I’ve always believed traditional food tends to be the healthiest, in terms of being plant based. After all, nature was our ancestors’ supermarket, where only the freshest produce (sans pesticides, insecticides, chemicals) were used to create nutritious food that has been passed down from generation to generation. Of course, there are a lot of meat and dairy dishes as well, but with a little tweaking here and there, you can create a healthier version of a typically high-calorie food. After all, that’s what the kitchen is all about; taking something that’s been tried and tested, and putting your own twist on it, and making it your own. Or creating your own recipes which, hopefully, will also stand the test of time.
We’ve a compiled a list of 10 old (traditional recipes from Sudan and Egypt) and new, original recipes, that are either, naturally plant based, or can easily be tweaked to suit a vegan diet, without compromising on flavor and taste. This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are a lot more recipes that lend themselves really well to a plant based diet, these just happen to be our favorite ones.
1) Veggie stir fry with eggplants, fresh basil and rosemary
I had a couple of eggplants that were starting to go bad. So I thought I would make an eggplant stir fry, flavored with some leaves from my basil and rosemary plants that I had growing in my balcony.
Half a red bell pepper (roughly chopped)
Half a yellow bell pepper (roughly chopped)
1 large eggplant (cut into bite-sized chunks)
1 medium onion (cut into bite-sized chunks)
Couple of zucchinis (sliced)
A few stalks of spring onions (sliced. Use green parts only)
2 tablespoons light soya sauce
Handful of mushrooms (roughly chopped)
1 tomato (roughly chopped)
Salt and pepper
Some fresh basil and rosemary (chopped)
Olive oil or coconut oil for frying
Heat oil in frying pan or wok. Add eggplant, onion, bell peppers, zucchinis and cook for about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for 2 or 3 more minutes. Add tomatoes and spring onions. Then add soya sauce, a little bit of salt and pepper and stir everything really well. Cook until liquid reduces. Finally add basil and rosemary and cook for one more minute, stirring. Turn off heat. Serve over rice.
2) Peanut butter salad (Salatat Dakwa)
This is a Sudanese delicacy and a favorite of mine. Chopped tomatoes and onion mixed with a peanut butter dressing.
1 large tomato, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced (optional)
For the dressing:
2 heaped tablespoons of natural peanut butter. In Sudan, we use a natural, unprocessed peanut butter.
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon of vinegar
2 tablespoons of olive oil or sesame oil
Salt and pepper
A pinch of paprika or chili powder
Mix tomatoes and onions in a bowl
For the dressing, mix all the ingredients together until it forms a thick paste. You can thin out with water. Just make sure to add more seasoning. Pour over tomatoes and onions and mix until well coated.
3) Molokhiya or Jew’s Mallow stew
Another Sudanese and Egyptian favorite. While in Egypt it is made with rabbit and in Sudan it is made with beef, I’ve been making it without out any meat for the past couple of years and it tastes just as good. I even substitute beef stock with vegetable stock, making it a hearty vegan dish.
1 onion, diced
3 cups of vegetable broth
3 bay leaves
1.5 tablespoons of tomato paste
400g of frozen minced molokhiya leaves
The taglia or gat’ha as it is known in Sudan, the flavorful garlic mixture poured over the molokhiya at the end, is the essence of molokhiya as it gives it all its flavor.
1/4 cup olive oil
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons of dried coriander
Cook onion in some oil over medium heat, until soft but not burnt. Pour the vegetable stock, add tomato paste, bay leaves, and the molokhiya. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Allow to simmer for around 15 minutes.
Heat olive oil in a pan and add garlic. Swirl around and add coriander. Cook just until the garlic starts to turn golden. Take off heat. Pour the mixture over the surface of the molokhiya. Serve over rice.
4) Rigla or Purslane stew
Growing up, I was never a big fan of this stew. But once when my mother-in-law came to visit and she made it I was hooked. It’s traditionally a Sudanese dish made with weeds called Purslane. They’re always growing in my potted plants and I have to pull them out. But my mother-in-law makes it with a mixture of spinach and red lentils, without the meat (lamb or beef) that usually goes into it. It can be eaten with bread or a Sudanese flat bread called Kisra (a variation of the Eritrean Injera, made with sorghum and water), but I sometimes eat it with rice.
