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For this TikTok star, cooking from the spirit is much more than a recipe

Tabitha Brown says her spicy Caribbean-style jackfruit tacos are one of her favorite go-to meals.
Matt Armendariz
Tabitha Brown says her spicy Caribbean-style jackfruit tacos are one of her favorite go-to meals.

Updated October 25, 2022 at 5:04 AM ET

Tabitha Brown has had a whirlwind few years. The TikTok star-turned-entrepreneur has spent the last couple of years gaining fame for her cooking videos.

Since then, the fame hasn't stopped — and she's been building on it.

Brown has parlayed her nearly 5 million TikTok followers and successful YouTube channel into a Food Network show, a line of spices and a partnership with Target.

She says the secret to her success was letting people know the real Tabitha Brown, not what she thought people wanted.

"I stopped apologizing for who I was. I just told the truth, and I think that's what people gravitated towards and still do."

It's that ethos of trusting yourself that serves as the inspiration for Brown's latest project, Cooking from the Spirit: Easy, Delicious and Joyful Plant-Based Inspirations.

The title is a nod to a lesson her grandmother taught her when she was first learning to cook.

"When I learned to cook, I was in my early 20s, and my granny and my mom and my aunt would have to tell me over the phone how to do certain things because I didn't know how to cook," says Brown. "They would just say, 'Look, just put enough in there to where you feel like it's all right, because that's your spirit.' You've got to trust your spirit."

That's why Brown chose not to include too many measurements in the book. She wants people to learn what works for them and go with their gut.

She says this framing is about more than just cooking.

"I always tell people, if you need a recipe with measurements every single time you cook, you don't trust yourself," she says. "So this book is to help you learn to trust yourself more in the kitchen so that you can also trust yourself more in your life."

For easy-t0-make, veggie-forward recipes, Brown's first choices are tacos and avocado toasts. And when she's in the mood for something heavier, she makes her vegan meatloaf, which she says is among her favorite recipes.

Here are a few selections from Cooking from the Spirit:


Spicy Caribbean-Style Jackfruit Tacos

Ingredients:

  • Two 20-ounce cans young green jackfruit packed in brine or water, drained
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Salt-free Caribbean seasoning (I like my Sunshine All-Purpose Seasoning from McCormick)
  • Salt-free garlic and herb seasoning (I like McCormick)
  • For serving:

  • Soft or hard taco shells (or use butter lettuce leaves to make wraps if you're watching the carbs)
  • Guacamole (see below)
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Diced tomato
  • Diced onion
  • Minced fresh jalapeño (optional)
  • Salsa or your favorite taco sauce
  • Instructions:

  • Further drain the liquid out of the jackfruit by squeezing each piece in your hand.
  • Heat a bit of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the jackfruit and the Caribbean and garlic and herb seasonings and sauté until the jackfruit starts to brown and some pieces get a little crispy in texture, 12 to 15 minutes. As the jackfruit cooks and softens, use a spoon or spatula to shred and break it up until it resembles shredded pork or chicken. Turn the heat down if it begins to burn.
  • Use whichever shell you prefer and load it up with that jack, guacamole, cilantro, tomato, onion, jalapeño (if you want extra spice), and salsa! Say a good lil prayer and honey, go to work!!!
  • The moma's meatloaf recipe from <em>Cooking from the Spirit</em> is one of Tabitha Brown's favorites. "I really love my mama's meatloaf because it just takes me back to a time when I used to watch my mama cook in the kitchen."
    / Matt Armendariz
    /
    Matt Armendariz
    The moma's meatloaf recipe from Cooking from the Spirit is one of Tabitha Brown's favorites. "I really love my mama's meatloaf because it just takes me back to a time when I used to watch my mama cook in the kitchen."

    Mama's Meatloaf

    Ingredients:

  • Two 1-pound packs vegan ground meat substitute, such as Beyond, Impossible, or Lightlife (you can use just one pack if you don't want leftovers)
  • Chopped sweet onion
  • Chopped red bell pepper
  • Chopped green bell pepper
  • Salt-free multi-spice seasoning
  • Garlic powder
  • Bread crumbs
  • About 2 teaspoons ground flaxseed
  • Coconut aminos, liquid aminos, or soy sauce
  • Yellow mustard
  • Brown sugar
  • For the topping (I do it all from the spirit, but let's say about:

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup (optional)
  • Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Put your ground meat substitute in a large bowl. Add some onion and bell peppers.
  • Sprinkle on some multi-spice seasoning and garlic powder and add a handful of bread crumbs, the ground flaxseed, and 2 to 3 tablespoons water.
  • Drizzle in some coconut aminos, squeeze the mustard on, and add a handful of brown sugar.
  • Use a spoon or your hands to mix all the ingredients together. Evenly pat the mixture into a deep 9- or 10-inch square baking pan.
  • Make the topping: In a small bowl, mix the topping ingredients until well combined. Pour the topping over the loaf and smooth out the top.
  • Bake for 1 hour, until the meatloaf is firm and the edges are slightly browned. Let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then cut into squares and serve.
  • This sweet potato avocado toast recipe is ideal for a mid-day snack. "If you need to be filled, but you want something delicious and quick, avocado toast is your friend. It will get you through until lunchtime," Tabitha Brown says. She suggests loading it up with your favorite toppings.
    / Matt Armendariz
    /
    Matt Armendariz
    This sweet potato avocado toast recipe is ideal for a mid-day snack. "If you need to be filled, but you want something delicious and quick, avocado toast is your friend. It will get you through until lunchtime," Tabitha Brown says. She suggests loading it up with your favorite toppings.

    Sweet Potato Avocado Toast

    Ingredients:

  • Sweet potato, scrubbed
  • Sliced avocado
  • Sliced tomato
  • Pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • Everything bagel seasoning* (I like McCormick)
  • Kelly's Lemon Pepper Parm or other seasoning
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Pico de Gallo (see below), for serving, if you'd like
  • *Remember — when using any seasoning that contains salt, don't be heavy-handed!
  • Instructions:

  • You can use a toaster oven or regular oven for these. If you're going to use the regular oven, preheat it to 350°F.
  • Fill a pot that's just big enough to hold your sweet potato(es) with enough water to cover the sweet potato by about an inch. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat.
  • Add the sweet potato and boil for about 5 minutes so it softens just a little bit. Remove the pot from the heat and let the sweet potato sit in the water for another 5 minutes or so — you want it a little soft, but not too soft.
  • Take the sweet potato out of the water and cut it lengthwise into slices that resemble a slice of bread.
  • Set a toaster oven to 350°F and toast the slices for about 6 minutes. (If you're using the oven, put the slices on a sheet pan and toast them in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.) Poke one side of the slices all over with a fork to make sure they're cooked enough and to let some of whatever you're putting on top spread on down into the sweet potato. If the slices are not soft enough, toast or bake again for a few minutes until they are.
  • Place some avocado slices on top of each sweet potato slice, smooshing them down with a fork a little if you want to. Add some tomato slices, pumpkin seeds, everything bagel seasoning, lemon pepper parm, and a sprinkle of lime juice. And of course you can always top it with a little pico de gallo or something like that, if you'd like. Eat with a fork or right out of your hand. Yes, Lord.

  • Recipes are from Cooking from the Spirit by Tabitha Brown. Copyright © 2022 by Tabitha Brown. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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