CHEF JP RECONCILES THE FLAVOURS OF FRIENDSHIP
Chef Jean-Pierre shares a traditional feast and raises a glass to friends and family on the Day of Reconciliation
Reconciliation Day, I will proudly say, brings back wonderful memories of a lunch at the world-renowned Razzmatazz restaurant in Umhlanga KZN with my best friends and business partners, Albert Eloff and Brett Shepard.
Our special lunch guest was author and co-founder of another world famous restaurant called Gramadoelas (in Afrikaans: “the back end of nowhere”) which was located in Newtown, Jozi.
Eric Naude and Brian Shalkhoof had a winning combination. As authors of the EGOLI cookbook, they were in many a kitchen throughout South Africa and, at their restaurant, they welcomed many local VIPs as regulars a well as international guests such as Denzel Washington, Elton John, Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth 11, the Danish queen and many others.
During our lunch, we discussed how we planned to publish an international cookbook called Chefs Without Borders – a wonderful idea but a fascinating concoction that never got published by me – but, I guess, there is still time for that!
Without a doubt, Eric was an inspiration to all of us, guiding us on the ways of publishing. Most importantly, he was a wonderful human being.
Because I am still inspired by many memories of time spent with him and our recipe book plan, I have decided to celebrate this December 16 – the Day of Reconciliation – by cooking four traditional dishes from the book. These showcase the rainbow cuisine of South Africa with the four women featured in the book – Nenna, Elsa, Doma and Mrs Naidoo – a kaleidoscope of flavour and colours.
But, moving into the present, I realised that it has been a few decades since South Africans have truly reconciled. To my mind, it is food that always brings back memories of love, friendship and laughter – so, reconcile with your nearest and dearest this week over a good meal.
Looking back over the past 50 years or so – and even the last three in KZN – I am amazed by what we have been through. But, in the wake of all this crazy madness, my humble opinion is that history happened, and sometimes even repeats itself, but, if we can’t move forward with respect and knowledge, everything is quite pointless. It’s much like taking a blunt pencil and trying to rewrite what is now well and truly past.
The other thing that has gotten us through everything from Eskom to potholes in our roads is our rich sense of humour. As a good friend once told me – “Jean-Pierre, you can lose everything in life, but not your sense of humour.” So, every meal that I serve up is generously seasoned with my particular sense of humour which is much like black coffee – warm and dry.
Cup of steaming coffee in hand, I can truly say that I believe that the cultural reconciliation of food breaks down any barriers and brings everyone closer together. After all, food is universal and has its beautiful and wonderful spot in the hearts of all humanity. In South Africa, everything from biltong and bunny chows to shisanyama, chakalaka, walkie talkies and potjies fit under one colourful umbrella.
So, with my EGOLI cookbook under one arm and a few of my own ideas and interpretations of the dishes that I am featuring, I have prepared four different dishes that I believe define the colourfulness of our cultures and our land – there’s nothing more traditional than babotie, then there’s Cape Pickled Fish which many of us remember from childhood (Cape Pickled Fish and Bobotie by Ester “Nenna” Willemse), oxtail and Walkie Talkies (by Donna Makaula) and a final pictoral tribute with Roosterkoek en Mielies (by Elsa du Plessis).
THE BEST OF BOBOTIES
Although we have no single national dish, quintessentially, bobotie says it all. But, yet, our retailers feed us cottage pie, lasagne and spaghetti bolognaise. I can’t even find frozen bobotie!
That has inspired me to share a family recipe with you – dating back to my grandmother and her descendants, the Huguenots.
I admit that you’ll need a shopping trolley of ingredients for a single dish, but here goes:
1 thick slice white bread without crusts
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 Tablespoon butter for frying
1 large onion, finely chopped
1cm fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, also finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds, toasted
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 heaped teaspoon turmeric (my favourite!)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 Tablespoon chutney (Mrs Balls to keep tradition)
1 Tablespoon apricot jam
5 tablespoons sultanas
Salt and pepper to taste
1 kg lamb or lean beef mince
Juice of a lemon
8 fresh lemon leaves
¼ cup flaked almonds
Set your oven to 180ºC.
Soak your bread in the milk and set aside. Heat your oil and butter in a large pan and fry the onion, ginger and garlic until they are translucent. Add your ground fennel seeds, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric and curry powder and stir fry before adding a little water to prevent the spices from burning.
Add your minced meat and fry, stirring to incorporate the spices and onion. Cook for 5 minutes before stirring in the chutney, apricot jam and sultanas. Season. Remove your bread from its milky home and then squeeze the milk back into the bowl and set aside to use later. Pull the bread apart and stir it into the mince mixture, cooking for a further 5 minutes. Remove this from the stove and add some of the lemon juice to offset the sweetness of the mixture.
