Denai Moore on the Vegan Jamaican Food She Loves

Denai Moore's food is playful, colourful and vegan. She draws on her Jamaican roots, to create dishes that merge traditional Jamaican favourites with vegan ideas and British classics.

Her book Plentiful is out now, and has quickly gathered a lot of attention. Nigella Lawson says: "I absolutely adore this book! I can't see how it wouldn't raise the sprits of anyone who cooks and eats. I've already bought two copies as presents for friends, and I know I shall be giving a lot more out as the year progresses. But you know how it is when you fall in love with a book - you just can't help pressing it enthusiastically on everyone around you!"

Discover which ingredients and dishes inspire Denai, then try some her of fabulous recipes:

Hard Dough French Toast

The Ultimate Jamaican Breakfast

Tribute to Hellshire - Cassava Bammy Flatbreads & Smoky Augbergine Dip

Plentiful by Denai Moore (Hardie Grant, £24) Photography by Yuki Sugiura

What’s the best thing you’ve eaten recently?

I had this Chickpeas, Squash, Wild Garlic and Marcona Almond dish from Dory’s in Margate recently that blew me away. They’re a seafood bar, but they always do the most delicious seasonal vegan dishes. It also has one of my favourite views in Margate.

What’s the one dish to make anyone fall in love with your new book?

I think there’s a few favourites, but the French toast recipe has a special place in my heart as it’s the first recipe I wrote for the cookbook. My favourite chapter in the book is definitely the Sides That Have Main Event Energy. The smashed new potatoes dish is definitely one of my favourites. I would say the Ackee Carbonara because it’s surprisingly rich and creamy, and a different take on a classic.

I think the biggest surprise will be the chapters and how the book is structured. My book is very playful and conversational. I wanted to make something that felt like tea to me. It gets deep and personal, but I wanted to make people laugh.

I think if I invited friends around I would make the crispy oyster mushrooms with coconut rice! I adore coconut rice with something very savoury. This is the perfect dish for vegan sceptics.

How do you balance tradition and innovation in your cooking?

I think I tend to cook based on what I’m obsessed with. I’m currently really into frozen paratha’s, and they’re so fun and versatile. Being a recipe developer, I’m very creative when it comes to ideas, but often when I cook for myself, I crave very simple things. There’s nothing a good bowl of pasta can’t fix.

FIND INSPRIATION: Browse all Caribbean food and ingredients


What ingredients are always stocked in your pantry?


Jamaican Ackee, 540g

Soy Sauce

Miso

Jasmine or Basmati Rice

Pasta

What new tips, tricks or ideas have you learned while writing the book?

I pushed myself a lot through the creative process of this book. I’d consider myself a novice baker and I learned a lot about different baking techniques. The birthday cake recipe using a reverse creaming method, as I wanted the cake to be quite flat and not dome!

What are the components of a fantastic meal for you?

A fanatic meal for me has a few dishes that compliment each other. I think it’s important to create a spread that everyone can pick from. I also think setting the table is really lovely. Flowers for the table and candles. I’m a romantic at heart and I tend to show love through food.

What is one kitchen tip everyone should know?

Sharp knives are really important for a chill cooking experience. There’s nothing worse than having blunt knives in my opinion.

What’s your favourite ingredient to cook with right now?

I’m eating a lot of Ackee at the moment! I think it’s because I’m feeling quite home sick, and miss Jamaica so much. Fresh ackee is a different beast, but it’s definitely my fav ingredient at the moment.

What makes a great comfort dish for you?

Comfort food is heart-warming and soul soothing. I love that everyone has a dish that brings comfort. For me it would be a patty and red peas soup! It’s always the first thing I would ask my mother to make for me.

Where do you find inspiration?

It was important to me that the book is filled with recipes that I would cook myself. When I started to reduce the list of ideas, that was central to my decision. I really enjoyed the process of creating the book.

Although, because I developed it partly in lockdown, I didn’t get to share the recipes with other people early on. I’m inspired by the never ending ‘what if?’ question I have most mornings. I write lots of ideas in my notes app and then I try and figure out how to make it.

I’m inspired by home flavours from my childhood, but I’m always searching for something new to make! I’m always itching to create the next thing.

What ingredients have you recently discovered that you are excited about?

I’m currently obsessed with the Julienne Bruno vegan cheeses. They make the best vegan cream cheese I've ever had. They also make their own vegan burrata, which is so creamy and rich. It’s definitely not a staple, more of a treat.

What is your favourite ingredient to work with and why?

I adore aubergine! One of my favourite vegetables. They can really take a lot of spice. When cooked perfectly, they melt in the mouth and are silky and elegant!

How do you source your ingredients and what do you look for when selecting them?

I try my best to eat seasonally. That’s the best way to eat in my opinion. I tend to go to my local grocer and pick up veggies that look the best! I’m a very intuitive cook, I love having no plans and being led by whatever I’m feeling on the day.

How do you stay current with food trends and incorporate them into your menu? I’m not really into food trends. I think as a food creator and recipe developer, there’s this pressure to jump on trends and capitalise on them. I’m always led by the things that I love, I only want to make food that’s authentic to me.

Can you tell me about a particularly memorable meal you have had and what made it so special?

I think the most memorable meal I’ve had was at my friend's restaurant Plates! He makes the most amazing plant forward dishes that are balanced and unique. He tends to do tasting menus, but it’s totally special and I’d recommend going to his next restaurant pop-up


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