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Chicken Butternut Curry with Samp and Beans (Umngqusho Onembotyi)

August 19, 2011

The weather is playing silly buggers and at times like these I think of samp and beans….Umngqusho to the uninitiated, a real comforting, staple South African dish. On Wednesday it was 32 degrees Celsius which is around the 100 deg F mark (it IS winter you know!!) and today it is cold and wet again with a very watery sun trying to make itself seen between the dark clouds. I see those bright white fluffy cumulo nimbus all around….which tells me that it most probably is snowing in the surrounding mountains. When the weather is cold I get hungry….for warming comforting slow cooked stews, curries and casseroles. My recent encounter with a miracle piece of cookware came to mind and I suddenly realized that I had not yet blogged about it. I bragged all over facebook about it and then my oral surgery episode happened and the information stayed filed in the folder of articles to be blogged.

A couple of months ago I came across a page on the internet proclaiming the values of the amazing Wonderbag™  that looks like this

Photograph courtesy of Wonderbag™

 After reading all I could, and having watched the videos and being suitably impressed and intrigued, I wrote to the address provided on the website and procured one of these amazing devices for myself to see how it works. Sean, the sales and marketing manager in the Western Cape, delivered the bag to me and I could not wait to try it out for myself. Basically a heat rentention/insulation cooker that works similarly to a slow cooker, without using any electricity or other fuelled heat source, the Wonderbag™ is made out of traditional Shweshwe fabric and is stuffed with polystyrene balls. The saucepan of food is put into the bag after the initial cooking stage on the stove, the bag is closed around the saucepan and it is left to cook using its own heat. With the cost of electricity going up as steeply and as often as it does this is a very attractive alternative way of cooking. It is also fantastic for those living in rural areas and townships who do not have access to electricity and cook via open fire methods. It is a much safer and economically viable option for them to use a Wonderbag™.

So it is a given that the very first meal that I made in mine was the very traditional Umngqusho Onembotyi (or Samp and Beans). After soaking for a few hours and then rinsing I did the initial cooking for about 10 minutes on the stove top then covered the saucepan tightly with the lid and popped it into the beautiful dark blue patterned Wonderbag™ and went to bed.

The next morning hubby and I were amazed to see steam still rising out of the saucepan when we opened the bag and lifted the lid to peer at the food. It was perfectly cooked!! How impressive! Although it was perfectly tender and cooked through some people like their Umgnqusho to be more mushy. To get that consistency I would suggest cooking it on the stove top for 30 minutes then bagging it!

Now I just needed something meaty to go with the umngqusho! Chicken curry came to mind and that is exactly what I did!

To make the samp and beans : measure out 2 cups samp and 1 cup dried sugar beans. Rinse well under running water then cover with cold water and leave to soak overnight or at least 4-6 hours. Rinse again then place into a large saucepan with about 1,2 litres of clean cold water, bring to a rapid rolling boil then rinse off under cold water. Replace in the saucepan with 750ml water or enough to just cover the samp and beans, a bay leaf and some cardamom pods if you like. You can add onion, garlic or other spiced flavourings if you like as well but I love the taste of plain buttery samp and prefer to bring more flavour with a meaty stew or casserole.  Bring to a rapid boil again then half cover with the lid and continue to boil over medium heat for anything from 10 minutes to 30 minutes depending how soft you like your umngqusho onembotyi. Remove from the heat, cover tightly with the lid then place the hot saucepan inside the Wonderbag™ on top of a folded dish towel. Cover with the padded bag lid then pull up the cord and tie tightly. Leave for 6-8 hours or overnight as I did. Fluff up with a fork and add some butter and enough salt to taste. If you don’t have this wonderful invention you will have to continue cooking your beans in the traditional way on the stove top, lid askew and over a medium heat, checking every 20 minutes or so until they are soft. You would also need to use an added 500ml or so of extra water. Add salt, pepper and a knob of butter and enjoy either on its own or with an accompanying hearty meat stew or casserole. Never add salt to the water while cooking. It makes the skins of the beans toughen up! I have often woken up one day and decided today I want to eat samp and beans so at times like that there is no time to soak. I just rinse them very well, add cold water to cover in the saucepan and boil rapidly for 5 minutes, rinse off well and repeat the process once again before adding the final water and cooking until done. It works!

