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Khanyisa Malabi on her new cookbook and a recipe for braised chicken

This article first appeared in City Press.

12 Feb 2017

Khanyisa Malabi is a renaissance woman. African renaissance, that is. In her newly launched book, Legacy of Living and Sparkles of Taste, the telecoms supremo and cookbook author offers up not only a selection of heritage-inspired flavours but a route to reader self-discovery. With every scone, magwinya and beetroot recipe, she shows us that we are what we eat. And that what we eat is deliciously complex. Because complexity is the human condition.

Re-imagine the tradition

“We are living fully when our attention is not primarily a tool for survival and recognition, but a means of self-fulfilment,” believes the chairperson of NewLeaf Telecoms and founder of NewLeaf Partners. Malabi’s preferred tools of self-actualisation are cooking, eating, sharing and writing about food.

“Food culture is not static,” she says. “It can and should reflect the lives of the cooks. The food in this book reflects my life. A recipe is something fluid and beautiful; it can change with the times without being disrespectful to the great ancient traditions it originated in. We must find ways of expressing our current realities in every aspect of our lives.”

The author captures the many-layered nature of modern South African life. Classic renditions of heritage recipes are reproduced alongside more modern, urban reconfigurations of traditional rural foods and a selection of flavours inspired by the author’s international experiences. Traditional combinations, such as vuswa and foraged miroho, compete with fusion creations, such as magwinya with goat cheese and red pepper vinaigrette, and international offerings such as peach Pavlova.

Of her magnificent melange she says, “Modifying recipes doesn’t make them less authentic. The recipes in my book are authentically me. I am a city-based, cosmopolitan person. That doesn’t mean I have forgotten the kid from Soshanguve that I was. Food evolves and there is nothing wrong with that. I reference how my rural grandmother cooked but I also have my own unique references. It’s part of the exploration that is life. I haven’t let go of my roots but that doesn’t mean I can’t be inspired by outside influences. I know who I am.”

Food philosophy

The result is a brave and honest exposition of her three-dimensional epicurean identity. The Epicurean philosophical system is often misinterpreted as advocating greed but the followers of 1st-century philosopher Epicurus actually elevated the tranquillity that comes through an appreciation of pleasure and beauty. Theirs was not a gluttonous hedonist’s creed, but rather recognition of the value of loveliness in its various forms.

Legacy of Living is African Epicureanism at its subtle, serene best. Malabi’s graceful presentation is inspired by the elegance of traditional South African hospitality customs.

She says, “I think back to my grandmother Kokwani n’wa basopa’s meals. Stylish simplicity marked her way of relating to food. Each part of the meal was separately served in wooden bowls on a tray and with a white cloth. The flavour combinations were classic, exquisite and perfectly paired. Simple abundance was so clear as she braised farm-reared chickens and topped the tender, flavoursome meat with a sprinkle of roasted pumpkin seeds.

“It was evident in the soft generosity of freshly steamed dumplings. It is that feel that I am seeking to inspire readers with. We were trained from young girls to appreciate beauty and elegance in dining. Growing up watching my mother, Jabile Malabi, was a school of politeness. The way that food is nowadays just put all together piled on a single plate at the shisa nyama – there is nothing wrong with that, but it is not the only African hospitality experience.”

Malabi regards introducing fine African flavours and elegance to a wider audience as a key aspect of her work. “My book respects traditions but I have felt free to reconfigure some dishes and put them into a fine-dining package in order to make them accessible to a wider audience and also so that we, as Africans, can see the dishes with appreciative new eyes. This is not only about us – the international market is looking for new African experiences. They are asking for it. There are business and educational opportunities in their interest.”

A plate is a journey

In each exploration of new ways of seeing there are discussions and voyages of discovery because “for me, food is a place deeper than satisfying hunger. It is about the kind of moments that transport and create longing. It’s about the euphoria of living and our essence of imagination and hope. It is about making a space for people to discuss, debate and imagine who they might be. Sometimes they might turn out to be cooks, but not necessarily.

“Food is my way to open debate so that others can explore a much wider journey of personal discovery. My ultimate goal is to teach people to get in touch with who they are. To share whatever their talent is. It’s about more than food. I want to inspire others to understand that they have something special to offer the world. It is an empowering message that, if you identify what you love, you can do that and share that.

“When I put out a delicious dish for my guests, people talk. That’s the point. It becomes a platform for healing and sharing. The food and the discussion it promotes get those around the table in touch with who they are.”

Those wanting to start their voyage of discovery immediately can try her recipes for groundnut-rolled miroho with braised chicken and vuswa pap. The path to epicurean enlightenment awaits…

Legacy of Living and Sparkles of Taste by Khanyisa Malabi

Self-published and distributed by African Perspectives Publishing ( R400 in hardcover. Available at selected book stores

Braised chicken
1 chicken (ideally ‘hard body’ and/or organic), portioned

2 cups buttermilk

3 bay leaves

2 deseeded green chillies

Pinch of coriander seeds

Handful of cocktail tomatoes

Handful finely chopped spring onions

Handful groundnuts

1 seeded red pepper

1 litre water

Salt to taste


Place the chicken portions, buttermilk, coriander seeds and one chilli in a bag and leave to marinate overnight in the fridge.

Cook the chicken with the bay leaves, water and a handful of cocktail tomatoes until the water has evaporated and the thick sauce starts to caramelise (about 1 1/2 hours).

Gradually add about 1/3 of a cup of water at a time, simmering over a medium heat for about 30 minutes until the chicken is tender and browned, and a thick, caramelised tomato-based sauce has formed.

Add the spring onions and groundnuts with a tablespoon of water to the sauce in order to promote thickening and build flavour. Simmer for 15 minutes on a very low heat. Sprinkle with a garnish of finely chopped tomato and chillies.

Miroho greens

1kg miroho (any seasonal type like Thyeke or any leafy green like spinach), chopped or whole (it will be pounded)

2 handfuls of groundnuts

1 tomato, roughly chopped

Salt to taste

Pinch bicarbonate of soda


Bring 1/4 cup of salted water to the boil and add the bicarbonate of soda, the miroho and the chopped tomato. Steam for 10 minutes.

Roast the groundnuts and crush finely.

Squeeze moisture out of the miroho and place in a bowl. Pound the cooked greens with a wooden spoon to a light texture and chewiness. Form ball shapes and roll these balls over the crushed nuts. Drizzle with olive oil.

Serve with vuswa (pap) and braised chicken.


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