Location: Southern Africa
Population: 2.3 million
Geography: A flat landlocked nation, most of which lies in the Kalahari desert
Language: English, Setswana
Signature flavours: Sorghum, beef, corn, beans, nuts, marula, mopane (silk worms), melon
It has become habit for us when a new assignment comes up to log on to the Toronto Public Library’s website and cruise their catalogue for relevant cookbooks. The TPL has an incredible collection, maybe the best of any city in the world, and we’ve happened across cookbooks for all corners of the world. For Botswana, Eric found an official companion cookbook to the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, which is set in Botswana. Written from the perspective of the main character, Mma Ramotswe, it was one of Eric’s main resources, alongside a couple of online recipes.
Bogobe: Sorghum pap with squash and yoghurt.
Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Setswana Samp: Samp (dried broken maize) stewed with beans and boiled potato.
Prep and cooking time: 2 hours (plus overnight soaking of samp)
Sausage with Chakalaka Stew: Veggie links topped with chakalaka — tomato, onion, carrot, chilli peppers, and spices. Eric used Knorr powdered chakalaka seasoning with the vegetables, which significantly reduced the cooking time.
Prep and cooking time: 10 minutes
Mopane Worm Stew: Chunks of silk worm tossed in a stew of tomato, potato, sweet and hot pepper, cumin, garlic, and Aromat. Yep, we ate bugs.
Prep and cooking time: 20 min (plus 2 hours soaking of dried mopane worms)
Marula Malva Pudding: English-style pudding infused with marula liqueur (Amarula) and apricot jam, and smothered in a syrup of sugar, cream, butter, and more marula liqueur.
Prep and cooking time: 45 min
The Shopping List
Eric started his shopping early on EntoMarket, an online edible insect shop. The dried mopane worms shipped from the US, but were held at the border for a while before customs deemed them safe to continue their passage to Toronto.
We ventured to the South African Store in the north end of the city, where Eric found sorghum, samp, chakalaka spice, and Aromat — a spiced cornflour that is a staple in southern African kitchens.
Eric disclosed the Big News as soon as I sat down at the table for our Botswana dinner:
“We are going to eat bugs,” he announced. “Silk worms.”
The mopane worms were rehydrated before being added to the stew he had made, which in all honesty smelled delicious. Mopane was the first thing I tried, and it was rather unremarkable — somewhat chewy, with an earthy, inoffensive flavour. The stew itself was fantastic, and generously populated by mopane. Despite the fact that their texture and flavour was fine, I couldn’t really get on board with the whole idea of eating these particular insects, so after a few more wormy morsels, I ate the rest of the stew around them and Eric finished my left-behind mopane.
Like many of our other African assignments, this was served alongside a pap for eating with scoops of stew. Botswana’s staple pap is sorghum-based, and the variety Eric made included butternut squash and a touch of yoghurt.
I am a big fan of hominy, or white corn, and enjoyed the samp immensely. This is Botswanan comfort food at its best, a filling, starchy meal that I savoured as leftovers the next day with a little hot sauce on top.
The final savoury dish on the table were the links and chakalaka. I made chakalaka for my Lesotho assignment, and really liked it, so it was no surprise to find I enjoyed Eric’s version just as much.
The crowning achievement of Eric’s Botswanan dinner had to be the dessert. A sticky toffee pudding lover, he was won over by this recipe from an African online magazine. Marula is a local fruit related to the mango, but with a character all its own. Animals in Botswana enjoy it so much that they get drunk off the fallen fermenting fruits. We loved it too — its sticky cake-y-ness and luscious flavour made it a winner.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.