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excerpts from African Cooking

1969: Laurens van der Post

Born in South Africa, Laurens van der Post wrote both fiction and non-fiction related to Africa and other topics. These excerpts are from Recipes: African Cooking (Foods of the World) (New York: Time-Life Books; 1970). If you should look to obtain this out-of-print classic, note that it consists of two parts: a large coffee-table hardback book that contains the narrative texts, but few recipes, and a spiral-bound volume that contains all of the recipes.


Recipes: African Cooking (Foods of the World)


Laurens van der Post

and the Editors of Time-Life Books

Time-Life Books, New York

The Ancient World of Ethiopia

. . . berberé gave me my first inkling of the essential role played by spices in the more complex forms of Ethiopian cooking I was to encounter later. In this respect the Ethiopian concept of cooking seemed to me related to that of India and of Indonesia, particularly Java; I suspect that there may have far more contact between Ethiopia and the Far East than the history books indicate. Certainly, it was remarkable how easy Ethiopian food was on the tongue for someone who, like myself, had already learned to like Indian and Javanese cooking.

I particularly found this to be true in the case of the national dish of Ethiopia, a stew called wat, in which all manner of spices play an essential part. Wat comes in various forms; the most delicate and appealing, to me, is chicken wat, or doro wat. . . .

In a well-to-do and well-run household wat is a very complicated affair. Consider, for example, a chicken wat I once ate in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar. It was made with powdered ginger, ground black pepper, powdered cardamom, minced onion, lemon juice and hard-boiled eggs. Even that was not the end of the story, for the real catalyst of the mixture was a tablespoon of berberé containing dried fenugreek, coriander, cumin, fennel seed, red and black pepper, onions, garlic, sacred basil, cardamom, and ginger. . . .

When Berhanu Wolde Emanuel, a civil servant in the Ethiopian city of Gondar, was about to marry Lishan Sefu, he made inquiries about the quality of her doro wat, or chicken stew. The report was good; in fact, it turned out that she was something of a perfectionist. For example, she insisted on preparing her own berberé seasoning for her wat, and making berberé is no simple matter. Red peppers must be dried in the sun and pounded in a mortar; ginger and garlic are pounded separately, along with a whole procession of spices both familiar and arcane. It is a long, trying process, but berberé is the pivot of the Ethiopian cuisine, the universal seasoning for everything from a rich man's delicacy to a poor man's chunk of bread -- not to speak of Wolde Emanuel's doro wat.

Doro Wat (Ethiopia)

Chicken Stewed in Red-Pepper Sauce

To serve 4

  • A 2½ to 3-pound chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces
  • 2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups finely chopped onions
  • ¼ cup niter kebbeh
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped, scraped fresh ginger root
  • ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds, pulverized with a mortar and pestle or in a small bowl with the back of a spoon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably fresh grated
  • ¼ teaspoon berberé
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • ¼ cup dry white or red wine
  • ¾ cup water
  • 4 hard-cooked eggs
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and rub the pieces with lemon juice and salt. Let the chicken rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

In an ungreased heavy 3- to 4 quart enameled casserole. cook the onions over moderate heat for 5 or 6 minutes, or until they are soft and dry. Shake the pan and stir the onions constantly to prevent them from burning; if necessary, reduce the heat or lift the pan occasionally from the stove to let it cool for a few moments before returning it to the heat.

Stir in the niter kebbeh and, when it begins to sputter, add the garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cardamom and nutmeg, stirring well after each addition. Add the berberé and paprika, and stir over low heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Then pour in the wine and water and, still stirring, bring to a boil over high heat. Cook briskly, uncovered, for about 5 minutes, or until the liquid in the pan has reduced to the consistency of heavy cream.

Pat the chicken dry and drop it into the simmering sauce, turning the pieces with a spoon until they are coated on all sides. Reduce the heat to the lowest point. cover tightly and simmer for 15 minutes.

With the tines of a fork, pierce ¼-inch-deep holes over the entire surface of each egg. Then add the eggs and turn them gently about in the sauce. Cover and cook for 15 minutes more, or until the chicken is tender and the dark meat shows no resistance when pierced with the point of a small knife. Sprinkle the stew with pepper and taste for seasoning.

To serve, transfer the entire contents of the casserole to a deep, heated platter or bowl. Doro wat is traditionally accompanied by either injera or spice bread, but may be eaten with Arab-style flat bread or hot boiled rice. . . . plain yoghurt . . . may be presented with the wat from separate bowls.

