THESE days it seems everyone is at war with each other – carnivores defend their position from behind the carcasses of animals while vegetarians lob Brussels sprouts at them while shielding their vegan friends who are tallying up water consumption while importing plant-based products from the other side of the globe.
So when I – as an omnivore – was presented with a recipe book titled My Vegetarian Braai, you must forgive me for experiencing a twinge of trepidation. Is author Adele Maartens going to go all Jehovah’s Witness on me, with impassioned ringing of the hands?
The short answer is no. Adele isn’t trying to convert anyone; she’s simply presenting a gorgeous book filled with vegetarian recipes – and 45 vegan ones – that are ideal for the braai, whether you cook the dishes on the coals for a veggie meal or make them as sides for an old-fashioned meat-based meal.
In situations such as this, I feel like I’m winning, because I eat (almost) everything, as responsibly as possible, and genuinely love eating interesting, creative vegetable dishes. I don’t vilify or mock vegetarians; some very good people, friends even, are either long-time veggie eaters or moving in that direction. I even know a vegan! She’s lovely.
In the spirit of research, I decided to host a braai with aforementioned vegan as a guest of honour, as well as her vegetarian husband. What better way to test drive Adele’s book?
So it came to pass, I created an enormous amount of work for myself – and I thoroughly enjoyed being in the kitchen trying new things. I made the cover dish: braaied avocados with Moroccan-spiced chickpeas and coriander tahini. To be fair, they didn’t turn out quite as picturesque as you see above, but they were certainly passable.
The recipe called for ras el hanout, a wonderfully flavourful and fragrant spice mix of which I now have plenty for future use. It cropped up again in the Persian jewelled rice with roasted butternut, which was probably my favourite. I thought I’d be clever and use more red chilli than suggested and it turned out a bit hot for me (the ras el hanout has a bit of cayenne pepper), but my guests hail from KZN and are partial to a bit of heat.
I very nearly attempted vegan mayonnaise for potato salad but Lovely Lorraine tipped me off about a famous brand mayo from the supermarket. Turned out to be flipping delicious and I’d totally buy it again. Added to this spread were exotic mushroom skewers, braai broodjies of course (with hummus for LL), and an old favourite of mine, a Mexican-inspired dish of corn (I’d chargrilled the cobs over the previous night’s fire), courgette, tomato and coriander, a simple winner.
The result was super rewarding. The guests loved the food, taking leftovers in plastic margarine containers (always a good sign), and the music playlist was a hit too. Throw in a few bottles of wine in various flavours and colours, and you’ve got the perfect braai – which, yes, included meat. If you are going to have mixed guests do be mindful and respectful of their eating choices and keep utensils etc separate. I cooked all the veggie stuff before the steaks and chops.
Penguin Random House South Africa and Tokara have got together to offer a fab prize for one lucky Eat Play Drink Cape Town reader: a copy of My Vegetarian Braai and two bottles of the amazing liquid gold that is Tokara olive oil. I’m currently using a bottle of the latest vintage and it’s quite exceptional. To stand a chance to win, head over to my Facebook page and follow the prompts.
Good luck and happy National Braai Day!