2 tablespoons of canola oil
1 medium, diced
1 cup of red lentils
3 cups of water
1 bag (400grams) of frozen spinach
1 tomato, diced
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of dill, chopped
Lightly fry onions in oil. Add lentils and water and let cook for about 10-15 minutes until lentils are soft. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Season with salt, pepper, cumin and dill. Add spinach and let it dissolve into the stew and cook for about 10 more minutes. Add more salt and pepper, if needed. Serve with bread, rice, or Kisra.
5) Lentil stew (Shorbat Addas) – Taken from Sugar and Garlic
This is the ultimate comfort food for me, and is a staple during Ramadan. I remember when my mother used to make this, growing up in Dubai, I used to have bowl after bowl of this thick, creamy, hearty soup. Some people eat it with pita bread pieces mixed in it, but I love it plain. I can’t take the credit for this recipe. I got it off the internet, it’s not my mother’s recipe but it’s a close second.
2 cups of red lentils (they are actually orange, but called red:)
3 cups of broth (or water)
4 cups of water, plus more to thin later
1 tsp cumin
1/2- 1 tsp salt (to taste)
pinch of pepper
pinch of turmeric (optional)
2 large carrots, shredded
1 tomato, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, diced
1 tsp olive oil
First sort the lentils for any stones, grains, or sand. Wash thoroughly and drain.
In a large pot, over high heat, add the olive oil and vegetables and toss lightly until fragrant. Do not brown it.
Immediately add the lentils, broth, water, and spices. Stir well.
Once the soup begins to boil, reduce to medium-low heat. Allow it to simmer for about 15-20 minutes, uncovered.
Once the lentils are softened and cooked, puree with a blender, and remove from heat. If the soup looks too thick to you, you can add more water over low heat and stir until homogenous.
Serve immediately with lemon wedges, and optionally pita chips.
6) Pumpkin soup – adapted from Ellie Krieger’s recipe
This is another favorite soup of mine that I make regularly, especially when colder weather rolls around. I love pumpkin, I love the way it looks, I love the way it tastes, I love the way it heralds the fall season, cozy evenings by the fireplace and a good book in hand. We don’t have fireplaces here in Egypt, but we have big, juicy, pumpkins (and good books…sometimes). Ever since, I found this recipe a few years ago, I’ve been making it at the start of fall. It is creamy, slightly spicy and once you dip your spoon in for that first taste, you won’t be able to stop until there’s nothing left in the bowl. The original recipe uses butternut squash, I use pumpkin. Also, I’ve substituted the honey with maple syrup, for a vegan alternative.
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (2 1/2-pound) butternut squash (pumpkin), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more, to taste
2 tablespoons honey or (maple syrup).
Heat oil over medium heat in a 6-quart stockpot. Add onions and garlic and saute until soft but not brown, about six to seven minutes. Add the butternut squash, broth, curry powder and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until squash is tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat stir in honey and puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender until smooth. Season with salt, to taste.
Ladle into serving bowls.
7) Vegan moussaka
This is a dish I make all the time. It’s typically made with a meat sauce and béchamel sauce. However, I replace the mince meat for bulgur and place slice tomatoes on top instead of the béchamel sauce. It makes for a much more moist and light dish.
4 large eggplants, cut into ¼ inch thick slices
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, mined
2 tablespoons of olive oil
¾ cup uncooked bulgur
21/2 cups vegetable stock
1 can (500grams) of chopped tomatoes
1 heaped tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Salt and pepper
2 or 3 large tomatoes cut into slices
Fry the eggplants in some olive oil on the stove. Alternatively, brush some of the olive oil on the eggplant slices and arrange them on a baking sheet and broil for five minutes until they turn golden.
Heat olive oil in a pot and add onions. Cook for about 10 minutes until translucent. Add garlic. Cook for another two minutes. Then add bulgur and cook for three or four minutes. Add allspice, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cook for an additional minute. Pour in stock, tomatoes and throw in oregano. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for around 20 minutes until thickened. Take off heat.
Arrange eggplant slices in a large, lightly greased baking dish. Cover with 1/2 of the bulgur mixture. Place half the tomato slices on top. Place another layer of the eggplants on top. Pour the remaining half of the bulgur mixture. Then top it off with the rest of the tomato slices. The tomatoes will add moisture to the dish and prevent it from drying out.
