Jet lag makes you do the strangest things. We had arrived at our holiday rental in Cape Town in the late afternoon after three flights that took us half way around the world, desperate to try to get our body clocks – by this stage just a collection of springs and gears in a shoebox – on local time.
We forced ourselves to go for a walk along the beach at Camps Bay and headed out to dinner even though our bodies just wanted to head straight for the sheets, pillows and dreams of not flying for a very long time.
Of course the next morning at 5am, I was sitting upright in bed wide awake. With Lara sleeping soundly, I tip-toed downstairs to make some tea. As the jug slowly boiled, I checked out the kitchen. Wow. Clearly someone here loves to bake, judging by all the oven trays, and there was every conceivable type of appliance. I was going to enjoy this kitchen.
Cookbooks on the kitchen shelf were well-thumbed and in the library there were even more cooking reference books. As I sipped my tea I thumbed through the cookbooks, now spread out on the lounge room coffee table. I quickly realized there was more to South African cooking than BBQ or braai, the Afrikaans word for roasted meats. I started to think about ‘the dish’ I might learn to make for Cape Town…
One dish kept attracting my attention – the bredie – also an Afrikaans word, meaning ‘stew’. These kinds of slow cooked meat dishes keep popping up on our grand tour. Check out my French Cassoulet, Spanish Oxtail Stew and Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Almonds.
These earthy dishes in many ways exemplify what we’re attempting with our travel experiment this year, to slow down and to learn how to live like locals. What could make you feel more at home than the aromas of a local dish slow-cooking on a stove or in the oven? And this dish is as Cape Town as Table Mountain.
As with the other dishes above that I’ve written about this year, I found half a dozen conflicting recipes just thumbing through the cookbooks on the lounge room table, but essentially the dish is a slow-cooked mutton and tomato stew. The amount and number of spices added has an infinite variety of permeations.
In the District Six Museum there was a recipe that substituted beef for lamb and included onions, garlic and ginger to spice it up. Tomatoes and tomato paste are added along with sugar and seasoning. This, overlooking the fact that it’s better done with lamb, is a good base to work from. The Cape Malay version, however, consists of a richer array of spices, often including cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, thyme, marjoram, and a good dash of chili.
After sampling this dish in Cape Town restaurants quite a few times and making it at home several times, I think I found the sweet spot with this recipe: a good mix of lamb pieces (you want fat and marrow) cooked for at least a couple of hours, a good rest overnight before reheating, and adding potatoes. Serve with some aromatic rice and a good Shiraz or some ice cold beer.
- 1–11/2 kilos of ‘stewing’ lamb
- 2 teaspoons crushed garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 large dry red chili crushed (optional)
- 2 large onions
- 50ml tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 finger-long chunk of fresh ginger, chopped into matchstick-sized strips
- 4 whole black peppercorns
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 whole cloves
- 3 cardamom pods
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (crushed)
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds (crushed)
- ½ kg medium tomatoes chopped (you can use tinned)
- 4 medium potatoes quartered (for the second day!)
- Vegetable oil
- Dry ‘roast’ the dry spices in a hot saucepan.
- Add a good dash of vegetable oil to the pan and sautee the onions.
- Add the ginger, garlic and chili and cook for one minute.
- Pat dry the lamb. You can cook it with the onions etc, or separately until browned.
- Combine the above ingredients in a large pot or Dutch oven.
- Add about a cup of water and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste, tomatoes and sugar. Cook over low heat until the meat easily breaks apart. Add water, a little stock or some red wine to keep the mix moist.
- Cool slightly and then place in the refrigerator overnight.
- Reheat the stew slowly. Start cooking your rice after adding the potatoes to the pot.
- While some recipes present it as a ‘dry’ curry (as in the last photo), I think it’s better left with a decent amount of gravy. Perfect for mopping up with some roti.