In the mid-seventeenth century, an expedition headed by Governor Jan van Riebeeck, a representative of the Dutch East India Company, set up camp in what is now known as Cape Town. They first settled there to service passing ships. Dutch settlers were brought over to help out and were joined later by Germans and French Hugenots. Together, they would form the Afrikaner identity.
The Dutch introduced new crops and maintained their own cooking traditions, like baking, deep frying, stewing and winemaking. They learned about wild fruit and vegetables from indigenous people and were also influenced by the cookery of slaves sent to the Cape from Southeast Asia.
Having come under British control in the late eighteenth century, a number of Dutch settlers left the Cape and headed to the interior, in search of new farming land. They were known as the Voortrekkers (pioneers).
One label that has been attached to Boer and Afrikaner cooking is ‘boerekos’ – ‘farmers’ food’. Boerekos includes ‘braai’ cooking, potjiekos, spiced pumpkin, rusks, fried and baked goods and more; it also includes dishes like bobotie that overlap with Cape Malay cooking.
For the Voortrekkers, the practicalities of eating while on the move lead to culinary traditions still popular today. During their journeys, they hunted game and roasted it on camp fires (indigenous Africans were already fond of roasting and grilling meat – and insects). This is thought to be one of the origins of the braiivleis or ‘braai’ (‘barbie’ to Aussies).
If you’re invited to a braai, it’s highly likely you will be served a lot of meat at once, including steak, lamb chops, kebabs and the beloved boerewors! Here’s my elaboration of a recipe from Mrs Slade’s South African Cookery Book, a tome I inherited from my paternal grandma, who died before I was born.
Makes about 5 x 450 g boerewors
1 clove of bruised garlic (for rubbing the bowl)
1.5 kg topside beef, any fat removed and chopped into chunks
750 g pork belly with the skin removed, chopped into chunks
4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1½ tbsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp grated nutmeg
75 ml malt vinegar
At least 6 m of hog sausage casings, 32 mm in diameter
(You will probably need less casing, but it is useful to have extra!)
Rub a large bowl with the clove of garlic (discard the garlic once this is done).
In the bowl, mix together all the meat, spices and vinegar. Marinate in the fridge for at least four hours, but preferably overnight.
Soak the sausage casing in lukewarm water for a couple of hours or overnight.
Mince the spiced and marinated meat using the coarse mincing attachment of a standing mixer (one with 6–8 mm holes). Set aside.
Cut 5 x 1 m lengths of sausage casing. Fit one end of a 1 m length over a tap and let the water run through it gently. Tie a knot in one end.
Fix a sausage attachment to your standing mixer. Grease the nozzle section. Slide the open end of the sausage casing onto the nozzle until the knotted end is at the tip of the tube.
Feed your sausage mixture through the mouth of the machine. As the casing fills, hold the knotted end in one hand. Guide the mixture through and ease the casing off the nozzle. Do not overstuff.
Fill the sausage until it is about 80 cm long and there is 10 cm of empty casing left.
Stop the machine.
Tie the sausage off using the loose casing.
Coil into a spiral.
Repeat for each sausage.
The boerewors can be cooked gradually over low heat in a pan or on a braai for about 20 minutes: 10 minutes each side (don’t prick the skin).
Serve with pap and tomato-based sauce.
Lamb neck potjiekos (‘potjie’)
Another culinary tradition thought to have come from the Voortrekkers is potjiekos, which translates as ‘little pot’ (potjie) ‘food’ (kos). The need to travel light meant trekkers perfected the art of eating one-pot meals cooked outdoors.
Potjeikos is a dish cooked slowly over low heat in a three-legged pot above hot coals. Some call it a stew, but it is not! This is mainly because the ingredients shouldn’t be stirred. A traditional potjie is cooked in layers and ingredients are typically added in order of longest to shortest cooking time. A potjie is quite easy to find, but if you can’t get one of these little cauldrons, any heavy-bottomed pot will do. It’s also OK to simmer the dish on the stove if you don’t have access to hot coals.
100 g flour
1 tbs finely chopped rosemary
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 boneless lamb necks, cut into 8 cm pieces (about 1–1.5 kg of meat)
200 g bacon, chopped
2 tbs olive oil
2 large red onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup hot water
250 g baby potatoes, sliced in half
400 g fresh green beans, topped and tailed
1 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
extra salt and pepper to taste
Combine the flour with the rosemary, salt and pepper.
Dust the lamb neck pieces with the seasoned flour.
Fry the bacon (without oil) in your potjie for about a minute.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
Add the oil to the pot and heat.
Fry the onions for about three minutes until softened.
Add the garlic and fry for another minute.
Add the lamb necks and brown on all sides until the meat is sealed (about four minutes).
Return the bacon to the pot.
Add the cup of hot water.
Cover and simmer on low for two hours.
Don’t be tempted to lift the lid too often – if you’re worried about whether all the liquid has boiled away, listen and you will hear if the pot is bubbling gently or not.
After two hours, add the potatoes in a layer over the meat.
Layer the green beans on top of the potatoes.
Combine the chicken stock, dijon mustard, honey, lemon juice and worcestershire sauce in a small bowl.
Pour this liquid into the potjie (do this down one side rather than in the middle).
