Connecting to my heritage through veganism by Maya Chitnavis

Spices in pots on a table.

Student Engagement Ambassador, Maya, discusses her journey of becoming vegan and how it helped her to connect to her heritage. 

I know that, for many immigrants, becoming vegan can make it difficult to consume home foods, and thus, impact one’s sense of cultural identity. Over the years, I’ve had a confusing, complex relationship with mine. But I’ve always wanted a deep connection with my roots. Since becoming vegan in 2019, I’ve personally found that it’s enabled me to actively engage with my Indian heritage through cooking and consuming our foods.

Even though India is not a majority-vegetarian country as some may believe, many of my family’s dinners consist of vegan staples, whether as the main dish or a side to some meat. Some of these vegan staples include bhaji (vegetables, usually fried), amti and daal (both of these are umbrella terms for lentil-based dishes). Therefore, I have access to already-vegan home cuisine.

My grandma and I also like to experiment with other ingredients and substitutions. For example, I’ve used coconut milk with tomato puree, mixed veg, chilli, asafoetida and more to create a creamy Pan-Indian rassa (a Marathi word with similar meaning to the British term ‘curry’). My grandma has used the runnier kind of coconut milk to make a vegan sheera, an Indian sweet dish made of semolina, nuts, raisins and sugar.

Nevertheless, my dietary requirements have sometimes caused stress during dinner preparation. One reason for this is ghee. Ghee is clarified butter; it’s rich and intensely loved. People add it to so many things, including rice. But, luckily, vegetable ghee serves as a vegan (and cheaper) alternative!

Thus, I personally find my family’s food easy to veganise. Because of this and my family’s acceptance of my veganism, I’ve had the privilege to engage with my roots further these last few years. I’m learning about my heritage through cooking – a process that feels creative and full of love. I’m also more open; I’m no longer rejecting the Indian foods I used to because they were unfamiliar. My experience is my own – it won’t be the same for everyone – but veganism allows me to connect with my culture and my family, and that makes me happy.

If you want to try out something vegan, easy and Indian, here is a recipe for a cauliflower and peas bhaji. At home, I’d personally have it alongside rice, chapati/paratha, and/or amti/daal.

For roughly two portions, you will need:

  • vegetable oil (or vegetable ghee)
  • ~⅓ tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ¾ tsp dhania jeera powder
  • ½ tsp chilli powder (for flavour rather than spice)
  • salt (to taste)
  • ¼ tsp garam masala (optional)
  • ¼ tsp ginger paste/powder (optional)
  • a small cauliflower
  • ~200g of peas.


  1. Chop the cauliflower into medium-sized pieces.
  2. Heat oil in a frying pan.
  3. When hot, add the cumin seeds. Wait for them to pop. Ideally, cover the pan with a lid while this is happening.
  4. Once popped, remove the pan from the heat.
  5. Add the turmeric, dhania jeera, chilli powder and salt. If you are using garam masala and ginger paste/powder, add them also. Stir together gently.
  6. Once the ingredients are evenly mixed, return the pan to heat and add the cauliflower and peas. Stir gently and thoroughly.
  7. Add a little boiling water to help cook the vegetables.
  8. When the vegetables are cooked, the bhaji is ready to be served! Enjoy!

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