My first encounter with authentic Sicilian arancini was during a work visit to Taormina, where I had been invited by the South African embassy to participate in the South African Food Festival. The long flight from Johannesburg must have affected my immune system because a simple bite into a prosciutto sandwich for lunch triggered the most horrifying allergic reaction, which landed me in a Sicilian hospital. My first three days in this beautiful city were marred with drama and a short detox, which meant that I couldn’t indulge in the incredible Sicilian produce.
After three days of eating only pasta with lots of olive oil, lemon, herbs and Parmesan, which was specially prepared for me by the hotel chef, I was finally able to eat more veggies. And so began my deep love affair with the Mediterranean diet, inspired by the eating habits and traditional food of the areas around the Mediterranean sea. I fell in love with the city, its narrow alleys, sidewalk cafés and, of course, the street food. Arancini, cartocciata and panelle were just some of the delights I enjoyed.
I discovered that Sicilian arancini is nothing like the arancini I had eaten before. It is large, stuffed to the brim with ragù, and served crispy hot. I ate so much during my visit that I learned that every street vendor had their own way of making it.
I ate arancini stuffed with cheese, mushrooms and all sorts of meats, but my absolute favourite was the mushroom ragù filling that inspired this recipe for sorghum balls. I shape the balls from fermented or plain sorghum pap, stuff them with sautéed mushrooms, then coat them with more sorghum and deep-fry or bake to perfection. Served with a spicy dip or a simple mayo-and-chilli sauce, they are so good that even staunch meat-eaters love them.