Not to be confused with the butterfly, the Mozambican Matapa stew is a local and traditional delicacy. It is specifically known in the Inhambane area. On my research I came across a lot of articles from passionate tourists passing by and grabbing the recipe and creating their own variation with spinach or kale. While that is a great idea and I would probably try the same, just for people to be able to get the taste of it, nothing compares to the real deal. And you cannot make a variation and offer it to first-timers without maybe ruining the journey completely. I would suggest to visit Mozambique, experience the real dish and then make your own variation - just for the sake of it. But on this article, we will dive into the Matapa in detail! I mean, even the locals were making fun of me for following them around for each and every step. But how else would I learn? The most fascinating thing for me was the procedure of preparation.
As a home chef, I am always paying extra attention to the cuisine in different households and it was not any different in the villages. In a time of technology, where a Thermomix and Kitchen-Aid do all work for you within just a few seconds, I came to realize just how privileged we can be. I personally don't have any of those, but I definitely would invest in one or the other, just because of the time saving abilities in my cooking process. But even making due with a blender, I am still not required to climb a tree, get the coconuts, open and grind them up just to cook one meal. And I know that these are the reasons for first and third world countries and I am not at all asking for pity. If all electricity shots down for some reasons, we are the ones who would be in trouble. There are YouTube channels that are ironically putting up local cooking procedures for others to watch and I was already fascinated by those. The organic tools and way used to grate and siff are astonishing and if I were a full time housewife, I would probably try to cook more like that as well.
But I am going on to far, this is about the famous Matapa after all and I have decided to get the original local recipe first and follow it up with a home-cook version for those who seek the sweet sweet taste of a little Mozambican memory.
We all know and love Mozambique for different reasons. An in depth history of Mozambique will be a time for a different article, but what is important to know, is that the local food culture changes drastically in ca. 1498 when the Explorer, Vasco da Gama, came across this country and established a port on his way. Mozambique was then invaded by the Portuguese. The mere positive outcome in today's topics might be the different inspirations on the cuisine and the introduction of spices and other nutrition that had no prior connection to Mozambique. Ingredients, such as pepper, garlic and onion that helped and directed the dishes that we know and love today.
The Matapa dish is almost a given, since it begins with the leaves of the cassava plant, which by the way was also imported. It is also known as manioc, mandioca, yuca or aipim.
Originated in southern America, it is cultivated annually in tropical and subtropical regions, which is where we find ourselves back in Mozambique,
It is a major source of carbohydrates and therefore ranking third in the staple foods in developing countries, right after rice and maize.
The local plantations hold the big roots over 6 months until they can be harvested. If you have been in Mozambique and walked around in the bush a little, chances are, you've come across a plant.
They are not very outstanding and could be seen as weed but you should not judge that book by its cover. It is a very interesting and multidimensional root, that is highly requested in Europe and America due to its gluten free aspects. I personally love using it in baking, so enjoying a cake feels a little less guilty. It is also a nice change to potatoes once in a while.
The second important ingredient is coconut milk and Mozambique being a coconut tree filled land is the perfect benefit. The coconuts are collected by the men or boys of the village, where they climb up the tree and toss them down. The women then use a machete to open the so called exocarps of the coconut to get to the actual fruit. The water then either gets drunk or wasted and cut into half. Meanwhile the second woman has already the coconut grater ready to grate away.
The grater is basically a wooden stool with metal sharp ends to shred the edible coconut "flesh". It obviously requires some muscle work and a sort of technique to be fast and efficient. And everything looks easy when done by professionals. A smooth movements of joints and knuckles that leave us with perfect coconut shreds, ready to be "milked". For that, the shreds are washed with water and squeezed out.
That pressed bundle then gets siffed in a homemade version of a sieve. That may vary from area to area and village to village. Here, we had a big can that had the bottom cut out to place a piece of mash to be able to use as a strainer. Very creative and initiative. Bear Grylls made a whole television show about him surviving scenarios he chose to put himself in, meanwhile people have real solutions to real problems.
Peanuts, a common ingredient of many different dishes that go alongside of rice or Xima (we will get to this in a bit). The peanuts are grinded down to almost peanut flour texture and then mixed heavily with water, so a nice, creamy and thick texture forms.
The high oil content is what makes the stew extra creamy and gives it the needed essential nutrition such as calories, B vitamins, magnesium, fiber and much more.
A few cloves or crushed garlic with salt, chopped onions and tomatoes are added to the dish, just to give it a little more taste and texture.
The regular Matapa stew is a vegan dish but sometimes prawns or crabs can be added, too. That will obviously depend on the funds, seasons and the success of the fisherman. They are only added in small amounts to give a little more taste to the dish.
Now, as for the side dish to the stew; rice or xima. Everyone knows what rice is but many people outside won't know what xima is. The main reason might actually be the name. Also called massa or nshima, it is just a simple corn flour porridge. It is not the first choice to many locals but sometimes it is even cheaper than rice and therefore a better option for big families. The porridge is filling but has almost no nutritious value. The process of this dish begins in the field. Dried corn gets picked, shucked open, soaked and then dried. Once dry, they are grounded to a powder and left to dry again. This process takes a minimum of 3 days and ist mostly done in big amounts that can get stored easily.
The cooking process is not nearly as time consuming. Water is brought to a stage of heat (not boil). The corn starch then gets added a cup at a time and stirred well to avoid lumps. The amount of water decided the amount of porridge you will end up with. Add a few teaspoons of oil for taste. Xima is ready when it thickens well and starts to bubble up. Stirring constantly is very important so the mixture does not stick and burn at the bottom.
So let's see how you can cook this delicious meal at home.. I am personally not a big fan of measurements. I believe that cooking is a form of art as well as a way of expressing emotions, creativity and a little bit of magic. But I will try my best to bring it to you as real as possible, but even then, don't be shy to play around.