Nshema with Berry

Back in South Africa, when I went to the marvellous Mzoli’s in Cape Town, I had something called Papa, a strange kind of starchy fake mash side dish!

As it turns out, this is a traditional side dish all over Africa, but goes by a different name depending on where you go. In South Africa and Botswana it’s called Papa, in Zambia its Slozi name is Wahobi, but it’s Zambian English name, somehow, is Nshema!

In my quest to take on as many new recipes as possible while on my travels, I tentatively approached Berry to ask if she might teach me how to cook this. Every night, after cooking for Paula, Dan, Matt and myself, Berry cooking Nshema for herself and the rest of the staff, so I’m confident she’s the expert. And lucky me, she very kindly agreed to show me!

Ingredients

Like any pro, Berry refuses measurements and instead goes by the feel of things. You will need

  • Water (750ml or so)
  • Mealie meal (About 4 cups in total)

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Nshema for All

1. First, she told me, you need a big, wooden spoon. Not a small one, a big big one.

2. Fill a large pan with hot, but not boiling, water. If it’s boiling, the mixture will be too lumpy. It looked like roughly 750ml!

3. Take a cup of mealie meal, and add it to the water bit by bit, stirring gently with your big, wooden spoon.

4. The wooden spoon will tell you if it’s enough, or if you need to add more. Once it’s at a point where it’s a little lumpy and sticky on the spoon, it’s time to get it on the heat!

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5. Place on a medium high heat and leave covered. Leave for 5 minutes, then stir. Recover and leave for 15-20 minutes.

6. Once it starts to look like this:

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It’s time to add more mealie meal!

7. Add another two cups of mealie meal bit by bit, stirring as you do. You need to beat it in a consistent rhythm, one I noticed matched Adele – Rumour Has It perfectly!

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8. Re-cover and lower the heat, then leave to simmer for about five minutes.

“Now this is ready for you”, Berry told me “But we have it different.”

“What do you mean?” I asked “I don’t know how I have it…”

“White people!” she smiled “White people have it like this, but Zambians have it thicker, more mealie meal”.

“…Oh!” Was my simply response, but I continued to observe anyway!

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9. Berry then proceeded to add another cup of mealie meal. Beat, then leave to simmer again.

10. Finally, remove from the heat and turn the mixture a few times.

11. Serve and enjoy, traditionally with fish, relish, and greens.

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