Think vegan food is bland? Tomi Makanjuola is here to make you think again. Featured as a changemaker in Upfield’s A Better Plant-Based Future campaign, Makanjuola is a London-based chef and the blogger behind The Vegan Nigerian. Through her online platform, cooking classes, personal coaching, and other work, she is committed to showing the world that plant-based food can be full of color and flavor.

In this interview with The Beet, Makanjuola shares a little about her journey as a vegan, tips for making flavorful vegan meals, and her experience creating recipes inspired by her Nigerian heritage.

The Beet: How has your life changed since going vegan?

Tomi Makanjuola: My life has truly changed for the better since going vegan. It has opened up my perspective, allowing me to care more about the world around me—from having more compassion for animals, to making choices that contribute to a more sustainable planet. On a personal level, my health has improved a lot; I enjoy increased energy and better digestion. My choice to go vegan has also influenced my career path, allowing me to do work that I thoroughly enjoy.

TB: What do you wish you would’ve known when you first went vegan?

TM: One thing I wish I'd known was that being too preachy is an ineffective way to convince others to go vegan. At the time, I was very enthusiastic about my new lifestyle change and I wanted my family to get on board as well. I realized pretty quickly that people don't like to be preached at or made to feel bad about their choices. Instead, I've found that simply leading by example is the best way to pique people's curiosity and make them warm to the idea of veganism.

TB: What tips do you have for turning dishes traditionally made with meat into vegan recipes?

TM: My biggest tip would be to use fruits and vegetables that have a naturally meaty texture such as mushrooms, aubergines, jackfruit, cauliflower, legumes, and banana blossom. These give extra body to the meal and provide the chewy sensation that most people miss when they go vegan. In addition, don't be afraid to occasionally explore some processed meat substitutes such as tofu, tempeh, and seitan.

TB: How do you ensure that the vegan recipes you create are full of flavor?

TM: For me, the key to packing in flavor is by using a variety of herbs, spices, and condiments. Certain cooking techniques can also enhance flavor. For example, marinating vegetables/meat substitutes before roasting adds a greater depth of flavor. When I make Nigerian red stew, I like to marinate my mushrooms and tofu in a combination of liquid smoke, soy sauce, and chilies. I then roast them until slightly crispy around the edges before adding them to my blend of peppers, tomatoes, and onions.

TB: Which of your recipes would you recommend to those new to cooking and eating Nigerian food and why?

TM: I would recommend Jollof rice, fried plantain, moin moin, and coleslaw. Jollof rice is a classic West African dish made by steaming rice in an aromatic blend of peppers, tomatoes, chilies, and spices. Moin moin is a savory steamed bean cake that's melt-in-the-mouth and packed full of flavor. Both are relatively easy to make, so ideal for any kitchen skill level. Pair the rice and moin moin with plantain and coleslaw and you've got an unforgettable meal (there's a reason why this is served at almost every Nigerian party!)

TB: What have you learned by creating and sharing plant-based recipes inspired by your Nigerian heritage?

TM: I have learned that people are hungry for culturally diverse vegan recipes. It's been encouraging to see people from all walks of life discover Nigerian cuisine for the first time and incorporate my recipes into their cooking repertoire.

TB: What would you say to people who are nervous about going vegan because they don’t want to give up certain foods they love?

TM: I would say that they have nothing to worry about. There are vegan versions of nearly everything you think you will miss out on, so don't be afraid to explore what's out there. Be open to trying out meat and dairy substitutes when cooking at home or eating food from restaurants. You'll also find plenty of inspiration online from vegan chefs and bloggers who have successfully mastered the plant-based versions of your favorites—they've done all the hard work so you don't have to! No matter your cultural background, chances are that someone has thought of 'veganising' the traditional recipes you've grown up eating.

Tomi Makanjuola’s Jollof Rice

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
  •  ½ scotch bonnet/chili pepper
  •  ½ tin chopped tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoon sunflower oil
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 2 cups long-grain rice or “sella” golden basmati rice
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 ½ cups water

Instructions

1) Blend the red pepper, scotch bonnet chili, and chopped tomatoes until smooth.

2) Heat the sunflower oil in a pot, fry the onions for a minute until they soften, and add the blended pepper/tomato mixture.

3) Wash the rice under cold water, drain and add to the pot.

4) Add the curry powder, dried thyme, vegetable bouillon, salt, and water. Stir to combine.

5) Turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and cook for 25-30 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice grains are soft. Stir one final time before serving.