How to Veganify Indian Mithai & Be Delicious Too

February 2, 2014 - by Nadya

When I first became vegan, after I came down off my high of decisiveness and positive political action, my first thought was "oh crap, but what about ice cream?"  Readers, if you ask anyone close to me, they will tell you I have the biggest sweet tooth around.  So you can imagine my delight at finding vegan ice cream (I highly highly recommend everything Coconut Dream touches).  But no red-blooded Indian girl would be happy with just that.

Mithai = happiness, anyone can tell you that.  Unfortunately most traditional mithai (*cough* burfi *cough*) relies heavily on milk powder, condensed milk, or ghee.  All of these are major no-nos for vegans.  The only sweet that's pretty much universally vegan is boondi ladoo.  Everything else can be modified to be more vegan and animal-friendly.

1.  Halva

Halva usually uses generous helpings of milk, but as Shriya has pointed out in her delicious Holiday Sweet Potato Halva recipe you can easily change out the milk for almond or soy milk. For a little more fruity flavor, try coconut milk.  She actually made a batch for me and my family - we all had seconds and no one missed the milk.

Glossary of Mithai 17 width=

 2. Gulab Jamun

Gulab Jamun, one of my absolute favorite sweets, is notoriously not vegan-friendly with its milk solids and milk powder.  That being said, a few intrepid and inventive vegan cooks out there have come up with some sure-fire ways of making gulab jamun even more perfect - use ground almonds for density and almond milk for the moistness.  My favorite recipe comes from Vegan Richa, it's pretty great.

Mithai Glossary 4 width=

3. Peda

Like burfi, peda relies on condensed milk.  That doesn't mean you can't pull a switcheroo and substitute your favorite dairy alternative.  I personally love almond milk in all my mithai - it gives it that nutty taste that's so crucial in Indian sweets.  Silken tofu also makes a good paneer substitute.  It's not as cheesy as paneer, but it'll give your pedas that thick and smooth consistency.

Mithai Glossary 13 width=

4. Kheer

Possibly the easiest mithai to vegani-ize since boondi laddo (which take no work at all!) is kheer.  It's what you'd expect - switch out the milk for almond milk and the butter for oil, and the rest stays the same.  I think with Kheer, as long as you have your rice and raisins, the rest follows.  Check out this lovely recipe for Almond Kheer from Holy Cow Vegan.

Mithai Glossary 9 width=

 5. Burfi

As I said before, burfi is one of the hard ones to make right without dairy, but it can be done!  Switching out the butter for margarine and the condensed milk for condensed and sweetened almond/soy milk pretty much does the trick.  You can still throw in all your favorite toppings like pista and silver leaf.

Mithai Glossary 1 width=

6. Jalebi

I'm not sure how traditional jalebi are, but almost every wedding I've been to has had jalebi at one ever or another.  Unfortunately regular jalebi uses yogurt, ghee, and buttermilk.  Yet, as with most things, ask and the internet will provide - like this wonderful recipe from Manjula's Kitchen for vegan jalebi.

Mithai Glossary 6 width=

 Certain mithai, like rasmalai, which is all about the cream, are very difficult to get exactly right without dairy.  But other mithai is so easy to vegan-ize it's a wonder why they even make it with milk anymore.

If you have any raw, vegan, or gluten-free substitutes to traditional mithai, please let me know at nadya@thebigfatindianwedding.com.

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