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‘Veggielicious’ chef Mokgadi Itsweng on the power of plants

The cookbook author, entrepreneur and food activist is passionate about inspiring a new style of eating with an emphasis on plant-based foods

22 May 2022 - 00:00
Chef Mokgadi Itsweng
Chef Mokgadi Itsweng
Image: Supplied

My recent MasterChef SA experience was incredible and a wonderful opportunity to put indigenous ingredients on the map on a big stage. I had the finalists cooking with ingredients such as foxtail millet, whole grain sorghum and bambara groundnut. Many of the young chefs had never used some of these ingredients yet their creative minds came up with fantastic dishes.

I will be highlighting these and other indigenous ingredients at The Plant Powered Show and explaining how home cooks can make the best use of them in their kitchens with two of this year’s MasterChef SA top three finalists, Andriette de la Harpe and Tarryn de Kock. 

Last year I published my debut cookbook Veggielicious, highlighting plant-forward recipes from the tshemo (garden) of my 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 most are inexpensive. Eating healthier does not mean that you have to spend more money.  

I'm a vocal activist for a plant-forward food culture.  I 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 it’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 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 because we’ve been conditioned to say that it's cheaper. I want people to understand what real food is and what is easily accessible — that is my advocacy. 

I’m passionate about home-grown ingredients and the education of consumers through chefs.  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 chefs. If they are educated about local indigenous ingredients, 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. 

The cover of Itsweng's book 'Veggielicious'.
The cover of Itsweng's book 'Veggielicious'.
Image: Supplied

My easy go-to dinner after a long day is anything on a roti, a flatbread or a wrap. My quick meal is my recipe for  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. 


Mokgadi is the headline chef at The Plant Powered Show from May 27 - 29 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre and online.

Other chefs and food personalities taking part include MasterChef Australia’s Simon Toohey (online), Jenny Morris, The Giggling Gourmet, 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 (Kelpshack), Loubie Rusch (indigenous foods expert) and many more.

See: Checkers Plant Kitchen programme; Masterclass programme

• For details and tickets, go here.