I recently had some company over at my new house for a crazy nerd gathering. One of my friends has traveled damn-near across the globe, but she's originally from South Africa, and we often talk about one of my favorite subjects, which is South African food. I've dabbled in a few things in the past, like old favorites Bobotie as well as my favorite drunk food Bunny Chow. We collaborated on a few of her favorites like Periperi Chicken too. Prior to her visit, I had been browsing over a South African cookbook I bought a while back, and thinking of anything hard to find over here that I could ask for.
The first was Elephant Biltong, which not surprisingly, is near-impossible to get. I did get Springbok Biltong, which was awesome though. It's similar to venison jerky, but imagine a little clove, allspice, or garam masala on it. No real reason for this other than sating a round of post-drinking munchies.
The second thing on my list was Waterblommetjies.
I like typing the word, I like saying the word. Afrikaans is a hilariously awesome language. It translates into "water flower" which is a polite way of saying that it's something that long ago some Voorstrekker spotted growing in a stagnant ditch full of water and decided it would taste delicious with his freshly-killed Springbok. All it would take would be a little stewing, and it just so happens that the word for stew in Afrikaans is bredie. Hence, waterblommetjiebredie.
Stuff you'll want:
- 2 1/2 pounds of roasting meat (ideally, lamb, mutton, or game, but I used beef short ribs to great effect too.
- 2 pounds waxy potatoes (ie, don't go makin no damn mashed potatoes son), diced
- 1 giganto onion (or, 2-3 smaller ones), diced
- About 2 pounds of waterblommetjies (you can get em on Amazon if you can't hop on the dakadak to Pretoria)
- 1 granny smith apple, peeled and grated
- 1/2 cup of white wine
- 1/2 cup of water
- 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp nutmeg
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp periperi (african bird's eye chili powder, again, Amazon) or cayenne pepper (at minimum you weenie. You want to add more, I know you do)
- 1 tsp black pepper
You'll want your dutch oven for this. Crank up the stovetop to about medium-high heat. While you're doing this, towel off your short ribs and rub them down with a bit of salt. Start to brown them on each side. All we want is the look and the smell really. They'll get cooked fully later.
Once each piece is browned all over, remove from heat.
In the juices left in the dutch oven, add your butter and then your onions & salt, and turn the heat down to low. Cover and sweat those for a good 20 minutes, then return your meat to the fray.
Add the water & wine. Put your lid on, preheat your oven to 350, slap it in there for 2 hours, and forget it exists till your time's up. Remove again to the stovetop. Your meat should be getting tender enough to come apart a bit, and you can shred it with your spatula or spoon as you go.
My picture of the stupid shredded apple survived, but not my picture of the waterblommetjies themselves. They look somewhere between swamp thing and a leopard, and smell like a wonderful cross between good olives and asparagus.
Thanks, Google image search! Mine looked pretty much like that, yeah!
Too bad I didn't get a snap, because after that, I tossed the apple, potato, and waterblommetjies into the melange.
To this hearty mash, I added my nutmeg, pepper, bay leaves, and periperi. I tasted it, and added more periperi still. When my particular heat affinity was reached, I simmered for another 30 minutes with the cover on, killed the heat, then tossed in my raw garlic at the end.
I topped the "stew" over another Afrikaner dish - funeral rice, which is basically a pot of rice fried into some butter, turmeric, cinnamon, onions, shredded carrot, and raisins.
What I love about South African food is that it's completely unsophisticated stuff that seems very familiar to any of us who have or had a grandmother who liked to cook. So much of it is old timey and homey, but it's also coupled with a few exotic flavors to remind you that you're eating something just a little different.