Satish and Kamlesh Tripathi, the president of the University at Buffalo and his wife, are both strict vegetarians. They are also avid adherents to the cuisine of their homeland, India, though both had to learn the basics of Indian cooking after moving to North America.
Kamlesh and Satish Tripathi:
How long have you been married?
SATISH: Forty-three years.
KAMLESH (LAUGHING): No! Forty-six
Have you two always been vegetarian?
SATISH: Yes, it’s our upbringing; that’s
how we both grew up.
How did you learn how to cook?
KAMLESH: I learned by watching my
mother, but I never cooked when I still
lived in India. After moving to Canada, and
to the United States, I learned by trial and
error, and burning. I learned from books
and from Satish, who knows how to cook,
SATISH: I learned by watching my
mother, of course, and then I came to Canada a year before Kamlesh arrived. I was a
student, and I had a roommate who knew
how to cook, so I learned a lot from him.
After a year of cooking, it really got better.
I didn’t have recipes, but I had a sense of
what was what. In Indian cooking, there is
no one fixed recipe for any dish.
KAMLESH: My friends will cook recipes
differently from me; the taste will be very
What ingredients are staples of an
Indian vegetarian diet?
SATISH: There are a lot of different
types of dal (lentils), lots of fresh vegeta-
bles, okra, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers.
KAMLESH: There are also different
types of squash that you cannot get here.
You can also use pumpkin.
SATISH: Initially, twenty-five years ago,
it was more difficult to get some of the in-
KAMLESH: Now we can get everything
at Wegmans or specialty Indian stores.
What are other indispensible
ingredients and spices?
KAMLESH: I always have coriander, turmeric, and red chili; these three powders
are important to Indian cooking. I also always have cumin seeds, ginger, garlic, and
onion. I keep several kinds of dal in my
Do you think it’s difficult to be a
KAMLESH: Not really, it’s just a hab-
it for us.
SATISH: We haven’t eaten any other
way. It is a healthy diet but it has to be
balanced. Indian food also has fried food
and all those sweets, so you have to watch
that. We also eat a lot of dairy products–
yogurt, butter, ghee.
KAMLESH: I make my own ghee. It
takes five or seven minutes; I will show
you how. You make it on the stovetop. I do
all of my cooking on the stovetop, and in
a pressure cooker: you can cook lentils in
ten minutes in the pressure cooker.
Do you think it’s becoming more easy
or acceptable to be a vegetarian here in
the United States?
SATISH: I notice more people who are
vegetarian. At UB events, we accommodate those who are vegetarian; the chefs
use quinoa, rice, beans, and lentils. Depending on what they are cooking, they
will have an alternative that may use tofu.
KAMLESH: There is some Indian fusion
cooking at UB, too, in the dorms.
SATISH: On campus, they are serving
all kinds of ethnic foods to the students,
and they like it; there are many vegetarian options in the dorms and in other places on campus.
Can you give some guidance to
our readers about authentic Indian
SATISH: There is a range of taste: it
takes practice and intuition. Some reci-
pes call for a pinch of this or that—in India,
there is a phrase “according to your taste.”
That is how I cook.
KAMLESH: I use a pressure cooker
for lentils and beans and when I mix lentils and rice. You can soak them all for
a couple of hours, but overnight is best.
They will cook in ten minutes in a pressure cooker: I don’t open it right away but
let them simmer inside the pot. To the dal,
you can add your vegetables–onions, ginger, garlic, with whatever you like that you
have cooked in spices that we mentioned,
and then add ghee.
And, of course, adjust the spices
according to your taste.
Nancy J. Parisi is a