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How to Cook Healthy

Healthy vegetarian curry recipe to try this weekend

The spices in traditional Indian cooking are hugely beneficial for our health, says Mira Manek, author of Saffron Soul.  Vanessa Chalmers cooks a three dish vegetarian curry that’s much healthier than the ones she’s used to from her local tandoori

Indian food makes my heart sing. I’m talking about creamy kormas, tikka masala, a chunky pishwari naan and greasy onion bajhis in front of the TV. Those kind of takeaways, the really naughty indulgent ones, are oh-so-typical of a Brit like me.

The way Indian food is cooked in restaurants has given it a reputation of being heavy, oily and hard to digest

However, the more I become interested in cooking, the easier it becomes to find healthy alternatives to my favourite foods. I have always been fascinated by India (despite never having been there), and their exciting way of using spices to make vibrant, delicious food. Even the chai tea – which I’m sure many are familiar with as a latte from Starbucks – is a combination of spices such as cardamom and ginger, served in a small cup like a shot. It’s a drinking ritual in every home, served as sweet as it is strong. (Yes, the Western chai and Indian chai have the sugar in common, although the former uses it more!)

MORE: How To Cook Healthy For Beginners: The easiest chicken curry recipe EVER

I am certainly familiar with a boozy Brick Lane curry. However, according to chef Mira Manek, author of Saffron Soul: Healthy, vegetarian heritage recipes from India, who specialises in lighter, healthier food, the way Indian food is cooked in restaurants has given it a reputation of being heavy, oily and hard to digest (I can vouch for that).

how to cook healthy for beginners, by
A delicious curry with friends. I am left at the back

However, Mira says if you order the right things in the right portions, you don’t need to leave a tandoori feeling like you have eaten unhealthily (although I tend to leave tipsy and beaming). ‘For example, order a yellow dahl as opposed to a black dahl, which contains a lot of cream and butter. You could just ask if they could make it with a less oil and spice, and just be very specific with what you want and exaggerate that to the waiter’, Mira says.

Tumeric – how much is everyone talking about that now? It’s used in every curry

In reality, the basis of traditional Indian ingredients is nutritious and healthy. ‘Each spice will have its own digestion or anti inflammatory properties’, says Mira. ‘Turmeric – how much is everyone talking about that now? It’s used in every curry, alongside the fenugreek, cumin and mustard seeds, all of which have their own benefits’.

MORE: 13 healthy seeds and how to use them

We all know Friday night curry here is rather different to anything found in India with each region having a different cuisine. ‘While naan bread and some of those heavier curries are from the North, the South has a much healthier option – a dosa, which is pancake thin and a mix of fermented lentils and rice’, says Mira. ‘In Gujarat, where I come from, we have the roti, which is thin, made of wholewheat and much easier to digest.’

In her new book, Mira is dispelling the myths that Indian cooking is hard to do – or unhealthy. She has tweaked her family’s authentic recipes for lighter, but still flavoursome, traditional cuisine. Whilst we chat at her book launch, saffron chia puddings in one hand and spiced tofu scramble in the other, the way she passionately talks about their cuisine makes me drool, and eager to learn more.

How to get started cooking Indian at home


How easy is it for a beginner to replicate these flavours? I asked Mira. ‘Your starting point is having a masala box, (Spice Container, £8.87 Amazon) a round box of spices with little compartments. You can dip in and out with a spoon, and it forms the essence of basic Indian cooking at home’, she says.

‘When you start cooking a curry, dahl or any dish, what always goes in at the beginning is a little bit of oil, and I generally try to use coconut oil. Then you add the mustard, cumin and fenugreek seeds, and let them cook for at least a minute so they go brown or begin to pop. Then you add the rest. The ginger, garlic, or vegetables. Then the spices on top, such as turmeric and masala.

‘I would recommend following certain recipes online or from books, perhaps starting off with around five. From there, you can understand what flavours you like and begin experimenting’.

