Journal site.

This is so unfortunate but what is being done to halt the killing of animals for leather?

You can well guess by now that signing on a leather deal translates to signing the death warrant of thousands of animals. It also means destroying the lives of many human beings and their families. However, sustained campaigns led by organizations such as People For Animals (PFA), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and others have borne fruits. Some of the recent gains have been to ban the production of leather shoes for army soldiers that would have involved the killing of four lakh cows, ban in animal leather shoes in the schools of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, decision of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to phase out the use of leather shoes and belts and replace them with non-leather, an overall ban on leather shoes in Indian schools, and so on. Each of these success stories are linked to their respective reports on the internet, you can click the links to learn more.

I want to know how to identify non-leather, can you help?

You can train yourself to distinguish animal leather from non-leather. Below is a note courtesy BWC, India on how to do the same: 
Leather or non-leather?: A reliable way to check if the material in question is leather or not is to smell it; if still in doubt and if possible try to inspect its back surface by prying it open slightly: if it is not leather, it will have a material like texture, otherwise it will be very smooth. Or else, burn a corner: leather will burn without a flame and give a flesh burning odour, whereas all ‘synthetics’ will quickly catch fire because they are polymer based. Another way to check is by applying a bit of saliva since animal leather absorbs moisture – on faux leather it will not ‘disappear’. ‘Synthetics’ have an unbroken uniformity in pattern over their entire surface whereas animal leather varies in patches. In the case of Pleather/Bicast leather which consists of a thick layer of plastic or PU (Poly-Urethane) applied to bonded/reconstituted leather, if the material is very stiff, bubbles are visible, or looks like it will crack, it is leather. Courtesy: BWC, India (

Where can I shop for non-leather merchandise?

Here is the good news at long last! Non-leather shoes are readily available in India and yes, maybe in the shopping complex next to you! Today we present a compilation of some prominent companies that sell non-leather shoes in India. We say “some” because there are many more companies—local and otherwise. The compilation is a glimpse to convey that non-leather shoes, bags, belts, and wallets do exist and can be very stylish and offer a variety as well. Most importantly, they are ethical. All we need to do is to make our needs felt and ask for them.

Please note that the compilation appears in the descending order of the Company’s spread in the country. You can click the name of each company to locate a store near you. Most importantly, please involve the salespeople in the store and ask them to guide you to the non-leather section. This sends out a signal in the market that non-leather is being actively sought. At the same time, do arm yourself with know-how on how to distinguish non-leather from leather and vice versa.

1. Bata: Everybody in India has worn a Bata shoe at some stage in their lives. They are omnipresent with the widest spread of showrooms in India. Although not all the merchandise at Bata is non-leather; the Company offers a very fine range of non-leather shoes and bags. The non-leather selection includes formal/informal/sports shoes for men, women, and children, and handbags for women.

2. Liberty Shoes Ltd.: Also has a large spread of showrooms in India. Similar to Bata, Liberty does not exclusively manufacture non-leather, but has a range of non-leather formal/informal/ shoes for men, women, and children, and belts and wallets for men.

3. Adidas/Fila/Nike/PUMA/Reebok: We have clubbed these companies together because they primarily sell casual and athletic shoes for men, women, and children. They also sell bags. Please note that some athletic/sports shoes stocked by these companies are of animal-derived leather, or in other words, not all shoes are of canvas and synthetic leather material. Therefore, you need to ask and ensure. At times, the label on the shoes indicate the material.

4. Metro Shoes: Although does not exclusively manufacture non-leather items, but is sensitive to the needs of people who ask for non-leather. The proof is in their website. If you go to the Metro Shoes website and from the first drop down select “Shoe For”, then click the second drop down, “Shoe Category”, you will find the sub-category “Vegetarian”. A spokesperson from the company informed us that in case you are not shopping online, you can take help from the salespeople at the stores to help you seek the “100% non-leather” shoes. Metro Shoes has a range of non-leather formal/informal/ shoes for men, women, and children, and bags for women. We recommend that you make a note of the “vegetarian” shoes from the online list before going to the store.

5. Lifestyle Stores: Offers a range of non-leather formal shoes for men with a starting price of Rs.600/-. We found a reasonable variety at the Koramangla Lifestyle store in Bangalore. However, when we wrote to Lifestyle for further inquiries, they did not respond. Nevertheless, the pairs we bought were definitely non-leather as the salespeople vouched for them and they passed the above mentioned leather test as well.

6. Crocs: The beautiful Crocs shoes are primarily crafted from a material called croslite. Croslite is a proprietary resin substance made from a polymer by the name of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). EVA is sometimes more popularly known as “foam rubber” or “expanded leather”. We were told that the women’s and children’s selections are made of the croslite material; however a few designs in the men’s range use a strip of animal-derived leather. It is easy to bypass these designs with non-vegan strips. The salespersons guide you at the stores. We have reviewed Crocs on this blog; you can click this link for the review.

7. Baggit: This is a brand that you can completely trust because they sell non-leather merchandise only. Baggit is the recipient of the PETA Proggy Award for the year 2007. Baggit offers a stylish selection of formal/informal shoes, bags, belts, wallets, purses, pouches, and mobile phone holders for women. For men, Baggit offers good looking and well-designed wallets. We have reviewed Baggit on this blog in the past; you can click this link for the review.

8. Compassion Avenue: This is also a company that you can completely trust because they sell non-leather merchandise only. The selection includes formal shoes, belts, and wallets for men, and informal shoes for women. However, Compassion Avenue products are available in Pune only. You can even order by post by contacting the proprietor. We have reviewed Compassion Avenue on this blog in the past; you can click this link for the review.

9. Senso Vegetarian: A PETA-certified, ethically-sound company with 100% vegetarian formal shoes for men and women. We have reviewed Senso Vegetarian on this blog, you can click this link for the review.


It has been Vegan India's endeavor to find vegan parallels of most things in life and share the information with whoever is willing or wants to listen. We do not claim to be 100% accurate nor claim to be the ultimate database on vegan-related matters. We are simply vegan bloggers, here to celebrate each day of our vegan existence with lots of color, photographs, food, compassion, positive stories, and our companion animals. Anybody is only too welcome to join in the celebration. Please feel free to add on to this list or any other list/story in any page in this blog. You can simply pull down a comment box and post your inputs. Thank you.
We thank Swosti Mishra, our ideator friend, for spontaneously translating ideas into visuals. We also thank Amruta Ubale, vegan comrade from Pune, for sharing her valuable inputs to develop some of the viewpoints in this story.

You can also read:

“As long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.” ~Genius Mathematician, Pythagoras, over two thousand years ago in ancient Greece~