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Chef Zola Nene Shares Her Recipe For A South African Street Food Staple

Zola Nene, like so many great chefs, didn't always plan on making food into a career. She was born into a working-class family in South Africa and briefly studied law before deciding cooking was her real passion. She moved to the U.K. and worked in restaurant kitchens for several years before returning to South Africa to attend culinary school, where she found herself falling in love with food media. She shifted to television, becoming the resident chef for the popular South African morning show Expresso—her vibrance and enthusiasm for the foods of her homeland made her one of the country's most beloved celebrity chefs. She's written two cookbooks and become a culinary ambassador for South African cuisine, recently teaching some of its traditions to Gordon Ramsey on his new National Geographic show.

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I had the opportunity to interview Zola Nene, but this "interview" quickly became a discussion of all the foods I need to try if and when I ever get to visit her in Cape Town. After a breakfast of coffee and ting (fermented sorghum porridge), we're going to get a biplane and zip around the country for braai (grilled beef) and boerewors (sausage), followed by a few dozen koe'sister and koeksister pastries, and then a whole bunch of other foods I was unable to write down because we were getting entirely too excited about this imaginary trip. To kickstart my South African cuisine education, I asked what food might be seen as the cultural equivalent of pizza and burgers in the United States, something ubiquitous and essential to our national character. Her answer was amagwinya: fried bread served with a variety of fillings and sold as street food nationwide. In case you aren't doing much traveling these days, she has included the recipe below so you can make it at home.

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Amagwinya & Curried Mince

Courtesy of Zola Nene

For the amagwinya

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 Tbsp. instant dry yeast
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Lukewarm water
  • Oil for deep frying
  • For the mince

    • 2 Tbsp. oil
    • 1 onion, chopped
    • 1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
    • 1 lb. ground beef
    • 2 Tbsp. curry powder
    • 1 chopped tomato
    • 2 cups beef stock
    • Salt and pepper, to taste
    • Mix together the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Then stir in enough water to form a soft pliable dough. Once most of the flour has been incorporated, switch to using your hands. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, roughly 10 minutes. Once smooth, place the dough into an oiled dish, cover and leave to rise until double in size. (see note)

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      Once risen, knock the dough down with your hand and knead into its original size. Divide the dough into equal pieces, about 12. Shape them into round balls.

      Heat the vegetable oil for frying to about 350 degrees. Test the oil by sprinkling a pinch of flour into the pot. If the flour sizzles and browns, the oil is ready.

      Place the dough in the hot oil, leaving some space between each dumpling. Flip them over to brown equally on both sides. Once browned, place the amagwinya into a pot and cover with a lid. Leave to sit for 5 minutes. This step will ensure that the magwinya have a soft texture, but still retain the crunchy exterior.

      For the mince: heat oil, add onion and garlic then sauté. Add the ground beef, then fry until browned, stirring to break up the meat. Add curry powder and chopped tomato then cook for a few minutes. Add stock, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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      Note: If you don't want to do this by hand, you can make the dough in a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. It should take between 3-5 minutes for you to get an elastic dough that balls up around the hook.

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