This spiky specimen is the ‘kiwano’. It’s also known as the African horned cucumber, jelly melon or hedged gourd and grows in the Kalahari desert, which is home to several herbs, grasses and melons. Kiwano melons are said to taste like banana, lime and cucumber. There are suppliers who sell the seeds in Australia so I think this might be my next gardening project!

The word Kalahari in the Setswana language means ‘the great thirst’. This vast desert engulfs much of Botswana, but the area is more semi-arid than it is full-blown desert. To its north lies the oasis of the Okavango Delta, which is home to an impressive array of animals and plants.

Botswana’s original inhabitants were Khoi- and San-speaking hunter-gatherers who moved with the seasons around the wetlands – the San are still a minority group in Botswana today. It was around 500 AD that Bantu-speaking people first moved in, bringing with them a farming culture, including cattle and crops. Botswana’s main ethnic group today, the Tswana, are thought to descend largely from groups who crossed the Limpopo River around 1500 years ago.

Pastoralism is still important in Botswana and traditional villages are organised around the ownership of cattle. It’s not surprising that beef is usually the main ingredient in Seswaa, a popular local food, particularly at special occasions. It’s a dish of meat, slow cooked in a cast iron pot until it falls of the bone, then pounded and shredded.


I’ve read a lot of discussion about Seswaa and it’s clear there are some Botswanans who are fed up with people ‘dressing up’ their local dish with other ingredients like onions or complex spices. I see their point. I like the idea of unadulterated slow-cooked meat!

Serves 4

2 kg beef on the bone (cuts suitable for stewing, like brisket, chuck, shoulder etc.)

1 tbsp oil

2 tsp salt


Chop the beef into medium-sized pieces to ensure even cooking (or get your butcher to do this).

If you find it hard to cut through the joint you have chosen, you can make deep incisions instead.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based pot, on medium-high.

Brown the beef and its bones.

Add enough water to cover the meat.

Add the salt.

Bring to the boil.

Reduce heat to low.

Cover and simmer slowly for four hours, or until the meat falls away from the bone.

Turn off the heat and remove the meat to a separate dish. Set aside the pot and its juices.

Pick the meat from the bones and discard anything that isn’t edible.

(That means keeping the marrow and any other ‘soft bits’ – because they’re delicious!)

‘Grind’ the beef by pounding and shredding until it looks stringy.

Return the shredded meat to the pot and adjust the seasoning.

If there’s still liquid in the pot, return it to the stove and reduce until the liquid has cooked away.

Seswaa PDF

In the 1820s the Boers in South Africa began their trek inland, trespassing into Tswana territory (by 1852, Britain had acknowledged Boer independence in the Transvaal). The Tswana rejected white rule and, after suffering significant losses in violent attacks, appealed to Britain for protection. Bechuanaland, as it was then, became a British Protectorate in 1885. Britain allowed Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company a significant hand in running the country. This displeased Tswana chiefs who, with support from the London Missionary Society, successfully appealed to the British Colonial Minister for continued government control.

Bechuanaland officially became ‘Botswana’ in 1964 and gained full independence by 1966. Despite the attempts of several South African governments, the country had successfully resisted South African rule. Even so, it still shares some dishes with South Africa. Foods like pap, samp and vetkoek often feature on local menus and the braai is also popular.


Vetkoek is an Afrikaner fried dough usually served either with savoury mince or jam – the name is sometimes used interchangeably with the snack, Magwinya, but the latter is usually sweeter.

Makes about 10 medium-sized vetkoeks (ideal for ‘stuffing’)

10 g (1 packet) instant yeast

2 tsp sugar

375 ml warm water

4 cups flour, plus extra for dusting

1 tsp salt

About 2 l canola oil for deep frying

Mix the yeast, sugar and warm water together in a bowl until the yeast has dissolved.

Leave for 5–10 minutes. The yeast should start to foam.

Sift the flour and salt together in a bowl and make a well in the centre.

Pour in the yeast mixture, combine and kneed until a dough is formed. 

Cover with a damp cloth and leave for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.

Knock the air out of the dough and turn onto a floured surface.

Divide into 10 small balls.

Flatten (or roll out) each ball to a thickness of about 2.5 cm.

Leave these under a damp cloth until they have doubled in size (about 10 minutes).

Pour the oil into a medium saucepan to a depth of about 10 cm.

Heat to 180°C.

Deep fry the vetkoeks until they are golden brown, turning while frying (about four minutes).

Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Slice each vetkoek in half and fill with savoury mince.

Savoury mince

2 tbs oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp curry powder

600 g minced beef

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 medium tomato, chopped

1 large carrot, grated

1 apple, peeled and grated

2 tbsp mango chutney

1 tsp vinegar

1 bay leaf

1 cup chicken or beef stock

salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil on medium in a large pan.

Fry the onion and garlic for about two minutes.

Stir in the curry powder.

Add the mince and cook until completely browned.

Add the tomato paste, tomato, carrot, apple, chutney, vinegar and bay leaf.

Stir to combine.

Pour in the stock.

Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10–15 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Add salt and pepper as required.

Vetkoek PDF