I greet you from my Cape hideaway on the southern tip of the African continent. It is a cold, wet blustery day. In other words, a typical winter’s day in Cape Town where the north westerly wind howls through, driving the rain ahead of it! And yet it is still officially Autumn, so I think it is safe to say we are in for a long cold and wet winter!
I am very excited to be participating in my first Monthly Mingle.
I have been reading Meeta’s beautiful blog, WHAT’S FOR LUNCH, HONEY? for a few years now but it is only recently that we have become friends and I was really excited to read that she had decided on South Africa as the current theme for her monthly virtual mingle. South Africa is internationally known as The Rainbow Nation and, like it’s diverse people and cultures, the cuisine of the country is also rainbow colored and just as varied. I know that others will have given the cultural history of the cuisine of my country and Meeta also supplied a link in her post so I will focus on what I am bringing to the monthly mingle rather than on the different foods that one can enjoy in this delightfully rich and colorful country that I call home.
My dish is called a Biltong Potjie (pronounced “poi-key”). Potjiekos (literal translation “pot food”) has for centuries been a part of the food culture of South Africa. Basically it is food that is prepared by cooking it in a 3 legged cast iron pot over an open fire. Any recipe for stews or casseroles can be adapted to this type of cooking. The flavors are rich and robust, the occasion is friendly and a happy social time, ideally suited to a group of friends gathered around the fire, sharing good food, good wine or beer and stories that get taller and taller, while the delectable aromas from the bubbling pot waft around the countryside enticing all and sundry! Just close your eyes for a moment and imagine the setting I have described above , adding a wonderful African sunset, the darkening landscape, sounds of the bush or the ocean – aaaaaaah bliss!!! Historically the South African potjie, and the type of cooking I will be sharing with you all, was brought to this country by Jan van Riebeeck, a Dutch merchant for the Dutch East India Company & founder of Cape Town, in 1652 when he anchored in Table Bay at the southern tip of Africa to establish a base, improve the natural anchorage in Table Bay for ships and provide refreshments, fresh produce & livestock to passing fleets on their long arduous voyage between Europe & Asia. It was he also who brought the first vines into the country to start making wines to supply to sailors as a remedy against scurvy. Today this region produces many award winning wines. You can read more on the history of South Africa here These early settlers used the potjies for preparing hot meals with meat and vegetables and also for baking pot bread, using the heat generated in the closed potjies as ovens. When trade increased between Africa and Asia many new exotic spices and herbs became available that further contributed to the evolution of potjiekos which became a unique cuisine on its own. As the metal heats up the flavors of the dish being prepared are released into the pores in the cast iron and it becomes “seasoned” over time – capturing the flavors of all the different dishes prepared, which adds to the general flavor and aroma of food prepared in the potjie. The inside surface of the pot smoothes with age, a pot with a very smooth interior surface is an old friend. The meal tastes much better the next day after it has had time for the flavors to mingle and develop overnight in the pot. The round shape of the pot and its domed well fitting lid allows heat to flow evenly around the sides and keep liquids in the bottom or lowest point to avoid burning of the food. The lid has a deep lip or gutter around the edge that can hold hot coals thus providing all round heat (ideal for baking breads). The three legs make it ideal for cooking directly over an open fire. The flat bottomed potjie is ideal for baking bread. Remember that a potjie must never be stirred once the layers of meat and vegetables are put in. They need to cook in layers and retain their own flavors until you are ready to serve!
BILTONG – meat that is cured or dried in strips by applying with vinegar then rubbing in salt, herbs and spices before it is hung up to dry – a process used by pioneers to preserve and store meat in the days before refrigeration. Delicious and oh so more-ish.
So let’s get this pot on the boil then….enough historical rambling. This recipe comes courtesy of my older brother Rey who is well known amongst family, friends and church members for the wonderful potjies that he prepares!! Thank you boet for giving me and the world your lovely recipe!! (Boet means brother for those who don’t know the Afrikaans language)
(use a Nr 2 sized Pot which serves 4-6)
250g Bacon (chopped up)
1Kg Button or Brown Mushrooms
1 Clove Garlic – crushed
250ml Hot Beef Stock
750ml Rice – cooked750g Biltong sliced
Few sprigs of thyme – leaves picked off the stalks
250g Cheddar Cheese
This is how you make it:
Build your fire and allow the coals to become medium hot
Preheat your potjie over the coals
Melt the butter in the bottom of the potjie Add the chopped onions and bacon and saute till the onions are limp & translucent and the bacon is cooked
Add the mushrooms & garlic and saute till the liquid has evaporated and they start to go light brown
Add the beef stock and thymeAdd the cooked rice and the sliced biltong in layers – a layer of rice, a layer of biltong until all used upAdd the cheese in one layer on top. Cover with the lid and allow to stand for 5-10minutes over low heat coals. If the fire is too hot at this stage the rice will start to burnWhen the cheese has melted remove the potjie from the heat, set aside and leave to stand for about half an hour for the flavors to develop.Just before serving use a large wooden spoon to gently stir the potjie so that all the layers are mixed together and evenly distributed.
Serve with salads and pot bread.
I hope you have enjoyed this mingle and have enjoyed learning more about my home country. Thank you Meeta for choosing South Africa! I hope to meet you here one day )