Colleens Chicken and Butternut Curry

Serves 4 – 6 (depending how hungry you are!)

Dont panic at the long list of ingredients. A good homemade curry needs the spices! My advice is to measure all the spices out first then the rest of the recipe is very simple to follow


500 g Deboned Skinless Chicken Breast Fillets or Thighs

1kg Butternut – peeled and cubed (sweet potato also works very well)

2 Medium-sized onion – roughly chopped

Sunflower Oil – about 50ml

4 Garlic Cloves – peeled and crushed or finely chopped

2,5cm Piece Fresh Ginger – peeled and grated

2 Whole Red Chillies – sliced or minced (remove seeds and pith if you don’t want the heat)

1 Fresh or Dried Whole Bay Leaf

5 Cardamom Pods – bashed with a mallet

2 Whole Star Anise

Stick of Cinnamon or Cassia bark

5ml Whole Allspice Berries

5ml Whole Black Peppercorns

5ml Whole Cumin Seeds

5ml Barishap – Fennel Powder for those who don’t know what that is

5ml Turmeric Powder

5ml Coriander Powder

5ml Red Masala Powder

15 ml Curry Powder

Juice of 1 Lemon

30ml Smooth Apricot Jam (melted over gentle heat)

3 Large Ripe Tomatoes – blanched, peeled & chopped (or 1 Can Chopped Peeled Tomatoes)

250ml Tomato Passata – you can use a good chicken stock if you prefer

Handful of Fresh or Dried Curry Leaves

5 ml Garam Masala

Salt and Black Pepper to season

Handful of fresh Dhania – roughly chopped (fresh Coriander leaves)



Make a thick paste out of the barishap, turmeric, masala, curry powder, lemon juice and apricot jam and set aside until needed

Fry the onions and the whole spices & cumin seeds in the oil over medium heat until glazed and limp

Add the garlic, ginger and chillies, and stir-fry for a couple of minutes

Add the curry paste and stir in well, fry gently until the aromas enfold you in a dreamy spicy cloud

Add the chicken pieces and butternut and stir over the heat to coat  well with the curry mix

Add the tomatoes and passata

Stir in the curry leaves then bring to a gentle boil, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Cover with lid and transfer to the  Wonderbag™  as previously explained. Leave for about 4 hours then return to the stove top over a low heat  for the rest of the seasoning.

(If you dont have the Wonderbag™ then you can leave the chicken, half covered, over medium heat and continue simmering until the chicken and butternut is cooked through and the sauce is reduced and thickened)

Stir in the garam masala about 5-10 minutes before end of cooking time

Chop a handful of coriander leaves and stir in just before serving, reserve some for sprinkling on top as a garnish

(I like to stir through about 50mls of Bulgarian Yoghurt before serving but that is optional)

Serve with rotis, rice or samp, some sambals and a dollop of chutney

Some tips when using the Wonderbag™ :

  • Always use a folded dish towel in the bottom of the bag to protect it from the soiled bottom of the saucepan
  • Use liquid sparingly as no steam escapes during “cooking” in the bag
  • Don’t use too large a pot for the amount of food as heat is retained most effectively if the pot is almost full
  • It is recommended not to use cast iron cookware in your Wonderbag™
  • Not only is the Wonderbag™ used for cooking, you can also keep cold foodstuff cold or at an even temperature.
  • Ideal for when you do your shopping and you need to keep ice cream or frozen or cold stuff at the right temperature.
  • Also good for travelling distances with frozen foodstuff. I kept a frozen pack of chicken totally frozen overnight in my Wonderbag™!
  • You can even heat plates and keep them warm in the Wonderbag™!

As you can see from all of the above….I am so impressed and highly recommend a  Wonderbag™ In fact I am about to purchase a divine red one for myself 🙂

Contact the company via their website to be put in touch with their sales representative in your ararea or to purchase online.

Have a great weekend,

browniegirl xx


26 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2011 7:16 PM

    As you know I took one back to England for my Mum and she loves it, she’s made quite a few different things in it. I must get one for myself. Why don’t the advocate cast iron, that would exclude Le Creuset?

