EXCLUSIVE: Siba Mtongana speaks about family, food and her trick to cutting onions without the tears

This August, celebrity chef Siba Mtongana is heading up the culinary programme at the Standard Bank Luju Food and Lifestyle Festival in eSwatini. The festival celebrates arts, culture, food and heritage through a uniquely Southern African lens, featuring well-known faces such as Chef Pete Goffe-Wood and J’Something.

Celebrating the diverse and often hidden tastes, smells and flavours of Southern Africa with an authentically African rooted program; Luju will feature cooking demos and master-classes by seasoned chefs in the region, the best in African fashion, design and arts, as well as some exciting music and comedy performances by artists from Swaziland, South Africa, Mozambique and beyond.

READ: Plan the perfect dinner party with these tips from Siba

We spoke to Siba ahead of her first trip to the kingdom and asked her about food and southern African food culture: 

Food24: Cooking for the family is such a joy - what is your favourite meal to prepare for a traditional South African family meal? 

I have brought my kids up in a proudly South African setting. Porridge to my kids only means maize meal, they love to eat it with coconut milk and peanut butter. If they had their way they would eat this every day, but in true Sibalicious style, I give them variations, so every morning is something a little bit different as I want them to enjoy a varied diet.  

Food24: As we look towards the future of African cooking - do you encourage your children to learn cooking skills? How do you include them in the kitchen? 

Absolutely! We need to get our littles in the kitchen as young as possible. As parents or supervisors, we just need to keep a very close eye on the tiny hands, keeping them away from anything and everything sharp, hot or breakable. 

Empower your kids with tasks such as mixing, stirring, decorating or running to fetch ingredient from the pantry or getting a herb in the garden. There are so many ways to include them in a safe and healthy way, and while we impart knowledge, we create a sense of excitement in the kitchen, we really are fostering our future talent, even if they are only four! 

family in kitchen

What’s your ultimate comfort food? 

I absolutely love my fried peanut butter and banana sandwich recipe. It is simple to whip up, tasty, indulgent and hits the spot evetime. It’s so good I like to share, but this one everyone gets their own… ha ha! 

Food24: What’s the one chore in the kitchen that you absolutely dread? 

The thought of cutting onions alone is enough to make me cry! I don’t know anyone who enjoys slicing the dreaded tear makers. 

When I don’t have extra hands in the kitchen I always do the following, rinse the onions after peeling and stick your tongue out! The onion fumes are looking to be absorbed into the most moisturised surface they can find, the tongue creates a barrier between the onion and the eyes.  

chopping onion on board

What local ingredients/spices/flavour combinations are you cooking with at the moment? 

I am loving the gorgeous smoky flavours which are achieved when braaiing. I make a beautiful smoked paprika spice mix that goes very well with mielies (the traditional white fleshy mealies you find on the farms). I then add grated parmesan to that, with some butter and you have yourself a stunning Sibalicious snack, with a delicious kick that’s grounded in local flavours, but with a global appeal! 

Food24: What heritage ingredients to do you wish more people were cooking with?

Boerewors, good old traditional boerewors. There is so much you can do with it, I make everything from Boerewors Bite Pits to my own burger patties with the tasty flavoured meat, which can be found inside the casing. I do the same if I want quick meatballs. This proudly South African ingredient is ... super versatile,and  it  should be a staple in most homes if not already!

FYI: these 5 things are the only ingredients legally allowed in boerewors

Beer marinated boerewors kebabs

What’s your best baking tip? 

Siba: When using baking pans or tins, once you have added your batter to the container, always gentle bang the bottom of the tin or pan on the surface of the table to remove any air bubbles, as this will affect how the batter bakes and rises, it will also impact the look of the final bake, making it a smoother finish with fewer holes. 

Food24 is a proud media partner of the Standard Bank Luju Food and Lifestyle Festival. 4 August 2018, House on Fire, eSwatini.