Looking to transition to a plant-based lifestyle? Let Mokgadi Itsweng's Veggielicious be the guide.
Mokgadi Itsweng’s debut cookbook, Veggielicious, brims with delicious, easy and affordable recipes from her garden for those looking to eat more vegetables or move to a more plant-based lifestyle. From sustaining breakfasts and show-stopping mains to stunning desserts, the book sparkles with playful innovation and insight. The chef, food activist and former food editor of True Love magazine transitioned to a plant-based lifestyle due to health reasons. She tells us more about her journey with the book and the conversations she wants to start with it.
As a food activist, what do you advocate for?
I advocate for a healthy food system that is accessible to all, because access to good nutritious food is a basic human right. A healthy food system is one that takes into consideration the health of the planet and of humans in a system that reduces waste, economically empowers the value chain, and supports agriculture that is nutrient dense and in balance with Mother Earth.
There’s a notable increase in the number of people interested in plant-based eating. How does your book contribute to that conversation?
My intention was to get people to include more plants on their plates. Our plates always tell the story of our broken food system, our habits (good or bad), conditioning, our aspirations and our health. If we can be conscious about what we put on our plates, we are able to shift from an unhealthy, mindless eating, unsustainable food system to a more balanced and healthier system. The book shows how individuals can make the shift to a more conscious lifestyle by growing your own vegetables, creating a waste-less kitchen, eating more plants, eating seasonally and including more nutrient-dense, indigenous ingredients on our plates. Veggielicious moves the plant-based eating conversation from elitism to one that is South African, affordable and accessible to all.
Your garden feels like an ever-present character in the book. How has gardening impacted you?
Gardening or growing your own food is very important to me as it talks to my mental health wellbeing, food security, conscious living and sustainability. The garden teaches you patience, intentionality, presence and trust in nature and the changing seasons. I get most of my recipe inspiration from the garden and its bounty. I chose the garden as the underlying theme of the book with different seasons being represented by the different recipes, highlighting how the garden gives its beautiful bounty no matter the season.
How did you determine which recipes to include and the order?
I chose the recipes that I needed when I was transitioning to a more plant-based lifestyle. I knew that people want easy ways to prepare and add flavour to vegetables and plant dishes. I chose recipes that are easy to make, good value for money and accessible. I chose to present the recipes according to the seasons, to show people how to eat seasonally (because produce is cheap and nutrient dense in season) and to showcase the garden in its seasonal glory.
What are some of your favourites?
The butternut tart is one of my absolute favourites.
What have you come to love about plant-forward food?
The book breaks the myth that plants are not exciting and can only be featured on a plate as sides, accompanying the meat dishes. I love the creativity vegetables give you in the kitchen. You can play around with so many flavours and easy techniques to create incredible dishes out of simple and affordable ingredients.
How long has this book been in the making?
It took me years to write a book. Mam Dorah Sitole was my mentor and cheerleader. She opened so many doors for me in the industry and she believed in my talent long before I had the confidence in my abilities. When I was approached to do a book (during my days as True Love food editor), I turned down the offer because I felt that I had nothing new to say, as she (Mam Dorah) had written incredible cookbooks on African food and had presented all the recipes I or anybody else couldn’t top. She sat me down and tried to convince me that my voice was also valid and that there’s room for so many other voices and food stories. She also emphasised the fact that writing a cookbook was more about my legacy than anything else. I still didn’t budge as I felt that I needed to be intentional about my work. Later, when I was ready to write the book, I spoke to her about getting a publisher and she immediately introduced me to Lindy Samery, from NB publishers, who published her last book. Mam Dorah is instrumental in getting this book published.
Try Mokgadi’s spinach roulade recipe!