South African Heritage Day Celebration!
(Personal Chef Joanne Clegg gets demoted to salad maker; her cousin is promoted to Tongmaster and her aunt steals the show with a Chicken and Apricot Potjie and a Fresh Strawberry Pavlova – recipes below)
It was with absolute glee that I accepted an invitation, to join my aunt, uncle and cousin for a Potjie braai on Saturday – the 24th of September which marks our Heritage Day public holiday.
Heritage Day is the day on which South Africans are encouraged to celebrate the diverse the diverse cultural heritage that makes up our “rainbow nation”.
This day is now synonomous with “National Braai Day” or “Braai4Heritage”, an initiative by Jan Scannell (better know as Jan Braai – @janbraai on twitter) to unite South Africans on Heritage Day around the collective love of a “braai”. Because there is possibly not a South African of any age, culture, sex, religion or race who does not appreciate their food being cooked over hot coals.
This appreciation rings particularly true in my family. My fondest childhood memories involve my family devouring hot off the coals mussels which we had picked at the lowest tide off the rocks in Misty Cliffs, digging deep into the “potjie” pot to get to that delicious liquid infused with the flavour of the layered slow cooked ingredients, a fish caught off the rocks in Plett and braaied to perfection while us children played cards in the upstairs living room. More recently my braai memories involve the Weber, and my British father’s master of it. Gone are the days when that dear old Brit produced a cremated offering of a piece of dried out chicken wrapped in a pitch black coat. My dad now braais a whole chicken or beef fillet to perfection, as good as any Saffer might.
Wonderful food memories that take me back to a time when life was carefree, the kind of life I hope to create for my son. And this Heritage Day celebration had that same relaxing magic that I yearn for when my head is spinning from the starting of a new business venture, responding to queries, doing spreadsheet calculations, marketing on a shoestring budget, having a week with low orders, having a week with many orders.
The Weather G-ds smiled down on Africa for Heritage Day (they are still smiling at the time of writing this – I ran off the weekend’s indulgence this morning in Newlands and was in awe of how crisp Cape Town looks in the Spring time). Shortly after my arrival in the mid afternoon my cousin decided it was time to get the braai going.
Our first course was enjoyed in the late afternoon, Gourmet Boerewors Rolls. It started with a spontaneous trip to the Spar to pick up some Grabouw Wors. Then the preparation of the baguette – which was sliced down the centre, spread with Oded’s Kitchen’s Citrus Mustard on the bottom and covered with Oded’s Kitchen’s Carrot and Almond Chutney on the top half. While the boerewors sausage sizzled on the braai, I caramelised red onions on the gas stove. The result was superb, with the whole baguette and unsliced boerewors presented on a bread board and shared between us.
We still managed to work up an appetite for our evening dinner – Chicken and Apricot Potjie, Roasted Butternut and Aubergine Couscous Salad and a Strawberry Pavlova.
To make the Roasted Butternut and Aubergine Salad: Dice 2 medium peeled and seeded butternuts into large blocks, dice 2 aubergines into medium blocks, thickly slice 2 red onion. Mix olive oil with chopped fresh ginger and garlic in a bowl and then add NoMU Moroccan Spice and a dash of cinnamon and turmeric. Throw in the butternut, aubergine and red onion and mix well. Bake this in an oven dish until cooked through and browning, about an hour at 180·c. Meanwhile, prepare the couscous. Put a glug of olive oil, a sprinkling of white balsamic vinegar and a light dash of sumac and seasoning into the large ceramic flat dish you are going to use for the couscous. Stir the dressing together with a fork, then add the couscous and stir together quickly. Quickly add boiling water to just cover the couscous, and then quickly cover the dish with cling wrap. You must do this fast, as the idea is to steam the couscous. When the couscous has absorbed the water, uncover and flake with a fork to separate the grains. Add the cooked veg and all the juices in the oven dish to the couscous and mix. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with danish feta and peppadews. Serve at room temperature. That was the side dish that I was responsible for. My aunt, on the other hand, “wow”ed us with a delicious Chicken and Apricot Potjie – an adaption from a Chicken and Apricot Curry recipe.
Chicken and Apricot Potjie:
1 tbsp Butter
1 tbsp Cooking Oil
1.5 kg Chicken, cut into pieces
2 Onions, medium, sliced
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
1 small piece Root Ginger, chopped
1 tbsp Medium Curry Powder
1/2 tsp grated Nutmeg
1 tsp Tumeric
500 ml Ginger Ale
4 Cardamom Pods, crushed
1 stick Cinnamon
1 Bay Leaf
1 tsp Salt
2 tbsp Lemon Juice
250 g Dried Apricots
3/4 cup Natural Yoghurt (or coconut cream)
1 tbsp Cake Flour
Fresh Coriander for garnish
Heat butter and oil in the potjie pot. Add chicken pieces and brown well. Add onions, garlic and ginger and sauté until onions are translucent.
Add curry powder and cook for about 3 mins, stirring occassionally. Then add nutmeg, coriander and turmeric. Pour heated ginger ale over meat.
Throw in cardamom, cinnamon stick and bay leaf into the pot (you can tie these in a muslin bag, but seriously!). Season with salt and add lemon juice. Arrange apricots on top of mixture, cover with a lid and allow to simmer slowly for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until chicken is tender.
Remove spice bag, if you have gone to the trouble of using it. Mix flour with yoghurt and pour over chicken. Simmer for a few mins, stir gently to combine and serve. My cousin reckons this dish is better the next day, when the flavours have developed. I thought it was fantastic straight from the potjie.
The finale of our meal was a Strawberry Pavlova – a meringue base, topped with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Pavlova is about as far from South African cuisine as France is from South Africa, but it is a heritage dessert in our family as it is the dessert that my mom made religiously for every dinner party when we were kids in the 80’s. When we were children, we ate the left overs straight from the fridge for breakfast the following morning. And I still love it the next day when the cream has softened the crisp meringue to become soft and chewy and the fruit juices penetrate through the sweet and creamy base. Heaven!
Heritage can be as local as the influence your forefathers had on your own family, or as diverse as an entire nation’s cultural background. Both are to be embraced and cherished and nurtured into something unique and special. There is such joy in discovering food – from world cuisines to the way your neighbor prepares a dish. As the Great Escoffier says “Good Food is the Basis of True Happiness”.