By The Reading List
If you need a reason to celebrate (and getting vaccinated ain’t it) gather your family together this Africa Day, 25 May, and do some mild carousing with these heritage dishes from Liziwe Matloha’s new recipe book, Dinner at Matloha’s.
Matloha is a respected chef and recipe developer; she values authenticity and loves finding new ways to showcase ingredients that reflect her culinary heritage and share her passion for food that is easy to prepare and appeals to the whole family.
Today, we’re highlighting her recipes for Umleqwa and Umngqusho – roast “road runner” chicken and samp and beans, cooked the Xhosa way – as well as something for more adventurous taste buds: Masonja, or mopane worms, prepared in the Sepedi tradition.
“Umleqwa” is isiXhosa for “road runner” chicken – a free-range bird that has spent its life foraging in gardens, fields and streets.
Home-reared “hardbody” chickens are different to supermarket birds – they are bigger and tougher, with strong bones, so they need a long cooking time, but the end result will be tender meat and a tasty gravy.
Why “road runner”? Well, that comes from the action that takes place when you try to catch it! “Leqwa” means to chase, and believe me, these birds know when it is time to run!
- 2.2–2.5 kg chicken pieces (see Cook’s note)
- 2 large onions, sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 Tbsp mild curry powder
- 1 beef stock cube
- or 1 Tbsp beef stock powder
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 3 large potatoes, peeled, washed and cut into chunks
- Place all the ingredients except the potatoes in a large pot. Add enough warm water to cover the chicken. Put the lid on the pot and cook on medium heat for 2 hours. (Turn the chicken every now and then, and top up the pot with boiling water if necessary.)
- Add the potatoes and cook, covered, for a further 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork-tender and the gravy is rich and thick. (If the gravy is too thin, remove the lid from the pot and cook for another 10–15 minutes, or until sufficiently reduced.)
- Serve umleqwa with umngqusho (see below), steamed bread or ipapa (stiff maize meal).
- If you portion a whole chicken, put it all into the pot, including the backbone. If you buy chicken pieces, you may need to add extra thighs or drumsticks to make up the weight.
- It may seem odd to use beef stock in a chicken dish, but it adds a surprising depth of flavour. Chicken stock is fine, if you prefer it.
Samp and beans is an African staple, with different versions found throughout southern Africa.
Both dried samp and dried beans need to be soaked before cooking, so this is not a dish you can hurry.
- 2 cups (2 × 250 ml) dried samp
- 1 cup (250 ml) dried sugar beans
- 2 Tbsp chicken stock powder
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 3 cups (3 × 250 ml) warm water
- 5 Tbsp (75 g) butter, cut into cubes
- Place the samp and sugar beans in a large bowl. Cover with warm water and leave to soak overnight, or for at least 4 hours. Drain the samp and beans and rinse briefly. Place in a large pot and cover with 3–4 cups water. Place over low heat and simmer for about 40 minutes, until just tender.
- Drain the cooked samp and beans and return to the pot along with the chicken stock powder, bay leaves and salt and pepper to taste. Add 3 cups (750 ml) warm water.
- Cook over low to medium heat for 45–50 minutes, until the samp and beans are soft and tender (add extra warm water if necessary).
- Stir the butter into the warm umngqusho before serving.
In the wild, mopane worms occur in the savanna woodland of the northeastern parts of South Africa.
Dried mopane worms, called masonja, can be found in shops and markets around the country, both prepacked and sold loose (one enamel mugful weighs ±100 g). They are highly nutritious and are a major source of protein in many rural households.
My Sepedi in-laws introduced me to this way of preparing masonja, and we always have it when we go back home to Limpopo.
Serves 4–6 as a side dish
- 250 g masonja (dried mopane worms)
- 3 Tbsp oil (canola, sunflower or olive)
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 1 green chilli, thinly sliced
- 2 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
- 1 chicken stock cube or 1 Tbsp chicken stock powder
- 1 tsp salt, or to taste
- Place the masonja in a bowl with 3 cups (750 ml) boiling water and leave to soak for 30 minutes (see Cook’s note).
- Heat the oil in a pan. Add the onion and cook until soft and golden.
- Add the sliced chilli and cook for 1 minute more.
- Drain the masonja and rinse until the water runs clear. Add them to the pot, along with the tomatoes, stock cube and ½ cup (125 ml) of water. Season to taste. Stir gently and cook for 20 minutes, until the mopane worms have absorbed all the flavours. They should be tender and juicy, and the sauce should be slightly thick.
- Serve with soft pap (boswa in Sepedi).
Soaking the dried mopane worms in boiling water speeds up the rehydration process. By the end of the soaking time, they will have softened, and any dust should wash out into the water.