An Interview with Leozette Roode
October 27, 2023
Leozette Roode is a media specialist and the Green Monday campaign manager for the Humane Society International: Africa. Along with her passion for animal welfare she’s a recipe developer and blogger, canteen training expert, food consultant and competitive plant-based triathlete.
With the newly-released The South African Vegan Cookbook 2, Leozette builds on the positive impact of her first cookbook – which was a runaway success with more than 10,000 copies sold. Here she pays homage to the food that makes her happy; with an enticing collection of 80 new plant-based recipes that will inspire any cook, whether vegan or not.
Adopting a plant-based lifestyle has changed her life in ways she never imagined possible. Find out more in our interview below:
1) Publishing a cookbook is hard work! What were some of the successes and learning points from producing the first edition that you’ve applied to the follow-up publication?
Even though there are many fantastic food products out there the biggest thing is not to be too specific about mentioning brands or certain specialty items since these change over time or may no longer be on the market later. We found that people are looking for more plant-based versions of traditional recipes so we wanted to develop a book that served the mainstream while still being trendy, bold and fun.
2) The original book has been a commercial success, which is a great endorsement of the content itself and an indicator of the scope of the vegan and flexitarian movements in South Africa. Do you see more growth happening in these communities?
My first book already generated a significant buzz and comparatively with the second I’ve already received even more feedback and messages of appreciation, even from meat eaters just trying to eat a little more plant-based or those who would better like to cater for vegan friends and family. We’re expecting even higher sales this time and major retailers such as Woolworths have been buying up copies to sell in store. Whereas before it was more of a niche market, in today’s society so many more people are open to at least sample plant-based eating.
3) How well do you find traditional national staple recipes lend themselves to plant-based conversion?
It’s very much case by case. Some are easy, such as the filling for the bobotie which can be done simply with lentils or a plant-based mince. Other elements such as the custard was more difficult and took some experimentation to get the right texture and consistency. Something like vetkoek isn’t hard to veganize, but in other recipes I had to be really creative, such as the peppermint crisp tart which normally includes ingredients that don’t have a direct vegan equivalent on the market.
4) What are some of the plant-based cookbooks that have informed and inspired you to create your own?
While I don’t especially draw inspiration from other cookbooks for the sake of my own work, The Green Dietician has a book on indigenous African recipes that I admire. Beauty Without Cruelty has a ‘Living Without Cruelty’ book which was my very first when I just became vegan and it helped get me started.
5) With so many cookbooks available in retail, how does one stand out particularly in a country where the plant-based community is still growing?
The prominence of my book has to do with the fact that the recipes are localized, instead of relying on recipes with ingredients that have to be sourced from abroad or sold here as exotic food items. Unlike foreign books it’s representative of our country, and the products we have reasonably easy access to. Other than that I divided the chapters speaking to practical needs such as kids meals, traditional recipes, health dishes, braai foods and so on – instead of the typical cookbook structure which has a different format.
6) The book contains a number of essential South African classics, but are there any other national favourites that you would still like to reproduce as plant-based?
The seitan burger recipe was difficult to work out and I needed to attempt it about eight or nine times before I was happy with the results. During that process I had the idea of trying to make vegan biltong by slicing it thin and drying it out. There aren’t many great plant-based alternatives for certain snack foods we’re known for in South Africa yet, and there’s a gap in the marketplace for a superior product to emerge.
6) Taste is an enormous factor in our food choices and people are often surprised by how delicious plant based dishes can be when they try it for the first time, but how does one overcome the reluctance of some people to give it a chance?
When you’re trying a new product such as plant milks or plant-based meat alternatives the best practice is to sample more than one. People have different tastes and the cheaper versions of vegan products aren’t necessarily the most satisfying to newcomers. Everyone knows the flavours and textures that appeal to them so it’s important that they try vegan versions of something familiar. If you love a good bobotie, then try that. If enchiladas are your thing then it’s far better to veganize that instead of starting with dishes that are completely novel to you.
7) What are some of the non-African cuisines that you enjoy?
A lot of Thai and other east Asian recipes are already vegan or easy to convert. Indian food is very appealing although you have to watch out for those that use ghee or yoghurt. You’ll be surprised how many vegan options are already available out in the wider world.
