A chef’s culinary chronicle of Madiba moments
Mandela’s personal chef Sis’Xoli Ndoyiya releases ‘Made With Love’, her new book in which she shows that food is a universal love language.
Made With Love is more than just a cookbook; it’s a heartwarming testament to the power of food to bridge cultures and evoke memories. If your love language is food, you may find some special dishes to prepare this festive season from Chef Xoliswa Ndoyiya’s latest offering.
Ndoyiya — or Sis’Xoli as she is affectionately called — says this collection of 50 recipes, accompanied by personal recollections and anecdotes, is a tribute and thank you to the late Nelson Mandela for whom she worked as his personal chef for 22 years. She also wants to pass on the baton so that — in her words — “others can share one of the things this South African icon valued the most; people coming together, sharing together and giving to others through food made with love”.
Made with Love follows her 2011 book Ukutya Kwasekhaya: Tastes from Nelson Mandela’s Kitchen.
Sis’Xoli’s love of food started as a young woman. Like Madiba, she grew up in the Eastern Cape and says her grandmother helped shape her discovery of a powerful connection between food, love and comfort.
She was working as a chef in an aged-care facility in Johannesburg when her life “changed overnight”. A friend organised an interview with Mandela who asked her if she could cook isiXhosa food. When she replied in the affirmative, she was offered the job on the spot and started working for a man who, although he was a global icon, had fairly simple and healthy tastes that reminded him of home.
He never ate much refined sugar, starting each day with fresh fruit and mielie meal mixed with nuts, raisins and sultanas and he loved amasi which he said “went straight into (his) blood and into (his) heart and produced perfect contentment.”
In the end, Sis’Xoli says, their relationship was more like father and daughter than employer and employee.
Sis’Xoli reveals that two recipes in the book hold special significance for her.
The first is umsila wenkomo or oxtail stew (recipe below) which was one of Tata’s favourites as well as some of his friends. Reveals Sis’Xoli: “He would always tell everyone: ‘Can we go home and have home-cooked food?’ And in those days, it was on a Wednesday. And because he would love that, he would call his friends, his comrades… to have lunch with him and the family. He couldn’t go a week without samp and beans and oxtail stew. I had to cook this time and again. Uncle Kathy (Ahmed Kathrada) and Tata Walter (Sisulu) would come and Uncle Kathy always had to have his own parcel to take home.”
The second, umphokoqo (mielie meal porridge, recipe below), led Ndoyiya to an act of culinary devotion: “Tata loved this dish so much I once had to arrange for it to be smuggled into England. Tata was visiting London and I got a call to say that Tata was not himself — he was missing his umphokoqo. So I cooked some up and we wrapped it nicely and wrote on the outside ‘The President’s Medication’ which is how it was able to be smuggled into Tata’s hotel!”
Food, she believes, is so much more than just its ingredients and skilled preparation — it is about the emotions that are stirred and memories evoked when smelling and eating it.
“Tata once said to me, ‘My mother was not that great a cook but when she cooked for us, we felt comfortable because it was food from home. It’s just how we like it’.”
These days Sis’Xoli heads the kitchen as Chef de Tournant at Sanctuary Mandela in Johannesburg; a beautiful boutique hotel built on the site of Mandela’s former Houghton residence which features elements from the original home in which Sis’Xoli worked for eight years before moving to the house where Madiba spent his last days.
“This house was not just a house; it was a welcoming home and I just loved coming back. This hotel means a lot to me because it is still welcoming people to come and reflect on who Tata was and what he has given to people,” she says.
One of the key attractions is the onsite restaurant Insights which serves dishes based on Madiba’s favourite meals.
“The menu is created around dishes that I made for Madiba. Inspiration has been derived from my two cookery books, with each dish re-created into a modern version. Our menu is an historical footprint of the tastes of Madiba but we’ve strived to refine and modernise these whilst continuing to pay homage to our diverse heritage,” she says.
So on the menu (which changes seasonally) you may find umsila wenkomo now served Italian style off the bone in ravioli or samp and beans (umngqusho) evolved into a risotto. Isibindi se Gusha is lamb liver wrapped in bacon and served with sauteed garlic spinach, soya glazed onion grapes and a spinach foam while the updated Malva pudding (Tata Madiba’s favourite from the book is below) comes served with a ginger walnut crumble, orange marmalade peel, crème patisserie and espresso ice cream.
