Monday, January 16, 2012

Week Two: A Journey to South Africa

Before this week’s culinary journey into South Africa, I had only a single experience regarding this cuisine.  After raving about the flavors of the sauce on the Bison Steak at Nemesis Urban Bistro, Micah and Izzy explained that the spiciness in the sauce is from a dried piri piri chili often used in South Africa to spice meats.  They even brought one from the kitchen to my table so that I could see, touch, and smell it for myself.  Perhaps that experience led to my final menu this week, because it certainly initiated a positive impression of South African flavor profiles.

South African cuisine earned the nickname “Rainbow Cuisine” because of the countless influences of settlers from both Western and Eastern cultures:  Portugal, The Netherlands, Germany, France, United Kingdom, and even, India.  Its flavor profiles include garlic, lime, ginger, chili, onions, and curry.  The most popular dish, some even call it the National dish, is Bobotie, a curried meatloaf covered in an egg custard.  Another curry dish called Bunny Chow features a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curried meats and vegetables.  Dishes like these are reflections of the change that occurred within South African diets upon the introduction of new cultures.

After reading about so many dishes that were influenced by other cultures, I wanted to gain a better understanding of the norm before those settlers arrived.  As I read about indigenous South African dishes, I discovered a familiar theme.  The dishes included a cornmeal mush similar to grits called pap, braised fresh greens, pumpkin, and meats prepared on a grill.  Whereas the invading cultures of the East and West influenced South Africa’s cuisine of today, the indigenous South African dishes certainly inspired the flavor profiles of the American South where I grew up.  After all, these dishes are not so far away from a Pork BBQ with collard greens, cornbread, and sweet potato pie. 

Armed with just enough knowledge to begin planning a menu, I began opening all of my cookbook indexes and looking for “South African” dishes….nothing.  Not even Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World included a single South African dish.  I scoured the internet for inspiration, but I found none.  Then, I remembered that copy of Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue! that I bought for my husband, and I found my inspiration.  Not only does he describe in detail the importance of the South African braai (barbecue grill), he provides almost twenty recipes related to the subject.  I immediately asked my husband to make sure we had plenty of charcoal for the grill, because I was planning our very own Backyard Braai for Saturday night.

The menu for Saturday night’s Backyard Braai included:
§  Goats Do Roam 2009 Red Wine
§  Rooster Brood (grilled yeast rolls)
§  Piri-Piri Shrimp
§  Pork Kebabs with Monkey Gland Sauce
§  Cucumber-Zucchini Salad
§  Lamb Sosaties
§  Pampenmoes (Pumpkin Bread Pudding)

Goats Do Roam 2009 Red Wine

We started the night with a bottle of Goats Do Roam 2009 Red Wine from South Africa.  It was a blend of Shiraz, Cinsaut, Granach, Mourvedre, and Carignan.  With hints of spice and a medium body, it was the perfect complement to our chile-spiced shrimp and rich meat dishes. 

Rooster Brood

Rooster Brood is simply a yeast roll tied into a knot that is grilled over direct heat, instead of baked in an oven.  In a word, it is addictive.  We ate at least three each before any of our meats were on the grill.  The dough is sweet and soft inside.  The char and smoky flavors from the grill permeate the entire roll.  Think naan bread meets parkerhouse rolls…

Piri-Piri Shrimp

Originally, the plan was to make Stephen Raichlen’s Piri-Piri Prawns, because I had read that prawns are prevalent in South African cuisines, especially in the regions near the coastline.  Unfortunately, Whole Foods did not have any prawns on the day of my grocery shopping for our braai, so I just used the largest shrimp I could buy.  I made a few other substitutions as well, but all in all, I kept to a set of traditional ingredients found in the sauce for this dish:  butter, chiles, garlic, fresh ginger, lime juice, hot sauce, salt, and pepper.  It’s a simple recipe with an incredible amount of flavor.  The most important part of the recipe is not overcooking the shrimp on the grill.  We grilled our shrimp about two minutes per side, and they were perfect!

Pork Kebabs with Monkey Gland Sauce
Full disclosure…I had to make these kebabs just so I could say that I made Monkey Gland Sauce.  I love saying.  I love typing it.  I love reading it.  It just makes me laugh.  I read several explanations of its origin online.  My favorite version is that French chefs working in a Johannesburg luxury hotel became frustrated with their guests’ lack of sophistication and decided to combine every commercial sauce in the kitchen into a large pot and pronounced it Monkey Glad Sauce.  Much to their surprise and, probably, dismay, the guests loved it!

