Review: Plant-Based India by Dr. Sheil Shukla

*Thanks to NetGalley and The Experiment publishers for sending this book for review consideration, but all opinions are my own. *

I so enjoy Indian food. Growing up, I rarely had a chance to eat it, and it was only as a young adult, as I ventured out on my own and moved to Vancouver, that I truly experienced all the amazing tastes and aromas that the richly spiced dishes offered up. When I was living downtown in my 20s in Vancouver, there was a wonderful, inexpensive Indian restaurant called India Gate that my spouse and I would haunt frequently. We were living on the cheap with a very low income, and I’d clip 2-for-1 meal coupons from the Georgia Straight newspaper. India Gate is gone now, but I bet a lot of Vancouverites remember it. So good!

In recent years, I’ve enjoyed cooking Indian food at home. I’ve gradually amassed a decent spice drawer and invested in a spice grinder. I’ve focused more on vegetarian Indian cooking, as I stopped eating meat and poultry several years ago. I’m almost at the point where I can conceive of and cook a basic curry without a recipe. And I’m always on the hunt for more vegan cookbooks.

Plant-Based India is a new cookbook by Internist and nutritional medicine practitioner Dr. Sheil Shukla.  He takes the concept of a vegan Indian cookbook and puts a new spin on it by focusing on his Gujarāti culinary heritage and marrying that with his passion for nutritional medicine. Vegan Indian cooking is not new to me, so I liked this take on the theme. Shukla’s parents immigrated to the US in the 1970s, and he was raised in Wisconsin. His mother and grandmother were key influences in his experience of food, cooking mostly Gujarāti food. As often happens, he drifted away from this as a young adult living on his own (kind of like I drifted towards more diverse foods as a young adult!), but eventually came back around to his cooking roots. Cooking and nutrition became twin passions, and, interestingly, a form of artistic expression (thus his handle: @plantbasedartist). Choosing to go vegan in 2015, this has become key to his culinary life.
“I strongly believe that food, nutrition, and medicine are deeply connected and that even deeper are aspects of culture, socioeconomics, weight stigma, and even politics. How can we find a cuisine that balances all of these? I don't know if we ever will, since each component has its own complexities and challenges. But I do know that, if we recognize food as being so much more than what goes on our plates, we will be a step closer to achieving this balance…I believe it’s important to put thought and intention into the food that nourishes us.”
Honestly: an Internist, a chef, a self-taught nutritional doctor, and a cookbook author. I’m not sure how he does it. Maybe it’s all the nutritional food he eats that gives him superpowers!

Shukla lays out some basic principles of his food philosophy: Eat seasonally; don’t be ultra restrictive (he uses some oils and sugar when it enhances the dish, for example); try for more plant-based eating; and use your food as medicine (“culinary medicine”).

I learned that a Gujarāti meal usually consists of a shāk (vegetable dish), a dāl (legume dish), rotli (flatbread) and bhāt (rice). I decided to make this the basis of my meal. However, in the end, I altered it a bit. I was slightly over-ambitious and ran out of time to make my own rotli.  Also, I really wanted to try out some condiments, so I made two chutneys and a rāitā. I spent one day shopping, and one day cooking. Then, my spouse Alan and I sat down to taste test everything.

The cookbook spans cooking traditions from different regions of India, but I focused on sampling the primarily Gujarāti recipes. 


I had almost everything I needed to make the dishes. I love that there’s a handy section on the Indian pantry in the book. Even though I’m pretty familiar with Indian ingredients and spices, I used it for a couple of new items. There were two ingredients that I had never heard of before, and I love that! They were 1) kokum, a tart dried fruit that adds acidity (used here in the Gujarati dal), and 2) āmchur, a dried green mango powder with a fruity, tart profile. It smelled wonderful!  I headed to my local Indian grocery, Fruitcana, and they had both. 

Also, I love that sulfurous black salt is used in two of the recipes I made. I bought it for a vegan tofu scramble a while back (it makes the tofu taste eggy–really!), and had to buy about half a cup.  It will last me for the rest of my life.  I was able to use up a whole teaspoon of it between the two recipes in Plant-Based India. Huzzah!


(Vegetable Dishes): Flāvār Vatānā Nu Shāk (roasted cauliflower and peas)

Shāk is the Gujarāti term for an everyday stir-fried veggie dish. The author notes he grew up eating this dish frequently. The roasted cauliflower came out beautifully charred. Stir-fried in just a bit of oil, with water to keep it from sticking, I added the peas and spices. I couldn’t find fresh curry leaves, so I used dried. This was an easy dish to make, and not overly spiced. I love veggies, so this was just perfect for me.

