Stirring SA's melting pot: Six recipes bursting with local flavour

Local cooks and chefs share recipes for dishes that celebrate Mzansi's rich food traditions

19 September 2021 - 00:02
By Sbu Mkwanazi
Lufuno Sinthumule's crispy sweet potato wrapped mopane worms with avocado dip.
Image: Sasha Campbell Lufuno Sinthumule's crispy sweet potato wrapped mopane worms with avocado dip.


“My favourite traditional dish is mopane worms,” says chef and baker Lufuno Sinthumule.

“There are so many ways to prepare and enjoy them that it would be silly of me not to choose this Venda staple. They're three times higher in protein than beef.”

Makes: 8 snacks


24 mopane worms 

Smoked paprika

Salt and pepper

1 medium sweet potato, sliced lengthwise with a peeler

Olive oil

Avocado dip: 

1 ripe medium avocado

30ml (2 tbsp) lemon juice

125g cream cheese 


  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  2. Soak the mopane worms in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain, then rinse under cold water.
  3. Place the worms in a bowl with the paprika, salt and pepper.
  4. Wrap each thin slice of sweet potato around 3 mopane worms and secure with a toothpick. Repeat the process until all the worms have been wrapped.
  5. Sprinkle each potato wrap with a little paprika and drizzle with olive oil.
  6. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, turning halfway, or until the sweet potato is crisp and golden brown.
  7. For the dip: Peel and mash the avocado with the lemon juice, then mix in the cream cheese. Serve with the mopane worm wraps.


“I cook from a place of nostalgia inspired by the Zulu dishes I grew up eating, but I add a modern twist to the recipes,” says celebrity chef and cookbook author Zola Nene.

Zola Nene’s lamb chops with isigwamba and chakalaka.
Image: Matanna Katz Zola Nene’s lamb chops with isigwamba and chakalaka.

Serves: 4


250ml (1 cup) maize meal

750ml (3 cups) water

15ml (1 tbsp) oil

500ml (2 cups) chopped spinach

2.5ml (½ tsp) salt


30ml (2 tbsp) oil

1 onion, diced

½ red pepper, diced

½ yellow pepper, diced

½ green pepper, diced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

15ml (1 tbsp) grated fresh ginger

15ml (1 tbsp) curry powder

2 carrots, grated

1 x 400g can baked beans

125ml (½ cup) water

Salt and pepper


8 lamb loin chops

30ml (2 tbsp) olive oil 

15ml (1 tbsp) fresh rosemary

15ml (1 tbsp) dried oregano

1 lemon, zested and juice of half

Salt and pepper 


  1. For the Isigwamba: Mix the maize meal with the water. Heat the oil in a pot, then add the spinach and cook until wilted. Add the salt and maize meal mixture, then stir over low heat until thickened. Cover and allow to cook gently for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. For the chakalaka: Heat the oil, then sauté the onion, peppers, garlic and ginger until soft. Add curry powder then sauté for a minute. Add the carrots and baked beans, stir together then add the water. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. For the chops: Toss the chops, olive oil, rosemary, oregano, lemon zest, juice, salt and pepper together. Cook the chops in a hot pan or griddle pan until browned on both sides.
  4. Serve the chops with the isigwamba and the chakalaka.


“According to our history, Africans weren't historically big meat eaters”  says Mokgadi Itsweng, a private chef specialising in plant-based meals and the author of the cookbook, Veggielicious.

“My favourite traditional dish is dikgobe, a combination of sorghum and cowpeas. This is the traditional way that sorghum and beans were eaten. Over the years, the sorghum was replaced by corn to create the now traditional samp and beans that we enjoy as a staple in our diet.”

Mokgadi Itsweng's dikgobe (sorghum grain and cowpeas).
Image: Roelene Prinsloo/Veggielicious Mokgadi Itsweng's dikgobe (sorghum grain and cowpeas).

Serves: 4-6


15ml (1 tbsp) oil

1 onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

Handful of fresh thyme

500ml (2 cups) sorghum grain, soaked in water

1 litre (4 cups) vegetable stock

250ml (1 cup) cowpeas, soaked

Seasoning herb salt to taste

15ml (1 tbsp) butter, optional


  1. Heat the oil in a deep saucepan, then fry the onion, garlic and thyme together until the onion is soft.
  2. Drain the sorghum from the water used to soak it, then stir-fry into the onion mixture. Cook for 3 minutes, then add the vegetable stock and close the lid. Cook, covered, for 30 minutes.
  3. Drain the cowpeas and stir into the sorghum mixture. Add 1 cup (250ml) hot water. Cook, covered, on medium heat for a further hour until the cowpeas are soft.
  4. Season with salt. Add the butter and cook for another 10 minutes on low heat. Serve warm.


