Dorah's Dinners: Malawi's Treasure
This week Dorah Sitole cooks freshwater fish on the banks of a great lake
"The warm heart of Africa" - this slogan is a true reflection of Malawi. The people are kind, gentle and hospitable. I spent three days in the bustling city of Blantyre, some of it in the busy market stocked with vibrant fabrics, fresh veggies and fruits, livestock, furniture, arts and crafts.
The real lure is Lake Malawi. On our drive from Blantyre we passed street vendors selling several types of fish and stopped at Malawi's largest fish market, where the smell of fish, particularly kapenta, hung heavily in the air. Chef John Mafemula was executive chef at the Nkopolo Lodge, perched on the banks of the lake. For obvious reasons fish featured prominently on his menu.
Mafemula lit a fire on the soft sand of the lake's shore and invited me to cook with him. We roasted, grilled, and stewed chambo caught from the lake for our dinner. Finally, with the stars glimmering on the gentle ripples of the vast lake, I and my travelling companions - journalist Amanda Ngudle and my son Sibusiso - relaxed and enjoyed a fish feast of note.
Apparently Malawians eat twice as much fish as meat. The most common varieties at the markets are chambo (the collective name for six species of tilapia), kampengo, kapenta and usipa (a small sardine-like fish, often eaten dried). The food of Malawi is not far removed from the rest of Southern Africa. Nsima (porridge), nsijiro (ground-nut flour), masamba (wild leaves), vegetables like pumpkin, okra, sweet potatoes, red-skinned potatoes and red onions grow in abundance. Chinangwa, a potato-like vegetable, is simply boiled in salt water, sliced and served with tea. But it is the fish that sets Malawian cuisine apart.
30ml (2 tbsp) oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
5ml (1 tsp) curry powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper,to taste
1 whole chambo (about 500g), scaled, gutted and cut into portions
Heat oil in a large saucepan and fry onions and garlic until transparent. Add tomatoes, curry powder, salt and pepper. Simmer until thickened. Add the chambo pieces, reduce heat, cover with a lid and simmer for about 30 minutes or until fish is cooked through, adding water if the stew becomes dry.
1 bunch masamba (use spinach or kale), rinsed and finely chopped
250ml (1 cup) cooked macaroni
2 large eggs
60g (1 cup) fresh breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste
2.5ml (½ tsp) sugar
60g (½ cup) cake flour
Oil, for frying
Place spinach in a saucepan and cook until wilted. In a bowl mix together spinach, macaroni, 1 egg, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and sugar. Form this mixture into flat cakes, dip into remaining egg and coat with flour. Heat oil and fry cakes on both sides until cooked through. Serve with a savoury sauce such as tomato and onion relish.