    • September 16, 2011 9:23 AM

      Apparently the cast iron gets too hot and could burn the bag. But I reckon if you leave it off the heat for a couple minutes before you put it into the bag it might work…worth a try with the Le Creuset!! Its an awesome invention! xx

  2. August 19, 2011 7:18 PM

    Love your curry but even this meisie can’t come to terms with samp and beans.

    • September 16, 2011 9:22 AM

      LOL! Have you tried to make it yourself Sue? Its so delicious. And good for you too 🙂

  3. Handsome Harold permalink
    August 19, 2011 7:46 PM

    looks so nice…pity about the confounded butternut!!!

  4. August 19, 2011 8:09 PM

    HAHAHA! It’s good for you! Just leave it out or use sweet potato as I suggested in the recipe. Works well. Otherwise plain old potato will do the trick if you want more starch! 😉 xx

  5. August 19, 2011 8:28 PM

    Wow, Brownie – this food reminds me of my Mom and now I am missing her!!

  6. August 20, 2011 7:41 AM

    This is right up my alley, love both curry and samp & beenz 🙂

  7. Audrey permalink
    August 20, 2011 1:00 PM

    I always cook our Christmas Ham with the wonder bag method. Originally used two bean bag chairs which worked well. When they began to leak I would use blankets, duvets, towels and whatever to wrap up the pot. You need to boil the ham for 25 mins before wrapping.

  8. August 20, 2011 9:10 PM

    I’ve got to get me a wonderbag…

    Love this recipe, bg – it’s truly south african! xx

    • August 28, 2011 5:31 PM

      Thanks Zabs, it is a fabulous thing to have. Im loving mine. xx

  9. August 22, 2011 4:39 PM

    Fantastic recipe and what an amazing “gadget”!

  10. August 28, 2011 4:22 PM

    What an amazing bag that is. It sort of reminds me of an episode I saw recently where Jamie Oliver was in the US and they prepared a dish in a similar fashion but by burrying it in the soil. Needless to say this must be much easier. Love that dish!

  11. August 28, 2011 4:56 PM

    Ai Polkie, it sure does do that hey? Thank you for the compliment! Sending you warm hugs xx

  12. August 28, 2011 4:58 PM

    And I love you!!! Was so fab seeing you yesterday and catching up a little bit. Have a good trip home. xxx

  13. August 28, 2011 4:59 PM

    Audrey, its exactly the same way that this cooks. I have a friend who uses a sleeping bag in the same way as you do to do the Christmas gammon 🙂 Thank you so much for your input and comment. xx

  14. August 28, 2011 5:34 PM

    Thanks Chica! I love curry 🙂 And yes, this is an amazing “gadget”. Such a simple theory and it works! xx

  15. August 30, 2011 8:51 PM

    This bag seams to be pretty amazing.. how much energy can we save this way! This dish looks delicious .. and I love chicken curry any time. Going to try your recipe sometime soon.

    • September 2, 2011 1:12 PM

      Thanks Kankana. Let me know how it goes! These bags are awesome. Im loving mine. And yes, it is a huge energy saver! xx

  16. August 30, 2011 8:51 PM

    This bag seams to be pretty amazing.. how much energy can we save this way! This dish looks delicious .. and I love chicken curry any time. Going to try your recipe sometime soon.

  17. August 31, 2011 5:52 PM

    I have a bag of samp & beans here in London that needs cooking – but I must say I have never heard of an invention as wonderous as that bag! So clever – a Saffer will make a plan to get around ANY problem! Love it, blogMamma 🙂

    • September 16, 2011 9:20 AM

      Thank you Jeanne! I love my bag! And it sure does save on energy use! I hope you make that samp and beans before the weavils enjoy it 🙂 Hugs xx

  18. September 2, 2011 1:10 PM

    Hi Simone, yes, I imagine it would be a similar way of continuing the cooking process. But as you say, much easier! I’d rather dig the bag out of the cupboard than dig up the garden hehe!! Thank you, the dish is an old weathered enamel plate! I love collecting those xx

  19. September 4, 2011 11:29 AM

    Oh..I am loving that Wonderbag! Would be great to take along for a travel.

    • September 16, 2011 9:21 AM

      Thank you Sanjeeta. Yes, it would be a great travel companion. And it is light too! xx

  20. September 16, 2011 9:21 AM

    Thank you Sanjeeta. Yes, it would be a great travel companion. And it is light too! xx

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