A Cultural Potpourri
As an avid reader and admirer of Lola’s splendiferous Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino blog since its inception, I was absolutely tickled pink to be invited by her to be a guest chef for a day. It is truly an honour especially since Lola is a culinary magician who transports us – with enormous flair and eloquence – to her Italian ‘headquarters’ in the Eternal City and shares with us the culture, traditions, art, food and vibrant history of that glorious country.
Some of you know me as that chronically homesick African who was whisked away from her beloved land quite recently by a deliciously handsome Englishman to live for a while in his country. Thing is, you see, the Englishman in question is my husband of 30 something years and he feels – probably quite justifiably – that it’s his turn to spend time in the country of his birth after having lived most of his adult life in mine. Problem is that no matter how hard I try, I just can’t rid myself of that niggling ache for home! So rather than sit and mope, I try to bring Africa to England as often as I possibly can by painting my memories of the people and places I love so much. I also love to cook, so the invitation to be guest chef on Lola’s blog is a wonderfully serendipitous opportunity to share a typically South African recipe with you.
Although I've lived in many parts of Africa, Cape Town is where I was born and raised so it seems appropriate that I should take you there. Please, come with me to that beautiful city nestled in the curve of it’s famous mountain and allow me to introduce you to the colourful Bo-Kaap area and to the Cape Malay people who live there.
The Cape Malay Quarter, or 'Bo-Kaap' as it is known locally, sprawls along the slopes of Signal Hill and presents a scenario of enduring historic and cultural significance. With their soft, caramel skins and wide smiles, the Cape Malay people are a prized and proud element of the South African culture.
The first group of Malaysian state prisoners landed on the shores of South Africa from Java and the neighbouring Indonesian islands in the late 1600's. Many more followed in the years 1727 until 1749. Not only did this proud and attractive people bring with them the Moslem faith and fine architecture, they also brought with them a unique cookery style, introducing exciting mixtures of pungent spices that has had a heady influence on traditional South African cuisine. Indeed, the Malay-Portuguese words such as bobotie (a curried ground beef and egg custard dish), sosatie (kebabs marinated in a curry mixture) and bredie (slowly cooked stews rich in meat, tomatoes and spices) are integral in our cookery vocabulary.
It all began in 1652, when the Cape of Good Hope was born, a stop in South Africa for ships of the East India Company of Holland on their way east. Immigrants from Europe, convicts from China, slaves from Mozambique and the prisoners from Java soon increased the populace of the seaside village bringing with them their unique cookery skills. A multi-ethnic cuisine emerged, and one can only imagine the aromas emanating from kitchens producing highly spiced dishes from Dutch, Italian, Portuguese and especially oriental recipes handed down for generations. Cape Malay cuisine is a delicious fusion of Asian, European and African food genres. From clove laden denningvleis lamb to naartjie (tangerine) zest infused tameletjie cookies, Cape Malay cooking is seasoned with history, infused with culture and full of fine flavours.
The Malay influence comes through in the curries, chilies and extensive use of spices such as ginger, cinnamon and turmeric. More Malay magic comes through the use of fruit cooked with meat, marrying sweet and savoury flavours, with hints of spice, curry and other seasonings. The food has a nuance of seductive spiciness, true testament to the culinary capabilities of Malay women world wide. I cannot think of a dried apricot without the image of our cook Lizzie, grinning widely, a wooden spoon in her hand, gently stirring a pot of simmering curry and fruit.
Lizzie’s bobotie is legendary and I still have her recipe in my book of kitchen treasures. Bobotie (pronounced ba-boor-tea) is a curried ground beef dish, baked in a rich egg custard. Some recipes call for you to combine the curry powder with the ground beef, whilst others advise you to fry the curry powder with the onions. The method is really unimportant. Once the custard covering the beef begins to bake, it keeps the meat moist and absorbs the fragrance of the curry and spices. What makes bobotie such a popular traditional South African dish is that it is exceptional served hot with geelrys (yellow rice), but just as good served cold with a peppery green salad with a tart vinaigrette dressing.
1 large onion, chopped
25 g butter
500 g Minced beef
2 Garlic cloves, crushed
2 cm Fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsp Garam masala
½ tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Ground cumin
1 tsp Ground coriander
3 Allspice berries
1 tsp Dried mixed herbs
50 g Dried apricots, chopped
50 g Sultanas
25 g Flaked almonds
3 tbsp Chutney
4 tbsp Chopped parsley
4 Bay leaves, plus extra to garnish
250ml Whole milk
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Heat the butter in a saucepan and cook the onions until soft. Set aside. Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and fry the beef, without oil, until golden brown.
Remove from the heat and add the onions together with all the other ingredients except the milk and eggs. Mix well and put into 4 x 300ml ovenproof bowls or a large ovenproof dish. Press the mixture down with the back of a spoon.
Beat the milk and eggs together lightly and pour over the mince mixture. Bake for 20–25 minutes for small boboties (and 30–40 minutes for a large one) or until the topping has set and is golden brown.
Serve your bobotie with blatjang (pronounced blud-young) a delicious, tangy chutney of dried fruit and spices. A fragrant, gently spiced dish of geelrys (yellow rice) is also a traditional accompaniment to this dish of sublime deliciousity.
250 g dried apricots
1 red onion, quartered
½ tsp dried crushed chillies
2 garlic cloves
50 ml white malt vinegar
1 heaped tbsp brown sugar
A dollop of mustard
A knob of ginger, grated
Put the apricots in a bowl and pour over 600 ml boiling water. Leave for 30 mins to soak and cool. Plop the apricots and their soaking liquid into a food processor with all the remaining ingredients, then blitz for a scant 30 seconds or until roughly chopped. Tip into a saucepan, then cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes until thick and pulpy.
350 g basmati rice
50 g butter
1 heaped tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon or 1⁄2 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods , shelled and seeds crushed
just under 1 tsp ground turmeric
5 tbsp raisins
Put all the ingredients in a large pan with 1 tsp salt and 500ml water, then heat until boiling and the butter has melted. Stir, cover and leave to simmer for 6 mins. Take off the heat and leave, still covered, for 5 mins. Fluff up and tip into a warm bowl to serve.
As a true blue Capetonian, it would be very remiss of me if I didn’t suggest one of our fine wines to go with the bobotie! Although the Cape Malays, being devout Muslims, don’t drink alcohol it would be remiss of me not suggest one of our ambrosial wines to accompany the bobotie! One of my favourites is from the Boekenhoutskloof Estate in Franshoek. Their Syrah is an absolute cracker, full of complex, cracked pepper flavours and has a huge silky palate – and in my opinion, perfect with meat dishes of any description!
Thank you so much, Lola, for inviting me to share a little taste of home with this delectable Cape Malay meal. Buon appetito - lekker eet!
After a long and courageous battle against Pulmonary Fibrosis Tessa passed away on Monday, 27th December surrounded by her family.
She brought warmth, light and colour into our lives and the world is a drabber, sadder and drearier place without her. No words can describe the loss we feel, but she will forever remain a bright, shining star in our memories - warm, bold, brave and strong.