Beat one of your three eggs and add it to the mince mixture. Spoon into a greased oven proof dish. Beat the remaining two eggs with the left over milk and season. Roll up the lemon leaves into little scrolls and poke them all over the surface of the meat or lay them flat on top. Pour the egg mixture over the top before scattering almonds on the surface.
Place the dish on an oven tray and then fill this with water two thirds of the way up the dish.
Bake for an hour until the egg custard is set. Remove from the oven and rest before serving with yellow rice and sambals.
CHEF JP'S PICKLED FISH
This is another traditional South African delicacy – but one that requires the very thing that so many of us lack, patience. That’s because you need to pickle your fish for at least two days in the fridge – and, if you are like me, every time you open the fridge, you just want to eat it. But, in this case, time will always tell when it comes to optimising flavours.
FROM YOUR CAPE PANTRY:
300g skinless hake
2 large onions, cut in to rings
1 cup sugar
50 grams cooked lentils
Large bunch of fresh celery leaves
1 Tablespoon mustard
5 bay leaves
2 Tablespoons Malayan yellow curry powder
250 ml unfiltered vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
Half a hand full of mustard seeds
2 cm raw root ginger
2 Tablespoons crushed garlic
1 Tablespoon coriander seeds
2 large sliced red radishes
grape seed oil for frying
Season and lightly pan fry your fish (cut into portions) in some grape seed oil for 2 minutes a side, just to sear them. Let them cool down and strain all the excess oil.
Mix together all your other ingredients, and layer the fish in a glass container. Cover with cling rap and let it rest for 2 days. The vinegar will pickle and preserve all the natural aromatics of the dish.
Serve at room temperature on a bed of celery leaves, topped with lentils.
Take it from me, there will not be left overs so there will be no need to place it back in the fridge. Nenna would’ve been proud of my take on this classic recipe.
OXTAIL AND PEAR POTJIE
I must admit that one traditional dish that I could run a MasterChef class on is my oxtail, pear and fennel potjie – in the words of my family, what a boytjie potjie!
Traditionally, this recipe was always a stalwart but not quite up to spec for a truly modern day version. I guess that our taste buds have evolved and there are more interesting ways of pairing protein with seasonal fruit or veg whilst keeping in mind that we are still in summer.
However, given the massive rainfall in KZN of late, this does a good job of being comfort food and special moments with a potjie on the fire.
Oxtail is a very thick meat so, to keep that flavour balance, I made this dish with poached pears, Jack Black lager and fennel.
Again, like our pickled fish, oxtail takes time – but only 2 hours and definitely not two days! Can you imagine how much red vino would be consumed during that long waiting period! Not to mention the hangover.
Our friend the pressure cooker come in quite handy here. If you braise your oxtail with some onions and beef stock in the pressure cooker for about an hour, while your fire clams down to a moderate heat, you are good to go.
Start by sweating your onions with some ghee and canola oil. Add your master stock braised oxtail and brown the meat for two minutes per side. Add some mild red curry paste, chopped celery, whole peeled tomatoes, garlic chives, diced carrots, baby potatoes, disc shaped sweet potato and a 330ml bottle of Jack Black lager together with 50ml Old Brown Sherry, a dash of turmeric and cinnamon and 6 bay leaves.
Now the time has come to sit back and relax while you reconcile with family and friends. Let your potjie cook for about an hour. Lift the lid every now and again to make sure that the broth is only simmering.
Now it’s time to add the pears and your fennel bulbs and cook for a further 20 minutes.
Remove the lid, add some fresh cream, salt and pepper and then serve up with some Basmati rice. Garnish with some more fennel and some rosemary sprigs. There’s your potjie – done and dusted.
DO THE WALKIE TALKIE WITH ME
After being run off your feet doing all that last minute shopping and preparation for the week ahead and the upcoming festive season, it’s time to take a break with an interesting final Zulu dish.
For many of us, this is one of those “if looks could kill” dishes – sure to get the more conservative amongst us running down the road. But, it’s time to move out of that comfort zone.
Conceptually, it’s just wings and things, really. If we can eat the tail of an ox, why can’t we eat the feet of a chicken? Some like them boiled only, some like them crispy.
So, here come my revolutionary crispy Walkie Talkies:
Rub the feet with some curry or chilli spice of your choice. Dust them in Mielie Meal and then “drop it like it’s hot” into some hot oil. You can serve as part of a main meal with some hot chilli sauce or as a side or even a snack with a peanut butter dip.
When it comes down to reconciliation and breaking down barriers, I guess one has to walk the walk and talk the talk… or is that walk the talk? Who cares, as long as the food is good.
To round up the day, I’ve visually plated a collection of our Rainbow Reconciliation Day feast complete with mealies, frikadelles and Tannie Elsa se Traditonal Roosterkoek.
Let’s celebrate and feast together my fellow South Africans. Let’s reconnect around the table over a good locally inspired meal.