Matapa Cooking Class from Local Women

Matapa Cooking Class from Local Women

A Humble but Important Dish

 

Matapa is a mozambican staple, served in every household, restaurant and market stall in the land. It’s virtually impossible to go out to eat, and not find Matapa on the menu. In fact, you can compare, and judge the cook, by the quality of their Matapa.

Matapa is made from freshly picked leaves of the cassava plant, coconut milk and peanut powder. Often it is cooked with fresh crab, which adds a nice layer of complexity with its delicate texture. It is not a sophisticated dish, but it has a lovely sweetness and heartiness to it.

The ingredients used to make Matapa are easy to find – they grow in every back yard. This is why Matapa is so prevalent here – it is an easy way to feed the family, no matter what your economic situation is. Cassava, as I have discovered, is a plant that will happily grow in the sand and doesn’t require any maintenance.

Last week, I was fortunate to spend a day with a family in a village of the Inhambane district and learn from the local women to plant cassava and cook Matapa.

Clearning the Land to Plant Cassava, dressed in Capulana

 

Here we are, clearing the land to plant cassava, which should produce plants within 3 months. Costanza, who welcomed us to her house, is to my left. As you can see, we are wearing matching skirts. In fact, this is a traditional textile, called Capulana. She kindly swaddled me up in this gorgeous Capulana so I could feel like a member of the community, and look the part during my visit to the village!

Farming cassava
Farming cassava
Farming cassava
Farming cassava

We made fresh coconut milk. From scratch!

I learnt the art of pounding.

poudning cassava for matapa
poudning cassava for matapa

Matapa Recipe

 

Want to try making Matapa in your own kitchen? It doesn’t require complicated ingredients and is almost impossible to mess up! Here’s a recipe for you, directly from the local women in Mozambique!

In case you can’t find fresh cassava leaves, use kale or spinach as a substitute.

Ingredients

1 large bunch cassava leaves (substitute with kale, or spinach,)

2 cloves garlic

1 3/4 cups unsalted peanuts

3/4 cup coconut milk

salt to taste

Method

Grind the cassava leaves with the cloves of garlic. Add to a large stockpot pot with a small quantity of water, just enough to submerge all of the ground greens. Bring this to a boil and allow it to continue bubbling on medium-high heat for about twenty minutes or until paste-like.

Meanwhile, blend the peanuts in a food processor to a fine powder. This should get you about 1 1/2 cups of ground peanuts. Mix the peanut powder with coconut milk. Pour this into the boiling greens and mix well.

Allow to simmer over low heat for 1-2 hours until you get a consistent, thick sauce.

Add sautéed prawns for extra flavour (optional).

Serve with generous portion of rice and a big smile!

 

Bom apetite!

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Since coming to Mozambique, I started wearing less and going out more. Much more. Why not? The weather is beautiful, the beer is cold and eating out costs as much as cooking at home (and requires none of the effort). To take a break from the hectic social life of Tofo, we headed to Barra for a weekend of chill.

We drove there in the back of a pick-up truck, as locals do, watching the sun set behind the tall, coconut trees.

Farol de Barra Lodge

We stayed at the Farol de Barra lodge, which sits right on the beach and offers incredible views of the ocean. The lodges are built of solid wood and are decorated in a nautical style à la Mozambique – white wooden furniture, white-washed floors, white curtains, and a pop of blue on cushion covers made of Capulana.

We arrived just before sunset, just in time for Sundowners (alcoholic beverages consumed looking at the sunset).  Having them in Barra is something really special.

Ernest Hemingway once said: “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.” It’s not hard to see why.

Chill in Barra

We spent the following day at the hotel restaurant, Chill Bar. It’s the perfect place to kick back under a straw cabana, drink cocktails and watch the ocean roll onto the white sandy beach.

There is also a pool where you can cool off if you’re too lazy to walk down to the ocean.

The chef cooked us clams for lunch, which we enjoyed them while sitting on the sand around the low table.

When the sun started making it’s way down towards the edge of the bay, we ventured into the waters to play in the waves.

The Sun Sets over Barra

Thanks to the late check out time, we stayed for sunset and went for another long walk along the beach. The sky turns rose pink and slowly grows fiery orange.

As dusk falls on Barra, all that’s left of the day’s sun is the soft glow in the sky, the ocean and the heart.

It’s the perfect getaway from the world, and I look forward to going back soon!

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We’re driving up from Maputo to Tofo, some 550 Km away, with the engine growling and the wind whistling through the open windows. There is a big crack across the windscreen (a totally normal occurrence here) and a dolphin key ring swinging off the rear view mirror. Our driver Marc is an expat who left Essex for Tofo seven years ago. I asked him if he goes back often – he says that he’s been back twice, and not for very long.

I take that as a good omen.  Last week, I said goodbye to my career in Finance, got on a plane and flew across the continent to volunteer for the Marine Megafauna Foundation, in Tofo on the coast of Mozambique. I’ve always loved the sea and it seemed like the perfect beginning to a new chapter.

Roadtrippin’ through Mozambique

The countryside is lush and flat, punctuated by small settlements. Small, concrete shops bear the colour schemes and logos of the main telecoms companies – red from Vodacom and orange for Movitel. People walk unhurried to their destinations on the roadside. Women carry big baskets filled with fruits, their swaying hips wrapped in traditional textiles. Children dressed in school uniforms cross the road that cuts through the rolling green landscape. The roads are full of life, so we have to maneuver carefully as we make our way.

woman inhambane
Inhambane
bus stop Inhambane
women carrying food Africa
peri peri tofo
Inhambane drive

The motorway unfolds ahead – swelling and dipping. I wonder how the next three months will be. Will I miss London? Will I settle in well? I am worried that I may have trouble adapting. Will I get Malaria? Marc’s says he had it four times.

Drive to Tofo Mozambique

Suddenly, we get pulled over by the police. A doctor in scrubs and mask comes over and informs us that there is an outbreak of cholera in Maputo and may we please step out of the vehicle. He explains that we need to wash our hands and feet to avoid bringing the disease into Inhambane. He escorts us to a tank of chlorine water where we can rid ourselves of our sins. After conducting a successful disinfection, he congratulates us and happily sends us on our way.

Life in Tofo Beach

Fast-forward 5 days. I am lying under a palm tree looking out onto the ocean and the white sand that is always, everywhere – in the bed, on the bread, and randomly crunching in your mouth. Yesterday, the Marine Megafauna team went on an ocean safari just of the coast of Tofo Beach and we swam next to two whale shark and three manta rays. My tan and Portuguese are slowly coming along… Things could definitely be worse!

It might be hard to believe, but it’s not all paradise living. In my next post, I’ll share some stories of the challenges of living in these ends!

Inhambane beach

Have you been to Mozambique? What were your first impressions? Share in the comments below.

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