Mieliebread memoir: 3 foodies share their mieliebread memories

By Annzra Denita, 13 November 2020

Steamed inside a mielie husk in a village, or laced with chilli in a South African Indian kitchen, mieliebread has a special place in South African food history. We talked to three South Africans about their family recipes

1. Bathandwa Nkambule

Food blogger and pop-up restaurant host @theearthycook

Bathandwa-Nkambule When my mom married, she was very dedicated to being a housewife. She was always baking, and used to make mieliebread – or isonka esinombona as she calls it. Sometimes she would use sweetcorn, sometimes roasted corn, and sometimes she would steam it instead of baking it.

The recipe varies, even within cultures. My dad is Swati and my mom is Xhosa, and within each tribe everyone has their own way of preparing it. Where my mom grew up, they used to wrap the dough in mielie leaves to rise, and then boil it in the leaves.

Recipes change, thank goodness! My mom gave me her recipe for a recent African-themed pop-up restaurant I did. I served it with spicy braaied chicken feet and butter for a starter. The diners absolutely loved the twist because they were expecting a hard-core traditional meal and my rendition caught them by surprise.

You can also enjoy mieliebread with butter and jam for breakfast. And at our big family gathering in December, we made four big loaves to eat with oxtail potjie. I’m vegan, so I had it with chickpea curry.

I sometimes think we take the things we grew up with for granted. Which other dish is so versatile, that you could eat it for breakfast, lunch, or supper?

Find the recipe for Bathandwa's sundried tomato-and-basil mieliebread here.

2. Simmy Malepe

Qualified chef, blogger and caterer

Simmy-MalepeMy mom grew up with mieliebread, but I only ate it for the first time when she made it about 10 years ago. I remember it was really good and super moist.

I had tried making an American-style cornbread, but for me it was a bit dry, so in April, under lockdown, I decided to try my mom’s recipe. I freeze the sweetcorn, which allows me to reduce the amount of liquid used in the recipe.

I then grate it and incorporate it into my regular dumpling recipe. I really like mieliebread with stew – I enjoy the combination of sweet and savoury. My mom likes it with butter and tea, but for me it’s a bit too sweet on its own.


3. Naqiyah Mayat

Cookbook author and TASTETube host

Naqiyah-MayatI was only waist-high when I would stand at the kitchen sink watching my late grandmother rip the husk and corn silk off the mielie she had harvested from her garden. Shimmery, white kernels were pressed between her fingers as she released the “milk”.

She would tell me how fresh they were and signalled for my mum to prepare mieliebread for afternoon tea. I sat on the counter watching my mum grate the corn, then tasting the batter to make sure it was “thithaa” (referring to how strong something is in Hindi. She would always say that “it must have a kick”.

This recipe features ground chilli). After steaming it on the stovetop, she would carefully lift the foil and press gently with her forefinger. If it bounced back gently, the mieliebread was done, and it was time to settle on the balcony for tea. Leftovers would be toasted the next morning for breakfast. Mieliebread tastes better once it’s had a chance to firm up. It can stay in the fridge for up to three days.

Cut it into thick slices, then spread butter on both sides. Place into a hot nonstick pan and toast over a medium heat until golden on both sides. Enjoy with sweetened tea.

Annzra Denita

Article by Annzra Denita

Annzra Denita is the digital editor of TASTE. Eating good food is her absolute favourite thing and making good food is a close second.
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