Starting a meal prep routine may sound time-consuming, but it definitely doesn't have to be. Want proof? Let Well+Good's Prep School series do all the planning for you. Each month, we focus on a different eating style, with four weeks of different delicious plans to try at home. All April, we're focusing on plant-based eating across different cuisines. This week, the theme is Indian-inspired plant-based meals.
Since opening their doors in 2015, Inday has been a go-to destination for hungry New Yorkers looking for a healthy, plant-based grab-and-go meal that doesn't come in the form of a chopped salad. Founder Basu Ratnam drew on his Indian roots and California upbringing to conceptualize a fast-casual restaurant with plenty of Indian spices infused in every dish. And he says that his mom, Runi Ratman, is the inspiration behind it all.
Like many restaurants, Inday was directly affected by the COVID-19 epidemic and was forced to temporarily close their doors. (Their GoFundMe helps support their team.) In the meantime, Runi Ratnam is sharing her tips on cooking easy Indian dishes at home by serving as this week's Prep School expert.
"I am someone who loves to cook, hates following recipes, doesn't have the patience to measure stuff, and loves to fool around with ‘mystery’ ingredients," Ratnam says of her cooking style. Because of this, she says to feel free to add your own twists to the recipes and meals he provides here. "All my recipes have ‘replaceable’ ingredients and I invite you to make whatever substitutions feed your adventurous soul," she says. Trust us: These leftovers will not be boring.
Keep reading for a week's worth of healthy Indian dinner ideas that can be made ahead:
Ingredients to buy for your plant-based Indian dinners:
- 1 small cauliflower
- 2 large onions
- 1 bag mixed greens
- 1 lb. frozen peas and carrots
- 1 lemon
- 2 tomatoes
- 2 cucumbers
- 1 6 oz. can of black olives
- 1 medium eggplant
- 1 hot green pepper
- 1 avocado (optional)
- 2-3 lbs. of vegetables for roasting, enough for four cups (such as broccoli, sweet potatoes, or bell peppers)
- 1 5 oz. can tuna
- 1/2 lb. millet
- 1 bag yellow lentils
- 1 14-oz. can of black beans
- Red wine vinegar
- Bay leaves
- Cinnamon sticks
Meat and dairy
- 1 3-4 oz. salmon fillet
- 5 oz. plain yogurt
- Milk or alt-milk
What you'll need from the fridge/pantry:
What to prep on Sunday for a week of healthy Indian dinners:
Recipe 1: Warm grain-dal salad with roasted veggies
Meal prep tip: This plant-forward dish can serve as your dinner for Sunday night, with the leftovers saved for use throughout the week. You make the grain-dal base first, then will actually use it in this recipe and the following, so reserve a portion of the undressed grain-dal for future use before adding the rest into your salad.
For the salad with roasted veggies:
1 14-oz. can of black beans
1/2 small cauliflower head
6 cups chopped vegetable(s) of your choice to roast (broccoli is used here)
1/2 large onion, sliced into half moons, 1/4-inch thick
2 Tbsp gochujang (barbecue sauce or your favorite oil-based salad dressing works too)
3 tsp cooking oil, divided.
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 lemon, cut in half
1 tomato (optional)
1 avocado (optional)
1 cucumber, sliced into thick rounds (optional)
Generous pinch of sea salt (optional)
For the grain-dal base:
1. Put millet and lentils with four cups of water in a large pot.
2. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes. Switch off the flame. Do not uncover the pot. Let it sit for another 20 minutes. Remove from heat until ready to serve. Set aside one serving to use later; use the remaining four servings for the below grain salad.
For the warm grain salad with roasted veggies:
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. In a medium bowl, mix the gochujang (or barbecue sauce) with a teaspoon of water and two teaspoons of the cooking oil until combined. Add the cut up vegetables and sliced onions and toss to coat.
3. Cover a baking sheet or tray with aluminum foil and spread the coated vegetables in a single layer on the tray. Put into the oven and cook for 10 minutes. Turn them over as best you can and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, until most of the veggies soften and are blackened in spots.
4. While the vegetables cook, drain the liquid from the canned beans and rinse thoroughly.
5. Toss the beans and cooked grain-dal with the vinegar and remaining teaspoon of oil in a large bowl.
6. Store the leftovers in an airtight containers (the grain-dal/beans mixture in one and the roasted veggies in another) in the fridge for up to one week.
