The popularity of vegetarian food and vegetarian dishes has been on the rise in recent years in India. Some studies estimate that vegetarians account for up to 18% of the global population. Apart from the ethical and environmental considerations for not eating meat, a well-planned vegetarian diet may also help you reduce the risk of chronic disease, support weight loss, and improve the quality of your diet.

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What is a Vegetarian Diet?

A vegetarian diet means abstinence from eating meat, fish, and poultry. People may have different reasons for choosing a vegetarian diet for religious or personal reasons, as well as ethical issues, such as animal rights. Others decide to become vegetarian for environmental reasons, as livestock production increases greenhouse gas emissions, contributes to climate change, and requires large amounts of water, energy, and natural resources.

Common Vegetarian Meal Ideas

A vegetarian doesn’t eat meat, including beef, chicken, pork, or fish, and may or may not choose to eat other animal products, such as eggs, dairy, gelatin, or honey. Vegetarianism may take several forms, which differ in their restrictions. The most common types are:

  • A lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet eliminates meat, fish and poultry but allows eggs and dairy products.
  • A lacto-vegetarian diet eliminates meat, fish, poultry, and eggs but allows dairy products.
  • An ovo-vegetarian diet eliminates meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products but allows eggs.
  • A pescetarian diet eliminates meat and poultry but allows fish and sometimes eggs and dairy products.
  • A vegan diet eliminates meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, as well as other animal-derived products, such as honey.
  • A flexitarian diet A mostly vegetarian diet that incorporates occasional meat, fish, or poultry.
eggs and vegetarianism
A few forms of vegetarianism may also include the consumption of animal byproducts, such as eggs. | Source: Cody Chan on Unsplash

Balanced Vegetarian Dishes

Reference Intakes (RI)

Reference Intakes or RIs are acceptable standards for the amount of energy (kilocalories), fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugar, protein, and salt that an average, moderately active adult should consume each day. The RIs for fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt are maximum daily amounts. There is no RI for fiber, although a 30g limit is usually prescribed by health experts. RIs exist for guidance only as different individuals will have varying needs for energy and nutrients.

Reference Intakes (RI) for Men

  • Energy – 2500kcal
  • Protein – 55g
  • Carbohydrates – 300g
  • Sugar – 120g
  • Fat – 95g
  • Saturates – 30g
  • Salt – 6g

Reference Intakes (RI) for Women

  • Energy – 2000kcal
  • Protein – 50g
  • Carbohydrates – 260g
  • Sugar – 90g
  • Fat – 70g
  • Saturates – 20g
  • Salt – 6g

Which Nutrients Constitute Perfect Portions?

The following information is for guidance only. It is advisable to consult a health expert for your perfect portion!

Carbs (Cereal/Rice/Pasta/Potato)

  • Portion size: Your clenched fist
  • Include 1 portion in the main meals and ensure it fills a maximum of ¼ of your plate

Protein (Paneer/Beans/Pulses)

  • Portion size: Palm of your hand
  • It's okay to have a portion at each meal

Check out these top Indian food bloggers for the perfect vegetarian recipes for your Indian kitchen!

Cheese

  • Portion size: 2 of your thumbs
  • Ideally, consume it as a snack or a small part of a meal

Nuts/Seeds

  • Portion size: 1 of your cupped hands
  • Ideally, consume it as a snack or a small part of a meal

Butter/Spreads/Nut butter

  • Portion size: The tip of your thumb
  • Eat no more than 2 or 3 times a day

Savories (Popcorn/Chips)

  • Portion size: 2 of your cupped hands
  • Eat only as an occasional snack/treat
paneer dishes
Paneer is a favorite ingredient in many Indian vegetarian dishes. | Source: Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

Baked Foods (Brownies/Flapjacks)

  • Portion size: 2 of your fingers
  • Eat only as an occasional snack/treat

Best Vegetarian Recipes for a Healthy Lifestyle

Sabudana Khichdi

Recipe

  • Rinse sabudana under water until the water turns clear. Make sure to get rid of all the starch.
  • Transfer the rinsed sabudana to a large bowl and add no more than 1 cup of water to it.
  • The following morning, the sabudana would have soaked up all the water. Still, drain it using a colander just to get rid of any excess water.
  • To check if sabudana is ready to cook, press a pearl between your thumb and index finger. It should smash easily. Set it aside.
  • Heat oil in a pan on medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle for a few seconds.
  • Add diced potatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes stirring often until potatoes are almost cooked. Use small dices of potatoes to cook quickly.
  • Add raw peanuts and stir for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Add green chilis and curry leaves and cook for 1 more minute.
  • Add the drained sabudana to the pan along with salt and sugar. Mix well.
  • Cook for a few minutes until most of the sabudana pearls become translucent, stirring once or twice. Do not overcook, else it will become sticky.
  • Remove the pan from heat. Add lemon juice and cilantro and toss to mix well.
  • Serve the steaming hot sabudana khichdi with chilled yogurt.

