Culinary doyenne Dorah Sitole celebrates '40 Years of Iconic Food'

18 October 2020 - 00:03
By Hilary Biller
Dorah Sitole has inspired generations of cooks with her brilliant recipes.
Image: Roelene Prinsloo Dorah Sitole has inspired generations of cooks with her brilliant recipes.

Dorah Sitole, SA’s first black food writer and a celebrated food personality, shares her journey in her new cookbook, 40 Years of Iconic Food (NB Publishers, R380).

More than a recipe compilation, it’s a unique and inspiring story reflected through the food she loves to cook and share — and at 67 she’s not giving up any time soon.

Here, Sitole tells us more about her roots, her passion for food, and the recipes in her new book:

I was born on 24 September 1953 in Soweto. And perhaps this date foretold that I would go on to build a career committed to celebrating and sharing African cuisine. But the first few years of my life gave no indication of what was to come. In fact, food was limited and for function, rather than pleasure.

Dorah Sitole's new cookbook, '40 Years of Iconic Food' (NB Publishers), R380.
Image: Roelene Prinsloo Dorah Sitole's new cookbook, '40 Years of Iconic Food' (NB Publishers), R380.

I grew up eating spinach cooked on its own with a little butter or margarine and seasoning, or spinach mashed together with potatoes. The potato and spinach curry in 40 Years of Iconic Food is a twist on this old favourite. (See recipe below.)

Growing up in apartheid South Africa, most people I knew had jobs such as teachers, nurses, policemen, clerks or domestic workers. Many of these jobs did not accurately reflect the person's interests or abilities, but were rather a practical choice, just to be employed. I, on the other hand, was having the surreal experience of following my passion. The more I learnt about food, the more I wanted to learn.

I travelled to 19 countries across our incredible continent, and to all the provinces within South Africa, in order to capture the essence of our indigenous food. The result was Cooking from Cape to Cairo, published by Tafelberg Publishers in 1999.

The recipes in the My Notebook chapter of 40 Years of Iconic Food remind me of the days when I enthusiastically experimented with the cut-and-paste recipes in my notebook, and also the years when I pushed boundaries and successfully cooked meals that were out of my comfort zone.

Potato and spinach curry.
Image: Roelene Prinsloo Potato and spinach curry.



Serves: 6

65ml (¼ cup) peanut oil

10ml (2 tsp) cumin seeds

10ml (2 tsp) mustard seeds

10ml (2 tsp) seeded and crushed red chillies

12 fresh curry leaves

5ml (1 tsp) ground turmeric

10ml (2 tsp) masala

500g baby potatoes, halved

Salt to taste

125ml (½ cup) water

1 bunch fresh spinach, chopped

3ml (½ tsp) chilli powder

3ml (½ tsp) ground cumin


  1. Heat half the peanut oil in a frying pan. Fry the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and chillies until the seeds begin to splutter, 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add the curry leaves, turmeric and masala, and fry for another 30 seconds.
  3. Stir the potatoes into the mixture to coat; cook until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Season with salt.
  4. Sprinkle the water over the potatoes and cover the pan with a lid. Cook until the potatoes are cooked but still firm, about 10 minutes.
  5. Heat the remaining peanut oil in a separate frying pan. Cook the spinach in the hot oil until wilted and sprinkle with salt. Continue cooking until all the excess moisture evaporates, 2-3 minutes.
  6. Stir into the potato mixture. Season with chilli powder and cumin and stir.
  7. Cook until the spices are well combined, 5-10 minutes. Serve hot.
Sticky pork ribs.
Image: Roelene Prinsloo Sticky pork ribs.


Says Sitole: "My late Aunt Joana worked for the local Eskort pork factory; she would bring home all sorts of processed meats and our favourite was the smoked pork ribs, which were to die for, grilled in the oven and served with pap and atchar!"