For the Monkey Gland Sauce, I strayed from Stephen Raichlen’s recipe.  I read at least ten different recipes for Monkey Gland Sauce online, and after charting the most frequently used ingredients, I devised my version of the recipe:
§  1 tbsp butter
§  1 large sweet onion
§  1 garlic clove
§  1 tsp Tabasco sauce
§  ½ cup tomato sauce
§  3 tbsp Worcestershire’s Sauce
§  1 tbsp mustard powder
§  ½ cup Major Grey’s Chutney
§  2 tbsp dark brown sugar
§  3 tbsp red wine
§  1 cup Beef Stock
Melt butter in a saucepan and cook the onion until almost brown.  Add garlic and cook for about thirty seconds.  Stir in Tabasco, tomato sauce, Worcestershire’s sauce, mustard powder, chutney, and brown sugar.  Simmer until thick.  Stir in red wine and beef stock.  Increase heat to high and cook until reduced by half. Season with salt and pepper.  Use an immersion blender to create a thick, smooth sauce.

As for the pork kebabs, I followed Raichlen’s instructions by the book.  I marinated the pork tenderloin for over two hours in onion juice, bay leaves, black peppercorns, coriander seeds, white wine, and olive oil.  The kebabs included pork, shitake mushrooms, yellow bell peppers, sweet onion wedges, and thick-sliced bacon. 

We grilled the kebabs over direct heat and basted them with the Monkey Gland sauce three times.  The kebabs were delicious.  The pork tenderloin was tender, and the peppers, onions, mushrooms, and bacon slices complemented its flavor.  The Monkey Gland sauce provides an ideal combination of sweet and salty, which elevates the bold flavors of the kebabs even more.

When researching the traditional fare of a braai, I found most explanations stated that several cold salads are served to provide a crisp, refreshing counterpoint to the rich meats.  Many sited Cucumber-Zucchini Salad as a common one.  I’m not so sure this is technically South-African as I’ve been eating this salad of cucumber and onion marinated in vinegar and sugar for my whole life, but I am confident that it is a comparable representation of the type of salads that are served at a braai.

Lamb Sosaties
This is the dish I most wanted to try, and it did not disappoint.  I followed Raichlen’s recipe for the marinade and sauce explicitly, and the resulting dish was a rich, decadent sauce and a robustly flavored lamb and apricot grill combination.  Because I was only cooking for two people, and those two people were also consuming all of the aforementioned dishes, I omitted the pork and only made these sosaties with lamb.

The marinade includes brown sugar, Madras curry powder, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, salt, dried apricots, onion, orange zest, red wine, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and heavy cream.  I marinated the meat for three hours, and I must say that every time I opened the refrigerator door to stir it up, I had to remind myself that it wasn’t safe to slurp up the marinade…that’s how amazing it smelled.  I loved the fact that the lamb and the dried apricots soaked up the marinade and that the kebabs included both ingredients along with bacon and red onion wedges.  The sauce made from the leftover marinade is one of intense flavors.  One might suspect the red wine, heavy cream, and apricot jam may have something to do with its complexity and richness.  As with the other kebabs, we grilled these over direct heat and basted them with the sauce three times.  That first bite of the warm tender lamb, sweet apricot, tangy onion, and smoky bacon accompanied by the luxurious red wine cream sauce blew me away!  It’s the all-inclusive package of every flavor I want in a single bite combined. 

I kept reading about how much pumpkin is eaten in South Africa, and I felt the need to include it in my menu.  Everything I read noted its position in the meal as a savory side dish, but I thought I could convert it to a dessert.  I found numerous websites with South African recipes for pampenmoes.  Quite simply, the recipe is to create layers of buttered bread spread with Apricot Jam, thinly sliced pumpkin, and cinnamon/sugar.  That’s it.  As I read the recipe, I thought it sounded like it would be dry.  After all, I’ve never made a bread pudding that didn’t include custard, but every site raved about this dish just as it is described above.  So, I prepared the dish exactly as described…..and it was dry and almost inedible.  Truthfully, I didn’t even care because after all of that amazing food on the grill, I was already satisfied with my South African culinary adventures for the evening. 

All in all, our Saturday night Backyard Braai for two proved to be a memorable night.  We had so much fun sampling each dish.  This week’s culinary journey presented an entirely new menu for our grill, and I can’t wait to host a braai for friends and family!


  1. The Lamb Sosaties & Pork Kebabs with Monkey Gland Sauce sound (and look) so good !

  2. Thanks, Mike. I am certainly enjoying the fruits of my labor with this project!