A few words with.... Hema Batther
With today The Vegan Club opens the interview season, which in our opinion should completely substitute the hunting season: relating to fellow human being by asking questions and reciving interesting answers must definitely be more interesting than shooting animals unaware to be part of a 'game'!
We decided to start by asking a few questions to Hema Batther, a Nepalese lady able just to turn any dish into a concoction of sublime vegan goodness (my favourite is Zuccotto)! She shares with us her views on the dairy issue, her vegan cooking experience and even one of her recipes!
More interviews are yet to come, together with recipes, product reviews, initiatives and anything that crosses our vegan minds, so check back for updates!
Hema Bhatter is Nepalese, raised in a traditional Hindu family as a vegetarian. After learning all the cooking tricks of her own cuisine (Indian and Nepalese), newly married Hema started travelling the world, greatly expading her cooking repertoire. While in Brussels,she started giving vegetarian cooking classes to an enthusiastic international crowd, who immediately asked her to publish her recipes. At that point, Hema decided to create the VegCooking website as a hobby, which first collected her best creations and later on was donated to PeTAand now gathers Hema's original recipes and many others.
Hema currently lives in Malaysia and is also featured at Recipes Taj Online and provides cooking tips and lessons locally and internationally via email.
Needed disclaimer: even if PeTA is mentioned in this interview, we are not in any way associated to them. We simply liked VegCooking and wanted to know more about it.
Hema answering some questions from Malaysia.
Hema, in our email exchange you mentioned that,while supporting both equally, you are a vegetarian, not a vegan, since you drink milk and make your own butter and yoghurt out of it. However, you do not get just any milk: you buy it from a small cowkeeper. Such a different perspective from the western experience! Could you tell us a bit more about it and explain us in which ways cows are revered in the Hindu culture?
Well, in Hindu culture, a cow is revered as a mother. I am not sure where exactly this comes from, but I believe it was because once a cow gave shelter and nourished a young lord Krishna (one of the main Hindu dieties) and since then, most Hindu families give offerings of grass to cows (via the cow owners) on festivals. In fact, until just 6 years ago, we raised our own cow at our family home in Nepal (which a lot of Indian village homes used to do). In most parts of India and Nepal, slaughter of cows is illegal and a majority of the milk in India comes from small farmers who tend cows and locally distribute fresh milk. I was fortunate to find the same set up here in Malaysia, run by local Malaysians (Hindus of Indian origin). In India, most households do typically make their own yoghurt and butter from the cream in the cows milk. We also make our own cheese (paneer - a cousin of tofu, which is made from soymilk) and other dairy products at home.
You are a vegetarian by birth. Have you evertasted meat or fish? What do you feel when you see non-vegetarian friends eating meat?
No, I have never tasted meat or fish. It reallydoesn't bother me to see others (friends or otherwise) eating meat. Everyone is free to make their own choice really.... I only feel queasy when I see "weird" meats and bloody dishes that one can sometimes see in parts of Asia and China or seeing live animals slaughtered "fresh" in Chinese markets. Otherwise, most friends are curious as to how one can be vegetarian and enjoy good food at home and also while travelling.
You have travelled exstensively. Which countrywould you say is the most welcoming for vegans? What is and where is your favourite restaurant?
I would think probably the U.K. (London or metro areas mainly) and California in the U.S. are the most vegan and vegetarian friendly places I have been to. As for restaurants, I don't really have a favourite, as it depends on what cuisine I am in the mood of....my favourite cuisine is probably Italian and I have had the most wonderful Italian food in a tiny trattoria in Napoli a while back - that was probably my most memorable meal. Other than that, I enjoy Thai and Mexican food in addition to Indian.
After starting VegCooking, you later on donatedthe site to PeTA. How did that happened? Do you share their views and moral commitments?
I had taken on VegCooking.com as a hobby and wasn't really maintaining that site well or publicizing it.... One day, I got a call from PeTa asking if they could buy the domain from me... We talked some more and in the end agreed that I will simply donate the site to them, and in return, they would help me get a wider audience by featuring my recipes. This worked out well for both of us as I needed to expand and they would do all the technical work, which was slowing me down, whereas they needed recipes, which I was providing. The only issue was that they wanted vegan recipes....which is your next question....
As for moral views - yes - part of the reason to agreeto donate to them was that I supported most of their views - about treating animals humanely and also promoting vegetarianism. I don't always have to agree with their methods to get their point across, but sometimes I guess they have to be aggressive to be heard.
