Maize is a huge staple in South Africa. Who knew that a little kernel of corn can ensure such a variety of fantastic meals? And they are all so very different!
When I grew up my second mother, Mabel, knew a thing or two about maize rice. No-one could cook this starchy staple more perfectly than Mabel.
Maize rice (or mielie rys in Afrikaans literally translates to riced corn) is made from the kernels of a specific type of white corn. This corn looks from the outside a lot like normal sweet corn, however, when opened up, the kernels are bigger and white in colour. Once ripe, the corn is left in the field to dry in the sun until the moisture content reaches around 14% or less where it is then harvested and transported to a corn mill like this one in South Africa.
The corn is crushed, the husk and heart is removed (this will either go for animal feed (husk) or in the making of cornflour (heart)). Once the corn is crushed it resembles a texture and size that looks a little like short grain rice. This is then cooked and eaten like a stodgy rice.
Maize rice is typically eaten hot as the starchy accompaniment to a Sunday stew (like Instant Pot Oxtail Stew) or with braaivleis (barbecued meat). It can be fairly bland so having it with a gravy or sauce is highly recommended. Once it goes cold, it will go solid (like polenta) and can be cut into slices and fried like chips (or french fries). It can also be eaten with sugar, milk and butter as breakfast, but this is less common.
Overall maize rice is very healthy and super filling. It contains all the beneficial nutrients you can expect from corn (Vitamin A, magnesium and phosphorus amongst others) as well as fibre which aids in digestive health. It is also gluten free. Although maize rice has tonnes of health benefits, it is high in carbohydrates and should be eaten with caution when following a weight loss diet that is low in carbs.
Maize rice doesn’t have a high moisture content and therefore, like dried beans and pulses, can be safely stored for a very long time (well and truly past the sell by date!). Here in England where the weather conditions is mostly humid and cold, maize rice can be successfully kept in an airtight container in a cupboard. However, if you live in a warmer country, like South Africa, you should really put the airtight container in the freezer to ensure that the maize doesn’t get invested with weevils. If you do happen to see these little creepy crawlies wriggling amongst the maize you’ll have to throw it out by placing in a sealed plastic bag or container and disinfect your cupboards as it will infest other products also.
Do not cook maize rice if you are short on time! Since it is very dry it typically takes around 40 minutes to an hour to cook properly on the stovetop. During this time your kitchen will fill with an earthy aroma that will hug you with comfort. A typical ratio would be 1 part dry maize rice for 2 parts of liquid. Since maize rice can be very bland I sometimes like to cook mine in a light stock as it imparts flavour and just enhances the enjoyment of the overall dish. If you feel very opulent you can add a knob of butter right at the end to silken the texture and add even more flavour. Unfortunately maize rice cannot be cooked successfully in the microwave, but I’m sure it will work in an Instant Pot (I haven’t tried this yet!).
I first ensure that I have enough boiling water at hand. This can either be done in a kettle or on the stove top. Pour the water in a saucepan (ensure there is plenty of space as this will expand) and add some salt. If you are using stock, then this should be used instead of water but don’t add salt as stock tends to be salty. Measure out the maize and pour it into the fast boiling water whilst whisking to ensure that there are no lumps. Place the lid on the saucepan and turn the heat to the lowest setting. Simmer for about 40 minutes to an hour until the liquid is absorbed and the maize is cooked through. It is best served hot with a lovely potjie or a hearty stew.