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Sister act

4 October 2022
rosa and margo veges (c) susannah blatchford
Rosa and Margo. Photo: Susannah Blatchford

Christchurch sisters Margo and Rosa Flanagan’s passion for plant-based food sees them releasing their latest cookbook this month with the biggest print run of any New Zealand book its publishers Allen & Unwin have done to date. Words Juliet Speedy

Margo Flanagan has finally nailed the perfect salted caramel sauce. It’s healthier than a traditional caramel sauce but tastes just as good as the sugary, buttery combination many of us cook with. And she’s thrilled.

“I really wanted to make a healthy caramel sauce but without millions of cashews and dates, like all those raw desserts,” she laughs. “And my new best friend is corn starch, I’ve made a really, really, really yummy caramel sauce with it. It looks exactly like a beautiful dulce de leche.”

In fact, it’s the recipe she’s most proud of in the Two Raw Sisters’ fourth cookbook. Yet another labour of culinary love from the clever pair who, despite being just 24 (Margo) and 26 years old, now have four cookbooks to their names.

They’ve put their new literar y baby out all while running their stunning test kitchen in which they cook and run workshops, and their popular subscription app with recipes and meal plans that they’re about to put on the iOS platform.

Rosa, the savoury cook of the pair, says her favourite recipe is the tomato pappardelle with a herb oil. “It’s a really nice dish to feed a crowd, or even as a weeknight meal, you literally put everything in the bowl and put it all together, it’s delish.”

Their latest book, Simple Fancy, is an evolution of the pair’s career in food. They have been cooking plant-based, healthy recipes since before it became a global trend but say they’ve really found their feet with a more accessible, pantry-friendly and easy approach to their recipes.

They’re not into fad diets, or cutting food groups out entirely but they’re always “trying to be more aware of increasing their plant intake.” They say looking back at their first cookbook that it was very niche, the last two are more mainstream.

“We use familiar ingredients that are cheap but we just try and make them taste really good,” Margo says.

Unlike their last book, Salad, Simple Fancy has a half and half mix of savoury and sweet recipes and can be used to plan an entire dinner party or dinner for one.

“That’s our definition of entertaining,” says Margo, “whether you’re entertaining for a crowd or cooking for one, because you can entertain for yourself”.

It’s all about not overcomplicating the spread. They wanted the food to be a quick cook while looking a little bit fancy on the table.

“It was kind of taking that concept of a simple recipe that’s fancy; with a lot of our recipes they’re simple techniques using simple ingredients but made in a ‘fancy’ way,” says Margo.

Rosa agrees saying the dishes can all look a bit posh on the plate. “Like someone will come up to you and say, ‘Oh looks like you’ve been spending all day in the kitchen,’ whereas actually it took you 20 minutes to whip all the food up.”

The Flanagans are pleased with the savoury/sweet combo of Simple Fancy. “Everyone loves the sweets,” says Margo. “That was the one thing from Salad, people said they wanted more sweet things, so we took that into consideration.”

The book has recipes such as smoky tomato, caramelised onion and eggplant flatbread and then you can follow that up with a dark chocolate and tahini parfait. All the recipes are complemented with their signature beautiful pictures.

Rosa and Margo actually changed the location for the photos five times before deciding on a beachy, sunny spot near Nelson.

“We actually changed our location a week before, we were going to do it in Wānaka,” Rosa laughs.

They wanted to make all their books look a little different. “If you visually look at All Eaters Welcome and Salad, they’re quite similar in terms of very green, and we wanted to make this look like something we’d never done before,” says Margo.

“Relatable scenes that people envisage themselves in, it all comes into the ‘simple but fancy’ vibe, a laid-back bach with a shitty kitchen, but you can create some amazing food in that.”

Neither of the sisters are vegetarian and in fact Rosa says she’ll have meat or seafood most nights. Margo doesn’t. But ‘start with plants’ is their adopted approach to cooking. It’s helped them both overcome various health issues (chronic fatigue, endometriosis, eating disorders) and they love to help people create a more sustainable lifestyle that makes them feel physically and mentally better.

“All our recipes are plant-based and that’s moving away from the notion of when you think of dinner, you think of the meat component first, and the veggies as the last minute boring side,” says Rosa. What they aim to do is make the vegetables the fun centrepiece of the dish.

The sisters have very different skill sets, which is why they complement each other so well in life and work. When it comes to creating cookbooks, Margo says Rosa normally comes up with the concept of the book and then she creates the look and feel of it. “It works really well for us and we’ve been doing it a while now.”

They are best friends, business partners and sisters but unlike earlier years now have more of an independent life outside of work – spending time with their partners and different friend groups. “When we leave work, we leave work at work, and we respect our different lives.”

But it’s obvious to see how close they are and how well they operate as a duo.

It’s hard not to discuss the exorbitant cost of fruit and vegetables right now but the sisters say the answer is to shop smarter. Avoid the supermarket and go to your local grocer (Rosa: “We’re spoiled for them in Christchurch!”), and only buy in season. It’s also easy to sub out ingredients in their recipes for the ones that are cheaper at the time. They are also trying to encourage people to grow their own veggies.

“Whether you have a large space, or a small space, it’s really easy to do,” Rosa enthuses.

The clever, entrepreneurial sisters say they have to remind themselves of all they’ve achieved and all they have to be proud of.

“We can be very hard on ourselves, though one thing we are always conscious of is celebrating and being proud of what we’ve done,” Rosa says.

“It’s the little things like when someone emails you after you put a book out and says, your book has changed my life.” Margo agrees. “We’re just so focused on the big picture goal of making a change in everyone’s lives and getting more people incorporating more plants, so this is just a cog to the business but we love it because it’s a creative outlet.”

The Flanagans have done a cookbook every year for the past four years and last year’s Salad was the highest-selling New Zealand cookbook of 2021, so Rosa says they’re feeling the pressure more than usual. “We’re just like, ah, is it going to go as well?!”

They’re going to take next year off writing with a focus on their app and travel abroad.

The hope is also to further expand into Australia. They realised during a recent trip across the ditch how ahead of the plant-based game New Zealand is.

“Sydney was quite behind, we thought. The plant-based options available were less and there were less plant-based cookbooks,” says Rosa.

It’s easy to think they’ll have success in their mission. The Two Raw Sisters appear to fire at everything they put their hands to.

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