What’s the difference between polenta and pap?
It’s a question which vexed me when I first arrived in my new hometown Johannesburg.
The answer is about $20 for 200g of bourgeois polenta or, for the same price, one can buy 2.5kg of everyday staple medium-course maize meal, which is used to make pap.
It’s know here as mielie-meal in Afrikaans or mealie-meal in English, both derived from the Portuguese for maize – milho. In America it is what’s known as grits.
Interestingly, though corn meal was a staple in Africa some 500 years ago, this wasn’t always the case. Africa has a rich history of diverse grains from millet to sorghum and teff.
Corn originated in South and Middle America and it wasn’t necessarily the Portuguese who brought it to Africa.
It is thought that it was Arab merchants who visited the Americas prior to Christopher Columbus that first brought it into Africa.
In reality Africa is a huge continent and many people introduced corn to different coasts and inland areas at different times. And every region has its own stories and names.
Inevitably there are many more names for maize. Arabs use mapira manga, chipira manga, kimanga, tsimanga and semanka. African tribal names for maize include umbilla, maveie, sefela, umbona, mabonere, mumbo, mbonyi, morope, mmopo, poone and cikoli.
Most people cook maize meal into a savoury porridge served with some kind of sauce.
I enjoy the zestiness of polenta porridge for breakfast, served with fruit, toasted nuts and yoghurt.
This recipe is very simple and equally works for millet meal in addition to medium to course ground maize.
1 cup of maize meal (polenta) for 4 people
4 cups water
1 lemon or orange, juiced and zested
Fresh fruit. I use whatever is seasonal and available from bananas to berries, kiwi and passion fruits.
Toasted nuts and seeds. I use chopped almonds and pumpkin seeds or whatever is available.
A tablespoon of runny honey.
Pinch of salt
1.The water maize ratio depends on the grind and type of maize you have. The polenta I first found suggested a ratio of 1:4 meal to water which works well in addition to the juice and zest of one lemon or orange. Both taste equally good.
2. Add the polenta, water, juice, zest and honey and salt. Heat and stir for about 10 minutes or so.
3. Add chopped fruit. Yoghurt if you fancy. Top with toasted nuts and seeds.
It really is as easy as that.
I’m interested to hear other flavour combinations and additions of herbs and spices that have worked for you.