Vegan Jamaican food hits the stage in Denai Moore’s new cookbook

Denai Moore on the coast of Margate, England. (Louise Haggar/Pat Bates & Associates, Washington Post)

In 2019, when chef and musician Denai Moore ran a stall at the London Jerk Festival, which celebrates an cherished Jamaican culinary tradition, people wondered what she was doing there. Like, he looked at her with suspicion. She was the only vegan vendor that day, selling plant-based jerk ribs to her bemused gaze.

Get the recipe: New Potatoes with Herbie Crema and Cashew Chinoli Oil

Moore, 29, said one day in April from his home in the seaside community of Margate in south-east England. Perhaps they thought vegan food was originally bland and shouldn’t be flavorful. That the Jamaican food she’s been eating all her life can’t be adapted to a vegan interpretation.

This urge to challenge stereotypes about Jamaican cuisine, and sometimes expectations from within her own community, is what drives Moore’s debut cookbook, Plentiful: Vegan Jamaican Recipes to Repeat, now available in the US from Hardy Grant. has become the lifeline of No matter where the cook is within the confines of a plant-based diet, Moore makes room for everyone. Some recipes rely on supermarket meat and dairy analogues. For example, jerk “pork” dumplings incorporate commercially available vegan ground pork, while the patty recipe calls for vegan chicken and vegan beef. Vegan cheddar cheese is also perpetually present on this page, slipping between crispy patty crusts.

But many of Moore’s recipes make imaginative use of Jamaican bounty. She pounded the silky pulp of the ackee with nutritional yeast and miso paste and passed it through the carbonara so the fruit mimics the feel of the egg yolk. She blows callaloo’s lagoon green leaves into the pesto. She purses a glossy hoisin glaze with sorrel, a hibiscus-scented drink common in this island nation.

In many ways, Moore’s cooking coincides with another artistic activity in her life: music. Her third and most recent album, 2020’s Modern Dread, was lauded by critics for the way she wandered between R&B, electropop and folk influences without compromising her persuasiveness. She describes her own music as “genre-free,” but this label could easily apply to her food as well. Dishes such as her New Potatoes with Herb Crema and Cashew Chilinori Oil demonstrate an allergy to the classification. This is the recipe she feels best embodies the vibrancy of the book, with a careful blend of sweetness, salt and spice. “When I wrote this book, I asked myself the same question. [as] when we were making the album,” she said. “I just want to be myself.”

Moore was 9 years old when he and his family moved to the UK from their home country 20 years ago. (She talks nonchalantly about the reason for this move: “My family wanted to move here to expand the possibilities of what my brother and I wanted to do.”) I remember the oak tree and the akee tree. , a young coconut tree in Jamaica. She remembers her mother removing tamarind seeds to make juice for Sunday dinner. Music was in her veins. Her father was a musician and she first picked up a guitar when she was 12 years old. But so was her food. She enjoyed the deliciousness of the rice with plenty of oxtail gravy. But as she grew up, she gravitated toward vegetarianism and kept eggs and dairy in her rotation, until one day she realized, in her words, that she didn’t even “need” them. ‘ she began to feel.

Plantain gnocchi turns a familiar Caribbean flavor into something new

It wasn’t until he reached adulthood that Moore began consciously cooking for himself. Her move to veganism forced her to become a more agile cook. She began agile rethinking of the foods that sustained her during her childhood. Her experimentation with preserving her taste memories began by veganizing the Jamaican snack she enjoyed as a child with a pack of chocolate milk to perfect her patty. “I think a lot of people worry that they are leaving behind all the cultural foods they ate and all the things they ate as children. You can’t miss it,” she says. she said. Soon, her experiments became more ambitious, and the idea of ​​​​taking on complex culinary projects hooked her. Every day she would wake up and think about what to cook next. She started devising a menu. She began hosting elaborate dinners for her friends.

