Home > Ethical Consumption, Food, Provenance, Wine > Of cook books and amakhowe

Of cook books and amakhowe

Preparation Time: 20 minutes Cooking Time: 30 minutes Yield: 4

Erica Platter and Cindy Valayadan at the launch of Erica's cook book, East Coast Tables, at 96 Winery Road in Stellenbosch

Erica Platter launched her new cookbook, East Coast Tables, at 96 Winery Road in Stellenbosch a couple of weeks ago. Besides bringing with her Cindy Valayadan from Umhlali, one of the many local food personalities with whom she worked closely in the development of the book, and husband John, she also brought some genuine Natal banana leaves (a local supplier wanted R25 a pop for them!) and something that I have not had the pleasure of seeing for many a long year – amakhowe.

If you’re familiar with isiXhosa or isiZulu, you will recognise amakhowe for what they are – large (up to 25cm across), delicious porcini-like mushrooms that grow wild in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Transkei. They are considered by many to be our local equivalent of truffles.

The cook book – an enticing collection of specialities, flavours, family recipes and kitchen secrets from the Natal Coast – includes a whole section devoted to this remarkable mushroom written by well-known Natal chef, Marco Nico, who recently moved down to settle in Stellenbosch and start an artisanal charcuterie.

Detailed descriptions of popular seasonal ingredients, where to find them, how to prepare and use them, and a plethora of recipes for each, forms a substantial part of the book. Local personalities, like Cindy Valayadan and Marco Nico, are woven into the book with their personal recipes and tips lending remarkable diversity to the book. The recipes are easy to follow, and Clinton Friedman’s food photography is breath-taking.

iKhowe - the real thing, all the way from KZN, compliments of Erica Platter

During the frequent holidays I spent in the Transkei in my youth – admittedly much further back in time than I’d care to mention – amakhowe was always a frim favourite on the table at Hobeni, the ancestral home of the Woods family, my cousins.

Amakhowe grow wild in Natal and the Transkei, typically germinate after rain and grow with amazing rapidity.

Whenever it rained at Hobeni, everybody knew that within 24 hours, a good number of young herd boys would present themselves at the counter of the trading store at Hobeni with one or more amakhowe in various stages of growth. Having guarded them carefully to prevent a passing cow from taking a casual bite, and allowing them to grow as large as possible without spoiling, the haggling over price could become quite spirited, but it was always good natured.

Eventually a bargain would be struck, and the treasured delicacy handed over, to be sent to the gargantuan kitchen where Cook would fry it for breakfast.

The firm meaty texture and flavour is unforgettable, and I fortuitously recounted this fond memory to Erica before she began to talk about her book. Fortuitous, because I was one of the lucky few to be given one of half dozen or so amakhowe that she had brought down with her from Durban.

If you cannot get hold of amakhowe – unlikely down here in the Cape – then porcini mushrooms will do just as well.

  • East Coast Tables, published by East Cost Radio, is available at most popular book stores at the recommended retail price of R250.

Ingredients, Selection and Preparation

1 medium onion: peeled and finely chopped.

2 cloves garlic: finely sliced.

50g butter

125ml dry white wine

150g porcini mushrooms: if they are dried, then all you’ll need is around 50g, in which case place in a bowl and soak in boiling water for 15 minutes or so. If you use fresh porcinis or amakhowe, brush them off carefully to remove any sand or growing medium. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on amakhowe wipe the cap off with a damp cloth but avoid washing them at all costs. Slice the mushrooms into strips.

250g button mushrooms: brushed clean and sliced.

350g bucatini: quite simply spaghetti with a hole in the centre. Not to be mistaken for macaroni, it has a much smaller hole in the centre, and is long like spaghetti. If you can’t find bucatini, spaghetti is an acceptable substitute.

250ml fresh cream

150g Parmesan cheese: grated.

Salt and pepper to taste

1tsp truffle oil

8 sage leaves: rinse and chiffonade the leaves.


The finished dish, Bucatini with creamy amakhowe sauce, so reminiscent of the time I spent in my youth in the Transkei.

Set a large saucepan of salted water to boil for the pasta, and add the pasta once it comes to a brisk boil

Heat a medium saucepan and melt the butter. Sauté the onion and garlic until it is soft and translucent.

Pour in the white wine, and deglaze the saucepan. Cook gently until the alcohol has evaporated and the liquid is reduced by half.

Add the mushrooms and cook until soft through.

The pasta ought to be done al dente (with the characteristic “bite”), so drain it thoroughly and stir it into the sauce, mixing gently but thoroughly.

Drizzle with the tsp of truffle oil then stir in the 250ml of fresh cream, followed by 100g of the grated cheese and the sage.

Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Heat through.

Serve garnished with the balance of the grated Parmesan cheese and a sage leave or two. Enjoy!

Wine Match

The truffle oil and cream make this a really rich dish, so you want something with enticing fruit aromas, coupled with fresh acidity.

Having just attended the Celebration of Chardonnay at De Wetshof Estate in Robertson, I settled upon the 2009 Jordan Nine Yards Chardonnay, which was presented at the tasting by Kathy Jordan. It worked like a charm.

Straw yellow in colour, it offers fresh kiwi and fresh yet opulent citrus aromas and a grassy floral note on the nose.

In the mouth, it’s all about crisp citrus fruit flavours, coupled with fresh acidity and an intriguing delicate sherbet note. The mid palate is full, and the finish is long.

  1. Ken Hounsom
    February 9, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Where can one acquire a copy of your book.Has it a recipe for pickled ikhowe?

    • February 13, 2013 at 10:52 am

      The book is available from Exclusive Books in South Africa, either in-store, or on-line

  2. Rob Cameron
    May 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    Why can’t Ikohwe be cultivated?

    • October 12, 2016 at 9:07 am

      I’ve no idea. Doubt it’s ever been attempted though.

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