“My favourite traditional dish is samp and beans — a typical recipe in Indian homes,” says chef Verushka Ramasami. “People with different heritages cook it but the Indian twist is in the spices. It's a real 'rainbow nation' dish.”

Verushka Ramasami’s samp and beans, Durban style
Image: Salma Patel Verushka Ramasami’s samp and beans, Durban style

Serves: 6


500g samp 

250g sugar beans

2.5ml (½ tsp) turmeric 

2 cinnamon sticks

7ml (1 heaped tsp) ghee or oil 

5ml (1 tsp) cumin seeds

2 dried red chillies

7ml (1 heaped tsp) chopped ginger and garlic

1 bay leaf

1 medium onion, finely sliced 

1 curry leaf

30ml (2 tbsp) Kashmiri masala

7ml (1 heaped tsp) chopped ginger and garlic

1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes

5ml (1 tsp) sugar

5ml (1 tsp) salt

Fresh coriander, chopped


  1. Wash the samp and beans, combine and soak for at least an hour.
  2. Drain the samp and beans, transfer to a large pot and cover with boiling water. Add the turmeric and 1 cinnamon stick and bring to the boil. Keep topping up with boiling water as required and allow to cook for 45 minutes until both the samp and the beans are soft. If not, add more boiling water and cook until soft.
  3. Preheat a large pot and melt the ghee before adding the cumin, chillies, remaining cinnamon stick, ginger and garlic and the bay leaf. Cook for 1—2 minutes.
  4. Add the onions and curry to the pot with the rest of the aromatics. Allow the onions to brown before adding the masala. Mix well and add the chopped tomatoes and sugar.
  5. Fill the empty tomato can with water and add to the pot with the salt. Allow to cook for 6-8 minutes.
  6. Add the boiled samp and beans to the mixture. Mix well and bring to a boil.
  7. Garnish with chopped coriander before serving.


“I'm a no-nonsense cook. Too many people concentrate on pretty plates and other fancy things. I'm Afrikaans - I love feeding people huge portions of simple, delicious food,” says Anel Potgieter, food editor for Rapport.

Anel Potgieter's curried tripe and trotters.
Image: Supplied Anel Potgieter's curried tripe and trotters.

Serves: 4


1kg sheep tripe and trotters, cut the tripe into blocks

1 bay leaf

1 lemon

5 black peppercorns

7.5ml (1 ½ tsp) salt

2.5ml (½ tsp) coriander seeds, finely ground

500ml (2 cups) water

15ml (3 tsp) curry powder, medium or hot

20ml (4 tsp) white vinegar

3 large potatoes, peeled and quartered


  1. Place the tripe and trotters, bay leaf, lemon and peppercorns in a pressure cooker. Mix all the other ingredients, except the potatoes, together and add to the offal.
  2. Pressure cook for 45 minutes.
  3. Add the potatoes and cook under pressure for another 15 minutes.
  4. Taste for salt, adding more if needed. Serve with rice or pap or a thick slice of bread.


“I believe there's no such thing as Cape Malay food — it's African food infused with dishes from other cultures,” says Cass Abrahams, retired chef, food historian and the author of two saluted books on the subject.

“As time went by, nations that settled in the Cape took African food and added their own touches. The Indian influence in Cape Malay cooking is evident in this vegetarian dish.”

Cass Abrahams' dhall curry.
Image: New Frame/Barry Christianson Cass Abrahams' dhall curry.

Serves:  6


375ml (1 ½ cups) brown lentils or a mixture of lentils

2 large onions, chopped

2 sticks cassia

2 cardamom pods

60ml (¼ cup) vegetable oil

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 green chilli, finely chopped

10ml (2 tsp) crushed garlic

15ml (1 tbsp) masala

5ml (1 tsp) ground cumin

5ml (1 tsp) ground coriander

2ml (½ tsp) turmeric

500ml (2 cups) water


3 gem squash, optional

60ml (4 tbsp) fresh coriander leaves, chopped


  1. Remove any grit from lentils and soak in water for 1 hour.
  2. Place the onions, cassia, cardamom and oil in a saucepan and fry until the onions are soft.
  3. Add tomatoes, chilli and rest of the spices; simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the drained lentils with 500ml (2 cups) water and salt and simmer over low heat until soft and mushy. Add more water if necessary.
  5. If using the gem squash, peel and cut into rings and remove the pips. Layer squash rings over lentil mixture. Close with a tightly-fitting lid and simmer until squash rings are tender.
  6. Sprinkle the dhall with coriander leaves and serve on a bed of rice.