By Hailey Bethke | Photography courtesy of Rainbow Plant Life
Unfulfillment is one of the most compelling catalysts for change. As a law student at Harvard University, Nisha Vora had been enthusiastic about the change-making possibilities her career seemed to promise. But after graduation, she became disillusioned by the lack of impact her position could make in the corporate and nonprofit sectors. During this time, Vora watched ten documentaries that opened her eyes to the gut-wrenching truths behind the factory farming industry—and revealed to her the influence one person can have by choosing to go vegan.
Although Vora may not have made big waves in the legal system, veganism empowered her to choose a lifestyle that aligned with her values of compassion and equality. She was hooked. “After becoming vegan, I instantly felt happier and healthier,” Vora notes. “This decision was rather easy to make, as it naturally tied in with my passion for social justice activism.”
Today, Nisha Vora is a plant-based culinary sensation with more than 1.6 million followers across various social media channels. Her blog, Rainbow Plant Life, is designed to teach you how to master vegan cooking through flavorful recipes you are eager to eat—there’s more than bland salads to be found here! Through her recipes and guided cooking videos, Vora shares her expertise on stocking a plant-based pantry, meal prep with minimal ingredients, vegan cooking tips, and gaining more confidence in the kitchen.
Her passion for creating vibrant dishes with satiating flavor combinations goes back to her childhood. Vora grew up in Barstow, a quaint town in Southern California’s Mojave Desert. Her parents are Indian immigrants, and home-cooked vegetarian dishes were a childhood staple that featured aromatic South Asian spices and flavor combinations. “My mother is an excellent cook, but as a picky child living in a culture that viewed Indian food as too smelly and spicy, I started to develop my own food interests,” Vora shares. She began cooking meals for herself at fourteen, and her passion for cooking continued well into high school and college; Vora remarks that she was often curled up in the cookbook section of Barnes & Noble or watching episodes of Barefoot Contessa between classes. She also enrolled in diverse culinary courses while her friends were at parties.
“Law school didn’t leave much time for cooking, but whenever I did cook or bake, I had a cohort of hungry friends who let me know how much they loved my food,” she remarks. “I had flirted with the idea of going to culinary school, but once I got to Harvard, I was fully invested in the ‘become a lawyer, save the world’ career path.”
When asked what later gave her the courage to quit her law career to pursue food blogging full-time, Vora quickly says, “The promise of happiness. I practiced law for four years, and the entire time I dreaded waking up and going into the office. I told myself I deserved more out of life. So I left law and started working at a vegan food startup in 2017 while building Rainbow Plant Life as a side hustle. It felt like the right move, but I agonized over it a lot in the beginning.”
But I also find sources of inspiration closer to home. I love making vegan versions of classic Indian dishes, like dal makhani, naan, and palak paneer.
Though leaving her law practice was a predictable hurdle, what Vora didn’t expect was the identity crisis that followed. For the first few years, she was concerned with what people thought of her. “Did they still think I was smart? Ambitious? Worth taking seriously?” she questioned. The antidote to her people-pleasing fears came from only one thing: focusing on building Rainbow Plant Life, where her true passion for cooking flavor-packed vegan recipes lies.
One aspect of Vora’s work that may come as a surprise is how her methodical nature assists her in the kitchen. “I think there’s this assumption that people who work in creative fields are naturally born right-brained artsy types,” she explains. “But I’m naturally analytical and pretty left-brained. I mean, I loved law school and became a lawyer, after all. So I apply the same meticulous rigor I’ve always applied to my work. I spend hours, if not days, researching recipes that are outside my wheelhouse before developing them. I test my recipes over and over until they are perfect. For instance, I made my vegan pancake recipe three dozen times before I felt ready to share it on my site. Plus, I include a ton of detail on the ‘why’ behind cooking in my content because I want my viewers and readers to become more confident home cooks.”
