This whole roasted cauliflower with a red pepper sauce is a real treat with a truly Mzansi twist, impepho. Former food editor and cookbook author, Mokgadi Itsweng, modernises this traditional herb that is typically used by African healers, by creating a lipsmacking plant-based dish.
Still stuck on the idea that healthy is expensive? Not in Itsweng’s books. This award-winning chef with Durban roots believes that our belief of healthy food being expensive is what holds us back from enjoying plant-based cuisine.
“I try to debunk that myth by showcasing recipes that are accessible and affordable in the South African context. I also include indigenous ingredients like sorghum, wild food like thepe [amaranth], to show the versatility of our South African ingredients and food.”
Her passion and expertise lie in reintroducing to our plates, with a modern infusion, indigenous foods that are good for the earth and for our health.
“In South Africa, people are moving away from rural areas to the cities and our indigenous food culture gets destroyed as people increasingly eat cheap, fast foods. Many people in our cities also now suffer from malnutrition and diabetes.”
Cooking from the garden of her dreams
You’ve likely seen Itsweng’s in iconic local publications like True Love, where she took the reign as food editor. She also holds more than 15 years of experience in the South African culinary industry as an award-wining chef, food activist, food entrepreneur and food writer.
In 2021 Itsweng unveiled her debut cookbook Veggielicious, an ode to the food garden of her dreams and a dedicated handbook for plant-forward eating. “Plant-forward eating refers to eating more plants on your plate,” she explains the inspiration behind her cookbook.
She credits her food inspiration to her childhood food garden and local foodies like the late Mam’ Dorah Sitole, Zola Nene, Khanya Mzongwana and many more.
“The taste of fresh vegetables directly from the earth is unforgettable. This helped me to develop a deep love for vegetables.
“My paternal grandmother was a subsistence farmer who grew her own food and my maternal granny was a cook at a hotel in Durban. These two women played a big role in my food journey. I remember harvest time with my granny, where she would harvest the most beautiful pumpkins, ditloo and peanuts,” she says.
Mokgadi’s whole smoked cauliflower and red pepper sauce
Impepho or wild sage is an indigenous African herb that is widely used by traditional healers in spiritual prayer rituals. The herb is also used as an antifungal, antiseptic and anti-anxiety medicine. It adds so much flavour to any food it is smoked with.
“I use a kettle braai for smoking, but you can follow the quick smoking hack that I have included in the recipe,” she says.
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- 1 whole cauliflower head
- Handful of dried impepho herb, for smoking the cauliflower
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- ¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 red peppers, left whole
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) smoked paprika
- ¼ cup (60 ml) lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) brown sugar Salt and pepper to taste
- Handful of fresh parsley or thyme, chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 200 °C.
2. Bring a saucepan of water with 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt to a boil, then add the cauliflower head. Cook for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.
3. Smoke the cauliflower by placing a hot charcoal disk inside a small
foil container, then adding a handful of dried impepho herb. When the impepho starts smoking, place it inside a kettle braai with the cauliflower. Close the kettle braai lid and allow to smoke for at least 10-15 minutes. Remove from the kettle braai and set aside.
Quick hack: Use your oven as a smoker. Place the impepho on an oven tray, light it and when it starts to smoke place the tray on the bottom rack of the oven. Then place the cauliflower on the rack directly above the impepho. Close the oven and allow to smoke for 5-10 minutes.
4. Mix the garlic with the olive oil and brush over the whole cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking tray and roast in the preheated oven for 30 minutes until crisp on the outside.
5. While the cauliflower is roasting, make the sauce by first roasting the peppers in the oven until the skins are blackened.
6. Remove the peppers from the oven and place in a bowl, cover with clingwrap and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
7. Once cooled, peel the skins off and blend the peppers, then set aside.
8. Heat the oil, then add the garlic and paprika, and cook for 2 minutes on medium heat. Add the blended peppers and cook for 5 minutes, stirring continuously to ensure that the sauce doesn’t stick and burn.
9. Add the lemon juice and brown sugar, cook for a further 2 minutes, then season with salt and pepper.
10.To serve, slice the cauliflower into steaks or leave whole, then place on a platter. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower and top with chopped herbs.