Satvinder Bains is on a mission - to make a positive impact on the environment and animal welfare, one curry at a time. Vegetarian for more than 20 years and a competent plant-based cook Satvinder oversees the recipe development side of the business.
From 2018-2020 Satvinder dedicated her time to developing Plant Alternative meals. The combination of marinated and flame-grilled [SHICKEN] soy-based vegan pieces and authentic handcrafted Asian curry sauces have allowed Plant Alternative to produce the closest vegan match to some of the UK's most popular Asian chicken restaurant meals.
In an exclusive interview with Asian Voice, Satvinder Bains, Head Chef and Cofounder, Plant Alternative spoke about plant-based ‘shicken’ and Indian spices.
Q - How would you describe traditional Indian spices? What are the most common and important spices used in Indian cooking?
Indian spices add excitement to any dish whether it originates from India, Asia or even European cuisine. Spices tantalise your palate on various levels, although most people associate spices with heat, that doesn’t have to be the case. By infusing the right combination of spices and the correct balance of heat even the most simple dish can be made into something special. With Indian cuisine, it's all about balance.
With most of our dishes, the foundation of the curry is made up of onion, ginger, garlic, turmeric, fresh green chillies, coriander powder and fresh, cumin powder and whole, cardamon green and black, cloves, star anise, fenugreek and Kashmiri chilli powder. Each dish can deliver a completely different flavour, eating experience and heat all with the correct balance and combination of spices.
Q - Since most Indian spices are vegetarian or vegan in source, do they automatically become climate-friendly? How do they help?
Yes, you are absolutely correct, nearly all Indian spices are naturally vegan, they are grown in India, Pakistan, South America and some parts of Asia. This means that any spice we use has travelled to the UK by road and sea and most of these traditional transport routes use fossil fuel which has a negative impact on our environment. Therefore the spices we use have a higher carbon footprint due to their country of origin. Having said that, our meals are all 100% vegan and they are all packed into biodegradable and recyclable packaging which have a very low carbon footprint.
Q- Tell us something about your vegan venture. How adaptive and forthcoming has the Asian community in the UK been about it?
My journey started years ago, I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years and a very competent plant-based cook. I wanted to bring my passion, heritage and cuisine of India to the masses but with a range of products, they would have never tasted or experienced before. I spent years developing the perfect vegan chicken-style piece aka SHICKEN made from soy. Smothering our unique vegan pieces with hand made authentic curry sauces that are made to authentic recipes handed down from generations ago and produced by chefs, build the flavour of the curry by layering the spices exactly in the same way as any traditional Indian curry.
The products I have developed are not for any particular ethnicity or dietary group, I strongly believe that our products can be enjoyed whether you are a Vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian or meat-eater from any ethnic background. Currently, our products are available exclusively online at www.plantalternative.com and we deliver the next day nationally. So it doesn’t matter if you live in London, Birmingham, Leeds or Glasgow we will deliver direct to your home.
Q- Is veganism the future? While traditional Indian communities practice vegetarianism anyway, do you think veganism will not be a challenge?
Veganism is most definitely the future and it's not a food fad or a short term trend, it's here to stay. The current global food supply chain for the growing global population and devastating environmental impact is just not sustainable. This is why I launched our SHICKEN range, to make it easy for all UK consumers to make that simple weekly switch from their current meat-based curries to our plant-based curries. A small change can make a huge impact and we can all do our bit through the food choices we make.
The Indian community traditionally follows a vegetarian diet, however, the new generation and the new millennials all have access to far more information regarding the impact of food and food production on our planet and animal welfare. This new generation is now making informed decisions about the food they consume which helps to ensure these decisions are influenced by their ethical and social position.
Q- What are the rules of authentic Indian cooking according to you?
The authenticity of a very good Indian curry is based on the balance of the spices, the method of cooking and the freshness of the ingredients. Not all curries are the same, each curry whether it's from Punjab, Kerala, Sri Lanka or Bengal all have their unique and specialist ingredients and cooking methods. The most important rule with any cooking is to build the flavours by layering the ingredients, building flavour and balance.
Q - Do you think the UK and the west, in general, understand Indian food culture the right way?
The great thing about the UK is that consumers have really embraced Indian food as their own. Indian food has been very popular in the UK for decades and traditional Chicken Tikka Masala has long been the national dish of the UK. With our SHICKEN range, we want to expand the British consumers’ palate for Indian food by providing regional dishes from around India and providing consumers with not only the dish but the history, culture and traditions behind the people and regions where the dish originates from. UK consumers are ready and willing to embrace even more Indian food and explore cuisine beyond the Chicken Tikka Masala.
Q - Post-Brexit and during the pandemic, how easy or difficult has it been to source Indian spices?
The pandemic and Brexit has affected all food businesses in the UK, whether you are a retailer, restaurant or food manufacturer like us. With issues at UK ports, shortages of drivers and increasing logistics and warehousing costs, as a manufacturer especially a start-up like our business it’s essential we plan for our business growth. We have a great team at Plant Alternative and my goal has always been that in business you need to build a long term working relationships with your supply base to ensure mutual long term success for all businesses that work together.