Eating both delicious and climate smart food -India has the lowest meat consumption rates in the world. We're talking with Rakhee Yadav graphic designer and photographer from India:
What is your view on the connection between food and health?
"There is a huge connection of course. What we put into our bodies can directly be seen in how we look and feel. I have been a vegetarian/vegan all my life. I eat small meals throughout the day (about 6) and don’t like to eat any carbs beyond 6 pm in the evening. I don’t smoke, don’t drink (apart from the occasional wine) and don’t eat meat. For me this is the ultimate respect I can show not just to my body but also to our planet. Eating consciously doesn’t also only mean eating vegan or vegetarian. Eating and cooking moderately is a key factor. Food wastage is the biggest sacrilege in my opinion. If we as human beings did everything in moderation, nothing that we eat would be bad for us.
It cannot be a coincidence that I rarely ever fall sick, have all my black hair hair at 46, am fit and don’t have a single cavity in my mouth! I attribute this to my healthy lifestyle and eating habits."
Where did you grow up and how did your interest in food begin?
"I was born and brought up in India in a primarily vegetarian household. My mother was vegetarian even though my father wasn't. In India this is very normal. My mother never cooked non-vegetarian so I am a natural vegetarian. I was often sick as a child and was prescribed way too much antibiotics for what was not such a major sickness. Doctors in India are quite aggressive when prescribing antibiotics, and naturally my stomach was affected by it and I pretty much lost my appetite for a good part of my childhood. This led to zero interest in food. It wasn't until I was in my twenties when I started to feel better, that I discovered spices.
At the age of 29 I moved to the US, discovering pasta, thai food and all sorts of other veggie delights. I was doing very well as a graphic designer in India but moved because I wanted to challenge myself in a completely new environment. I lived in America for several years before moving to The Netherlands. The true passion for food actually began in The Netherlands when suddenly I was forced to be home with little creative outlet, food and cooking that started out as a need, became a passion. I tried to recreate not only classic dishes from India but also created new ones with the ingredients available here. Today being in the kitchen, creating food and working with food photography this is what keeps me going."
Whats the difference between living in India and Netherlands?
"There are few differences between living in The Netherlands and India. Some positive and some not so positive. Of course as a woman I find more freedom living in Holland than I do in India. I am fiercely independent and have always been a bit of a rebel so India was tough for me as a girl. I never understood why as a female I was not allowed to do certain things while boys could. It got me in trouble quite a few times! The downside of living here is that I think I will always be a second class citizen. That is of course never a nice feeling. I never suffered discrimination till I came to Holland.
And, I don’t get the variety of ingredients in vegetarian cooking as I can find in India!"
One thing we often hear is that it’s cheaper to eat meat or a fast hamburger than cooking a vegan meal. What are your thoughts on that?
"There is no easy way to answer this. It is a complicated question. Because the reasons a person eats fast food can be many. If your environment is such where all you have ever known is to eat fast food then the cheap factor is moot. Also, I believe your general mental health effects what you eat. If you are stressed, depressed, you will tend to eat bad foods. It really is a circle."
What do you think about Climate change?
"Climate change is very very real. I do agree that some of it is cyclical but a huge part of climate change is created by mankind. It is a frightening prospect that my actions will leave behind a dangerous world for my child.
Before moving to the West I lived in New Delhi, India, and the effects of climate change can’t be more apparent than in this beautiful city. There is usually a haze of pollution that sits over the city. The summers are getting worse and worse every year with temperatures reaching nearly 50°C which was unheard of when I lived there some 20 years ago."
We have to include the mandatory 2 questions vegans get ALL the time:
Where do you get your protein from?
"As a vegetarian I get my protein from legumes and grains of which I eat a lot. Nuts are also very good for protein intake."
Don’t you think it’s extreme to be a vegan?
"I don’t think it is extreme to be vegan at all. Vegan food has a LOT of variety and is very nutritious. I am (sort of) one so I know this for a fact. I am very healthy and don’t lack nutrients like some meat eaters claim I might miss."
Lucky ones can learn from Rakhee Yadav by joining her photo workshops in India:
"The whole point of the workshops is to promote India as a destination for food in general. I think most travellers don’t necessarily go to India for the food but more for spirituality - the hard core traveller goes for the travel photography. There is so much amazing food in India that I get shocked myself. The colour and the variety is unbelievable. To photograph it is a joy! I have learned a lot about photography over the last many years. I would like to give that knowledge to other people and not keep it for myself. That is also a very strong motivation to hold these workshops.
It is also my endeavour to put India on the map as a location for workshops. India has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to female travellers. I’d like to change that and let people see for themselves it is quite different from what is portrayed in the media. Therefore it's very important for me to choose the location very carefully. I do mountains of research and recce the area before deciding whether or not I want to hold a workshop in that location or not."
What makes you happy?
"Without a doubt it is my daughter that makes me happy. To live for someone else is an experience I had never lived before. I learn from her everyday as much as she might learn from me."
2¼ tsp fast acting yeast
⅔ cup warm water
1 cup all-purpose flour
⅔ cup whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
To make the crust, combine yeast and warm water and set aside. Mix together flours and salt in a large bowl. Add olive oil and mix. While mixing, slowly add water/yeast mixture.
Turn onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Place in a large oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel, and place in a warm area for 1 - 1½ hours, until doubled in size.
2 cans (800 grams total) of peeled Italian tomatoes
3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 small red onions, diced
1 tbsp of tomato paste
1 tsp of sugar
More salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a pan heat the olive oil and add the chopped onions and garlic. Cook till the onions are transparent and then add the canned tomatoes. Cook for around 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the thyme, tomato paste and sugar. Cook for another 5-10 minutes. Lastly add the salt and pepper and set aside to cool.
Eggplant cheese topping:
2 - 3 big eggplants (approx 750 grams), in my case I found these amazing small multi coloured ones
vegan cheese for grating
Salt and pepper for seasoning
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil for frying
2 red onions, sliced in circles and cook to caramelise (for topping)
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Chili flakes for sprinkling (optional)
Remove the tips of the eggplants, then cut into very thin (1/8â€³, or 3mm) slices. Scatter over a parchment-lined baking sheet in roughly a single layer (some overlapping is fine). Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil, then grate a thin layer of vegan cheese evenly over the top, season with salt and pepper, then place in the oven. Cook until the top surface is nicely browned, then transfer the cooked eggplants to another sheet, and repeat with the rest. Set aside until needed.
Shape the dough to fit on a pizza stone or baking dish. Lightly brush on the remaining olive oil and top with the vegan cheese. Place broiled eggplant over the cheese, covering the entire surface. Top with caramelised onions and fresh thyme. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned.
Allow the pizza to cool 5 minutes before slicing. Sprinkle with chili flakes (optional)
All images copyright Rakhee Yadav, Box of Spice.