Computer engineer and analyst Sandeep Girhotra, 38, has been cooking since he was 10 years old. In addition to cooking for his family, he volunteers to cook for hundreds at the Science of Spirituality Meditation Center in Amityville, as well as at centers around the world.
What inspires you to cook?
My father was a good cook. We immigrated to America from India 14 years ago. I developed a passion for cooking and felt that to be able to make food for others was a blessing.
What are some of your favorite ingredients?
I make a lot of Indian and Asian dishes. I also am a lifelong vegetarian. Things I use a lot include paneer, a kind of Indian cottage cheese; peppers, tofu, kidney beans, lentils, soy sauce, chili sauce and vegetables for stir-fry. I also mix in American-influenced ingredients like cinnamon, black pepper, white pepper, olive oil, broccoli and baby corn. I make vegan pasta and rely on soy products and mock meats for protein. I find that meat-based people don't eat a lot of milk products and beans. If you look at the vegetarian side, you see a lot of proteins from lentils, beans and cheese. Paneer, because it is from pure milk, is a good fat. You can make your own homemade yogurt using milk and a little bit of vinegar. One of my favorite things to cook for is Veggie Fest, which is Aug. 15-16, 2015, at the Science of Spirituality Meditation Center in Naperville, Illinois, which is about 28 miles outside Chicago. You may cook for 20,000 people in one day.
What is your cooking style?
I want people to see that a vegetarian diet can be delicious. I also want the food to touch their soul. I also want people to know cooking with fresh vegetables from scratch doesn't have to take that long. You also can save money by cooking at home.
What are the meal building blocks people should keep on hand?
I have spices; chili sauce, mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers for salad, salt, pepper and lemon. Spices I like include turmeric, cumin, red chili powder, which you will not feel the heat of if you only use a pinch. I also like coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg. You can play around with the vegetables, but avoid olive oil at high heat. If you're cooking at a high temperature, use canola oil and save olive oil or others like avocado oil for finishing the dish.
CHILI PANEER WITH PEPPERS
2 tablespoons canola (or vegetable) oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped onion (1 small onion)
2 tablespoon Sriracha chili sauce (or hot sauce)
2 tablespoon ketchup, or to taste
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon white pepper
8 ounces of paneer cheese (available in Indian grocery stores, can substitute with extra-firm tofu), diced
¼ cup water (or vegetable stock)
3 scallions chopped and sprigs of cilantro for garnish
Rice for serving
1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add garlic and saute for 2 minutes; add onion, and saute 2 to 3 minutes more until lightly golden brown.
2. Add chili sauce, ketchup, soy sauce; stir, and bring to a gentle simmer. Add red and green peppers, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper and continue to cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
3. Add paneer and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add up to a quarter cup of liquid, as needed, to bring mixture to a gentle boil.
4. Garnish with scallions and cilantro and serve with white or brown rice. Makes 4-6 servings.