Imagine a wedding menu with no milk, ghee, paneer, cheese, butter, curd, egg, meat and honey... Vegan weddings are slowly climbing the popularity charts

“We warned everyone in advance that there would be no curd rice,” says Ragav H.V. No curd rice? At a wedding in Chennai? “Well, both my wife Preethi and I were vegan by the time we got married,” he says, adding, “We first met on Orkut through common friends. We turned vegan two years after we met. So when we decided to get married, we also decided that an occasion of such happiness for us shouldn’t cause unhappiness for others.”

Their families were not pleased. “There was opposition from both sides, with everyone saying how can we organise an Indian wedding with no curd, ghee, milk etc.” Raghav shrugged, “So we said, either we have a vegan wedding, or we don’t get married at all.” He smiles, “They had to oblige.” In retrospect, he says, the only people who were unhappy were the cooks. “Although the caterer agreed, his cooks were annoyed because they didn’t get to drink filter coffee through the day!”

The reception featured North Indian food, while the wedding lunch was a South Indian affair. “We didn’t have to make drastic changes to the menu. We still had payasam, but it was made with coconut milk instead of milk.” As for the curd rice, they found an innovative solution. “We replaced it with pumpkin rice, using grated pumpkin. It tastes just like curd rice — there were people who didn’t even realise we had made a swap.”

As more people choose to turn vegan, caterers across the country are finding ways to make tasty traditional food. “When we got married, it took a while to convince the caterer. He said he could manage the meal, but was very worried about making sweets without milk products,” says Ruchi Parikh, who recently had a vegan wedding in Ahmedabad. “My husband Jay, and I met in college. When we found out about the cruelty in dairy, we decided to go vegan together. It helped that my mother was already vegan.”

Ruchi’s mother finally convinced the caterer by showing him how easy it was to substitute cow’s milk with soy, cashew, almond or coconut milk. “There are lots of recipes online. Many Indians have turned vegan, so they have already figured out how to make popular recipes in a cruelty-free way,” says Ruchi. “We put soya milk in our coffee. For gajar ka halwa, we make it with cashew cream. It’s just cashew soaked and ground with a little water. I use coconut milk a lot to make ice creams.”

Determined to set a memorable example with their wedding the couple sent out a wedding card explaining that they would be excluding all animal-based products including milk, ghee, paneer, cheese, butter, curd, eggs, meat and honey. To prove that these exclusions did not mean food would be joyless, the menu was deliberately varied with soy milk based ice-cream, tofu sabji, and kaju katli. “The most popular item was the Delhi chaat made with soya curd,” says Ruchi.

The caterer, she says, was thrilled. “People told him the food was very tasty but also light on their stomachs.” After the wedding, a television channel approached Ruchi and Jay, asking them to do a cooking demonstration at home, showing people how to make those dishes.

Sejal Parikh, who is incidentally Ruchi’s sister-in-law, is on a similar mission in Hyderabad where she helped organise the city’s first Vegan Bazaar last week to prove that this lifestyle doesn’t limit culinary choices. Drawing about 500 people, the Sunday morning bazaar was sold out an hour before it closed. It featured vegan cakes, bakes, puddings and pies flavoured with spices, ginger, berries. There was jowar chocolate cakes, ragi millet vadas and soya buttermilk amongst other things. “When I turned vegan three years ago, I knew just five other vegans. Now there are tens of thousands of them,” says Sejal. “Many of these vegans are young — so I expect to see many vegan weddings in the near future.”

She elaborates on the main reason people turn to this lifestyle. For some, it’s because they are horrified by cruelty involved in the production of animal-based products. “Some people do it for their health. And some to conserve the environment.” Sejal adds, “It’s not difficult in India since people are willing to customise food for you, and it’s usually minor adjustments.” The weddings prove that this works with Indian food. And if you don’t have the patience to serve gajar halwa, Sejal even has a 10-minute ice cream recipe for you: “Just blend tender coconut pulp, dates, cocoa and a splash of vanilla. It’s awesome.”