8) Lots of vegan recipes available today make use of meat-analogues instead of whole food ingredients. What do you feel is the role of these products in today’s diet?
Meat alternatives (such as burger patties and sausages) are fantastic transitional products for those who are just starting out their plant-based journey and don’t know how to cook vegan yet, or for those people who are extremely busy. Personally I love the range by On the Greenside and always have some Urban Vegan Prime Burgers in my freezer. Not all vegans like these products however since it may remind them too much of animal products. There’s always some trade-off between health and convenience, but they’re also delicious and very useful to have on standby.
9) What are some reasonable ways to introduce plant-based eating to friends and family who are reluctant to try it?
One tactic is to hide veggies in dishes such as in sauces, blends or smoothies. Make something that you know they’ll like and don’t necessarily mention that it’s vegan before they’ve tried it, to avoid negatively biassing them. And then afterwards ask what it tasted like. Mostly just set a good example by feasting on great vegan food, and then let them come to you.
10) Culture and food are closely linked, and some may feel like eating meat and other animal products are part of their broader identity. How do people interested in plant-based food introduce it into their lives without coming up against resistance by their communities?
I’ve been vegan for 10 years and I would love for the world to be vegan, but it’s also not always possible since it’s also at odds with certain cultural traditions that involve the conventions of larger groups. But every meal makes a difference and the point is to reduce the total amount of meat you eat. Don’t try to be perfect or push your preferences on others. Everyone likes tasty food, so contribute to meals by making smaller or side dishes for all to enjoy without them feeling like they are forced to change. It takes a soft touch, though reduction is the key.
11) The tradition of learning how to cook at home is fading in modern society. How would you inspire a young person to learn for themselves and to try plant-based cooking?
In today’s age where we’re always on the go and we tend to now order-in with food apps. Covid was an interesting time since a lot of people ordered in frequently, though simultaneously also started playing around in their own kitchens more. I’m a home cook and not a trained chef. Having said that, the recipes I work with are easy and quick to whip up. Being vegan isn’t difficult. Start with something small and accessible. It’s okay to fail and try again, that’s all part of the normal learning process.
12) During the pandemic there was a global spike in cookbook sales, but the real winners were those with recipes that emphasized ease and convenience. What do you think are some of today’s leading home cooking trends?
Anything featuring one-pot meals and quick & easy comfort foods are still a hit. Air fryers are fast popularizing as today’s hot new must-have kitchen appliance and cookbooks featuring recipes for them have been flying off the shelves.
13) You are known for your plant-based cooking, but also for participating in endurance events such as Ironman. How has your diet boosted your performance?
I’m always working on increasing my fitness and achieving new personal goals and bests. My diet speaks for itself and a part of my improvement is based on healthy meal choices. There are some more famous high-performance vegan athletes out there such as Rich Roll, Scott Jurek and Lisa Gawthorne that I follow and their results are unquestionable.
14) Some regard eating vegetables as effeminate whereas they think of meat consumption as masculine. How do we deconstruct this stereotype?
Eating plant-based isn’t feminine. It’s open to all genders. Over the years society evolves to encompass more lifestyles and new ideas, including those relating to our diets. There are now many examples of champion bodybuilders and weightlifters who achieved top-level success on a vegan diet. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger now eats plant-based! It’s important to educate people that they can get more than enough protein from vegan nutrition and men don’t have to feel like they need to eat meat to either get enough nutrients or to prove a point.
15) What role do you think organizations like ProVeg should play in promoting cookbooks and other plant-based food media to the public?
ProVeg is one of the largest organizations in the food awareness space and a lot of people turn to you for advice. It’s an important mission and ProVeg has a responsibility to inform and inspire people as much as possible about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.
Published by Human and Rousseau, “The South African Vegan Cookbook 2” retails for R395 and is available online and in bookshops.
A golden oldie, but still one of my favourites.
