I GREW up in a country where the food culture revolves heavily around meat, and choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet is almost unheard off, unless for religious or cultural reasons. A voluntary decision to change the way you perceive food, is met with responses ranging from disbelief to an annoyingly coercive pep talk to snap you out of your "fad diet".

My close friend in Karachi chose to be vegan many years ago, and at dinner parties she was almost forced to place meat on her plate. In those days someone choosing animal welfare and a meat-free diet was met with bewilderment. Mostly she was offered chicken or seafood as an alternative, perhaps on the assumption it was red meat she had a problem with due to heath issues. The complete lack of empathy, she told me, left her seething.

Though things are changing slowly back home, back then most affluent families always had meat, and very rarely was vegetarianism, let alone veganism, catered for. I was fortunate to have a mother who did not feel compelled to keep up with social norms, or care about about perceptions of frugality because we ate more vegetables than meat. She loved cooking seasonal vegetables in unique, flavourful and exciting ways and our dining table was never without a delicious daal topped with herbs and fresh ginger or a simple vegetable dish. I grew up appreciating how a daal, chapati and homemade fresh pickle tasted of my grandmother’s garden.

Though I am personally neither vegan nor vegetarian, I respect others' choices to be so. When I first began my food-writing and teaching career, I approached Rachel Demuth's wholly vegetarian cookery school based in Bath. Rachel was the first person who took a chance on me – her passion for international cuisines fuelled her decision to take me on, but she wondered whether Pakistanis had much of a vegetarian cuisine. I said that growing up, I'd gathered recipes from my mother’s style of cooking, and also sought out Pakistani vegetarian recipes and found ways of adapting them.

Though our cuisine is meat-heavy, it is equipped with the tools to convert into vegetarian and vegan-friendly recipes. Last summer I took a trip to the north of Pakistan, and was mesmerised to discover unusual regional vegetables and recipes. One such recipe was a street food called mamtu. These are dumplings, usually filled with minced beef and onions, topped with a lentil topping, garlic yoghurt and chilli oil. This recipe was easily vegetarianised or veganised, and I share it below.

There is no reason why the many wonderfully exotic recipes of Pakistan can not be catered for the vegetarian and vegan, making the unique flavours of my homeland, open to all.

Hunza Mamtu: roasted winter squash dumplings with spiced daal, chilli oil and minted yoghurt

(Makes about 15)

I adapted this recipe using winter squash, red onions and spices. The garlic yoghurt can be made with soya, coconut or almond yoghurt for vegans. For a gluten-free option, make the dumpling dough with buckwheat flour. Vegetarians can omit the egg.


4 tbsp vegetable oil

200g finely chopped squash

1 onion, finely chopped

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

½ tsp turmeric

Salt to taste

1 tbsp fresh chopped coriander leaves

½ tsp dried mint

1 small green chilli, chopped finely

Fresh dough for mamtu wrappers:

300g all-purpose plain flour (or gluten free buckwheat flour) plus a little extra for rolling)

1 egg, beaten (optional)

4 fl oz water

30ml corn or sunflower oil

1 tsp sea salt

(this will make enough for 15 people)

For the daal topping:

4 tbsp vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped finely

1 ½ tsp crushed garlic

2 tomatoes, chopped

2 tbsp tomato paste / puree

½ tsp turmeric

½ tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp freshly ground coriander seeds

½ tsp crushed black peppercorn

50 g chana daal, soaked for 1 hour and pre-boiled until cooked

For yoghurt topping:

150 g Greek full fat yoghurt (or soya, coconut or almond yoghurt)

1 tbsp dried mint

½ garlic clove, crushed

For the chilli oil:

(heat oil, cook chilli in the hot oil for a few minutes until dark red and then turn off. Set aside)

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp red chilli flakes


1. To make the dough: Sift flour and salt into a bowl and make a well in the middle. Pour in the egg (if using) and water and draw the flour into the liquid and mix to a dough. Knead until soft.

2. Add a little oil and knead further until the mixture is smooth and elastic (around 6-7 minutes). Cover with cling film and leave in a cool place while making the filling.

3. Filling: Place the chopped squash with oil, salt and spices (half the fresh coriander) in a baking tray and cook in a pre-heated oven (140C) until light brown and soft. Set aside and cool. Add rest of fresh coriander.

4. Chana daal topping: Boil the soaked daal with 50ml water and cook until soft (15-20 mins).

5. In another saucepan, heat oil, add onions and garlic and cook until light brown. Add turmeric, black pepper, salt, coriander and stir. Add tomatoes and tomato paste/puree.

6. Cook until tomatoes are soft, add the cooked chana daal. Stir fry until all combined (about 3-4 minutes). There should be a thick tomato sauce around the chana daal.

7. Mix the yoghurt with the crushed garlic, salt and dried mint and set aside.

8. To make the mamtu: Cut the dough into three even-sized pieces. Use one piece at the time and keeping the rest under a moist towel.

9. Roll the dough into a thin rectangular shape (about 1mm thick), on a lightly floured surface.

10. Cut the rolled dough into small squares (about 2 inches). Spoon about 2 tsp of squash filling, in the middle. Pinch the opposite corners to form a little a little pouch and press the seams together to seal firmly.

12. When ready to steam, set a steamer over boiling water on medium low heat and oil the surface of the steamer. Place filled mamtu (ensure they don’t touch each other) and steam the mamtu for 15-20 minutes or longer.

13. To serve, smear the yoghurt sauce on a plate, place hot mamtu on top and pour over the chana daal and any remaining yoghurt sauce on top and sprinkle with chilli oil. Eat hot.