(legume stews): Gujarāti Dāl

I’ve made a lot of dāl, and I do love it. This one is neat: on the surface, it seems like any other dāl, but it had some differences and this came through subtly in the flavour profile. It’s made with toor dāl (pigeon peas) cooked in my trusty Instant Pot (I love you, IP!) then mixed into the spices and tomato, and simmered down to a desired consistency. I was interested to see the addition of cinnamon sticks, star anise, and a bit of cane sugar. This was also where I used the kokum. These additions added an impressive complexity. Was there a hint of cinnamon sweetness layered with the acidity from the kokum? I think so! Yum!

(rice): Mint Pea Rice

I don’t think I’ve made “green rice” before, and it was so easy. I Instant Potted (new verb!) the basmati rice, then added it to blended mint and spinach, then added spices and peas. It looked so pretty. My daughter tasted it and said that it tasted like tea-flavoured rice. She really loves mint tea, so that’s how she experienced it! It was very mild, and I added a bit more lime juice and salt than called for. That said, it was a visual stunner, and worked well as a more neutral flavour to complement the other dishes. It's a great substitute for regular rice, because its mild flavours didn’t compete with the other dishes, but it added healthfulness because of all the veg and spice.

Chutney and other Condiments

I made a point of choosing a few of these. More and more I’m convinced that the condiments and sauces from a cookbook are often the stunners of the meal and are keeper recipes. It totally helps to have a high speed blender for the chutneys: they blend up easily and are a cinch to make.

Mint Cilantro Chutney: Packed with green goodness from mint and cilantro, with raw cashews (the workhorse of the vegan Indian kitchen), this was so easy to make! I also got to use āmchur powder for the first time and use up some of my black salt.

Date Chutney: Okay, I was pretty dubious about this recipe, as it seems dessert-ish. But it was so simple (black salt again!) and so delicious. The recipe doubled beautifully.

And finally…a Rāitā. A must for me with an Indian meal. I made Beet-Carrot Rāitā. I used Yoggu! Plant-Based Cultured Coconut yogurt substitute, and it is so tasty. It seemed like there would be too much grated beet and carrot for the “yogurt” but it married beautifully. Adding the tempered mustard seeds and curry leaves seemed wrong at the time, but all worked out. I really needed to trust the recipe on this one, and I’m glad I did. And it looks stunning when presented at the table!

The Cooking and Dining Experience:

Cooking these recipes was reasonably straightforward and fun. It helped that I already had most of the ingredients. If you are new to Indian cuisine, spending some time upfront to make a good list of ingredients and visiting an Indian grocery would be best, though in an urban centre probably most big grocery stores would stock most ingredients.  I’m not going to lie, I had my doubts about some of the recipes as I cooked and tasted. The mains were subtly spiced (except for the dāl!), and the chutneys on their own seemed underwhelming.

But I was so wrong! We sat down to eat, and when we started playing with the mains, chutneys and rāitā together on the plate, the meal became an elevated experience. Alan loved the play of flavours together, and ate two full plates of food. We both raved about the condiments: The main dishes were tasty and substantial, but the chutneys and rāitā made the meal more than the sum of its parts. My growing conviction that the side dishes, condiments and sauces often make the meals superb was so evident here! In the end, Alan leaned back from his cleaned plate and announced, “Well, I’d pay for that meal in a restaurant any day!”

As to the health benefits of this Gujarāti cuisine? I love food that is tasty and satisfying, but makes you feel healthier for having eaten it. That’s how I felt after this meal. In the end, I appreciated Plant-Based India for marrying healthy eating and the wonderful flavours of Indian cuisine. There are several other recipes I plan to try out from the book. Shulka ends by noting:
“There’s no one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to nutrition and wellness, but I hope this book will get you started or allow you to continue along your own path to being the best, healthiest version of yourself.”


  1. Great review, thank you! Can’t wait to receive my copy of the book!

    1. Thanks for reading! The book was a great addition to vegan Indian cooking, and so fun to cook from. I hope you enjoy.

  2. Yummy post! Everything looks delicious, now I'm craving some Indian food!

    1. All of the food was delicious. I'm going to make the Gujarati Dal again today!


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