Food Of Africa - Our Recipes

Malawi Mbatata, Cheese and Simsim Balls

Author: Lumai de Smidt   /   30 March 2020

Though originally from South America, sweet potato or mbatata is a popular starch in Malawi. I’d hear about the tasty sweet potato finger foods sold alongside the road there and, as I wasn’t able to travel to Malawi to experience them for myself, I created my own version. Sweet potato can often be bland, so I mixed it with cinnamon and cheese to offset the sweetness. The cheese adds lovely piquancy. I rolled my sweet potato balls in sesame seeds, or simsim, for maximum crunch! This finger food has been on The Africa Cafe menu for more than 25 years because it is so well loved.


  • 3 large red or white sweet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 5 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp cornflour
  • 200g grated hard cheese (eg. cheddar)
  • 3/4 cup white sesame seeds
  • Vegetable oil for deep frying


In a covered pot, cook sweet potatoes in a little water over low heat.Once soft, open the pot to let the potatoes cool and dry. Tip: Some sweet potatoes retain water. Get them as dry as possible to avoid watery mash.

Mash sweet potatoes with sugar, spices, salt and cornflour. If the mixture is too soft to form balls, and a little more cornflour.

Add cheese and mix until combined. Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls.

Pour sesame seeds into a shallow bowl and coat the balls by rolling them into the seeds.

In a pot, heat oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Deep-fry batata balls until golden brown all over.

Place on paper towel to drain excess oil.

Serve as a starter or on a cocktail platter as a snack. Also great for kids’ packed lunches.

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