With my spice rack stacked, I’m ready to get hot in the kitchen with one of Mira’s recipes…

Three dish vegetarian curry with rotis

3 dish vegetarian curry for a lighter and healthier Indian meal, how to cook healthy for beginners, mira manek, by healthista (1)
Baa’s Thali

What a feast! Or in technical Indian terms, a thali. Thali literally means ‘a plate’, with lots of different bowls containing rice, dals, curries, rotis and a few snacks. According to Mira, ‘if there is one thing to abide by, it is to try to establish a good balance of carbohydrates, protein and vegetables. Aim to have one green vegetable curry, one ‘katthor’ or protein curry and one dahl, again protein, and then roti or rice or both’.

There are several in the book, and I liked the look of what Mira had named Baa’s thali inspired by her grandmother. Although there are nine components (some are a lot easier than others such as spiced cabbage salad) I only take on four for my first try. These are the Ful gobi ne matar nu shaak (cauliflower and pea curry), Fansi nu shaak (green bean curry), Rajma (simple kidney bean curry) and wholewheat rotis. Drool…

Ful gobi ne matar nu shaak – Cauliflower & pea curry

Serves 4 as part of a thali or 2 as a main dish


Cauliflower works really well as a curry base, taking on flavours and having a crunch. I found this the easiest of the curries.


350–400g (12–14oz) cauliflower florets (about 1 cauliflower)

150g (5oz/1 cup) frozen peas

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

¾ teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons Madras curry powder

1 teaspoon Himalayan salt or sea salt


  • First cut the cauliflower into small florets and rinse the peas in hot water a couple of times.
  • To make the curry base, heat the coconut oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and cook until the mustard seeds pop, then add the cauliflower and peas.
  • Next add the rest of the ingredients and stir everything together.
  • Leave the curry to cook on a low heat for 20–30 minutes until the cauliflower is cooked but still a little crunchy.

Note: This is a dry curry, but if you prefer a moister curry or more gravy, add two chopped tomatoes right at the end just before the cauliflower is fully cooked.

MORE: How To Cook Healthy For Beginners: Paneer and cauliflower bowl recipe

Fansi nu shaak – Green bean curry

Serves 2–4 as part of a thali

Green beans are a common side veg to my dinners, and had never thought of being creative with it. I added half a can of chopped tomatoes, as I thought it was dry whilst it was cooking.


300g (10½oz) green beans

1 teaspoon coconut oil

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds, optional

2 cloves garlic, chopped

pinch asafoetida, optional

3 chopped tomatoes or 5 tablespoons tinned tomatoes

¾ teaspoon Himalayan salt or sea salt

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1½ teaspoons ground coriander

½ teaspoon red chilli powder, optional


  • Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Chop the green beans either into small pieces or diagonally lengthways, then blanch in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  • Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan and add the mustard and cumin seeds and the fenugreek seeds, if using. Once the mustard seeds have popped, add the chopped garlic and asafoetida and immediately stir in the green beans. Place the lid on the saucepan and let the curry cook for around 15 minutes until the beans are cooked and soft, stirring every couple of minutes.
  • Once the green beans are cooked, add the chopped tomatoes, salt, ground turmeric, cumin and coriander, and red chilli powder, if using. Stir well and cook for a few more minutes.

Rajma – Simple kidney bean curry

Serves 4 as part of a thali or 2 as a main dish

3 dish vegetarian curry for a lighter and healthier Indian meal, how to cook healthy for beginners, mira manek, by healthista (3)

If it was possible to love kidney beans more than I already do, I probably would if I was vegetarian. They are so fleshy and warming, and if you add potato to this dish you have a winner.


2 tablespoons coconut oil or rapeseed oil

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

2 onions, finely chopped

1½ teaspoons Himalayan salt or sea salt

5 centimetre (2 inch) piece of ginger, peeled and grated

4 cloves garlic, grated

1–2 green chillies, finely chopped

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1½ teaspoons ground coriander

3–4 tomatoes, chopped

4 spring onions (scallions), finely chopped

2 x 400g (14oz) cans kidney beans, drained

4 tablespoons passata or tomato paste

200ml (7fl oz/¾ cup) water

squeeze of lime

handful of coriander (cilantro), chopped


  • Melt the coconut oil in a saucepan on a medium heat, then add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds.
  • When the mustard seeds pop, add the onions and a pinch of salt and stir.
  • Once the onions are lightly browned (a couple of minutes), add the ginger, garlic and chilli and stir for another 30 seconds. Then add the ground turmeric, cumin and coriander, chopped tomatoes, spring onions (scallions) and the rest of the salt.
  • Next add the kidney beans, passata, water and lime and mix everything together. Leave to cook on a low heat for at least 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
  • To finish, mix a healthy handful of coriander (cilantro) leaves into the curry. Lovely served with hot roti or rice.