Recipe 2: Bisi bele grain-bhat
Meal prep tip: This dish is a variation of khitcheri, which is the rice and lentil comfort food of India. Bisi bele bhat literally means "hot lentil and rice gooey soup." The below recipe makes two servings. Enjoy one for dinner tonight, and save the other to have later in the week.
1 serving reserved grain-dal
1/3 cup lentils
2 Tbsp oil
1/2 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp ginger
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tomato, coarsely chopped
2 cups of frozen peas and carrots
1. Wash the lentils, and put in a pot and cover with at least two cups of water. Bring to a boil and then cover and cook for 20 minutes. They should be soft and break apart when squeezed. Drain, as best as you can.
2. Heat the oil under medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft and beginning to brown, about six minutes. Add ginger and whatever spice powder you are using and stir for about 30 seconds or so. Add turmeric and tomatoes and stir for about two minutes, until the tomatoes are beginning to disintegrate. Add the drained dal, stir together.
3. Add the vegetables, stir well. Then add three cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat, and cook for at least 10 minutes, until vegetables soften and the mixture is thick and gooey. Cook uncovered for another 10 minutes until everything comes together. Feel free to add water until you get the consistency that you want. It should be a thick gooey, stewy mixture.
4. Turn off the heat, and add in the serving of reserved grain-dal from the recipe above.
5. Serve one-half of the porridge with kachumbar, a mixture of chopped cucumbers, diced onions, and diced tomatoes, and a dollop of thick yogurt. Store the remaining in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to one week.
Here’s how to use these recipes to make easy, plant-based Indian dinners all week long:
Monday dinner: One-pan Grilled Salmon and eggplant with Indian-style Grain Pilaf
Leftovers: 1 serving grain-dal, salmon, grilled eggplant
New ingredients: 1/2 cup yogurt (plus 1 Tbsp to mix with the sauce), 1 Tbsp gochujang (or barbecue sauce)
Another way to use the grain-dal is combining it with salmon and eggplant, with a flavorful sauce as the topping. Take one medium eggplant and cut it into 1/4-inch strips lengthwise. Slather each side of the strips with olive oil and place on a pan. Bake for 10 minutes. While the eggplant cooks, brush a salmon filet with 1 Tbsp gochujang and 1 Tbsp yogurt. After 10 minutes, flip the eggplant, then add the salmon to the same pan and roast for 12-14 minutes. Reheat your grains to round out the meal and top with a dollop of yogurt.
Tuesday dinner: indian-style pilaf
Leftovers: 1 serving grain-dal, 1 serving roasted vegetables
Just a few staple ingredients makes the grain-dal taste completely different. Heat the butter and a tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat until the butter froths up. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and nuts. Stir gently till you can smell the fragrance of the spices. Add the cooked grain and roasted vegetables, a little salt and the raisins and toss everything gently till it is warmed through. In just a few minutes, you have a warm, comforting bowl of pilaf.
Wednesday dinner: pongal
Leftovers: 1 serving bisi bele grain-bhat, 1 serving roasted vegetables
This dish is an Indian-take on risotto. Smash up the ginger, peppercorns, and green pepper in a mortar and pestle until it's a very coarse paste. Heat up a couple tablespoons of butter and add the ginger-pepper paste and stir for about 30 seconds, until it sizzles. Then, add the leftover bisi bele grain-bhat. Add the milk and stir until it's smooth. Serve it with a serving of the leftover roasted veggies.
Thursday dinner: Tuna grain salad bowl
Leftovers: 1 serving grain-dal
This dinner, full of healthy fats from the tuna and olive oil, comes together in about two minutes. Just put the tuna and grains in a mixing bowl, then toss them with olive oil (and vinegar and salt, if you prefer). Then, dice the tomatoes, onion, and cucumber, then combine with the yogurt. Then serve by placing the greens in a serving bowl first, followed by the tuna-grain mixture, then topping with the olives and tomato mixture.
friday dinner: roasted eggplant and grain-dal base
Leftovers: 1 serving grain-dal, 1 serving roasted vegetables
New ingredients: 1 Tbsp soy sauce
Use the last of your grains and roasted veggies to make a this Indian-meets-Chinese entree. Just stir fry the grains and eggplants with the soy sauce. As soon as the ingredients are hot, your dinner is ready to eat.
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