Cookbook review: Indian cooking for a healthy lifestyle

‘Plant-Based India: Nourishing Recipes Rooted in Tradition’ by Dr. Sheil Shukla (The Experiment, $30)

It’s not unusual for new converts to veganism to share their insights and experiments in plant-based eating via social media. Dr. Sheil Shuka’s culinary journey ranks among the more compelling ones.

Shuka is a Chicago-based internal medicine physician, artist, recipe developer and food photographer behind the popular Instagram account, @plantbasedartist. He was raised in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where his parents settled after emigrating from Ahmedabad in the northwestern Indian state of Gujarat.

He opens his debut cookbook, “Plant-Based India: Nourishing Recipes Rooted in Tradition” (The Experiment, $30), by confessing how, growing up, he and his brother looked forward to Tuesdays when their mom would give in to their pleas for chicken fingers, Mexican pizza and other non-Indian fare.

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The rest of the week, they grudgingly ate their typical nightly suppers of Gujarati vegetarian fare. “Perhaps we had an aversion to vegetables in general or maybe we just wanted to eat like our American friends to fit in,” he writes.

Not until he went away to college in Chicago and began cooking for himself to avoid mundane dorm food did he come to appreciate the familiar foods he’d once pushed away. Later, he traveled to Mumbai to cook alongside his grandmother. His increasing awareness about industrial food practices on health and the environment motivated him to go full vegan and blog about his vegan creations. While in medical school, he went beyond the classroom to learn how a plant-based diet could help combat chronic illnesses.

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Those lessons culminate in inventive, approachable dishes such as Creamy Masala Tomato Soup fortified with pureed cashews and brightened with fresh mint; verdant Sunflower Sag with Black-Eyed Peas; rice-based Corn, Butternut Squash and Mushroom Biryani; Chocolate Chai Mousse with Berries made with tofu; and lassi (the yogurt-based drink) flavored four ways.

Thus far, I’ve made Rasavala Baby Potatoes with Greens, a hearty stir-fry in an aromatic tomato-infused sauce; and Citrus, Fennel and White Bean Salad spiked with toasted and crushed whole spices. Both were speedy and full-flavored enough that meat and dairy never crossed my mind.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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