Finding inspiration in his grandmother’s recipes, local physician creates his own cookbook
Growing up in the Milwaukee suburbs, Sheil Shukla, DO, would watch his grandmother — the family cook — create her own recipes. Back in India, she had joined cooking competitions, and Shukla calls her “an inspiration for my own cooking.”
Shukla’s grandmother returned to India towards the end of her life, and Shukla would visit over summer breaks. He remembers produce carts in her apartment building’s alleyway “with some of the freshest produce I’ve ever seen — a farmers’ market that essentially visits you.”
Those experiences made Shukla who he is today: an internist with Northwestern Medical Group who prioritizes healthy eating, and author of cookbook Plant-Based India: Nourishing Recipes Rooted in Tradition.
“Diet plays a huge role in the management of chronic disease,” he says. “It’s really critical that we involve [healthy eating] in our practice.”
Shukla, who began cooking after high school, has made healthy eating a priority in his own life. He eats a plant-based diet and began crafting Plant-Based India when he was a resident at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
“The worst of the pandemic is when I wrote a lot of this book,” he says.
“It was an escape from the difficult times. It let me escape the realities I was facing, let me focus more on positivity and on overall health, not just what the country was dealing with.”
Though some of the recipes in the book may intimidate less experienced cooks, Shukla encourages people not to take cooking too seriously. “The no. 1 thing for anyone starting off in the kitchen is to be forgiving toward yourself.
Just have fun with it,” he says. “Experimentation in the kitchen leads to your own personal growth.”
His grandmother found purpose in the kitchen, feeding her family and inspiring them, too. “I have a lot of her cookbooks where she’s written things out by hand,” Shukla says.
And now, he also has his own.
Chili Cauliflower and Tofu
Makes 4 servings
There’s no question that Indo-Chinese cuisine is adored across India and abroad for its tangy, salty, and spicy flavors. This dish of cauliflower and tofu (both sponges for all things flavorful) has classic Indo-Chinese flavors, primarily umami and spicy. Roast both before stir-frying to enhance and develop their textures.
Prep Time 1 hour | Cook Time 1 hour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as sunflower
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce (or tamari, if gluten-free)
One 14-ounce (400 g) block extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed for 1 hour and cut into ¾-inch (2 cm) cubes
1 medium cauliflower (about 19 ounces/550 g) cut into bite-size florets
1½ teaspoons neutral oil, such as sunflower
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (or tamari)
2 tablespoons maple syrup or desired sweetener
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sriracha or sambal oelek, to taste
2 teaspoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as sunflower
2 teaspoons grated ginger
6 garlic cloves, minced (about 1½ tablespoons)
4 to 6 scallions, sliced, white and green parts separated
3 dried red chilies, optional
Salt, to taste
Jasmine rice (or preferred alternative), optional
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. To prepare the tofu, whisk together the cornstarch, oil, and soy sauce in a large bowl. Add the tofu and mix gently with a spatula until each piece is coated. Place the tofu onto one baking sheet in an even layer, ensuring that the pieces are not touching.
3. To prepare the cauliflower, place the florets onto the other baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Massage the oil in the florets until each piece is coated, then spread the pieces into a single layer, ensuring that the pieces are not touching.
4. Place the tofu sheet in the oven on the middle rack and the cauliflower sheet on the top rack. Bake for 20 minutes, then flip the tofu and cauliflower pieces to evenly roast both sides. Return to the oven, and bake for about 20 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender and charred and the tofu is firm, crisp, and lightly charred. Remove from the oven, and keep near the stove.
5. While the tofu and cauliflower are baking, whisk together the soy sauce, maple syrup, tomato paste, vinegar, sriracha, cornstarch, and pepper in a small bowl with ½ cup (120 ml) water until well incorporated. Leave the bowl near the stove.
6. Heat a large wok or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat until it shimmers and easily coats the pan. Add the ginger, garlic, white part of the scallions, and red chilies (if using), and cook until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes.
7. Add the reserved sauce and simmer until bubbly and starting to thicken, about 1 minute.
8. Add the tofu and cauliflower and stir to coat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt.
9. Garnish with the green part of the scallions, and serve hot with rice, if desired.