Popularly known as the “warm heart of Africa”, Malawi is a small country situated in Southeast Africa. Malawians are known for their genial and warm nature, which earned them the most suitable nickname for their country. It is strongly rooted in the Malawian culture to exude hospitality, even to strangers. Literally, one can stay at their guest’s place as long as they wish to. While in Malawi, you have no fear of overstaying your welcome!
Malawians are remarkable. You are always met with a cordial smile that instantly gives you an at home feel. As soon as you enter someone’s home, you are offered something to drink and eat at first. You will never ever leave someone’s home empty handed either. They are so generous that they do not hesitate to share whatever they have even when life is not easy for them. Needless to say that food is the pivot of Malawian hospitality and a visitor never leaves a home without being fed.
The Malawian dining custom and etiquette is quite fascinating. They pray before the start of every meal. They eat with their hands. Before and after every meal, the host/hostess will place a bowl in front of you to wash your hands. This practice is taken very seriously. Their everyday meal consists of nsima (maize flour and water) accompanied by two relishes (often vegetable dishes, but can also include meat). The nsima is then used as a scoop, dipped in the relish and relished. This practice is very similar to having a roti and curry. Being an Indian, I cannot fail to observe so many similarities with our culture.
Their dietary choices are greatly influenced by their lifestyle. Most of the Malawians were engaged in subsistence farming and fishing. Hence their diet is rich in starch, carbs and something that provides them more energy. In the earlier years, maize and millet were mainly grown for their living. Later cash crops like sugar, sweet potatoes, and cassava were harvested. As I mentioned earlier, nsima, a maize porridge is their staple food. Whenever you visit a Malawian home, you are invariably treated with nsima.
Sweet potatoes (mbatata in Malawian) are also common in the Malawian cuisine. They are used in preparing futali, mbatata pudding, and mbatata cookies. Sweet potato leaves are also used to make the vegetable relish called ndiwo.
Today’s post is a cookie made with sweet potatoes – the mbatata cookies. These cookies are mildly sweet, nutritious, and have a soft, spongy texture unlike regular cookies. They are somewhat a cross between scones and biscuits. These naturally sweetened cookies can be had as a snack, dessert or even at breakfast. Traditionally, Malawians have it as a snack.
Sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest tuber crops. The flesh of the sweet potato ranges from white to yellow to orange and in some cases even purple or pink. These mildly sweet starchy vegetables hold a good amount of fibers, vitamins and minerals. The orange-fleshed ones have the highest amount of beta-carotene, an antioxidant needed to convert vitamin A to be properly absorbed by the body. It is said that the higher the intensity of the yellow or orange colors, the higher the value of the nutritional content in it.
I must tell you apart from these benefits, these colors also add a beautiful hue to the cookies when it is baked! As the holidays are nearing, these sweet bites will also make a good edible gift. You could try something different for this season. Below is the recipe for the cookies.
- 2 sweet potatoes
- ¼ cup milk
- 4 tablespoons butter , melted
- 1¼ cup flour , sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- Peel sweet potatoes, cut into pieces and cook in salted boiling water until soft, about 30 minutes.
- Drain, then mash with a fork.
Preheat oven to 375F/180C.
Combine ¾ cup (200g) of mashed sweet potatoes with the milk and melted butter, and beat well.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Add to potato mixture and mix well.
Pour the dough onto a floured surface. Knead, and roll out with a rolling pin to a thickness of ½ inch (1cm). Cut with a cookie cutter.
- Place cookies on a lightly greased baking sheet or lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes or until cookies are light brown.
- Remove from baking sheet and place on wire rack to cool.
- Sprinkle additional cinnamon and sugar on top of the warm cookies.
- The consistency of the dough is moist and sticky. Work on a well-floured surface. - You can also add raisins to the cookies. - You can also spoon and drop the dough rather than rolling out. Slightly press them before baking.