Tomi Makanjuola & the
Vegan Nigerian Kitchen

Tomi, a.k.a The Vegan Nigerian, is a wonderfully adept vegan chef and author, specialising in Nigerian cuisine. Tomi’s cookbook ‘Vegan Nigerian Kitchen: 100 classic recipes with a plant-based twist’ hit the shelves of all good bookshops in November 2021, and is available both in paperback and as an ebook.

Tomi took some time out of her busy schedule to chat to editor Karin Ridgers about the last couple of years, the new cookbook and her plans for the future, hopefully post-COVID.

Hey Tomi! How are you? What are you up to at the moment?

I’m doing great, thanks! These days, I am mostly creating content, developing recipes and running online cooking workshops. My work with The Vegan Nigerian keeps me pretty busy.

You’ve been vegan nearly a decade now – tell us what started you off.

I was drawn to veganism as a way to improve my health and boost my dwindling energy levels, but what truly kept me vegan was my desire to take a stand against all forms of animal exploitation. The more research I did into veganism, the more I was convinced that it was the right transition to make. I read books like ‘By Any Greens Necessary’ and watched documentaries like ‘Earthlings’ and my mind was made up almost overnight – I haven’t looked back since. My top tip for anyone looking to make the shift is to carry out as much research as possible and explore all the benefits.

Tell us more about your cookery classes.

Prior to the pandemic, I had started hosting in-person cooking classes in London, but things changed drastically in 2020 and I had to switch to online classes. The pivot has been wonderful. Not only are the classes a great way to bring people together to bond over a shared love of food, but it’s been wonderful to introduce many non-vegan participants to veganism and show how abundant the diet and lifestyle can be. I’ve had the pleasure of hosting private cooking classes for people wanting to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays and hen parties, and also for corporate teams looking for a way to stay connected while working from home. The beauty of online is that anyone can hop on from anywhere in the world. Everyone always leaves with a smile and some delicious lunch/dinner to enjoy!

What’s this with the Airbnb?

Airbnb has been an incredible avenue for spreading the vegan Nigerian message. They first approached me to join their newly created ‘Experiences’ platform back in 2016. At the time, I hosted in-person dining events for travellers coming in to London and I had the opportunity to meet people from various countries such as Sweden, the USA and Canada. Since then, they have launched online experiences as well, meaning anyone around the world can book a spot on one of my classes and learn how to make authentic vegan West African food.

And you have a new cookbook out?

I am so excited that Vegan Nigerian Kitchen is now out in the world. It was a true labour of love to put it all together and I am certain readers will love diving in and exploring what Nigerian cuisine has to offer. It’s filled with 100 mouth-watering plant-based recipes from different regions across Nigeria, lots of full-page photographs, a handy meal plan, a comprehensive glossary of Nigerian ingredients and a quick guide to going vegan. You’ll find warming soups and stews, sweet and savoury snacks, rice dishes, and lots more. It’s a cookbook for all food enthusiasts; for those who love to explore culture through food, and it makes a perfect gift for the foodies in your life. It’s currently available as a paperback on all Amazon stores or you can get a digital copy through my website vegannigerian.com.

You must have a favourite recipe? Or is that not fair on the others ones?

It’s almost impossible to pick just one, but I have to say that the Miyan Taushe (northern Nigerian pumpkin stew) is simply incredible. Another must-try is the Efo Egusi, a hearty traditional soup made with spinach and ground melon seeds – pair that with some pounded yam, rice or plantain and you’ve got a winning dish packed with tons of nutrients.

You do personal vegan coaching too – what barriers do you find that most people face when aiming to go vegan?

I have noticed that a lot of people struggle with navigating social situations and relationships when they decide to go vegan. The fear of not fitting in and being perceived as a ‘nuisance’ is very real. A lot of people also struggle with what to eat as a vegan and meal planning often seems overwhelming or daunting at first, especially if they are not familiar with what ingredient substitutions work best.

And what solutions do you offer?

As well as offering practical tips based on my own personal experience and what has worked for many people, I also make sure to focus on the ‘why’ of going vegan, as I truly believe that this is what makes the conviction solid. Learning about the current state of animal exploitation and its far-reaching effects on animals, public health, the environment, human rights and more, clients are able to internalise why veganism is important and needed. With that, they feel reassured that they are on the right path and that they can navigate whatever comes their way.

Veganism really seems to be growing globally – is that the case in Nigeria?

In Nigeria, there is certainly small but visible progress. Each time I visit, there are more vegan options available. In Lagos city, where I grew up, you’ll find the first fully vegan restaurant in the whole of Nigeria, and you’ll also find a growing community of vegans who meet up regularly and host all kinds of events. I am optimistic about the way things are going.

What would you like to see happen next? Both for yourself, and others.

My hope is that more and more people will embrace veganism. As a collective, we cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the atrocities of animal exploitation. We should all feel empowered to embrace a new way of doing things, all whilst continuing to celebrate our various cultures, backgrounds and cuisines. With the work that I do, I hope that I continue to reach members of my community and beyond, showing how you can thrive on this lifestyle.

www.vegannigerian.com