Chef Nti tells us what's cooking this festive season

Image: Kgomotso Neto

I was blessed to grow up in a household where food was part of expressing love and  kindness, and a way of saying, ‘I appreciate you, thank you for coming.’ I sort of clung to that language,” says chef Nthabiseng Ramaboa, popularly known as Chef Nti. South Africa is not lacking in excellent food and world-class chefs, but Chef Nti has won the attention and hearts of Mzansi’s home cooks and food lovers with her no-fuss, charismatic approach to good food that you can easily make without slaving away in the kitchen for hours.

“Yes, I went to culinary school, but otherwise I’m a rebel. I’m not your typical chef. I cook for the home cook. I have always been a home cook. So I’m just saying, you can have a good meal with everyday ingredients. Let me show you how,” she says. Chef Nti’s lively personality radiates from the moment you meet her and you can immediately tell why people have fallen in love with her. Her love for food is obvious as it is woven into everything she says.

Her memories are wrapped up in the food she’s enjoyed in places she’s been, like the papaya and octopus salad she had in Zanzibar, the pap she ate everyday growing up in Soweto, and even the perfect Russian sparkling water she discovered recently at chef Wandile Mabaso’s new restaurant.

“I love three things in life more than anything: food, music, and fashion. Fashion didn’t work out for me and I definitely wasn’t going to go into music because, eish, my voice... so I decided I was going to focus on my love for food,” she smiles. As Chef Nti says, food is identity, so for her recent book, My Modern African Kitchen, she tells us who she is through her take on traditional food.

As a girl who grew up eating pap, she’s written a whole chapter dedicated to pap recipes with a Chef Nti twist. “I want to celebrate us; I want to celebrate our food,” she says. So what’s happening in her kitchen come Christmas? Lots and lots of food, of course.“I love Christmas and I really like the food; I like cooking, and being relaxed, and breaking bread. During Christmas, it’s best to cook from the heart. Go into the pantry — what’s there? How am I feeling? How are we feeling? And just toss things around because you want a big spread of beautiful and delicious food. But the main thing is heart; so for me, I love that. I’ll have everyone in the kitchen, but don’t cook when I’m cooking please. I’m very territorial in the kitchen!”

My Modern African Kitchen is available now at leading book stores

Image: Kgomotso Neto

AMASI CHEESECAKE

This cheesecake looks so delicious, you don’t have to convince anybody. It’s another recipe from my live-TV days — an unbaked cheesecake made with fermented milk and jelly.

INGREDIENTS:

• 100g butter, plus extra for greasing

• 225g (1 packet) Oreos or chocolate biscuits of your choice

• 1 packet strawberry jelly powder

• 1 cup rich and creamy amasi (very cold)

• Zest of 1 lemon

• 1 cup fresh berries, sliced (optional, for decorating)

SERVES: 8

• Grease the inside of a spring form cake tin with butter and line it with cling wrap.

• Melt the butter and crush the biscuits finely.

• Mix the biscuits with the melted butter and spread over the base of the tin.

• Mix the jelly powder with a cup of hot water (or follow package instructions).

• Whip the amasi with lemon zest until smooth and add to the warm jelly liquid.

• Pour the mixture over the crushed biscuit base.

• Place in the fridge to set, preferably overnight or for a few hours at least. Remove it 15 minutes before serving.

• Decorate with fresh berries, if you like.

Image: Kgomotso Neto

LEMONGRASS GINGER BEER

This is our in-house drink at Taste Kitchen, and my mom would always politely suggest that we finish it with pineapple as a garnish and for flavour. Of course, I ignored her. Oh, until I did try it with pineapple. MAGIC! Treat your own guests to some homemade goodness.

INGREDIENTS:

• 4l water
• 150g lemongrass, chopped

• 250g ginger, chopped 

• 625g sugar

• Juice and zest of 2 lemons

• 2 tsp yeast

• 1 pineapple, cubed

SERVES: 16

• Bring 1l of water to boil in a large pot.

• Add the lemongrass, ginger, and sugar,and allow the sugar to dissolve.

• Add the rest of the water, along with the lemon juice, zest, and yeast. Stir well,

• Leave to rest for 10–12 hours, then strain the ginger beer and refrigerate.

• Add pineapple just before serving.

• It can be served cold with ice, or slightly warm in winter. Add slices of fresh ginger at the end for another dimension.

Chef Nti: My modern African Kitchen is out now at leading book stores

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