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The Pantry

It says much that South African Heritage Day – a time dedicated to celebrating the country’s history and cultural diversity – is known colloquially as National Braai Day. It also wouldn’t be considered an exaggeration to state that no braai (Afrikaans for barbecue) is considered truly complete until a coil or three of boerewors are sizzling away over hot coals – no gas-powered grills allowed here. Since this year Heritage Day falls on the 24th September, there is no better time to get acquainted with one of the nations most cherished foods.

Directly translated boerewors means “famers sausage” and the exact ingredients for these robustly spiced sausages vary from community to community, as traditional, culturally significant recipes tend to do. General consensus agrees that boerewors are made from coarsely ground meat (most commonly beef, although lamb is a frequent addition) and a mix of herbs and spices such as cloves, ground coriander and nutmeg. This mix is then packed into a sausage casing and formed into the distinctive spiral shape that make boerewors so instantly identifiable.

‘Wors, as they are affectionately known, are very often accompanied by pap and chakalaka. Filling, thrifty pap is made from mielie-meal (a course maize flour widely consumed all over Africa) boiled in salted water until the consistency errs towards that of thick, stiff porridge. Fittingly, pap is also the ideal vehicle for soaking up chakalaka, a sauce that is, rather pleasingly, as enjoyable to eat as the word is to say.

This spicy, tomato-based relish is thought to have originated in one of South Africa’s poor townships and is a simple yet tasty dish that makes an ideal accompaniment to smoky grilled meat. In its plainest form chakalaka is made from tomatoes, onions and a little curry powder. As with boerewors though, recipes and cooking methods vary and are passionately contested. Carrots, green peppers, garlic and ginger appear more often than not in varying quantities, and while our recipe doesn’t contain canned beans, many do. The bonus of this being that beans add bulk; served with thick slices of bread, chakalaka with beans forms a frugal yet tasty meal in itself.

As you may have gathered, boerewors are not delicate, nor are they particularly light and elegant, but this all adds to their hearty, delicious appeal.

As anyone who has ever tried will attest, cracking open the wispy haired, hardened husk of a coconut is no easy task. It is however one that yields sweet rewards in the form of creamy-white, tropical-tasting flesh and nutrient-rich coconut water within.

At its simplest, fresh coconut meat has a slightly sweet, vaguely nutty flavour and a firm yet yielding texture. It is easily prepared – chopped, grated or shaved into thin pieces – and has multiple culinary uses from baking (it adds a lovely moistness) to garnishing dishes and decorating cakes, as well as adding flavour to salads and ceviches. If you’ve never tried it, fresh coconut strips first tossed with spices and citrus zest then roasted in the oven until toasted a light golden brown make a delicious snack.

Coconut milk and cream meanwhile are fantastic for adding not just a smooth, richness but an exotic flavour to curries, rice dishes and desserts. Both are produced by blending soaked coconut flesh in water until smooth; coconut cream is simply made with a higher ratio of coconut meat to water than coconut milk is, hence the thicker, more luxurious consistency and higher fat content. Take note though, buttery cream of coconut often contains added cane sugar, meaning it doesn’t work a direct swap for plain coconut cream.

The milky, sweet juice held within these giant drupes has been enjoyed in coconut-growing countries for hundreds of years. Yet it is only relatively recently that coconut water has become something of a wider health food phenomenon due to its hydrating qualities and high electrolyte count.  Similarly coconut oil is another ingredient that has seen a rise in popularity thanks to it been increasingly touted – sometimes controversially – as a wonder ingredient, both medicinal health food and natural beauty product in one. Coconut oil is produced by pressing coconut flesh and, much like the extraction of premium olive oil, it is generally agreed that small batch, cold-pressed oil squeezed from fresh, mature coconuts (as opposed to dried) at low temperatures produces the finest results.

While coconuts trees thrive in tropical locations across the globe, it is in Kerala, southern Indian, where they are most prized. Coconuts inform not just the identity of the state – the name Kerala is derived from the Malayalam word kera, meaning coconut tree – but also the culture, export business, eating habits and even national holidays.

Arguably the most important – and certainly the most colourful – of these occasions is the harvest festival of Onam. On the tenth day of Onam celebrations reach their peak and are marked with a lavish meal known as Onam Sadya, This feast day – which this year falls on September 4th – features multiple vegetarian dishes, all served together on a banana leaf and often includes a variation on the parippu curry below.


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