Before starting Rainbow Plant Life, Vora and her partner quit their jobs to travel around the world for six months. “When we backpacked throughout Southeast Asia, I fell in love with the flavors there, which inspired me to make plant-based versions of dishes like Thai green curry and Indonesian tempeh kecap,” she muses. “But I also find sources of inspiration closer to home. I love making vegan versions of classic Indian dishes, like dal makhani, naan, and palak paneer.” Many plant-based renditions of these regional staples are found on Vora’s blog.
The number one question any vegan will get asked, in tones ranging from shock to pure curiosity, is, “How do you do it?” With so many preconceived notions about veganism, many believe that a plant-based diet only includes crunchy kale salads and is near impossible to maintain. “Going vegan all at once is daunting for most people, so I’d suggest starting small,” Vora recognizes. “Make it a fun challenge to cook one new vegan meal each week. Recruit a family member or friend to join you, which will make things more exciting. And there is such a range of meals you can eat on a vegan diet! If salads aren’t your thing, start with something heartier. A great entry point would be a creamy chickpea curry or velvety vegan chili. If you’re short on time and effort, try weeknight-friendly chili-garlic noodles or chickpea tacos. For most people, once they discover just how delicious, varied, and satisfying vegan meals can be, taking the next step of going vegan doesn’t seem nearly as scary.”
Vora’s palette-pleasing recipes are grounded in a supportive, easy-to-execute manner, finding a harmonious balance between humans and nature. What’s not to love?
— V —
Warm Lentil Salad with Delicata Squash and Cilantro Cashew Cream
By Nisha Vora (@rainbowplantlife)
Gluten-Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
- 3 delicata squash
- 2 red onions, cut into large wedges
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup, divided
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1 cup French green lentils
- 1 bay leaf
- 4–6 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1/2 of a medium-size lemon, zested and then juiced
- 1/2 cup parsley leaves, chopped
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1/4 cup mint leaves, chopped
- 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
- 1/3 cup pistachios, chopped
CILANTRO CASHEW CREAM
- 1 cup of raw cashews, soaked in water for 8 hours or soaked in boiling water for 1 hour
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and more to taste
- Black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil for easy cleanup.
Roast the squash. Slice each delicata squash in half, lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and then slice each squash into half-inch half-moon slices. Transfer the squash and red onion wedges to the prepared baking sheets and toss with the 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, salt and black pepper to taste, ground cumin, and cayenne pepper. Toss to coat the veggies. Arrange the squash slices and onion wedges in a single layer. Roast in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, flipping halfway through, until the edges of the squash are browned and the flesh is tender.
Meanwhile, cook the lentils. First, rinse the lentils to remove any debris. To cook the lentils on the stove, add them to a large saucepan or Dutch oven and cover with a few inches of water. Add the bay leaf and thyme. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and add a pinch of salt. Simmer the lentils for 20 to 25 minutes until tender. (To cook the lentils in an Instant Pot, add the lentils with 1 and 3/4 cups of water or vegetable broth and cook on the Manual/Pressure Cook setting at high pressure for 6 minutes. Allow a natural pressure release.)
While the squash is roasting and the lentils are cooking, make the Cilantro Cashew Cream: Place all of the ingredients in a high-powered blender or processor and blend for 2 to 3 minutes or until smooth, creamy, and well combined. Ensure that all of the cashew pieces are pulverized before serving.
Once the lentils are cooked, drain well and transfer them to a serving bowl. Add the remaining tablespoon of maple syrup, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, parsley, cilantro, and mint leaves to the lentils. Toss well to coat. Serve the roasted delicata squash and onions on top of the warm lentil salad and scatter the pomegranate seeds and pistachios over it. Generously drizzle the Cilantro Cashew Cream on top. Serve warm and enjoy!
Note: To make ahead, cook the lentils and prepare the lentil salad, make the cashew cream, and roast the veggies. Store in separate airtight containers in the fridge. Assemble and dress the salad when ready to serve.