Navigating A Plant-Based Diet As A Women Of Colour

Navigating A PLANT-BASED Diet As A Woman Of Colour: Numra Siddiqui


By Elvira Vedelago

The mainstream wellbeing narrative at present is heavily focused on reducing meat in our diets and pushing a healthier way of eating that is also kinder to our planet. Over the last decade, we have seen a significant rise of popular documentaries, books, blog posts, celebrity endorsements and oddly placed adverts on the underground educating even the biggest meat lover amongst us on both the personal and environmental benefits of plant-based eating. Numerous studies have found that shifting to more plant-based meals reduces the risk of heart problems, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, etc… , as well as boosts overall energy levels and generates the kind of natural skin glow that every beauty junkie craves. And in terms of the planet, reducing meat consumption, particularly beef in the western world, will dramatically lessen greenhouse emissions and a host of other environmental issues caused by industrial livestock production.

Whether a fad or not, the message is loud and clear. Yet, as more people jump on the meat-free bandwagon and public discourse calls for lifestyle shifts in response to scientific evidence, the presentations and discussions around the plant-based diet movement in the West tend to be rather whitewashed – often leaving people of colour out of the conversation when these diets have existed in many of our communities for centuries. In fact, a lot of the items promoted in the movement, such as tofu, lentils and even the sacred avocado, are not western foods originally, whereby diets in the UK and USA centre predominantly around the consumption of animal proteins. In contrast, for people of colour, there has been a growing interest in decolonising our diets, to resist the americanization of our foods and embrace ancestral knowledge that draws mostly on plant-based diets as a means of reclaiming our cultures and overall wellbeing.

Not everyone will be interested in becoming plant-based-all-the-time, and the logistics of navigating a lifestyle switch to eating more plant-based in a fast-paced city like London can feel overwhelming, particularly when the wellness industry ignores the varying cultural backgrounds of potential consumers. In an effort to place more women of colour within the conversation, we reached out to 3 independent chefs (all women of colour from different cultural backgrounds) to explore the realities and practicalities of contemporary plant-based eating as people of colour today.

This week we interview Numra Siddiqui of Empress Market, spoiler: there are recipe suggestions to try at home too!

TELL us a bit about Empress Market?

Empress Market is a modern Pakistani catering company. I share a fresh perspective on my grandmother’s recipes, an inheritance of Indian and Pakistani cuisine. My cooking is a creative way to explore my roots, experimenting with different techniques drawn from my London lifestyle and world travels. It’s my way to stay connected with where I’ve come from while still developing my own unique voice as a contemporary chef.

What’s YOUR personal diet like and how much of it is plant-based already?

I eat meat 2-3 days a week but when I’m cooking at home, I tend to eat a lot of vegetarian food. It’s purely a matter of practicality; after a long day cooking at work, I need quick healthy food that keeps well in the pantry. Daal is good for that, I can pop it in the pressure cooker and get on with things.

What are your THOUGHTS on the plant-based diet movement here in the UK?

I believe the plant-based movement is a very positive step towards a healthier lifestyle. We’re thinking more about what goes into our bodies. As people are travelling and eating food from different cultures in the UK, food has become more than ‘meat and two veg’. We have a greater appreciation for exotic ingredients and techniques, all of which make cooking and eating more exciting.

The environmental impact plays a major part in the movement. Commercial methods of rearing animals are expensive, have a high carbon footprint, with little consideration for animal welfare. People have become increasingly aware of these issues and plant-based diets are part of a more conscious lifestyle.

Saying that, I think vegan eating feels like a bit of a trend and this obsession with avocados and jackfruit is counter-intuitive to reducing your carbon fruit print. We need to eat local and seasonal with exotic ingredients, rather than having our healthy food flown over from across the world.

Also, a lot of plant-based dishes and ingredients have been stripped of their cultural heritage. If you’re eating food inspired from different cultures, it’s important to recognise the provenance and how it has enhanced British eating habits.

Overall, this is a very big step in the right direction. Even when the trend settles, I think the UK will become a more conscious food consumer.

HOW easy would it be to incorporate plant-based meals into Pakistani cuisine?

Plant-based meals and cooking are central to Pakistani cuisine, reflecting the way of eating across larger South Asia. Open any Pakistani person’s fridge and there’s likely to be one tub of cooked daal and one tub or the ingredients for a full vegetable dish! Culturally, meat in a meal is a sign of affluence, a luxury item. Traditionally, there should always be meat when you’re entertaining or being entertained! The Pakistani dinner table is designed around sharing platters, where one, maybe two meat dishes are accompanied by a plethora of plant-based dishes, to be eaten together or on their own as a meal.

WHAT would an ‘Empress Market’ plant-based meal plan look like?

Breakfast: Dalya
This is how my grandmother made porridge for me when I was younger. Of course at the time, I hated it, yearning for sweet cereals, but now this is a bowl full of warm soothing nostalgia.

Lunch: Shakr Kandi and Tauri
This is a variation of a Pakistani street food. It came about with making the most of what I had in the house one day. Slow roasted sweet potato topped with courgette ribbons, coriander and paneer pesto, chaat masala.

Dinner: Roasted Cauliflower, carrot and pea sabzi
Served with Basmati Rice and Roti




Breakfast: Dalya



Half a cup of water (you can use Almond or Coconut milk for a creamier finish)

Handful of dried fruit or nuts of your choice (I like almonds or walnuts)

Raisins or chopped up medjool dates

Pinch of cinnamon

1 ripe banana

Half a cup of rolled oats



Pretty simple really – Bring the water to a simmer, add all other ingredients and stir. Let it simmer for 1 minute. Enjoy your perfect breakfast.





Lunch: Shakr Kandi and Tauri 

(serves 2)



1 large sweet potato

1 courgette

Half bunch coriander

2 tbsp worth of paneer

4 tbsp oil

Chaat masala – this spice blend is an acquired taste. You can buy it from most South Asian stores but salt and pepper are perfectly good to use.



1.Cut the sweet potato in half and roast in the oven at 100 degrees until the sugar from the potato starts to caramelise.

2. In the meantime, chop the coriander and paneer in a food blender with the oil to make a pesto. Season to taste.

3. Make courgette ribbons using a peeler and toss in the coriander pesto.

4. Top the potatoes with the courgette mixture and put back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes, till the courgettes soften.

5. Sprinkle the chaat masala or salt and pepper.




Dinner: Roasted Cauliflower, carrot and pea sabzi

Served with Basmati Rice and Roti

(Serves 4)



1 whole cauliflower

2 carrots

Half cup peas

1 medium onion

3 tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp cumin powder

1/2 coriander seed powder

Chilli to taste




1. Dice the onion and sweat in a little bit of oil until clear and soft.

2. Add crushed garlic and cook until the smell of raw garlic has gone.

3. Add the dry spices and cook until they start to release a little oil.

4. Add chopped tomatoes and cook until the water is cooked through and they start to release oil as well.

5. Meanwhile, dice the carrot to the same size as the peas.

6. Stir into the onion and tomato masala and cook for 1 minute.

7. Cut the cauliflower into little florets and also add to the pan.

8. Add a little bit of water to steam the cauliflower. Mix so the masala coats the cauliflower evenly but doesn’t break the florets. Put the lid on and let it cook for 3-4 minutes.

9. Check to see if the cauliflower is cooked through using a knife, it shouldn’t be too soft. Add the peas and put on the lid so they can cook through.

10. Serve with Basmati Rice. You can add some fried onions and toasted cumin seeds when you bring the rice to boil for added flavour.

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