When she returned to Jamaica for the first time as an adult, shortly after turning to veganism, something sparked inside her. Moore returned to the UK and she started a pop-up and supper club, The Deeds Table. The language of childhood in a modern context. ” She was nervous about the effort. “Sometimes restaurant culture and food culture feel so different, so I think I didn’t feel very close to them,” she said. Access to a chunk of capital seemed to be required to enter that world. It was as if everyone had a secret except her. However, she overcame this frustration by giving her all in her work.

Miraculously, she says, standing in the kitchen and cooking for a crowd “is insane.” (Her first dinner, she probably had about 40 guests, if she’s going to risk her guess.) Feeding other people came naturally to her. “I feel like I’ve done this before,” she said of the first night. “And I want to do this forever.”

Over the next few years, daydreaming about where the Dee’s Table would go, she began writing an early draft of “Plentiful” and hesitantly showed it to her music manager. But the generous work also came at a cost. She couldn’t focus much on feeding herself. “I used to make elaborate meals and specials for people and have toast at the end of the service,” she recalled. Those supper clubs were canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, but Moore rediscovered her self-catering romance during this time. Her loneliness made the purpose of this book even clearer.

“plenty” It belongs to the recent wave of cookbooks that reframe the country’s cuisine while respecting Jamaican culinary traditions. The past year alone has seen the emergence of spiritually sympathico titles such as Liaz Phillips’ West Winds and Melissa Thompson’s Motherland, both of which have their recipes originating in Jamaica.

Phillips, who has devoted an entire chapter to vegan Jamaican cuisine in his cookbook, wrote in an email to The Washington Post that Moore’s “vegetables” outperform most plant-based dishes served in Jamaican restaurants in the UK. Ingenious cuisine,” he said. The very existence of Moore’s cookbook reflects the changing tailwinds of the industry. Not every company Mr. Phillips met for his cookbook was as enthusiastic as his eventual publisher, Dorling Kindersley Limited. “If they already have a Jamaican book coming out, or are already set, it’s often assumed that they don’t want to take on another book,” he says. He, for example, he’s not sure a cookbook like Moore’s was on the shelves five years ago.

London-based writer and documentary photographer Yvonne Maxwell agrees. Moore’s book is “one of many truly groundbreaking works published by black food writers and authors in the past year,” she said in an email. But Maxwell cautiously tempers that optimism with his work focusing on migration, identity and culture (including food) in black communities in Britain and in the African and Caribbean diaspora. “But while it’s important to celebrate these awards, five years ago, perhaps even before, it was almost unheard of to see a book like ‘Plentiful’ published by a major publisher. So it’s not wrong for me,” she said. . “Until this time, publishers had not yet been convinced by the desire and interest in works depicting black esophagus and culture.”

In Maxwell’s view, a food publishing world long overwhelmed by well-worn tales like Mediterranean travelogues has produced books like Plentiful. and “Westwinds” Hit her as a tonic. She hopes the industry’s newfound confidence in broad black voices in the food sector isn’t just temporary. “Ultimately, just as British publishers have been instrumental in telling the stories of pasta and Caprese salad over and over again, more black food writers will bring these stories and recipes to life. We should be as open and supportive as we are,” she said.

Ultimately, the hallmark of “Plentiful” is its decidedly personal tendencies. That’s how Mr. Moore sees cooking. Cooking is a way to let people know who you are. Traditions can vary from family to family and from person to person. Not all Jamaican mothers cook rice and peas the same way, she pointed out. Variations like this are commendable. “I really think the eclipse is heading there,” she said. “I think food is like breaking down the walls of what should be and how it should be, and just telling your story on your plate.”

In her book, she explores the skewed views that some may still hold, such as seeing veganism as monotonous and joyless, or as Jamaican food as uniformly spicy and meaty. I hope I can gently push back. Veganism changed the way she cooks. It changed the way I looked at where she came from. “So I feel like I’ve opened the door,” she said. “Entrance to another world”

Sen’s author “Tastemakers: The 7 Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized American Food”

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