MORE: How to get more protein in your diet

Wholemeal (Wholewheat) Rotis

Makes 8-10


160g (5½oz/11/³ cups) wholemeal (wholewheat) flour, plus a little extra for sprinkling

2 tablespoons melted coconut oil or rapeseed oil

140ml (5fl oz/2/³ cup) warm water

coconut oil or ghee, optional, to brush on


  • In a mixing bowl, mix together the spelt and quinoa flours, then pour the coconut oil into the flour mix. Using your hands, mix everything together thoroughly.
  • Start to pour the warm water in, a little at a time, while continuing to knead the dough. Add a little more water if required, until you have a dough that is soft and elastic, but not sticky.
  • With clean hands, sprinkle a little spelt flour onto the work surface and divide the dough into 8–10 pieces.
  • Shape each piece of dough into a ball, then roll it between your palms before flattening it slightly on the floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, lightly roll each roti out into a flat disc as evenly as possible, until measuring around 10 centimetres (4 inches) in diameter. Keep dipping the dough in flour as you’re rolling it to make it easier to roll and so that it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin.
  • Heat a griddle or non-stick flat frying pan (skillet) over a medium heat, then lay the roti in the pan and after around 30 seconds, when you see little bubbles appear on the surface of the roti, turn the roti using tongs or with your fingers. Cook on the second side for half a minute and turn again, then turn twice again at 20-second intervals. Turn again if necessary.
  • When the roti is lightly browned and cooked, remove from the heat. Repeat with the rest of the rotis.
  • Spread the rotis with a tiny amount of coconut oil or ghee, if you wish, or serve without.
3 dish vegetarian curry for a lighter and healthier Indian meal, how to cook healthy for beginners, mira manek, by healthista (1)
The cauliflower curry (right), kidney bean curry (bottom), and green been curry (top), with the wholemeal rotis.

The verdict

How exciting it was for a foodie like me to be able to dip between three curries. Each were wholesome with a chunky base (cauliflower, veg and beans), and very very filling. I couldn’t finish my meal. The thali split between four people with enough left over for me to take to work for lunch for four days! So I believe at a dinner party, this would be a hit.

When mustard seeds pop in the pan, I scream like a small child

The roti is an essential addition for me. It was light so two was more than enough, with the curry piled on and plenty of coconut yoghurt (flavoured with coriander and lime). Surprisingly the dishes weren’t hot enough for me, so I next time I will add more chillies.

Despite being brave and cooking three curries and rotis on my first Indian venture, the thali was very easy to make. Prep the veg, throw it together with spices and watch the magic happen. The dishes took no more than half an hour each (but I cheated and did them one by one to make sure I was doing it correct!). The rotis, however, are painstakingly time consuming. With my first attempt at the dough being too wet, and each roti cooking individually, it took around 40 minutes to make – just warning you!

Three things I learnt this week:

It’s not all about naan There are other choices than a naan bread that are still filling, but much easier to digest.

Mustard seeds are dangerous! When mustard seeds pop in the pan, I scream like a small child. They scare me

I knead the lowdown on dough See what I did there? What I mean is, I really need practise (and knowledge) on dough making. But where to begin?

Want to learn how to cook your favourite meal more healthy? Let Vanessa and @HealthistaTV know by tweeting us!


Vanessa Chalmers is a Food and Lifestyle Writer at Healthista, and enjoys finding new healthy living hacks, especially when it comes to her favourite thing – food. Her column How To Cook Healthy For Beginners is every Friday, for the busy everyday woman who is nothing more than an amateur chef, but loves food and to cook.

Follow on Instagram and Twitter to watch her healthy living journey.

More How To Cook Healthy for Beginners:

Healthy fish and chips recipe for Good Friday (yes, that’s a thing)

How To Cook Healthy For Beginners: Southern-Style Quinoa Coated Chicken

How To Cook Healthy For Beginners: 6 easy smoothies and juices

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