The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Nisha Vora is the force behind Rainbow Plant Life, a platform celebrating easy and comforting vegan cooking. We chatted with Nisha at her new home in San Diego while she made a plant-based palak paneer.
I had a funny introduction to cooking. My mom is an excellent cook, but she worked and didn’t have a lot of time for inventive weeknight dishes. We would eat a variation of dhal bhat shaak every night: Dhal is the Indian lentil dish, bhat is white rice, and shaak are vegetables. I got tired of eating the same thing over and over, so that’s why I ventured into cooking on my own.
I got tired of eating the same thing over and over.
I used to be a lawyer, and I loved law school but hated practicing law. I tried multiple kinds of law — corporate, litigation, nonprofit. In my free time, I started cooking more and coming up with recipes. Eventually, I applied for jobs in food and started at — what was then — a small but growing start-up called Hungryroot.
I’ve always considered myself a nonviolent person, someone who has compassion for others and wants to stand up against oppression. With going vegan it felt like it was a natural extension of my identity and beliefs to move in that direction. I noticed that when I ate meat I felt weighed down, so I stopped eating meat first. I also wanted to learn more about where my food was coming from. That led me to watch many documentaries on agribusiness and factory farming, and I became vegan pretty quickly from that point on. Having a strong ethical foundation or reason for doing this has made it a lot easier than just doing it as a diet.
Going vegan felt like a natural extension of my identity and beliefs.
Through my food, I try to show people that this can be a super-rewarding, really tasty, and fun way of living your life — you don’t have to be very militant or overly disciplined. That’s why I create recipes that are very comforting and family-friendly.
This can be super-rewarding, really tasty, and fun.
I would say that being vegan actually made me a better cook. I got into the routine of making the same things before, and I didn’t explore much. When I went vegan, I had to ask how I could recreate the same savory tastes and creamy flavor I loved from meat or dairy. I had to get really creative to figure it out.
I would say that being vegan actually made me a better cook.
I like finding opportunities to use these ingredients in an interesting way.
Now I approach meal prepping much differently, too. I make building blocks — different food categories — like a batch of grains, some kind of lentils or beans, a few sauces, and vegetables that bring everything together. I don’t eat bowls every day because I’d get bored of them, so it’s more like finding opportunities to use these ingredients in an interesting way. For example, I use leftover beans in a soup or leftover sauce as a base for pasta.
I made a vegan spin on palak paneer today. It’s not something I grew up eating at home, but I would have it at Indian restaurants or community functions. Paneer is a spongy, chewy cheese, and I wanted to recreate that texture. I used tofu in this, but that can be watery and bland, so I boiled it for a few minutes to mimic the texture of paneer. The sauce has spinach in it, which is traditional, and many whole and ground spices. Cashews are not unheard of in Indian food, and here they create a rich creaminess in the dish.
You just need the right tools and techniques.
I’m working on my second cookbook. There’s going to be a big focus on cooking very flavorful food because a big complaint people have is that vegan food doesn’t have a lot of flavor. But you just need the right tools and techniques.
Photos by Olivia Hayo.