Manhuchu - creamy samp, sweet potato and crispy bacon

Serves 2 - 3 people. Active cooking time, 2 hours. Total time, approx. 6 hours




Switching things up from our sweet streak with maize and delving into some savoury maize-based notes (see our maize and ginger biscuits & maize and peanut butter pancakes recipes). As much as maize is consumed as a stable carbohydrate source across the continent, it's actually an import from Central America and while Africans took well to it, it has significantly replaced too many of our continental grain and grass species as the carbohydrate food of choice.


This displacement of local grains has several implications and considerations to keep in mind if we are to responsibly continue with the cultivation of maize as a crop. Ask any farmer and they will tell you of the difficulties of growing rain in low rainfall areas, which form an ever-increasing significant majority of the continent. However, from a consumption point-of-view it is important to note that while we inherited this crop from Mexico, we did not retain some of their knowledge systems that make maize consumption in Mexico and Latin America much healthier than maize consumption in most of Africa.


Firstly we seemingly prefer ultra-refined maize and maize meal versus whole-grain and consequently we mostly extract simple and complex carbohydrates from maize during digestion and miss out on dietary fibre, vitamins and protein found in the "unwanted bits". Additionally, the Mexicans process most of their maize (and indeed other grains) through a process called nixtamalization, that allows for more nutrients to be available for digestion and uptake in the human body. Essentially, it involves cooking and soaking maize in a highly alkaline solution like lime water or wood ash lye. Mesoamerican methods use calcium carbonate which is difficult to obtain here in South Africa BUT you can make your own sodium carbonate at home using household bicarbonate of soda.


I think we can mostly agree that maize isn't about to leave most African kitchens so how about we improve the way we consume our maize. One way I grew up eating maize was through manhuchu (samp) in several different contexts, some savoury, some sweet. From samp pudding, samp with peanut butter all the way to samp and beans. Here you will find a variation I definitely did not grow up with but have developed over time with exposure to other cooking cultures. So this is a blend of Zimbabwean, Mesoamerican and Mediterranean cooking in one pot.


Ingredients

For the samp

5 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

1 cup dried samp

tap water


For the vegetable stock (you need about 4 cups of stock that you can make fresh, or reconstitute from stock powder, cubes or gel)

1 onion, quartered and charred on a gas flame or under the oven grilled

2 stalks of celery, chopped including the stems and leaves

2 carrots chopped, including tops if you have them

1 medium sweet potato, scrubbed and chopped (don't bother peeling it)

A few mushrooms chopped in half

4 cloves garlic, crushed under a knife

3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon soy sauce (can substitute Worcestershire sauce)

1 habanero chilli

some local herbs that work for you (included here we have isiphondo, wild rosemary, spekboom)

salt and pepper to taste

8 cups water


For the final cook

The prepared samp

4 cups vegetable stock

50 g butter

1/4 cup amasi (sour milk)

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large orange sweet potato, peeled and cubed

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 bay leaves,

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/4 cup grated Parmesan/ Pecorino cheese, grated

2 - 3 crispy rashers of bacon


Equipment

A few pots (one which must be non-reactive, stainless steel for the nixtamalisation process), stove, large pan, oven, wax paper or foil.


Special notes

Please be careful after you have prepared your sodium carbonate, it can be caustic so store in a dry and sealed container and minimise contact with human skin, reactive surfaces and your airway.


Method


1. Line an oven tray with a sheet of wax paper or foil and evenly spread the bicarbonate of soda across the tray in a thin, even layer. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 1 hour at 180°C. Remove from the oven, allow it to cool and carefully transfer to a glass jar and store sealed in a cool, dry place.


2. Wash the samp in 2 cups of water making sure to remove any chaff and other impurities but do not throw away the cloudy water. Drain it away but keep it for cooking later as we want all the starch we've washed away to go back into the dish, this adds creaminess to the final meal.


3. Transfer your drained samp into a non-reactive pot, add 1 teaspoon of your home made sodium carbonate and 2 cups of fresh water. You should notice the samp and the water turning yellow in colour.


4. Bring to the boil and then adjust to a simmer and allow the samp to cook covered for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it steep for about 4 hours at room temperature (this step can also be done overnight in the fridge.


5. Gather all your stock ingredients while the samp steeps and prepare them for cooking.


6. Add all the stock vegetables to a large pot together with the 8 cups of water and bring to the boil. Simmer covered for about an hour and strain into a bowl and set aside.


7. After at least 4 hours, strain the samp and discard the alkaline water. Thoroughly rinse the samp in several batches of fresh water until the water has no trace of the alkaline. As you rinse try and slough off some of the yellow skins on the grains.


8. Drain the samp , transfer back into the now clean pot, add the reserved water from the very first samp wash (step 1). Bring to a boil and cook covered for about 30 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed into the grain.


9. While the samp is cooking, prepare the remainder of your ingredients for the final dish. Strain the vegetable stock if you haven't yet, fry or grill the bacon, chop, cube, dice and mince the respective vegetables. Grate your cheese, portion out the spices, butter and cream.


10. Get 2 tablespoons of oil to medium heat in a large pan. Toss your spices in together with the sweet potato and cook for a few minutes until the kitchen smells fragrant and the sweet potato is developing some colour.


11. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook for a few minutes more, stirring every so often, keeping everything from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan.


12. Get your stock simmerring in a pot and finally add the samp and half the bacon cut into pieces to the pan and stir it in well. Cook for about 2 minutes and get a little bit of colour on the samp. Pour 1/2 cup of the stock from the pot into the pan and loosen things with a stir. From here on, continually stir the food in the pan while the stock is absorbed into the food.


Don't allow the pan to completely dry out, add 1/2 cup of your stock as needed and keep stirring and cooking until the samp is cooked to your level of satisfaction. It should be tender, with a bit of resistance and not mushy at all. Remove from the heat and season with salt, pepper, butter, amasi and cheese to your liking.


13. Dish out into serving bowls or plates, sprinkle in some bacon and a pinch of cheese.

Inhale immediately!


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