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.


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,