Serves: 4


2kg pork ribs, cut into large pieces


125ml (½ cup) tomato sauce

10ml (2 tsp) chilli flakes

10ml (2 tsp) crushed garlic

10ml (2 tsp) Worcestershire sauce

15ml (1 tbsp) golden brown sugar

30ml (2 tbsp) balsamic vinegar

30ml (2 tbsp) wholegrain mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  1. Place the ribs in a large dish.
  2. Mix together the marinade ingredients and pour over the ribs. Allow to stand for at least 60 minutes or overnight in the fridge.
  3. Roast the ribs in a hot oven or braai them on an open fire until cooked through.
  4. Serve with potato wedges, roast potatoes or hand-cut chips or pap and mango atchar.
Aunt Mamisi's coleslaw.
Image: Roelene Prinsloo Aunt Mamisi's coleslaw.


"When I married into the Sitole family, I became quite close to my husband's Aunt Mamisi, says Sitole.

"She was an exceptional cook, and I used to cook with her. I particularly loved her coleslaw that we would make in bulk for family events. I was fascinated that she added lettuce and cheese to it! I now add red cabbage for a modern twist."

Serves: 6


250ml (1 cup) finely shredded white cabbage

250ml (1 cup) finely shredded red cabbage

250ml (1 cup) finely shredded lettuce

500ml (2 cups) grated carrots

125ml (½ cup) finely chopped spring onion

125ml (½ cup) walnuts, roughly chopped

65ml (¼ cup) grated cheddar cheese

500ml (2 cups) mayonnaise

Salt and lemon pepper spice to taste


  1. In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together and toss gently using two spoons.
  2. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.
  3. Transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with extra chopped walnuts and micro herbs. 
Seafood samp.
Image: Roelene Prinsloo Seafood samp.


"Samp is a staple of the Xhosa people but it has become popular throughout the country," says Sitole.

"I 'borrowed' this recipe from a Zulu chef at Phinda Forest Lodge on the KwaZulu-Natal upper North Coast, Chef Sipho Mataba. As I make the dish quite often for different occasions, the recipe has undergone a few transformations but the essence still remains."

Serves: 4-6


100g (2 cups) samp

1 litre (4 cups) water

50g butter

1 onion, chopped

150g button mushrooms, sliced

1 green pepper, seeded and diced

45ml (3 tbsp) oil

12 medium prawns, cleaned and peeled

150g calamari rings

250g hake steaks

250ml (1 cup) white wine

5ml (1 tsp) salt

5ml (1 tsp) ground cumin

5ml (1 tsp) ground coriander

10ml (2 tsp) lemon and pepper spice

12 mussels

250ml (1 cup) chicken stock

12 cherry tomatoes

Fresh coriander leaves


  1. Cook the samp in salted water until soft, about 2 hours. Rinse and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter and saute the onion, mushrooms and green pepper until soft
  3. In a large frying pan, heat the oil and fry the prawns for 2 minutes, then add the calamari rings and fry for another 2 minutes.
  4. Cut the fish steaks into large chunks, and add to the prawn and calamari mixture. Fry until lightly browned.
  5. Add half the wine (½ cup) and heat through.
  6. Season with salt, cumin, coriander and lemon and pepper spice.
  7. Cook the mussels in the stock and a little wine, if desired, until they open. Drain and set aside.
  8. Add the onion-mushroom mixture to the fish, add the remaining wine, samp and cherry tomatoes, and toss lightly to mix. Cook over a gentle heat for 10 minutes.
  9. Transfer into a serving dish and top with the mussels. Garnish with fresh coriander.
Mielie bread.
Image: Roelene Prinsloo Mielie bread.


Makes: 1 loaf


125g butter or margarine

75g (⅓ cup) sugar

3 extra-large eggs

240g (2 cups) self-raising flour

3ml (½ teaspoon) salt

80g (⅓ cup) super maize meal

1 x 410g can whole kernel corn, drained

15ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh herbs, optional

125ml (½ cup) milk


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a 23cm loaf tin or a 20cm round cake tin*.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until light and fluffy.
  3. Sift the self-raising flour and salt, and add to the creamed mixture.
  4. Add the maize meal, corn, herbs and milk, and mix well.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the loaf or cake tin and bake in the oven for 55 minutes. 
  6. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

*Instead of a loaf or cake tin, you can use food cans (like in the picture). You will need 4 x 410g cans; wash and rinse them, grease well before spooning the batter into the cans. Place on a baking tray and bake for 30 minutes.