- 250 ml (1 cup) milk
- 1 slice bread
- 30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 1 large carrot, grated
- 800 g vegan mince
- 15 ml (1 tbsp) curry powder
- 10 ml (2 tsp) turmeric
- 10 ml (2 tsp) cumin
- 5 ml (1 tsp) garam masala
- 3 bay leaves, plus extra to garnish
- 15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped thyme
- 60 ml (4 tbsp) chutney
- 30 ml (2 tbsp) lemon juice
- 125 ml (1⁄2 cup) seedless raisins
For the custard layer:
- 250 ml (1 cup) chickpea flour
- 5 ml (1 tsp) baking powder
- 2,5 ml (1⁄2 tsp) turmeric
- 2,5 ml (1⁄2 tsp) kala namak (Himalayan black salt)
- 250 ml (1 cup) milk
- Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Spray a 32 x 20-cm baking dish with non-stick cooking spray or
grease with a little oil.
- Make the bobotie: Pour the milk into a flat container and place the bread in the milk to soak.
- In a pan, heat the oil over high heat. Add the onion and fry until translucent. Add the garlic and fry until browned and fragrant. Stir the carrot and mince into the onion mixture. Add all the spices and herbs and mix through.
- Using your hands, take the bread out of the milk, squeeze the excess milk back into the container and add the bread to the pan (it will break apart). Mix through.
- Fry the mixture until the mince is browned. Add more oil or a dash of water if needed.
- Add the chutney and lemon juice to the reserved milk and stir well. Add the milk mixture to the mince pan and mix through. Cook for a few minutes until the liquid has reduced somewhat.
- Finally add the sultanas to the pan and mix through. Scoop the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
- Make the custard layer: In a blender, mix all of the ingredients until well combined. Pour over the mince mixture. Make a few incisions into the mince so some of the custard seeps into it. Place 3-4 bay leaves on top of the custard layer, to garnish, and press them down slightly.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Serve with yellow rice.
Mushroom and broccoli quiche
Serves: 3-4 as a light lunch with salad
For the crust:
- 1 sweet potato (to make 250 ml OR 1 cup mash)
- 250 ml (1 cup) oats, ground into fine flour
- 5 ml (1 tsp) dried mixed herbs
- Salt, to taste
- 15 ml (1 tbsp) coconut oil, melted, plus extra
For the filling:
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 15 ml (1 tbsp) minced garlic
- 500 ml (2 cups) mushrooms, sliced
- Pinch of salt
- 250 ml (1 cup) cherry tomatoes, cut into 3 slices,
- plus extra to garnish
- 250 ml (1 cup) broccoli, chopped
- 15 ml (1 tbsp) chickpea flour
- 125 ml (1⁄2 cup) unsweetened plant milk
- 30 ml (2 tbsp) nutritional yeast flakes
- 400 g firm tofu (do not use silken tofu)
- 15 ml (1 tbsp) lemon juice
- 2,5 ml (1⁄2 tsp) kala namak (black salt)
- 2,5 ml (1⁄2 tsp) garlic powder
- 2,5 ml (1⁄2 tsp) onion powder
- 1,25 ml (1⁄4 tsp) turmeric
- 4-5 chives, to garnish
- Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Prepare a 27-cm tart pan for the quiche with
non-stick cooking spray or line with baking paper.
- Steam the sweet potato until it is very soft. Let it cool slightly and remove the skin. Place in a food processor or blender and process until smooth, or mash with a fork or potato masher.
- Place the oat flour in a mixing bowl. Add the sweet potato mash along with the mixed herbs, salt and coconut oil. Use your hands to work the flour into the sweet potato. Continue to knead until all the flour is incorporated and you have a smooth dough.
- Roll out the dough thinly to fit the tart pan. Place it in the tart pan, press down gently and groove the edges with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Make the filling: Heat a bit of coconut oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions and fry till translucent. Add the garlic, mushrooms and salt and mix through. Add the cherry tomatoes to the pan and fry for 5-7 minutes.
- Add the broccoli to the pan and fry for another 3 minutes until the broccoli softens slightly and becomes bright green. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Mix the chickpea flour with the plant milk and pour into the jug of a blender or food processor, along with the nutritional yeast and other remaining ingredients. Blend to a very smooth batter, scraping down the sides of the jug from time to time.
- Pour the batter into the pan of fried vegetables and stir through. Pour the filling into the pre-baked crust in the quiche dish. Place a few cherry tomato slices on top.
- Bake at 180 °C for 45-50 minutes until the top is beautifully browned and the filling doesn’t jiggle when you shake the dish. Garnish with chives, cut into slices and serve with salad.