The collection of recipes on VegCooking is truly extensive! How long did it take you to veganize all these dishes? What are you personal favourites and what the most succesful with others? Is there a dish you think it is not possible to veganize succesfully?
I had built up a database of over 200 recipes on my own over the years.... It took me over 3 months to veganize many of them and the process continues even today as I search for vegan alternatives for some of the ingredients in a few recipes.... it's also harder as not all vegan product substitutes are available everywhere. In the US, the main market for PeTA, you can get vegan everything - cheddar, parmesan etc, but it's next to impossible in Asia, where I am now - so it's been slow here to get the correct ingredients and test the vegan versions....
My favorite dishes are: it's very difficult to list my favorite dishes, I have tried to name a few, which are
Others have liked:
- Pita Pizza
- Couscous Bake
- Couscous Salad
- Tortilla Casserole
- Paneer Sticks
- Iiranga Paneer
- Tikki Chole Bake
- Carrot Halwa
I am still working to veganize these dishes: there are many dishes which are very hard to be veganised because it is hard to substitute the cream as a soya substitute sometimes tastes very strange in certain dishes. For example carrot halwa, just doesn’t taste good with a soya substitute.
She may still be struggling, but we are sure that eventually Hema will succeed in veganizing any dish... For now, she leaves us with one of her recipes, a typical and delicious Nepalese dish: Momos!
- 1 cup flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 tsp. vegetable oil
- some cold water (about 100ml)
- Sift the flour and salt.
- Add oil and mix properly with your fingers.
- Add water gradually and keep mixing with your fingers till you get a firm dough.
- Cover with a damp muslin cloth and keep aside for half an hour.
For the filling:
- 2 tsp. vegetable oil
- ¼ tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 garlic clove, chopped finely
- 1 tsp. grated ginger or ginger juice
- 1 green chili, chopped finely
- 1 onion, chopped finely
- ½ cup finely chopped cabbage
- 1 carrot, chopped finely into tiny cubes
- 1 potato, chopped finely into tiny cubes
- 3 fluid oz/90ml water
- salt to taste
- ¼ tsp. garam masala
- Heat oil and pop cumin seeds in it.
- Add garlic, ginger, green chili and onions in it and stir for a minute.
- Add cabbage, carrots and potatoes and stir again.
- Add some water and cook covered for about 7-8 minutes till the vegetables become soft and the water is dried up.
- Add salt and garam masala and stir well.
- Remove from heat and keep aside.
For the salad:
- ½ cup fine strips of cabbage
- ½ cup fine strips of carrots
- ¼ tsp. lemon juice
- salt to taste
Mix together all the ingredients for salad.
For Tomato Chutney
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp. brown sesame seeds
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
- 1 tsp. grated ginger
- 3 dried whole red chilies, soaked in warm water for half hour (or less to suit your taste)
- 4 tomatoes, chopped
- pinch of turmeric powder
- 1/3 tsp. chili powder
- ¼ tsp. sugar
- salt to taste
some fresh coriander, chopped
- Heat oil. Put sesame seeds in it.
- Add garlic, green chili and ginger. Stir for a couple of minutes.
- Add tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes stirring in between.
- Add chili powder, sugar and salt and stir well.
- Shift to a blender and blend the mixture to a smooth paste.
- Shift to a serving bowl and garnish with the chopped coriander.
- Serve at room temperature.
- Make 3 portions of the dough.
- Take one portion and make a ball of it and flatten it on your rolling board.
- Roll evenly with a rolling pin trying to get a square of about 9-inches. (If the dough sticks to the rolling board then cover both the sides with some dry flour and roll again.)
- Cut this square into 9 small squares of about 3-inches.
- Put about 1½ tsp. (or little less) filling in each square.
- Lift one corner of a square and join to the opposite corner to get a triangle.
- Stick the sides properly. (Use some water to stick the sides.)
- Now join all the 3 corners of the triangle and give a little gentle twist to the tip.
- All the sides should be properly stuck.
- Momos can be made in different shapes like little moneybags, envelopes etc.
- Similarly prepare all the momos.
- Steam the momos for about 12 minutes till they are swollen.
Serving the Momos:
Place the salad in the center of the serving dish and arrange the hot momos on the sides.
Serve with tomato chutney as a dip.
If you do not have a steamer, here is an easy way to steam the momos.
Take a big pan with a tight lid. Arrange the momos in a steel plate. Put about 2 cups water in the pan. Place a steel bowl in the pan and put the plate of momos on that steel bowlt.
Cover the lid and steam for about 12 minutes on medium flame.