Place in a preheated oven (300°C) and bake for 40 minutes. After about 30-35 minutes, turn on the broiler for about five minutes.
8) Stuffed zucchini (kosa) or stuffed eggplants
Another Egyptian and Sudanese staple, this is called “Ma7shi” in Arabic, which loosely translates into stuffing. You can make it with ground beef or leave it out. I personally find it tastes better without. This is my neighbour’s recipe which she made with zucchinis and white eggplants. But in Sudan we typically make it with tomatoes and green peppers.
1 large onion, chopped
½ kilo tomatoes (squeezed)
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1.5 cups of rice
Vegetable stock (or water)
Around 10 zucchinis and white eggplants
Cut the top end of the zucchinis and eggplants. Hollow out and scoop out the pulp. Set aside.
Heat olive oil. Cook onions for 5 minutes. Add the juice of the squeezed tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Let cook until it thickens. Then add parsley and coriander and mix. Add rice and cook for 10 minutes.
Once rice is cooked, take off heat. Once cooled down, stuff the zucchini and eggplants with the rice mixture. Do not fill to the very top.
Then arrange in a pot. Pour enough vegetable stock to cover an inch or so of the pot. Make sure it does not cover the vegetables.
Bring to a boil. Then put the lid on, reduce heat and let cook for on very low heat for 45 minutes to an hour.
9) Legaimat (Sweet dumplings)
These dumplings, made in Sudan but are also popular in Egypt and much of the Arab world (especially the Gulf counties), are comprised of the very humble ingredients of flour, yeast and water. They are fried in oil, drizzled with honey or maple syrup, and topped with mixed nuts or shredded coconut. They’re typically eaten as a dessert.
1.5 cups of flour
1 packet of yeast (7 grams)
½ a teaspoon of sugar
Pinch of salt
Pinch of turmeric (optional)
Around 3 cups of oil
For the topping
Mixed nuts (optional)
Shredded coconut (optional).
Mix flour, yeast, sugar, salt in a bowl. If you like your dumplings yellow, add some turmeric, instead of eggs. Pour in enough water to just moisten the mixture. Start mixing it with your hands. If it’s too dry add some more water. If it’s too wet, add some flour. Keep folding and mixing with your hands until there are no lumps left. You can mix with a dough mixer, but it is better to use your hands as it allows the air in. Cover with a kitchen towel and place a lid on top. Place on a warm surface. If it’s winter, preheat the oven for a few minutes, switch off the heat and place in the oven. Let it rise for an hour or two.
Fill a large pot or deep pan with oil and turn on high heat. Use a tablespoon to spoon out the mixture and form into little balls. Drop into the hot oil. Little bubbles should form and rise to the surface. Fry until golden brown and then remove and strain or place on a plate covered with paper towels to remove the excess oil.
While they’re still hot, drizzle generously with maple syrup, and sprinkle some shredded coconut or mixed nuts on top.
This list would not be complete without quintessential Egyptian dish, Koshary, which is vegan, through and through, without any additions, subtractions or substitutions. Traditionally popular amongst workers and labourers, it is a mixture of rice, macaroni, lentils, and chickpeas, topped with thick tomato sauce and burnt slivers of onions. So definitely not for those watching their carb intake. It’s surprisingly easy to make, despite its many ingredients. It’s just a matter of assembling certain components together.
1 cup of uncooked brown lentils
1 cup of uncooked rice
1.5 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 can of chick peas
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
3 large onions, chopped
1 can (400g) of chopped tomatoes or 4 large tomatoes diced
Salt & pepper to taste
2 Tsp Hot paprika
Fry two chopped onions in hot oil until brown & crispy. Drain on paper towel. Cook the lentils, rice and macaroni separately. Drain chick peas and rinse. Mix together with the cooked lentils, rice and macaroni and set aside.
For the tomato sauce, fry the remaining chopped onion and three cloves of minced garlic for a few minutes. Pour in chopped tomatoes and a cup of water. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Blend the sauce until smooth and put back on heat and simmer for five minutes. For the hot sauce, heat some oil in a pan. Remove from heat and mix in two tsp of hot Paprika. Add three large spoons of prepared tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper. To assemble, ladle the rice, lentil and macaroni mixture onto serving plates, pour a large spoonful of tomato sauce and sprinkle fried onions on top.