Vegan curry recipes from SpiceBox founder Grace Regan’s stylish new cookbook

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New cookbook SpiceBox: 100 Fresh, Vegan Curry House Favourites is packed with modern plant-based Indian recipes – and we have three to share here. 

In the summer of 2015, Grace Regan was living in Silicon Valley and taking part in an accelerator programme for her fledgling tech business. It wasn’t a wholly happy period in her life: she was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the tech industry. But at the same time, she found herself falling in love with California’s flourishing plant-based food scene, criss-crossing Berkeley, Oakland, LA and San Francisco in search of new vegan restaurants and street food trucks.

When she returned to the UK, Regan decided to launch a new start-up that combined her two culinary passions: veganism and Indian food. She had been making curries since childhood, inspired by her great-aunt Dolly, who is from Chennai. Regan believed there was space in the London food scene for a restaurant that combined British Indian curry house classics – think tikka masalas, dhansaks and onion bhajis – with the fresh, vibrant and vegan home-cooked flavours she’d encountered at Dolly’s house and during her extensive travels across India. And so SpiceBox was born.

Initially an eco-friendly takeaway and street food business, SpiceBox secured permanent premises in Walthamstow, north-east London in 2019, and promptly won plaudits including the ‘Best Takeaway in East London’ award. Now, Regan has published her first cookbook – SpiceBox: 100 Fresh, Vegan Curry House Favourites (Ebury Press).

Spicebox cookbook by Grace Regan
SpiceBox by Grace Regan is out now with Ebury Press

The book is packed with beautiful recipes including smoky aubergine and pea curry topped with a prettily neon pink onion pickle, crispy tofu ‘paneer’ and speedy samosas. Regan’s food has been praised by her fellow plant-based chef and author Anna Jones, who says it is “as colourful as it is delicious”.

Regan runs the SpiceBox restaurant with her business partner Alpesh Chauhan, and acknowledges that as a white British woman who cooks and writes about Indian food for a living, she is treading sensitive ground. In the introduction to her cookbook, she writes that “there is a fine line between paying respect to the culinary history of India and cultural appropriation”, adding that her work “comes from a place of deep love and respect for India”.

“I will never profess to be an ‘expert’ on the incredibly rich, diverse and complex cuisine of India; I prefer to think of myself as an enthusiastic student, eager to learn as much as I can from the true masters of this topic – the Indian home cooks, who have been so generous in sharing their knowledge with me,” she writes.

Read on for three recipes from SpiceBox: a one-pot red lentil dhal that takes just 15 minutes from start to finish; a cashew and coconut korma with butternut squash, broccoli and green beans; and a spicy jackfruit jalfrezi featuring three types of chilli. 

  • 15-minute one-pot dhal

    easy lentil dhal recipe
    Best vegan curry recipes: Grace Regan’s quick and easy dhal

    Grace says: “This is a dish I turn to again and again – often when I’m too tired or busy to cook but want something filling, nutritious and super-tasty. If you’re new to Indian cooking, or making dhals, then this recipe is a great place to start.”

    Serves 2 as a main

    Ingredients

    • 200g split red lentils
    • 2 tbsp veg oil
    • 2 tsp cumin seeds
    • 1 green chilli, slit lengthways
    • 3 garlic cloves, crushed with the side of your knife
    • a thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely diced
    • ½ white onion, sliced into half-moons
    • 2 tomatoes, roughly diced
    • 800ml boiling water
    • ½ tsp ground turmeric
    • salt
    • a pinch of chilli flakes, to garnish
    • 1 tbsp coconut yoghurt, to garnish (optional)

    Method

    First, rinse the lentils. The best way to do this is by putting them in a large bowl, covering with cold water and then gently swirling them around with your hands until the water becomes cloudy. Drain and repeat at least three times until the water is clear. Set them to one side.

    Place a medium saucepan on a medium heat and add the oil. When it’s hot, add the cumin seeds, green chilli, garlic and ginger, and fry for a few minutes until everything is golden and smelling delicious. Now add the onion, fresh tomatoes and ½ teaspoon of salt and stir well.

    Add the lentils to the saucepan, followed by the boiling water and the turmeric. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 10–15 minutes until the lentils are soft but still have a bit of bite to them.

    Once the dhal is cooked, taste for seasoning – it may need a touch more salt.

    Serve topped with the chilli flakes and a spoonful of coconut yoghurt.

    If I have some toasted nuts or seeds lying around, I often add these too for texture.

  • Cashew and coconut korma

    vegan korma curry recipe
    Best vegan curry recipes: Grace Regan’s cashew and coconut korma

    Grace says: “This is probably the most popular dish in the curry house and has been on the menu since the days when I was cooking all the curries in my home kitchen. I served it up for my boyfriend at the time (a professional curry taster by this point) and, as he started to eat it, he went silent. Once the bowl had been scraped clean, he looked up at me and told me it was the best curry I’d ever made. So, I knew I was on to a winner.

    “Feel free to switch up the veg for whatever’s in season. I find this curry works best with one starchy vegetable and a mix of two or three fresher, green veg to cut through the creaminess.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 120g cashew nuts, plus a few to garnish
    • ½ large butternut squash, cut into 2.5cm chunks
    • 3 tbsp veg oil, plus extra for roasting the squash
    • 1 tsp cumin seeds
    • 2 cloves
    • 3 cardamom pods, crushed
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 medium white onion, sliced into half-moons
    • 4 large garlic cloves, crushed
    • a thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
    • 1 green chilli, slit lengthways
    • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
    • 1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets
    • ½ tsp ground turmeric
    • 1 tsp sugar
    • 1 × 400ml tin of coconut milk
    • 100g green beans, topped and cut in half
    • a handful of frozen peas
    • 1½ limes, 1 quartered, to garnish
    • salt

    Method

    Cover the cashews with cold water and leave to soak for at least 2 hours.

    Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place the chunks of squash in a roasting tin, drizzle with veg oil and add a generous pinch of salt. Shake the tray so the chunks get evenly coated. Roast for 30–40 minutes, until the flesh is soft and the skin is golden brown. Set aside until ready to use.

    Heat the oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat and add the cumin seeds, cloves, cardamom pods and bay leaves. Fry until the seeds are golden and aromatic. Add the onion and 1 teaspoon of salt and turn the heat down low to cook the onion really slowly. When the onion begins to soften – after about 5 minutes – add the garlic, ginger, chilli and fenugreek seeds, and cook until the onion is completely soft and caramelised (10–15 minutes in total).

    Turn up the heat and add the broccoli, the turmeric and the sugar, followed by a pinch of salt. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes until the broccoli is well coated with the onion mix and then pour in the coconut milk. Turn down the heat and simmer for 5 minutes until the broccoli is cooked through but still has some bite.

    While the broccoli cooks, make the cashew cream. Drain the cashews and tip into a blender. Pour in 80ml cold water and blitz until a smooth cream is formed. Add the cream to the pan, along with the roasted squash and the green beans, and cover the pan with a lid.

    While the beans cook, heat a small, dry frying pan on a medium heat and toast the leftover cashews until golden brown. Set these aside.

    Add the frozen peas and allow them to cook through, then take the pan off the heat and stir through the juice of ½ lime. Taste for seasoning.

    Serve in a bowl, topped with the toasted cashews and a wedge of lime.

  • Jackfruit jalfrezi

    jackfruit jalfrezi recipe
    Best vegan curry recipes: Grace Regan’s jackfruit jalfrezi

    Grace says: “This is the dish that made SpiceBox! It has been on the menu since day one, when jackfruit was still a relatively unknown ingredient in the UK. The only place I could buy tinned young jackfruit was Banglatown cash and carry off Brick Lane. The busier SpiceBox became, the lower their stock levels ran. Every week, I’d make a pilgrimage to Banglatown in my van and buy up every tin they had in stock but eventually I outgrew their supply cycle. This meant a mad dash around London on my bike, scouring Asian supermarkets for that familiar yellow and green tin, a wave of relief washing over me when I spied it on the shelf among the cans of coconut milk and mango.

    “Fortunately, the UK has moved on since then and young jackfruit can now be found in most supermarkets (oh to think how easy life would have been…). It can also be ordered online. Avoid buying the sweet yellow jackfruit as you’ll end up with a dessert rather than a curry.

    “Jalfrezis are spicy and this recipe doesn’t hold back on the heat. Don’t be put off by the amount of chilli – it’s important to layer the different chillies on top of each other, as they all bring a unique flavour. If your chilli threshold is low, leave out the chilli powder and replace the chopped green chillies with coriander for garnish.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    For the jackfruit marinade:

    • 2 × 560g tins of young jackfruit, drained and rinsed
    • 3 tbsp veg oil
    • 1 tsp ground cumin
    • 1 tsp smoked paprika
    • 1 tsp chilli powder
    • 1 tsp ground coriander
    • ½ tsp ground turmeric
    • 2 tbsp light or dark soy sauce
    • 2 tsp sugar

    For the curry sauce:

    • 4 tbsp veg oil
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1 dried red chilli, ripped into quarters
    • 2 medium white onions, sliced into half-moons
    • 4 large garlic cloves, grated or crushed
    • a thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
    • 2 green chillies, thinly sliced
    • 2 green peppers, thinly sliced
    • 2 tbsp tomato purée
    • 2 tsp sugar
    • 1 tsp chilli powder
    • 1 tsp smoked paprika
    • 1 tsp ground cumin
    • 1 tsp ground coriander
    • ½ tsp ground turmeric
    • 500g passata or chopped tomatoes
    • 2 tbsp light or dark soy sauce
    • 1 tbsp vinegar
    • salt

    Method

    First prepare the jackfruit. Place it in a large bowl and use your hands to tear it up into small pieces. It should resemble pulled pork. Add the rest of the marinade ingredients and use your hands to massage the marinade into the jackfruit. Set to one side for at least 15 minutes and up to 12 hours. When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 220°C.

    Roast the jackfruit in the oven for 20 minutes, or until it’s crispy around the edges. You will need to stir it halfway through roasting.

    Now make the curry sauce. Heat the oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat, add the bay leaf and dried red chilli, and fry until golden. Add the onions and 1 teaspoon of salt and turn the heat down low to cook the onion really slowly. When the onions begin to soften – after about 5 minutes – add the garlic, ginger, 1 green chilli and the green peppers, and cook until the onions are completely soft and caramelised and the peppers are soft (10–15 minutes in total).

    Add the tomato purée, sugar and rest of the ground spices. You may need to add a splash of water to stop them burning. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes until the purée has turned a darker shade of red.

    Turn up the heat and add the passata, followed by the soy sauce, vinegar, roasted jackfruit and a splash of water. Simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve topped with the remaining sliced green chilli.

SpiceBox: 100 Fresh, Vegan Curry House Favourites by Grace Regan (£20, Ebury Press) is out now

Photography: Joff Lee and James Lee

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