Recipes: Original Flava wants to show Jamaican food is more than jerk chicken in new plant-based book
SHAUN and Craig McAnuff – the brothers behind culinary sensation Original Flava, with nearly 160,000 Instagram followers – admit that vegan dishes were not part of their childhood dinner parties.
Growing up in a Caribbean household in south London, meat was really the main event, but that has changed now, with the duo experimenting more with plant-based foods – and their mother has even been vegan since 2017.
Their new book is called Natural Flava, and Shaun calls it “a first step in trying to lure people into healthier, happier eating – because most of the Afro-Caribbean community [are] mostly meat [eating]”. He wants to show people how to find a balance, saying, “We’re not trying to tell people to be vegan. We’re not activists, because I don’t think that’s the best way to introduce people to things. Only two or three times a week – changing your diet is the best way to start.
The Caribbean diet may be high in meat, but the McAnuffs have found it easy to whip up recipes using plants from their culture. Growing up, “vegetables were used in sides, but they were very tasty sides,” says Craig. “It was always an eclectic range of different vegetables, rather than just Brussels sprouts.”
A big source of inspiration for many recipes is the Rastafari movement, with a section of the book dubbed “Ital Inspired” (a belief that food should be locally grown and unaltered). Shaun calls them one of the “pioneers of plant-based vegan foods”. Food is spiritual for Rastas, with Shaun saying, “It’s about eating dirt and taking care of your body.”
Craig continues, “The Rastafarian movement isn’t just about food, it’s about how to preserve Mother Nature, with much more respect for the environment. That’s why they say the earth and everything born naturally is good for you, whether it’s food, whether it’s medicine. They always encourage using what’s natural, so that was really the central 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 remember most. “The best meal I ever had was a vegan meal in Jamaica,” recalls Craig. “It was amazing. It was different vegan dishes on one plate – stewed peas, pumpkin, coleslaw, tofu curry, rice and peas – all in one bowl. We took that excitement and drive, and those Caribbean ingredients in what we do now.
Caribbean ingredients are certainly at the forefront of the book, and the brothers could talk lyrically about them for hours – including callaloo (“like spinach,” Shaun says), ackee (“which is a , but it is eaten like a vegetable”) , and, of course, plantain.
Plantain recipes are present throughout the book, but you won’t just see it as a fried side dish. It’s in stews, lasagna, 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,” says Craig. “Plantain is a very popular vegetable – delicious, it’s from 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 vegetables, as well as everyday vegetables, with added flavor.
The “F” word — flavor — is something the McAnuffs come up with time and time again, but they also can’t ignore the benefits they’ve both experienced from eating more plant-based meals.
Neither brother is fully vegan (although Shaun was for a year in 2017), but they are increasingly incorporating plant-based meals into their diets. Craig says they are now “happier inside ourselves – mentally and energized too”.
Shaun says the difference in their mother’s health – she became a vegan when Shaun started experimenting – is striking. “She had type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, but was able to control and eradicate that as well,” he says. “For his health, it did wonders. She’s lost so much weight, her skin is glowing, she’s happy. She really loves it.
For the brothers, food has always been a family affair and that couldn’t be clearer in their new book, with photos of their children throughout (Shaun has a two-year-old son and Craig has two-year-old twin daughters. years).
There are three years between Shaun, the eldest, and Craig, and being business partners and siblings has its ups and downs. Craig admits they bicker, saying, “Not all the time, but obviously as brothers we do. I would say we bicker less than most people, but we always turn things around in a minute or two.
Shaun adds that the main thing they argue about is “what recipes will 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 at £22. Photography by Matt Russel. Available now. Here are three recipes to try at home…
RASTA PUMPKIN PASTA
(For 6-8 people)
500 g pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
1 whole garlic bulb
1 scotch bonnet or chilli, seeded and chopped
Olive oil, for cooking
200g coconut yoghurt
Leaves of 2 sprigs of rosemary
6 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tsp of dried thyme
1 vegan bouillon cube
1 can of 400ml coconut milk
1 tablespoon golden syrup
500g dried penne pasta
1 onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 tablespoon jerk paste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of chopped parsley, to serve
Preheat the oven to 170°C Hot Fan/190°C/Gas 5. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Add the diced pumpkin or squash, garlic bulb, and scotch bonnet or chili, then sprinkle two tablespoons of olive oil and one teaspoon of salt and black pepper on top and toss. Bake for 25 minutes until cooked through and beginning to caramelize. Cool for five minutes, then blend in a blender, pressing the soft garlic cloves out of their papery skins. Add the yogurt, rosemary and thyme and crumble into the stock cube. Add half the coconut milk, the syrup, salt to taste and a little water. Blend until smooth. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, then drain. Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat two tablespoons of olive oil until hot. Add the onion and peppers and sauté for five minutes until soft, then add 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 toss well to coat. Add a pinch of parsley and enjoy.
PLANTAIN AND APPLE CRUMBLE RECIPE
(For 4-6 people)
1 tablespoon vegan butter
3 apples, cored and cut into 2cm pieces
3 ripe plantains, peeled and cut into 2cm pieces
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 bay leaf
A little salt
300ml apple juice
For the crumble:
225g plain flour
125g sweet brown sugar
125g vegan butter, cubed
Preheat the oven to 180°C Hot Fan/200°C/Gas 6. First prepare the crumble. In a bowl, mix the flour and sugar. Add the butter and rub it into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until you have a crumbly and homogeneous mixture. Put aside. For the filling, melt the butter in a large saucepan over low-medium heat, add the apples and stir 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 color a little and soften. Add vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaf, and salt, and stir to combine. Finally, add 200 ml of apple juice, mix everything and simmer for one to two minutes. Pour the apple-plantain mixture into a large baking dish, about 23 centimeters on a side, and remove the bay leaf. Add the rest of the apple juice to the mixture, sprinkle evenly over the crumble and bake for 35-40 minutes until the crumble is set and golden.
TRINI SPLIT PEAS DHAL WITH SPINACH AND GUMS
(For 4 people)
350g dried split peas
1.7L of water
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
1 scotch bonnet pepper, seeded and very finely chopped
2 tablespoons ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground chilli (allspice)
1 tablespoon mango chutney, plus extra for serving
handful of spinach
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
8 okra, sliced lengthwise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
First, wash and drain the split peas two or three times, until the water runs clear. Add them to a large saucepan with the water and bring to a boil. Now season with the onion, scotch bonnet, turmeric, ground cumin, chilli, mango chutney and salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer for 40 minutes until the peas are tender.
Use a hand blender to mix until pasty but not completely smooth. Add a little more salt and black pepper to taste, stir in the spinach to wilt, remove from the heat and let sit – the liquid will soak into the peas, thickening them. Add a little more hot water if you need to loosen it.
In a skillet, 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 dip them in the curry.
In the same pan, brown the okra slices and serve with the curry, with rice and patties. Serve the extra mango chutney and hot pepper sauce on the side.