Consumer and Food Sciences hosts Future Africa Dinner

Posted on August 20, 2019


On the 7th of August, the final year Hospitality Management students hosted a dinner in celebration of the Indigenous plants found at the Future Africa campus.

The menu itself was inspired by the gardens of Future Africa, with much help from Botanist and Curator of the Department of Plant and Soils,  Jason Sampson. Mr Sampson manages the gardens of the University of Pretoria and has vast information regarding each plant's purpose, be it for research, education, conservation or consumption. Each item was made with the intention of highlighting the indigenous plants of Africa, found within the Future Africa gardens.  The menu was designed by one of the hospitality students, Zandile Finxa, with the plant guidance of Mr Sampson, and showcased South African cuisine to the attending guests, following a public lecture given by visiting American Professor, Herb Meiselman, who is an internationally known sensory and consumer research expert.

The plants themselves were a huge learning experience and so the menu was created based on culinary experience and a bit of experimentation. In the garden, we found the umsoba, or Msoba, commonly known as Nightshade and Nastergal (Afrikaans), and scientifically known as Solanum Nigrum. Traditionally the berries are used to make a very sweet jam but we found the plant itself to have a very savory flavor, and beautiful purple hue, and adapted it to create a savory dish instead: Msoba panna cotta. The msoba itself had to be harvested quite early as the berries were beginning to dry and shrivel due to their very specific harvesting period given the changing climate.  Upon initially cooking the msoba to make panna cotta, the purple hue became green, to which an acid, such as vinegar, was added to preserve the purple hue. The amuse bouche also used Aloe arborescens that were pickled and tossed together with spekboom, a succulent scientifically known as Portulacaria afra, which is actually a native plant to the Eastern Cape.

Amadumbe, a Zulu name for the plant commonly known as Taro and scientifically known as Colocasia esculenta, is a root vegetable and that was prepared with an Italian twist, to highlight just how versatile they are.  The freshly picked water chestnuts, unlike their tinned variety, they have a sweeter, nuttier taste and are able to retain their crunch more after they are cooked, with twice the nutritional content. The chestnuts were picked from the pond at the Future Africa venue, and once cooked, actually proved to be quite gluey in texture. The reasoning behind this was that the starch that had drawn me to them, was actually quick to gelatinize under cool temperatures and so it was important to use hot liquid when preparing in order to avoid a glue-like consistency.

Mabele-a-Ting (which is a fermented crushed sorghum porridge ) were prepared risotto-style for the main. Accompanied by the amaranthus plant, known commonly as Marog (or Thepe as known to the Basotho people) is one of the most commonly growing greens found on the University campus, and it was only right to showcase it in a creamy morogo style. The main star of the plate, the Kudu, was to highlight one of the most synonymous game meats to South African cuisine.

We took a  South African favorite, the classic milktart and gave it a playful twist by making it into a macaron filling, with the use of Amarula, one of South Africa’s most popular cream liqueurs made from the Marula plant, paired to create accompanying ice cream. Kiwano, scientifically known as Cucumis metuliferus,  and commonly known as the African Horned cucumber adds a refreshing flavor and brightness to the dish, prepared in the style of a gel.

Makataan is edible wild melons that are indigenous to South Africa, with the name being derived from the Batshwana language.  Scientifically they are known as Citrullus lanatus. The fruit itself tastes like a cross between watermelon and squash and is often prepared as one would squash. The most use, however, comes from the thick skin from the green makataan. We peeled the skin, taking off the inner flesh, and glazed it over a period of two weeks with a constant sugar syrup that is cooked and changed each day to create a sweet, glazed sweet. In our preservation of the skin, it was imperative that the skin was at least 2cm thick. We discovered that the part of the Makataan on the ground, had thinner skin than the parts at the top, and even though the bigger Makataan was riper, and was expected to be sweeter, the skin was more difficult to work with and took more than the 14 days it took to glace the smaller Makataan.

The menu came as a tree of ideas from literal seeds and crops, and many weeks of harvesting labor. Figuratively and quite literally, from wading in the pond to harvest waterblommetjies used in the main, and the water chestnuts in the starter, to the struggles in working with the  Msoba but all the labor that went into the menu came to successful fruition.



- Author Zandile Finxa

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