Healthy, Hip, Haute Indian Cuisine
Written by: Candice Currie | Photography provided by: Mia Yakel and Chai Pani Restaurant Group
Chef Meherwan Irani
Q: For our vegetarian and vegan readers, what are some non-meat, high protein foods you’d recommend for those wanting to increase their protein levels?
Chef Meherwan Irani: Most Indians are either fully vegetarian or eat meat sparingly. Though the primary driver of vegetarianism is religious and cultural, many non-vegetarians still eat meat sparingly for economic reasons. So, as a country of now over a billion people, Indians have traditionally looked to legumes and dairy as the primary source of protein. Lentils, chickpeas, and beans are transformed into fragrant daals and stews, almost always served with rice. Dairy in the form of milk, yogurt, cream, and ghee (clarified butter) is also a big part of the diet, with ghee used for cooking more extravagant meals, and yogurt used as a ubiquitous heat quencher and digestive. For vegan versions of lentil dishes, skip the ghee and use oil – peanut, mustard, and coconut oils are traditionally used and packed with flavor.
Q: Carbs sometimes get a bad rap. At Chai Pani Decatur, what are some carb-friendly, healthy dishes that you’d recommend?
- Daal – we make ours Gujerati style, with a tadka of cumin, hing, turmeric, ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, tomatoes, and tamarind.
- Chole – a chickpea stew with tomatoes, chillies, garam masala.
- Kale Pakoras – kale dipped in a batter of chickpea flour, seasoned with cumin, caraway seed, chili powder, turmeric.
- Corn Bhel – roasted corn niblets tossed with fresh cilantro, onion, cucumbers, tomatoes, and mint with a cumin-lime vinaigrette
Q: How did you choose your featured dish (Desi Salad)?
MI: Indians don’t really do salads. We like our greens dark, leafy, and stewed, braised, or fried with spices. But I personally love salads, and came up with the idea of a crunchy, crispy salad that had Indian flavors and wasn’t overwhelmed with spice, but instead is light, bright, and flavorful. Topped with toasted masala cashews and a skewer of grilled paneer (Indian farmer’s cheese) or tandoori spiced chicken, it’s a low carb, high protein dish that’s so delicious you might just forget you’re eating a salad!
Q: What are some health-conscious and unique Irani foods you’d recommend our readers try when they want to mix things up?
MI: Irani’s do love meat and tend to cook heavy. For my restaurants, I took some of my favorites and lightened them to be not only healthier, but more flavorful. For example, Kheema Pav (a spiced lamb hash) is usually pretty fatty and greasy (although delicious) in traditional Irani cooking. I often substitute ground turkey or chicken for lamb, and add tomatoes and lots of fresh cilantro to lighten the dish and add a punch of flavor and fragrance. Serve it over rice, on a low carb bun (sloppy joe style) or in a corn tortilla with lots of fresh herbs, red onion, radish, diced tomatoes and yogurt for a high protein meal that’s tasty and unique. It’s a one pot dish and easy to make in an Insta Pot or slow cooker. It can stay refrigerated for days, is easy to heat up, and versatile for use in salads, tacos, sandwiches, etc.
Chai Pani Decatur’s Desi Salad
Chai Pani Decatur is located at: 406 W Ponce de Leon Ave, Decatur, GA 30030
Chai Pani Decatur
Distance to closest LA Fitness: 1.7 mi. (1496 Church St., Decatur, CA 30030)
- 1 T sugar
- 3 T rice wine vinegar
- 3 T fresh lime juice
- 1 t salt
- ½ t cumin powder
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 T diced red onion
- ½ bunch cilantro
- ¼ C olive oil
- ¼ C whole cashews
- Pinch sugar
- 1 t salt
- ½ t chili powder
- ½ t cumin powder
- 2 t oil
- 4 C green cabbage, shredded
- 1 ½ C red cabbage, shredded
- ½ C carrot, peeled and grated
- 1 t salt
- 2 t toasted sesame seeds
- 2 T cilantro, chopped
- Combine all of the above except the olive oil in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Set the blender to lowest speed and slowly pour olive oil in through opening in blender lid.
- Blend on low until all of olive oil is incorporated and dressing is emulsified.
- Preheat oven to 320 degrees.
- Season cashews with all of the above, mixing thoroughly.
- Spread on a small pan and bake for 5 minutes.
- Remove from oven and mix, then bake for an additional 5-6 minutes.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
Add the toasted masala cashews and blended dressing.
Mix well and let the cabbage marinate for a few minutes.
Serve cold, topped with grilled chicken or grilled vegetables as desired.