Indian Chefs Serving Flexitarians For WSJ

Indian-Origin Chefs Serving U.S. ‘Flexitarians’

By Visi R. Tilak

Drawing upon the many options available in Indian cuisine, chefs in the U.S. are serving vegetarian fare in a country where 5% of the population, according to a 2012 Gallup poll, doesn’t eat meat.

There’s also demand from the “flexitarian” market, or people who are mostly vegetarian but sometimes eat meat, with 30%-40% of Americans considered to be flexitarians, according to one study.

Pankaj Pradhan of Red Lentil in Watertown, Massachusetts, and celebrity chef Jehangir Mehta, who is based in New York, are among the Indian-origin chefs catering to vegetarian-inclined diets.

At his restaurant Red Lentil, Mr. Pradhan serves vegetarian versions of global cuisine, including Moroccan, Mediterranean, Italian, Mexican, and of course Indian. Even the wine and beer is vegan.

His menu items are seasonal and based on locally available produce. One of his popular dishes is the $16 vegan shepherd’s pie, which is made from mashed potatoes, soy sausage, corn kernel, onion, vegetables and spinach.

Mr. Mehta has menus for meat eaters and vegetarians at his New York restaurants Mehtaphor, Graffiti and GraffitiMe. In such a diverse city, it is important to cater to the people with personalized dietary habits, Mr. Mehta says.

His popular vegetarian dishes include the Indian Street Burger and the Truffle Goat Cheese Pizza.

Both chefs say many of their customers are meat-eaters but they are happy to taste vegetarian and vegan dishes on offer.

Here are recipes for two of their dishes:   

Mr. Pradhan’s Vegan Shepherd’s Pie:


10 sweet potatoes

2 zucchini

2 summer squash

1 red bell pepper

2 soy sausage

1 lb spinach

4 Spanish onions

1 lb fresh corn kernel roasted

½ cup green fresh herbs chopped

5 golden Yukon potatoes

2 tbsp red chili flakes

3 tbsp fennel seeds

1 can coconut milk

8 oz soy margarine

Salt and pepper to taste


Rinse the sweet potatoes in cold water, peel the skin and cut them into big dices. Soak in the water, totally immersed. Repeat for golden Yukon potatoes.

Bring them to boil in two different containers.

While the potatoes are boiling, peel the onions, slice them thinly and sauté in pan until brown in color.

Mince the soy sausage – by hand or machine – and then sauté with the onions.

Add the fennel seeds and chili flakes. Set aside.

Dice the zucchini, summer squash, spinach and pepper and sauté in a different pan.

Once the potatoes are boiled fully, drain in two different colanders. Mash them separately while adding coconut milk and soy margarine.

Take a half hotel pan, spray with pan coating so the food doesn’t stick, and layer all the ingredients with mashed potatoes on top.

Cover with silver foil and bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Garnish with golden fried onions or fried sage leaf and serve with cashew cream sauce.

Cashew Cream Sauce

4 cups cashew nuts soaked in water

3 tbsp nutritional yeast

2 tbsp soy gluten free tamari

32 oz soy milk

2 tbsp paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

Drain the cashew from the water and transfer to a blender with the soy milk and other ingredients. Once blended, pour into a saucepan and warm on a low flame.

Mr. Mehta’s Soy Vegetable Dumplings:


1 tbsp chopped leek

1 tbsp tofu puree

1 tbsp chopped onions

2 tbsp chopped Napa cabbage

1/4 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

1/4 tsp garlic

1/4 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp Thai chili chopped

4 tbsp Shiitake mushrooms chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

12 pc wonton wrapper


Mix all the ingredients together except for the wonton wrappers. Divide the mixture into 12 portions.

Place each wonton wrapper on a cutting board and brush gently with water. Place a portion of the mixture in the center of each wrapper. Fold to form a dumpling. Put in the freezer for an hour.

Fry the dumplings in a pot with vegetable oil until golden.Toss the fried dumplings in sauce and serve.


3 tbsp soy sauce

1 whole Thai chili

1 tbsp honey

1/4 tsp chopped ginger pickle

1 tbsp oil

2 tbsp water

Whisk all these ingredients together.

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