Recipes: Original Flava want to show Jamaican food is more than just jerk chicken in new plant-based book
Brothers Shaun and Craig McAnuff are back with more flavour-packed recipes – this time all vegan, writes Prudence Wade...
SHAUN and Craig McAnuff – the brothers behind food sensation Original Flava, with nearly 160k followers on Instagram – admit vegan dishes weren’t a huge part of their childhood dinners.
Growing up in a Caribbean household in south London, meat was very much the main event, but that’s shifted now, with the duo experimenting more with plant-based foods – and their mum has even been a vegan since 2017.
Their new book is called Natural Flava, and Shaun dubs it “the first step into trying to draw people into a healthier, happier diet – because most of the Afro-Caribbean community [are] predominantly meat [eating]”. He wants to show people how to strike a balance, saying: “We’re not trying to tell people to be vegans. We’re not militant, because I don’t think that’s the best way to introduce things to people. Only two or three times a week – change your diet, that’s the best way to start.”
The Caribbean diet might be meat-heavy, but the McAnuffs found it easy to put together plant-based recipes from their culture. Growing up, “Vegetables were used in the sides – but they were very flavourful sides”, explains Craig. “It was always an eclectic range of different vegetables, rather than just Brussels sprouts.”
A big inspiration for many of the recipes is the Rastafari movement, with one section of the book dubbed ‘Ital inspired’ (a belief that food should be grown locally and unmodified). Shaun calls them one of “the pioneers of vegan, plant-based foods”. Food is spiritual for Rastas, with Shaun saying: “It’s all about eating from the earth and looking after your body.”
Craig continues: “The Rastafarian movement is not just about the food – it’s about how to preserve Mother Nature, respecting the environment a lot more. That’s why they say the earth and everything that is birthed naturally is good for you, whether that is food, whether that is remedies. They always encourage to use what’s natural, so that was really the pivoting inspiration for this book.”
Before releasing their first book in 2019, Original Flava, the brothers made a pilgrimage to Jamaica – and it’s the plant-based food they really remember the most. “The best meal I ever had was a vegan meal in Jamaica,” Craig reminisces. “It was incredible. It was different vegan dishes on one plate – stewed peas, pumpkin, slaw, curried tofu, rice and peas – all in one bowl. We’ve taken that excitement and vibrancy, and those Caribbean ingredients to what we’re doing now.”
Caribbean ingredients are certainly front and centre in the book, and the brothers could wax lyrical about them for hours – including callaloo (“like spinach”, says Shaun), ackee (“which is a fruit, but it’s eaten like a vegetable”), and, of course, plantain.
Plantain recipes run throughout the book, but you won’t just see it as a fried side dish. It’s in stews, lasagnes, desserts, hummus – there’s even a recipe for making your own plantain milk.
“We come from a Caribbean community where we’re so used to these ingredients, so we wanted to show it in a new light,” explains Craig. “Plantain’s quite a loved vegetable – delicious, it’s in the banana family, it’s sweet but still starchy. There are so many different ways [to cook it], and we wanted to show our community and the world how you can use different Caribbean-based vegetables, and everyday vegetables as well, with added flavour.”
The ‘F’ word – flavour – is something both the McAnuffs return to time and time again, but they also can’t ignore the benefits they’ve both felt from eating more plant-based meals.
Neither of the brothers are fully vegan (although Shaun was for a year in 2017) but they’ve increasingly been incorporating more plant-based meals into their diets. Craig says they’re now, “Happier in ourselves – mentally, and energised as well.”
Shaun says the difference in their mother’s health – she became a vegan when Shaun started experimenting – is stark. “She had type two diabetes, high blood pressure, but managed to control it and eradicate it as well,” he says. “For her health, it’s done wonders. She lost so much weight, her skin’s glowing, she’s happy. She’s really loving it.”
For the brothers, food has always been about family and it couldn’t be clearer in their new book, with pictures of their children throughout (Shaun has a two-year-old son and Craig has two-year-old twin girls).
There are three years between Shaun, the oldest, and Craig, and being business partners and siblings has its ups and downs. Craig admits they do bicker, saying: “Not all the time, but obviously as brothers we do. I’d say we bicker less than most people, but we always turn it around in a minute or two.”
