The art of writing recipes is not easy for many Kenyan writers. However, Gatuiri Irauka has understood that a good recipe is a happy medium for making sumptuous vegetarian meals.
She says her recipes are readily available and affordable for both vegetarians and meat lovers.
“When you buy a kilo of lentils, you feed your family five, up to four meals that you cannot make with meat. “I wanted Kenyans to see that with a little food you can feed a lot of people and still make the food delicious,” she said.
Gatuiri, who also founded a food website, spoke to Leo Tunapika in 2012 BDLife about her book,The Little Veggies Cookbook. ‘ It has 42 recipes, 26 of which are vegan friendly. The book was published in 2021 and has recipes for main meals, salads, quick fixes, breakfast dishes and delicacies.
What ingredients and recipes are in your book?
Easily available and accessible ingredients include njahi, eggplant (biringanya), butter beans. The book is a collection of my favorite vegetarian recipes and ranges from breakfast to sweet treats.
What is your most favorite vegetable dish to make and why?
This is a tough one, I enjoy making chana dal (shared chickpeas) curry and serving it with naan or chapati. I love it because it is creamy and delicious and since chana dal is a lentil type, I do not need to soak it overnight before cooking.
And the most favorite dish in the book?
Another tough one. I would say Mujadara (lentils, rice with caramelized onions) as it is a meal in one pot. It uses kamande (lenses) and oh how delicious it is!
What is your go-to right to do, yet sumptuous?
Spaghetti in creamy garlic and mushroom sauce. Throw in some spinach and you have a balanced meal. It is easy to cook and ready in less than 30 minutes.
Where did your passion for cooking and food come from?
Hard to pinpoint, but looking back, I think I have always loved food, eating and cooking. My mom was also very encouraging because she wanted to provide me with the ingredients I needed when I was younger.
Do you think good cookbooks are hard to find in Kenya?
It’s more about the number of cookbook authors in Kenya. They are not that many. Good enough, this is slowly changing and we are seeing more food lovers writing books.
For example, Jasmine Macharia has published three cookbooks, and also Kaluhi Adagala published her second cookbook in 2021. Plus there are a few others.
Is it good to be a cookbook author now that more people are worrying about their food, healthy eating and all?
I feel this is a natural development, especially for food content creators who have been sharing recipes on their blogs for years. Years ago, not many Kenyans wrote cookbooks.
With the easy self-publishing, I anticipate even more cookbooks on the market. This would be great to build archives on Kenyan food made by Kenyans.
Do you think Kenyans are now excited about their way of cooking?
Yes, from my audience alone and the feedback I receive, people are keen on what they eat at home, they want to eat delicious, different food.
Do people buy the book?
Yes, people buy the book. I am very grateful for the support I have received so far. In just three months after the launch of the book and I sold over 200 copies (paper editions and e-bookies sales).
Is there an art to writing a cookbook? Sometimes a cookbook can be too vague that a person has a hard time finding the dish as described.
Yes, there is definitely an art in it. The list of ingredients must make sense in relation to quantity and how they are to be prepared. For example, are the tomatoes pureed or cut into cubes, are the spices ground or whole?
Such details matter. The steps should also be straightforward and try to anticipate any questions that the user may have when using the book.
What makes a vegetable recipe good or bad?
The basis of any recipe matters, for example, if I make chana dal curry, the masala with onion, garlic, ginger and spices must be well cooked. Do not rush the process.
Another thing you need to be aware of is cooking right. Say I make a coconut vegetable curry with broccoli and cauliflower, it is important that the vegetables are not overcooked and mushy.
They need to preserve their bite. I have a recipe in my cookbook about this.