Cover and cook for another hour.
Check and adjust the seasoning if needed.
The meat should now be soft.
Serve with pap or bread.
A blend of the Dutch words bil (meat) and tong (strip), biltong is a snack of air-dried meat eaten across South Africa that is also often associated with the trekkers. They may have picked the idea up from indigenous groups like the Khoikhoi (who had been drying and preserving meat for some time) and added other ingredients, including vinegar and spices.
2 kg topside or silverside beef
¼ cup malt vinegar
2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 rounded tbsp salt
3 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 tbsp brown sugar
Cut the beef along the grain into ‘tongues’ about 2 cm thick and 20 cm long.
Place in a large non-metallic container and sprinkle evenly with the vinegar.
Leave to rest for about an hour.
Meanwhile, crush the coriander seeds with a mortar and pestle.
Mix the crushed coriander seeds with the salt, pepper and sugar.
Drain any excess liquid from the beef.
Coat the beef strips in the spice mix, ensuring each piece is evenly covered on both sides.
Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours.
Drain any liquid from the container and wipe any excess moisture from the beef with a paper towel.
Make a small hole at the top of each strip and insert plastic hooks.
Hang in a dry, sheltered place (away from flies) where there is good air circulation.
My dad hangs his biltong in the laundry with only the flyscreen door closed. Sometimes he also increases the ‘breeze’ by placing a small stand fan at the other end of the room.
An ideal temperature is about 20–30°C. So, winter is probably not the best time to make biltong, unless you have a special drying machine.
Leave the biltong to dry for about five days, or until it is hard.
Slice thinly and serve as a snack or a side dish.
Sugary, sticky and crisp on the outside and moist and cakey in the middle… I couldn’t get enough of these small, sweet doughnuts when I was a kid!
There’s a Cape Malay and an Afrikaner version and they’re quite different. The Cape Malay dish goes by the name koesister – it’s usually oval in shape, more ‘cakey’, the dough is spiced and finished with a dusting of desiccated coconut. The Afrikaner version is often plaited, less spiced and more syrupy.
The version I grew up with was the Afrikaner koeksister. I add a few extra bits and pieces because I like more spice. So, mine gives a bit of a nod to the Cape Malay variety!
Makes about two dozen
550 ml water
1 kg Sugar
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
Peel and juice of 1 lemon
2 small cinnamon quills
fresh ginger (about 6 thin slices)
2 bruised cardamom pods
2 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
60 g grated butter
1 egg (room temperature)
250 ml (1 cup) milk
62.5 ml (¼ cup) water
2–3 l canola oil
Try to make the syrup the night before making your koeksisters.
Slowly dissolve the sugar in the water.
Add the cream of tartar, bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes.
Add the lemon peel and juice.
Divide the syrup evenly between two heat-proof glass dishes (two small casserole dishes would be fine).
Place one cinnamon quill, a cardamom pod and three slices of ginger in each dish.
Cool the syrup in the fridge overnight.
Note: The colder the syrup they are dunked in, the crispier the texture of the koeksisters. (I sometimes put the syrup briefly in the freezer just before I’m ready to fry.) It’s best to dip the first half of the doughnuts you make in one lot of syrup, while the other syrup stays cold in the fridge, ready for the next batch.
Sieve and combine all the dry ingredients and spices.
Rub in the butter with your fingers.
Beat the egg and combine with the milk and the water.
Mix the egg, milk and water in with the dry ingredients.
Knead until you have a soft dough.
If the dough seems too dry, add a little more water.
Divide the dough into two portions, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Take the first half from the fridge and roll to 5 mm thickness.
Using a sharp knife, mark and cut the dough into rectangles measuring about 7 x 4 cm.
Cut two slices in the middle of each rectangle, leaving 5 mm intact along the top.
This will give you three strands that will look something like this:
Plait the strands the same way you would hair! (Press them together at the end so the plait doesn’t unravel when frying.)
While you’re plaiting (and later frying) your koeksisters, cover those you aren’t working on with a damp cloth.
Heat the oil in a medium-sized pot (filled about half way) to 180°C.
(I use a cooking thermometer to make sure the temperature stays consistent.)
Take one of your dishes of syrup from the fridge and place it near where you will be frying your koeksisters.
When the oil has reached the right temperature, carefully drop in a few koeksisters at a time and deep fry for about a minute each side, or until they are golden all over.
When cooked, remove the koekisters from the hot oil with wooden-handled tongs and plunge immediately into the syrup bath.
Leave each koeksister in the syrup for about five minutes.
Lift the koeksisters out with tongs or a slotted spoon and transfer to a wire cake rack.
Tip: place paper towels under the rack, so that your work surface doesn’t get sticky (some of the excess syrup will dribble through).
When you have done all this with one batch, retrieve your second ball of dough and second dish of syrup from the fridge. Start again!
(If you find the oil is too ‘dirty’ you may need to let it cool and strain it before starting again, or use new oil.)
Enjoy! This can be an involved process – I find it requires an entire afternoon, but it’s worth it! The recipe makes twice as many as you are likely to need for one occasion, but koeksisters freeze well. You can place them in an airtight container in the freezer as soon they have been soaked in the syrup and drained on the cake rack for a few minutes.