Vegan Cooking 101: Chef Sabali Mpozi Shows How It's Done

Chef Sabali Mpozi making Mujaddara.

Sabali Mpozi is one of Houston's growing number of vegan gatekeepers. She makes it easy for anyone to adopt a plant-based diet with her series of basic, advanced and master vegan cooking classes and demonstrations.

As the chef scooped avocados, chopped carrots and sautéed them in sunflower oil at her Vegan Cooking 101 class Wednesday evening, she demonstrated a healthy and delicious alternative diet to residents of the Bayou City, a city that prides itself on burgers and beer -- and not necessarily in that order.

Set in Pat Greer's Vegan Kitchen, a cozy upstairs enclave on a tiny street in Fourth Ward, Mpozi's starter course on veganism quickly turned into a sustained group conversation about why going vegan is so important. For beginners, Mpozi suggested a 90-day juice detox of either all veggies or all fruits taken three times a day, like medicine. After health is restored, she said, search ethnic shops, as well as larger chains like Whole Foods, for staples such as kale, brown rice and avocado. Foods to avoid? Processed foods or anything too gluten-heavy, all of which, noted Mpozi, "gum up our GI tract."

"Canola [oil] is not edible," she said. Instead, Mpozi prefers olive, sunflower, safflower or coconut oils over genetically modified canola. "That's like saying organic rocks are edible."

"I needed some fried chicken," she recalled about the poultry-laden growing pains that inspired her fried seitan dish during her three-month transition into veganism.

After the discussion, which included her romantic amble into the world of veganism -- her boyfriend at the time was a vegan, and she followed suit -- Mpozi demonstrated how to cook three dishes: Mujaddara, a lentil and brown rice combo that makes for "good leftovers," the aforementioned fried seitan, her version of fried chicken which she called "chicken-less strips," and salad wraps, which she nostalgically referred to as "the first vegan meal that I ever had." The salad wrap, with its rich avocado, crisp collard leaves and gooey vegan mayonnaise, was the best, tasting as if it had just been picked fresh from the Garden of Eden.

Mpozi, a Harlem-raised, aviation psychology-educated Texas State Veggie Fair award winner, is equal parts vegan acolyte, chef, caterer, teacher and businesswoman. She owns Vegan Comfort, a casual vegan catering service, and Original Healing Earth, L.L.C., a company that educates about the vegan diet through cooking classes to plant newbies, in both group and individual numbers. Her philosophy is simple.

"Food is medicine," she said. "You make a choice three to five times a day whether you want to live or die."

Vegan Cooking 101 was just the beginning course. Mpozi will be teaching advanced vegan classes throughout the month. On April 21, she will teach Raw Food Basics II: Juicing, Dehydrating, and Sprouting. On April 28, she will teach Raw Food Specialty Workshop: Raw Dairy. For information, visit myvegancomfort.com.

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