Chana Dal

Recipe

  • Rinse chana dal and add it to a pressure cooker, along with 2.5 cups water (20 oz), 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Pressure cook the dal until it's cooked and soft. On a regular stove-top pressure cooker, it would take 8-10 whistles on high flame. If you are using an electric pressure cooker, like the Instant Pot, cook on high pressure for 13 minutes. In both cases, let the pressure release naturally. Set this aside and work on the masala. Meanwhile, crush 4 large garlic cloves, 1.5-inch ginger, and 1 green chili using a mortar and pestle and set it aside.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy bottom pan on medium heat. Once the oil is hot,  add the whole spices - cumin seeds, cloves, green cardamom, and cinnamon sticks. Sauté for a few seconds until the spices are fragrant.
  • Add chopped onion and cook for around 3 to 4 minutes until they are soft and start to change color.
  • Add the freshly pounded garlic-ginger-green chili and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the raw smell goes away.
  • Add chopped tomatoes, stir and cook for 7 to 8 minutes until they are very soft and completely cooked. At this stage, add 1/2 teaspoon salt along with the tomatoes.
  • Add the spice s- coriander powder, garam masala, Kashmiri red chili powder, and Kasuri methi. Also, add the cilantro. If you want to make the dal spicier, you can replace half of the Kashmiri red chili powder with regular chili powder, which is hotter. Stir and cook the spices for 30 seconds.
  • Add the boiled chana dal to the pan, along with 1/2 to 3/4 cup ( 4 to 6 oz) of more water (depending on the consistency you prefer). Stir and let the dal simmer for 5 to 6 minutes on medium-low heat.
  • For the tadka, heat 2 teaspoons oil or ghee in a small pan on medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add some chopped garlic and dried red chili and cook for 1 minute until the garlic starts changing color. Transfer this tadka to the simmering chana dal and stir.
  • For the dhungar method,  place a steel bowl on top of the dal. Then, using tongs heat a piece of charcoal over direct heat until it is red hot. Place the hot charcoal in that steel bowl on top of the dal using the tongs.
    Pour oil or ghee on top of the charcoal. You will immediately see fumes coming out of the charcoal. Immediately close the pan with a lid. Let it remain like this for 2 to 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, remove the lid and remove the bowl from the dal. The longer you keep the lid on, the smokier the dal will get.
  • Serve the steaming hot chana dal with steamed rice or roti!

Dal Idli

Recipe

  • Start by soaking the 2 types of dals - moong dal dhuli and urad gota, along with 1/2 teaspoon methi seeds for 5-6 hours in about 3 cups of water. Once properly soaked, drain the water using a strainer.
  • Transfer the soaked dal to a blender and add around 1 cup of water. Blend to a smooth paste.
  • Transfer the blended dal to the steel pot of your Instant Pot. Add salt and, then, using your hands, mix the batter nicely for 1-2 minutes. The mixing by hand also helps in fermentation.
  • The batter should have a nice pouring consistency. For this, you can add 3-4 tablespoons of water. Remember a thick batter will not ferment.
  • Cover the Instant Pot with a glass lid. It is better not to use the regular lid of the Pot, in case batter over-ferments and then locks the lid. Press the yogurt button. Set it for 13 hours on yogurt mode "normal setting". The fermentation time will depend on where you live. If you don't have an Instant Pot, simply put the batter into the oven with lights on overnight.
  • After 13 hours, the batter will be fermented. If unfermented,  even after 12-13 hours, and it looks very thick, add some water to make it a nice pouring consistency, and set it to ferment for an additional 2 hours. The fermented batter should be ready by then. To check if the batter has fermented, you can always drop some batter into a bowl of water- if the batter floats, it means it's aerated and fermented and good to make idlis.
  • You can either steam in a regular steamer for 10-12 minutes or use the Instant Pot.
  • To steam in the Instant Pot: Add 1.5 cups of water to the steel pot of your Instant Pot and press 'saute' while you fill the idli molds. Grease the idli molds with little oil and then fill them with the batter. The water in the Instant Pot must start to simmer now. Press the 'cancel' button and place the idli stand inside the pot. Close the lid and press the 'steam' button. Select time to 13 minutes with the pressure valve in venting position. You will have to use an external timer of 13 minutes since the Instant Pot doesn't count when the valve is in venting position. At the end of 13 minutes, unplug the Instant Pot and let the pressure valve drop down on its own. Then, remove the idli stand from the pot and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
  • Finally, remove the idlis from the mold. Serve warm with sambar!
udli-sambhar
The idli-sambhar combo can double up as a snack as well as a wholesome meal. | Source: mcthrissur on Pixabay

Are Vegetarian Meals Healthier?

The best vegetarian recipes are created for wholesome nutrition. Vegetarian diets can be a healthy lifestyle choice. However, eating balanced vegetarian meals and snacks also means that you would have to pay attention to the nutritional requirements of your body.

Vegetarians take out certain foods from their diets and, often, need to work to add in foods that will provide the same nutrients found in animal products.

Vegetarians can ensure a balanced diet by eating a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, soy products, and whole grains, that are obtained from non–meat sources. Vegans, an extreme form of vegetarianism, must also ensure that they are getting enough protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega–3 fatty acids.

Most Indian vegetarians like to enjoy a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruit. However, some may also include dairy products, including cheese (made using vegetable rennet) and eggs. Scientific research studies show that a plant-based diet like this can be a healthier way to eat with fewer reported cases of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

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Shreyanjana

Shreyanjana is an archaeologist who ironically finds the written word to be the most powerful means of storytelling. A travel buff and a photography enthusiast, she has been writing and sharing stories of all sorts ever since she can remember.