How long have you been cooking? I was born in India and started cooking there when I was about 21, for large groups at the Science of Spirituality center. We are vegetarians. I made lentils, chickpeas, mixed vegetables, sometimes for 1,000, 2,000 or even 5,000 people. In the Indian tradition, whenever you go to an Indian temple or meditation center, after the talk and meditation there is always some kind of feast. This is like blessed food and becomes part of the prayer. If you don't serve food, it means you didn't complete the service.
Do you do the same kind of vegetarian cooking here? I've lived in the U.S. for the past 20 years, and I volunteer my time cooking at the Science of Spirituality center in Amityville, as well as at the center in Chicago and at the Sikh temple in Plainview. I still cook a lot of traditional Indian dishes, but I also experiment with Thai, Chinese and Italian recipes.
It sounds like your cooking continues to have a deep spiritual component. That is true. I don't want to destroy any animals. I want to leave the planet the way I found it and reduce my karma by eating as a vegetarian. I believe that anything you cook with deep love is going to be delicious. That's why anything your mother makes is delicious. When I come home from work, I love to relax by cooking for my family. And I feel a lot of peace when I cook for large numbers of people.
What do you like about soy nuggets and other soy products? About 10 years ago I discovered this soy product and started to use it the way you'd use chicken. I make sesame nuggets, chili sauce nuggets, nuggets with vegetarian oyster sauce. A lot of people who aren't vegetarians but who want to eat more vegetarian food want something with the texture of meat, and this product gives you that. I always tell people, it's not the taste of the meat, it's the taste of the sauce that gives a dish flavor.
Sweet and Sour Veggie Nuggets
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 cup frozen soy nuggets, cut into bite-size chunks
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small onion cut into 1-inch pieces
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks in 100 percent pineapple juice
Chopped scallions for garnish
1. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat. Stir-fry soy nuggets until light golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
2. Add remaining ½ teaspoon oil to pan. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add red bell pepper and onion and sauté for another minute. Add tomato sauce and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add sugar, vinegar, salt, black pepper and pineapple chunks with juice. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
3. Return stir-fried soy nuggets to pan and cook, stirring, to heat through. Adjust flavors, adding more sugar to make it sweeter or more vinegar to make it more sour. Sprinkle with chopped scallions and serve hot with rice. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
For Kohli’s Black Pepper Soy “Steak” with Broccoli recipe, go to newsday.com/food.