Wilcofred Kavungi executive chef Radisson Blu Arboretum. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
Plant-based dishes can be very sumptuous depending on how you cook them, and according to top chefs, the beans, kales, irio, or githeri can even be more delicious than meat.
Wilcofred Kivungi, the executive chef at Radisson Blu Arboretum and Mohamed Yakat, the executive chef at Tribe Hotels in Nairobi give us tips on how to make your dishes with pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits exciting, if meat and dairy products are off the table.
Chef Kivungi says organic green mixed salad “is very easy to make and accommodates both the vegans and vegetarians, with the ingredients available in the local market.”
Vegans do not eat any foods prepared with animal and animal-based products while vegetarians eat only plant-based foods but can eat eggs, or honey.
Green mixed salad prepared by Wilcofred Kavungi. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
The salad has frisée lettuce, artichoke, iceberg lettuce, rocket leaves, cherry tomatoes, micro green herbs and romain lettuce with a cherry vinaigrette.
“It’s very healthy,” the chef says, adding that such dishes on the menu are in response to changing dietary needs of many diners.
“More people who are eating vegetable-only or plant-based foods. Apart from those who don’t eat meat for religious reasons, others are switching their diets for lifestyle reasons,” he adds.
More tasty
To make tasty vegetarian meals, learn to creatively incorporate ingredients and cook differently.
“People think vegetables can only be boiled or steamed. At home, why not blanch them? Blanching means quickly steaming the foods in boiling water then you cool them with cold water to retain the nutrients and texture,” Chef Kivungi says.
When making mushroom risotto (a creamy rice dish from Italy), for instance, use white wine when cooking to deglaze the onions when sautèeing and cook it with vegetable broth.
“Use the freshest of ingredients. Go to the market in the morning to get the freshest ingredients for your evening or lunch meals,” he says, adding that most hotels receive vegetables daily so chefs can play with textures and include the five components of taste; umami, sweet, sour, bitter and salty.
The green mixed salad can be paired with white wine, while a main like the mushroom risotto goes well with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Richard Barrow, the general manager, food and beverage at Tribe and Trademark Hotels in Nairobi says at their Jiko restaurant, set to open in February, they are looking to serve more African foods which are mainly plant-based.
“Many diners are meat lovers, but Africa’s predominant cuisine has always been plant-based. People have been eating dishes like rice, and beans, sukuma wiki, irio, and githeri even before vegan and vegetarian became buzzwords,” he says.
The vegan and vegetarian trend is also being fuelled by environment-conscious diners.
“There are alternative ways to eat without having to necessarily have animal-based protein, and foods like tofu here are a big winner,” Mr Barrows says.
Jiko will serve from sweet, savoury, creamy, and smoky pumpkin puree, smoked mbaazi and cherry tomato with plantain artfully spread on a plate.
“The restaurant is inspired by local ingredients, local foods. We take things that we grew up with but cook differently. In our kitchens, we’re used to curry powder, chilies, and salt, and yet we have so many herbs and spices that we can use to elevate every dish,” Executive Chef Mohamed Yakat adds.
The chef prepared a bowl of sukumawiki salad layered with barley seeds, toasted almonds, avocado cubes, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, and a maple syrup sauce. There was also broccoli and moringa soup, both superfoods or baobab and mushroom soup.
“Baobab grows in some of the dry regions of Kenya. At Jiko, we intend to use it,” Mr Barrow adds.
An easy quick-to-eat recipe the hotel’s executive chef Mohamed shares is you sautèe your garlic and onion, add broccoli and water to boil, puree it, add flavour with salt and pepper, and serve with a garnish of chives.


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