“They taste like a bit like biltong or chicken, I love them!” she explained. “Actually, they taste more like leaves.” A bag of Mopani worms are sitting dried in my cupboard waiting for my “how to cook this” experimentation session. My seastar, Nokulinda, bought them from a Sangoma down the road from her work in Johannesburg. Noks wrote me a text before she arrived, “So happy to see you manana. x I come bearing gifts I hope you like mopani worms . . . At least if you’re open to eating one the rest can compost xx.”
The first time I learned about mopani worms was by sticking my head inside a kitchen of a restaurant in Muizenberg. I leaned over a huge bubbling pot in interest for what was for lunch to find plump fat worms instead of the expected butternut soup. At that time I was more interested in where they came from than how they tasted.
Now, I’ve got my own worms and my own pot to bubble them in, there’s no shying away from it now. People have been cooking these tree worms or rather caterpillars for centuries, so it should only feel natural to finally make up a recipe and cook and taste these Limpopo province imports, so here it goes:
250 ml Mopani or mopane worms
1 clove of garlic
1 small onion
2 T of sesame and ricebran oil
250 ml coconut milk
1 tsp fresh basil
1 tsp fresh lemongrass
2 tsp salt
150 ml rice
Bowl rice in 300ml water and lower to a simmer or place in a hot box for 45 minutes. Rinse the mopani worms in a colander. Place them in a bowl of warm water and let them soak while you prepare the vegetables. When they have soaked for more than 5 minutes, remove any yellow hair found at the tail of the worm and tiny spikes on the body.
Boil water and add potato slices to the water. Boil until soft. Heat oil on medium heat in a separate pan. Dice the garlic and onions and add to the heated oil. Brown the onion and garlic. Puree tomatoe and carrot with 1 tsp salt and 1/3 cup water. Add to the pan. Add 1 tsp salt, pepper, lemongrass, and basil. Add mopani worms and stir. Cover pan and simmer until the water has evaporated. Stir in the coconut milk, let it simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Lower the heat and stir what now should be a gravy-like consistency. Mopani worms should be soft and the gravy should be oh so tasty. Add the potatoes to the gravy and let them soak up the flavour or alternatively place in your hot box. Fry the rice in coconut oil so some bits become crispy. Serve the gravy over the rice and garnish with cilantro.
Next up: Chocolate covered worms!