Shaun chimes in that the main thing they argue about is “what recipes we make next” – which is certainly a nice problem to have.
Natural Flava: Quick And Easy Plant-Based Caribbean Recipes by Craig and Shaun McAnuff is published by Bloomsbury, priced £22. Photography by Matt Russell. Available now. Below are three recipes for you to try at home...
RASTA PUMPKIN PASTA
500g pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and diced
1 whole garlic bulb
1 scotch bonnet or chilli pepper, deseeded and chopped
Olive oil, for cooking
200g coconut yoghurt
Leaves of 2 rosemary sprigs
6 fresh thyme sprigs or 1tsp dried thyme
1 vegan stock cube
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
1tbsp golden syrup
500g dried penne pasta
1 onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and sliced
1 green bell pepper, deseeded and sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, deseeded and sliced
1tbsp jerk paste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Handful of parsley, chopped, to serve
Preheat the oven to 170°C Fan/190°C/Gas 5. Place a sheet of baking parchment on a baking tray. Add the diced pumpkin or squash, garlic bulb and scotch bonnet or chilli, then sprinkle two tablespoons of olive oil and one teaspoon each of salt and black pepper on it and mix together. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes until cooked through and starting to caramelise. Leave to cool for five minutes, then dash into a blender, squeezing the soft garlic cloves out of their papery skins. Add the yoghurt, rosemary and thyme and crumble in the stock cube. Add half the coconut milk, the syrup, salt to taste and a splash of water. Blend together until smooth. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions, then drain. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat two tablespoons of olive oil until hot. Add the onion and bell peppers and sauté for five minutes until soft, then add in the blended pumpkin sauce, remaining coconut milk and jerk paste. Stir, then simmer, uncovered, for five minutes until thickened. Add the drained pasta to the sauce and combine well to coat. Add a sprinkling of parsley and enjoy.
PLANTAIN AND APPLE CRUMBLE RECIPE
1tbsp vegan butter
3 apples, cored and cut into 2cm chunks
3 ripe plantain, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
1tbsp vanilla extract
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 bay leaf
A little salt
300ml apple juice
For the crumble:
225g plain flour
125g soft light brown sugar
125g vegan butter, cubed
Preheat the oven to 180°C Fan/200°C/Gas 6. First, make the crumble. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and sugar. Add the butter and rub it into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until you have a crumbly, even mixture. Set aside. For the filling, melt the butter in a large pan over a low-medium heat, add the apples and toss around to cook for two to three minutes, then add the plantain, stir and cook for two to three minutes until the edges of the fruit begin to get a bit of colour and soften. Add the vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaf and salt, and stir to combine. Finally, add 200ml apple juice, stir everything together and simmer for one to two minutes. Tip the apple and plantain mixture into a large ovenproof dish, about 23 centimetres square, and remove the bay leaf. Add the rest of the apple juice to the mixture, sprinkle the crumble evenly on top and bake in the oven for 35–40 minutes until the crumble is cooked and golden brown.
TRINI SPLIT PEA DHAL WITH SPINACH AND OKRA
350g dried split peas
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
1 scotch bonnet pepper, deseeded and very finely chopped
2tbsp ground turmeric
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground pimento (allspice)
1tbsp mango chutney, plus extra to serve
Handful of spinach
3tbsp vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1tbsp cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
8 okra, sliced lengthways
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Firstly, wash and drain the split peas two or three times, until the water runs clear. Add them to a large pot with the water and bring to the boil. Now season with the onion, scotch bonnet, turmeric, ground cumin, pimento, mango chutney and salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer for 40 minutes until the peas are tender.
Use a stick blender to blend until mushy but not completely smooth. Add a little more salt and black pepper to taste, stir in the spinach to wilt, take off the heat and allow to rest – the liquid will soak into the peas, thickening it. Add a little more hot water if it needs loosening.
In a frying pan, heat the oil and add the garlic, cumin seeds and bay leaves. Fry for three to four minutes until sizzling and fragrant, being careful not to burn them, then dash them into the curry.
In the same frying pan, pan-fry the sliced okra and serve alongside the curry, with rice and flatbreads. Serve extra mango chutney and hot pepper sauce on the side.