Chef Mokgadi Itsweng is determined to disprove the myth that healthy food is expensive while also showcasing both indigenous South African ingredients and plant-forward dishes. (Plant-forward is a style of cooking and eating that emphasises plant-based foods but is not strictly limited to them. Meat may be included but it’s usually not the main feature of the meal.)
Itsweng – a protégé of the late, great Dorah Sithole – has nearly 20 years’ experience in the local culinary industry as a chef, food writer and published author, entrepreneur and activist.
She’s also one of the headline chefs at The Plant Powered Show, which takes place in Cape Town at the end of May as both a physical and online event, which will allow visitors from other parts of South Africa, the African continent and the rest of the world to join in.
Itsweng was also one of the guest chefs on the recently screened MasterChef SA where she had the finalists cooking with indigenous ingredients such as foxtail millet, whole grain sorghum and bambara groundnut. She will be reuniting at The Plant Powered Show with two of this year’s MasterChef SA top three, Andriette de la Harpe and Tarryn de Kock.
“My MasterChef SA experience was incredible and it was a wonderful opportunity to put indigenous ingredients on the map on a big stage,” she says.
“Many of the young chefs competing had never used some of the ingredients and yet their creative minds came up with fantastic dishes.”
Itsweng will be highlighting these indigenous ingredients at The Plant Powered Show and explaining how home cooks can make the best use of them in their kitchens.
Last year she published her debut cookbook Veggielicious, highlighting plant-forward recipes from the tshemo (garden) of her dreams.
“The book is basically a guide to adding delicious plants to your plate and demonstrates how easy it is to create amazing plant inspired meals. Most of the ingredients in the recipes are easily accessible and items you should have in your kitchen or at your local supermarket that are inexpensive. Eating healthier does not mean that you have to spend more money,” she explains.
So why is Itsweng such a vocal activist for a plant-forward food culture?
“I actually promote planetary health which takes into consideration the health of humans as well as the environment. A plant-forward lifestyle confers both improved health and environmental benefits, so for me that’s a win-win situation. It involves conscious eating and knowing where your food comes from.
“I believe in good food for all and proudly advocate for it. It is a human right, not just for a few but for everybody. We also need to alert people as to what good food is. Many of our indigenous ingredients are ‘good food’ but we just don’t know it. Many poorer people eat highly processed foods purely because we’ve been conditioned to think that it is cheaper.
I want people to understand what real food is and what is easily accessible – that is my advocacy.”
She’s also passionate about showcasing homegrown ingredients in exciting new ways.
“There is so much more to so-called local ingredients than pap and maize which isn’t really sustainable! Quinoa became popular with consumers because of the chefs promoting it on television or in magazines, so I believe that education starts with the chefs. If they are educated about local indigenous ingredients, then they can become the champions of them and create ‘sexy’ dishes with them. This leads to a chain reaction – people ask for them in supermarkets and farmers start growing them because of the demand. The revolution starts with the chefs and our food heroes.”
So what is Itsweng’s quick and easy go-to dinner after a long day?
“I love anything on a roti, a flatbread or a wrap. For me, a quick meal would be my grilled mushrooms with chimichurri sauce, stuffed in a wrap with a quick slaw made from red and green cabbage, green apple and dressed with vegan mayo or lemon juice.”
Here she shares her quick and easy recipe for Grilled Mushroom Skewers with Chimichurri Sauce (taken from her book Veggielicious published by Human & Rosseau) which can be taken off the skewer and used in a wrap.
- 12 small wooden skewers
- 250g mushrooms (button, oyster or any of your choice)
- 20ml (4 tsp) olive oil
- 1 tsp seasoning herb salt
- ¼ cup (60ml) chimichurri sauce
- Soak the skewers in water for at least 30 minutes so that they do not burn during grilling.
- Wipe the mushrooms with a paper towel to remove excess soil or dirt and then place them in a bowl (do not wash them as they absorb water).
- Drizzle olive oil over the mushrooms, making sure they are all lightly coated. Skewer three mushroom on a wooden skewer.
- Heat a griddle pan until smoking and grill the mushrooms for three minutes on each side.
- Remove from the heat and sprinkle with the seasoning herb salt and arrange them on a platter (or in a wrap).
- Pour over the chimichurri sauce and serve immediately.
Seasoning herb salt
This salt is my kitchen staple. I use it as I would salt and pepper. The addition of moringa packs in extra nutrients. Makes 1kg.
- 150ml onion powder
- 150ml garlic powder
- 200ml dried rosemary
- 200ml dried thyme
- 50ml moringa powder (optional)
- 500g sea salt or Himalayan salt
- 50ml black peppercorns, roughly crushed
Blend all the ingredients together until combined. Decant into a jar and keep sealed and use for general seasoning.
The best sauce to use on grilled tofu, bread and roasted vegetables. Makes 2 cups
- 250ml extra virgin olive oil
- 125ml red wine vinegar
- 10ml crushed garlic
- Handful of flat leaf parsley
- Handful of fresh oregano
- 1 large tomato, finely chopped
- 5ml cayenne pepper
- 5ml paprika
- 5ml ground cumin
- Seasoning herb salt to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until everything is well combinesd. Transfer to a clean jar and refrigerate for two hours before serving. Store in the fridge.
In addition to Mokgadi Itsweng, other chefs, food personalities and experts taking part in The Plant Powered Show include MasterChef Australia’s Simon Toohey (online), the Giggling Gourmet Jenny Morris, Jason McNamara (aka Jay Mac), Claire Sharryn Roberto (nutrition and functional foods expert), Jane Nshuti (African food educator), culinary consultant and chef Tamsin Snyman, Mira Weiner (plant-based advocate), Arabella Parkinson (plant-based chef), Phil Mansergh (The Kelp Shack), Loubie Rusch (indigenous foods expert), Owen O’Reilly (mixologist), Michele Mistry (Ayurvedic Nutritionist), Andriette de la Harpe (MasterChef SA semi-finalist), Tarryn de Kock (MasterChef SA semi-finalist), Peter Daniel (health and wellness expert), award-winning food writer Amy Hoppy, Toni Brockhoven (Chairperson, Beauty Without Cruelty) and Dr Yesheen Singh (medical doctor).
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