Dynamic chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu is a homegrown powerhouse who is passionate about South Africa’s food culture and the role of food in our country’s diverse heritage. This passion has led her to take local cuisine to the world with her brand-new cookbook, Through the Eyes of an African Chef. ‘The book is about the world of food through my eyes as an African person. It celebrates indigenous South African recipes and our food history,’ she says.
An ardent food traveller and serious chef, Nompumelelo is the driving force behind Africa Meets Europe Cuisine where she works with female small produce farmers around the country, developing their farming and business skills to supplement their incomes. The ethos is all about producing and using good, clean and fair food to uplift small organic producers.
For Nompumelelo, the essence of Christmas is having time to reflect on the year past and the one ahead. It’s a time she gives thanks for family blessings – all while spending time with those closest to her heart.
Nompulelelo’s light and local summer Christmas menu will be all about celebrating delicious seasonal ingredients for a truly South African festive celebration. ‘Source your produce from your local small growers, aiming for maximum nutrition and flavour,’ she says. ‘As well as being utterly simple, cooking with delicious and tasty freshly picked vegetables and herbs will earn you a reputation as a great cook!’
Ostrich Fillet with Amadumbe Gnocchi
Nompulelelo’s Christmas menu will feature mussels the cooked the Xhosa way in seawater, vegetable packets cooked over the fire, and imbuya (morogo) salad. The star attraction will be umleqwa, a chicken pot roast ‘that I’ll be preparing in my Le Creuset 28cm Stainless Steel Professional Stock Pot,’ says Nompulelelo.
Don’t think that a light and local Christmas menu doesn’t include loads of mouthwateringly delicious sweet treats. Nompumelelo’s dessert table is going to be a sumptuous spread of delicious puddings such as sweet geranium sorbet, marula ice cream, baobab cheesecake and isijingi, “a traditional pumpkin dish made with maize meal that my grandmother used to cook for us which I like to make it as a dessert – although that isn’t the traditional way”, says Nompumelelo.
Marula Ice Cream
Nompumelelo’s sweet offerings will be arranged beautifully for maximum effect including individual portions in mini ramekins, frozen desserts in Sorbet Collection footed ice cream bowls and a baobab cheesecake on a footed cake stand forming a striking centrepiece.
Nompumelelo plans to stock her bar with ice-cold marula beer, ginger beer and herb ice teas. Her genius solution to keeping the younger generation happy? Serve them a baobab smoothie between breakfast and the big lunch! ‘Trust me, this helps keep kids happy through a long, exciting morning!’
Baobab & Banana Smoothies
‘I am going to let my Christmas feast shine by laying my table with a simple white tablecloth and white napkins with African beaded napkin rings and candle holders. I’ll forage in my garden for greens and more colour to add to the table. Take a look at your local markets for Christmas table decorations with an African touch.’
For Nompumelelo it is so important to embrace the generosity of the Christmas season without overdoing it. ‘Designing a menu is a brilliant way to help you stick to your budget,’ she says. ‘An elaborate menu often results in over catering so stick to just a couple of tasty options.’ She saves some leftovers for Boxing Day, but her favourite way to spread Christmas joy is to share extra food with those in need. As Nompumelelo says, ‘Don’t throw anything away when some are going without during this festive season.’
Isijingi Pumpkin Pudding
Food imagery courtesy of Nompumelelo Mqwebu.