With food prices hiking, many of us are looking to cut the price of our weekly shops – while still eating delicious food. And the answer, Ravinder Bhogal believes, lies in vegetables.

“Vegetables are the ultimate economical thing to cook,” says the chef and restaurateur, who was discovered by Gordon Ramsay after she applied for his competition to find ‘Britain’s new Fanny Cradock’ on The F Word.

“Meat has become so expensive. If you lavish the same kind of care and attention on [vegetables] as you do a steak or joint of meat, they are going to sing with flavour.”

She continues: “Why can’t you take the time to marinate vegetables, inject them with flavour, baste them, add texture to them or play with their textures?”

Bhogal, who was born in Kenya to Indian parents and moved to England at the age of seven, says root vegetables are our real saviour when it comes to budget cooking in Britain.

“Anything that’s grown in this country, swedes, celeriac… And if you buy in season it’s naturally going to be a bit cheaper.”

The 44-year-old, who owns London restaurant Jikoni (the Swahili word for ‘kitchen’) is vegetarian “80% of the time – then I might have a Sunday roast or something” has released her third cookbook, Comfort & Joy: Irresistible Pleasures From A Vegetarian Kitchen.

“There are so many things that you can do with vegetables where you’re just just not going to miss the meat. What isn’t there to love about the lightness and brightness of vegetables?”

And there’s a real misconception that vegetables can’t be comforting, she says: “For me comfort is about food that nourishes you, that makes you feel well that makes you feel alive, that makes you feel revived.”

It was Bhogal’s early years in a multigenerational household in Nairobi (“My grandparents, my uncle and aunt, their children, my mother’s brood of five, whoever happened to be visiting, there was a parrot, a dog, kittens, chickens, goats – it was a really chaotic household!”) that would pave the way for how she approached food later as a chef.

Her grandfather dutifully tended to his shamba – or allotment – and had a deep respect and connection to the verdant soil where many vegetables grew. “When he came from India to Kenya, he completely fell in love with this beautiful red, volcanic soil that just seemed to give and give and give,” says Bhogal. “And he never stop being grateful for that. He’d come from a place where there was so little, and then suddenly, there was this soil that just blessed him and his family with all these beautiful things to eat.”

Everything the household ate was either grown by him or came from the ‘mama mbogas’ – local women with smallholdings who peddled their “the freshest hand grown vegetables” from door to door, she says.

The chef in the house was her mother though, who was an “exceptionally talented” cook. “There were so many mouths to feed, so you can imagine the level of organisation that it took. She was the commander in chief and we were all her assistants, whether you liked it or not.”

As a result, Bhogal learned to cook from her mother’s direction, although she wasn’t always happy about it.

“Initially, I really resented it because growing up in quite a patriarchal household, the boys would be outside playing, and the girls would be in the kitchen. And that really sucked to me.

“Anything I tried to attempt to cook, [my grandfather] would always tell me how delicious it was and praise me, and I think I made that connection between food and love and winning people over with food.”

And the influence of her time in Kenya can be seen in the latest book; think pili pili cassava (one of the go-to carbs in many African nations) or Kenyan maru potato bhajias with tamarind and tomato chutney (potato coated in spiced chickpea flour and fried).

Swapping Kenya for England as a child left a mark on Bhogal. “Kenya is like a state of mind, it’s such a bewitching country, it never really leaves you, it clings to you,” she says. “When you grow up with such colour and such a colossal sky… I was outdoors a lot, playing with all the animals [with] this really beautiful, very lush sunny backdrop. When you are plucked from that age seven and turn up in a very grey dark England, you try and hold onto that and keep connected to that.”

South East London was “very different and sort of haggard in comparison to Kenya”, she says. “Everything was very small suddenly. I grew up in a flat above a shop and going from huge trees and sky that was ever blue to turning up to this very dark, dank [place]… The adjustment was very, very difficult.”

But it’s all culminated in her cookery style now. “I consider myself a hybrid, I’m Indian, there’s Persian ancestry too, I’m British, I grew up in London, I’m also the product of all kinds of the diverse immigrant communities that helped bring me up.”

So you’ll find Persian-inspired fermented rice, lentil, beetroot and coconut handvo (a savoury cake) in her new book, alongside Mumbai street food like peanut and golden raisin poha, and English grilled peaches with silken tofu and Thai basil and lime leaf gremolata.

The recipe for pea kofta scotch eggs with saffron yoghurt is vibrant amalgamation; honouring memories of her father bringing home a sack of locally grown peas from Nairobi’s bustling city market and shelling them in the kitchen with her mother – it is a hybrid of her mother’s Indian recipe and her British identity.

Plus, some that have been tried and tested by her discerning restaurant diners, like mango and golden coin [curry with dumplings] – where the mangos are served whole, stone and all. “I remember telling my husband I was going to put this mango curry on the menu and he was like, ‘You’re insane, how are people going to eat a whole mango?’ And it’s gone on to be one of the most popular things.

“I think the whole joy of a mango is the generosity of serving it whole, there’s something about a whole mango that’s so rapturous,” Boghal says. “When it comes to the table people often go, ‘Is it chicken breasts?’ Nothing gives me more joy than to see people using pooris to scrape off the flesh from the mango and pick up the stone and gnaw on it.

“I think if you don’t have a problem picking up a lamb bone and gnawing it, why not a mango stone?”


Comfort & Joy: Irresistible Pleasures From A Vegetarian Kitchen by Ravinder Bhogal is published by Bloomsbury, priced £26. Photography by Kristin Perers. Available now.