Vegan ready meals for the hungry student

For a student, I'm a bit lucky. I don't have a tiny room in halls, I don't share my living space with eight or ten other people, and no-one's dodgy music (or worse noises) keeps me up at night coming through the walls.

I'm a lucky bunny. But it's when it comes to comparing most first years' kitchens and mine that I really appreciate that. I've got more spices, condiments, and flavourings to make my food tasty. I've got a blender and a freezer. Most of my fellow students share a kitchen with a number of others, share a fridge, and only have a microwave and toaster to supplement their fridge. Some have a freezer, some don't.

While I'm a big fan of cooking your own food, I can understand why students have to resort to readymade meals - tins of soup and the like.

So, I thought I'd venture out and see what sort of readymade and friendly to student budget. My first discovery was a range of Indian food made by a company called Ashoka. They're handy because of cheapness (£1.50 for two at Asda recently) and they don't need to be kept in a fridge or heated in a microwave - just heat the contents in a pan, boil in the bag style.

Not all Ashoka meals are vegan, but many are. Here's a look at some that I liked, and some I really didn't.

My first meal was this Punjabi Choley - a pouch of chick peas in a rich sauce. Apart from a sauce to chick pea ration skewed too far to the former when all you want is the latter, I was pretty impressed - the sauce was full of flavour, medium spiced, and nicely complex.

The next was a packed of Bombay Biriyani - a mix of rice and vegetables, according to the description. Only there was much of the vegetables (the colourful flecks on the picture) in amongst the huuuuuge amounts of rice.

I ate the biriyani on its own and maybe that was a mistake - it wasn't strongly flavoured, and it got a little monotonous towards the end. I can't remember what spices the packed said were used, but I wonder if there was a lot of cinnamon - I was left with the impression that the dish was rather sweet, despite there being no added sugar.

Not an amazing dinner, but I suspect half a pouch of Punjabi Choley and half a pouch of Bombay Biriyani, and I'd call that a decent student meal.

Next up, a Bhindi Masala. I was looking forward to this - I love bhindi, or okra, a great deal.

Did I love this okra? Not so much. Check out the amount of oil for a start - I don't mind a bit of lipids on my lunch, but this seemed like an unnecessarily large oil slick. The taste though was also pretty grim - there was an acrid flavour, more burnt than smoky, that made every bit like chewing on a bonfire. This one's not going on the repeat buy list.

Pav Bhaji was a new concept to me, but one I was instantly sold on - a big batch of spicy vegetable stew served up in a buttered roll (vegan butter, obviously) - almost an Indian sloppy joe arrangement. My overwhelming memory of the Pav Bhaji was that it was really, really hot - I couldn't take more than a few bites without pausing for a breath, and I'm a big fan of spice. I guess that's why you put the stew in the bread - to act as a fire blanket! 

The last Ashoka meal I tried was Kashmiri Dum Aloo - potatoes in a thick spicy sauce. Oddly enough, there appear to be two versions out there in similar (if not identical) packaging. One's got milk in, one hasn't. Obviously, I'm eating the vegan version here - just potatoes, tomatoes, and spices - so make sure you check the packet before handing over your £1.

Learning from my previous experience with the Aloo Choley, I added a couple of handfuls of frozen okra pieces to the Dum Aloo and cooked it all together - a much better sauce to solids ratio. And the sauce was really nice too - mildly spicy but still interesting. This one's another keeper.

After my experiences with Ashoka's ready meals, would I be tempted to give up cooking for a bit? Nope, I'd still much rather have fresh food than stuff out of a packet, but I'd still not say no to keeping a packet of the Dum Aloo or Punjabi Chole in the cupboard. If I were a student, I'd doubly see the advantage - something I could keep in my room and then whisk to the communal microwave for dinner in a couple of minutes.

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  1. Your description of the bread as a 'fire blanket' for the Pav Bhaji made me laugh out loud. I'm with you on being grateful for a decent kitchen and pantry, but sometimes, we revert to needing quick meals — like when we travel. We recently took some packets of Indian food (different brand) to a cabin, because we didn't want to haul a ton of ingredients. The chickpeas were pretty good served over the rice, but the spinach and potato dish was disgusting — gray, mushy spinach with microscopic bits of potato.

  2. I am not sure if we have those brands here but we have similar curries in pouches/boxes. It would drive me nutty to eat them for dinner every night - they are so brown and I would need more colour in my dinner - so I am grateful for my kitchen - but it is good to be able to get them for a lazy night or a holiday.

  3. There's a similar line of Indian-food-in-a-pouch over here too that's pretty good. I keep a few around as emergency food. If I'm having a pouch dinner, I'll combine like the rice one with a vegetable one so least there's a bit more variety. :-)

  4. I've had those Ashoka packs (and similar other brands) when we went camper vanning and whilst I didn't love them, they are so helpful in their portability and ease of cooking. Definitely good for students too!

  5. I will try them out of curiousity more than anything else, good to read your views and opinion though.

  6. "Fire blanket" lol. I don't know why, but even in Indian restaurants the bhindi masala is always oily to me. Still- it's nice that there's more than canned soup & ramen to choose from.

  7. Haha, you are very brave, Joey! I like the concept of testing out vegan ready meals for students though I'm not sure I could have stomached that oily one! Good to know these exist though and I'm sure they'll save some students some time :)


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