Umngqusho: the taste of South African winter

samp and beans
Traditional umngqusho – yummy and simple.

“Recipe for Murder:
1 stocky man who abuses his wife, 1 small tender wife, 1 medium-sized tough woman in love with the wife, 1 double-barrelled shotgun, 1 small Karoo town marinated in secrets, 3 bottles of Klipdrift brandy, 3 little ducks, 1 bottle of pomegranate juice, 1 handful of chilli peppers, 1 mild gardener, 1 fire poker, 1 red-hot New Yorker, 7 Seventh-day Adventists (prepared for The End of the World), 1 hard-boiled investigative journalist, 1 soft amateur detective, 2 cool policemen, 1 lamb, 1 handful of red herrings and suspects mixed together, Pinch of greed.

Throw all the ingredients into a big pot and simmer slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon for a few years. Add the ducks, chillies and brandy towards the end and turn up the heat.”

Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery by Sally Andrew

While visiting my parents in South Africa I asked a local Xhosa lady in the village to give me a masterclass in making real South African umngqusho. It’s a South African staple among the Xhosa people – extending in its varieties to all the other Bantu tribes. It was said to be Nelson Mandela’s favourite dish. I grew up on my nanny’s umngqusho, also called ‘samp and beans’, and it’s a meal I often long for – so let’s just say it’s a recipe that warms not just the tummy, but the heart.

Because the quote was so long, I’m going to share the recipe with you using pictures from my masterclass with the lovely E. Follow along and make your own.

Step one: get your ingredients together

samp and beans ingredients

Step two: preparing the samp and beans

samp and beans

Step three: cooking

ringing samp and beans

Step four: flavour and serve

flavour samp and beans

E’s umngqusho was served plain and it was delicious – I advise trying it with any kind of meat or veg that you enjoy. Many people add potatoes and chopped green peppers. As mentioned in the recipe, I’m going to try mine with chorizo.

I’m intrigued about how food is a bit like music or smells – eating a certain dish can immediately transport you to another place, a party, a memory, a friend, a date, a childhood ritual. And if you accept the assumption of the book I’ve just read, Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery by Sally Andrew, then the right recipe can also solve all sorts of ills.

I would go so far as to prescribe a hot bowl of umngqusho (with your choice of yummy meat and greens), with a large glass of red wine, on a cold winter’s evening, in front of a crackling fire, for any of the following complaints: loneliness, awkward company, confessions, love-sickness and home-sickness.


Umngqusho with extra yummy bits of your choice – thanks Google.

P.s. If you are planning to make this dish somewhere in the world other than in South Africa, you will need to know where to find your nearest South African shop, but as far as I can tell, ‘samp’ is dried corn kernels (South Africans call this mielies) that have been stamped and chopped until broken, so not hard with their shells still on like popcorn, and not as fine as semolina. Failing that, make friends with a South African.
P.p.s. Cooking time is reduced if you soak the samp and beans over night.
P.p.p.s. A warning: reading Recipes for Love and Murder made me constantly hungry for said tasty meal described in the book, but thankfully didn’t tempt me to murder.
P.P.P.P.S. When Hubby reads this he will ask me why I haven’t made it for him yet… my answer is that as soon as this shvitzing heatwave in London has past, I’ll use my new found skills to make you traditional Xhosa samp and beans à la Nyama.
P.p.p.p.p.s. For the correct pronunciation of the word ‘umngqusho’ – see video below.

3 thoughts on “Umngqusho: the taste of South African winter

  1. It is always great to read about new recipes.Umngqusho looks the perfect meal to be enjoyed in good company .I can relate to the theme that certain recipes and eventual meals always bring back lovely memories of events with family and friends .


  2. Thanks for the recipe. I love your villainous backing story. 😊
    I was watching Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond a while ago and she used “hominy” in a recipe. It looked just like samp so I Googled it to check and it’s the same thing. So maybe you can tell your fans about that.
    Personally, I live in Dartford, a stone’s throw from Erith, and Foods4U, the best South African shop outside SA.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dee, thanks for your comment. You’ve taught me something. I have never heard of homily. I’m glad you have a South African shop near you, that must mean there are some SAs in your area. If you try the recipe for Umngqusho please let me know how it goes. Nyama


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