The restaurant and hotel are well worth a visit. The food is sophisticated and delicious but lacks the homeliness of Sis’Xoli’s traditional dishes, which the late great statesman loved. For those you are going to have to buy her book.
Three of Madiba’s favourite recipes by Sis’Xoli which can be found in Made With Love:
Umsila Wenkomo (slow-roasted oxtail)
3 kg oxtail, excess fat removed
6 celery stalks, chopped
6 large carrots, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
3 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp paprika
2 tbsp barbeque spice, or substitute
with 1 tbsp salt and ½ tbsp pepper
1 cup red wine
1 cup tomato paste
60g (1 packet) oxtail soup powder (available from your supermarket or grocery store)
Boiled baby potatoes and steamed baby carrots and green beans, to serve
Put the oxtail in a large pot over medium-high heat with enough water to cover.
Bring to the boil, add the celery, carrots, onion and garlic together with the rosemary, thyme, paprika and barbeque spice and simmer for 30 minutes until vegetables are soft, then reduce the heat and cover.
Braise for 1 hour with lid on until the meat is soft and starts to brown in its own fat.
Add wine, tomato paste, and more water to cover.
Mix the packet of soup with a little water to make a paste, then add to the meat.
Cook for a further 1.5 hours with lid on, until the meat is soft but still on the bones, checking regularly to make sure that there is still enough liquid to cover.
Remove from the heat, separate the meat from the vegetables and sauce, and use a strainer to strain the vegetables out of the sauce to get a thick, smooth sauce.
Discard the vegetables and add meat back to the sauce.
Serve with baby potatoes, steamed baby carrots and green beans.
For the pudding:
2 cups cake flour
2 tbsp baking soda
1 cup brown sugar
4 tbsp melted butter
2 cups milk
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp apricot jam
For the caramel sauce:
125 ml melted butter
125 g castor sugar
225 ml milk or cream
For the berry compote:
½ cup mixed frozen berries
2 tbsp lemon zest
1 tbsp honey
For the Amarula custard:
70 ml water
125 ml melted butter
185 g white sugar
120 ml cream
1 tsp vanilla essence
60 ml Amarula Cream
To serve (optional):
ginger snap biscuit crumbs
Preheat the oven to 190°C.
To make the pudding, mix the flour, baking soda and a pinch of salt together in a large bowl.
Put the sugar and eggs into another bowl and beat until smooth and creamy. Mix in butter, milk, vinegar and apricot jam. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients and combine.
Pour the mixture into a deep non-stick muffin tray, or brioche or dariole moulds.
To make the caramel sauce, combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil and cook for 5–10 minutes, until reduced and a syrupy sauce is formed.
To make the berry compote, place mixed frozen berries, lemon zest and honey in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil. Lower heat and simmer until combined and a thick sauce forms, stirring frequently.
To make the custard, put water, butter and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Stir in the cream, vanilla essence and Amarula Cream and remove from the heat.
To assemble, first garnish the plates with the berry compote. Place a hot pudding on top of the compote.
Prick the pudding with a toothpick and pour over the caramel sauce so it soaks into the pudding.
Pour the Amarula custard over the pudding and serve, with ginger snap crumbs and biscuit.
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
3 cups maize meal
dried fruit and nuts, to garnish
Put the water and salt in a medium-sized lidded saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to the boil. Add the maize meal, cover, and bring back to the boil.
Once the maize meal is boiling, stir it with a fork until the water is absorbed and the maize meal is crumbly and not sticking together.
Cover again, reduce the heat, and cook until it is soft and fluffy, about 25 minutes.
Sprinkle with dried fruit and nuts, and serve.
Tata always liked his umphokoqo served with warm milk, but you can serve it with cold milk or amasi, says Sis’Xoli. DM
Made With Love: Recipes and Memories from Nelson Madela’s personal chef Xoliswa Ndoyiya with photographs by Cameron Gibb is published by Blackwell & Ruth. It retails for R420 and is available at most bookstores and online.
Insights Restaurant at Sanctuary Mandela, 4 Thirteenth Avenue, Houghton Estate, Johannesburg. Telephone: +27 (0)10 035 0368.