Niter Kebbeh (Ethiopia)

Spiced Butter Oil

To make about 2 cups

  • 2 pounds unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 small onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger root
  • 1½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 cardamom pod, slightly crushed with the flat of a knife, or a pinch of cardamom seeds
  • 1 piece of stick cinnamon, 1 inch long
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

In a heavy 4- to 5-quart saucepan, heat the butter over moderate heat, turning it about with a spoon to melt it slowly and completely without letting it brown. Then increase the heat and bring the butter to a boil. When the surface is completely covered with white foam, stir in the onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible point and simmer uncovered and undisturbed for 45 minutes, or until the milk solids on the bottom of the pan are a golden brown and the butter on top is transparent.

Slowly pour the clear liquid niter kebbeh into a bowl, straining it through a fine sieve lined with a linen towel or four layers of dampened cheesecloth. Discard the seasonings. If there are any solids left in the kebbeh, strain it again to prevent it from becoming rancid later.

Pour the kebbeh into a jar, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator or at room temperature until ready for use. Kebbeh will solidify when chilled. It can safely be kept, even at room temperature, for 2 or 4 months.

Berbere (Ethiopia)

Red-Pepper and Spice Paste

To make about 2 cups

  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped onions
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons dry red wine
  • 2 cups paprika
  • 2 tablespoons ground hot red pepper
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a heavy 2- to 3-quart saucepan (preferably one with an enameled or nonstick cooking surface), toast the ginger, cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and allspice over low hear for a minute or so, stirring constantly until they are heated through. Then remove the pan from the heat and let the spices cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

Combine the toasted spices, onions, garlic, 1 tablespoon of the salt and the wine in he jar of an electric blender and blend at high until the mixture is a smooth paste. (To make the paste with a mortar and pestle or in a bowl with the back or a spoon, pound the toasted spices, onions, garlic and 1 tablespoon of the salt together until pulverized. Add the wine and continue pounding until the mixture is a moist paste.)

Combine the paprika, red pepper, black pepper and the remaining tablespoon of salt in the saucepan and toast them over low heat for a minute or so, until they are heated through, shaking the pan and stirring the spices constantly. Stir in the water, ¼ cup at a time, then add the spice-and-wine mixture. Stirring vigorously, cook over the lowest possible heat for 10 to 15 minutes.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the berbere to a jar or crock, and pack it in tightly. Let the paste cool to room temperature, then dribble enough oil over the top to make a film at least ¼ inch thick. Cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. If you replenish the film of oil on the top each time you use the berbere, it can safely be kept in the refrigerator for 5 or 6 months.

New Cuisines for New Nations

Another seafood experience was the fish imojo that I ate in Ghana. There are very few natural harbors on the country's seacoast; every day, the fishermen have to paddle their dugouts though a savage surf to get to their most productive fishing ground. But their catches include some of the finest fish of Africa and the fish imojo depends for its success on the freshness of the catch. A fish that has been cleaned and washed is salted and seasoned with garlic, simmered gently in a saucepan and allowed to cool. It is then boned, flaked and placed in a serving bowl. An equal quantity fresh shelled prawns, cooked separately, is added to the dish, along with a dressing made of lemon juice, ground red peppers, some finely chopped tomatoes, onions, and a clove or two of garlic. The secret of the dish, I was told, is that the prawns are soaked in the same dressing for two hours before being added to the fish. I had my fish imojo garnished with slices of sweet green peppers and surrounded by some diced half-ripe papaya.

In Sierra Leone, incidentally, prawns of the kind used for a fish imojo are abundant and large. I ate them with sweet peppers, onions and tomatoes, all cooked together in a small amount of palm oil and served with fried plantains, baked sweet potatoes or plain boiled rice. The dish went best, I think, with the rice, which beautifully absorbed the fine flavors of the spices and the rich textures of the tomatoes and oil.

Fish Imojo (West Africa)

Fish-and-Shrimp Salad

To serve 6 to 8

  • 1 pound uncooked medium-sized shrimp (about 21 to 25 to the pound)
  • 1½ pounds halibut or haddock steaks, cut about 1 inch thick
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped onions
  • 2 medium-sized bay leaves, crumbled
  • 6 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 medium-sized firm ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped - [Drop the tomatoes in a pan of boiling water and let them boil briskly for about 10 seconds. Run cold water over them, and with a small sharp knife, peel them. Cut out the stems, then slice the tomatoes in half crosswise. Squeeze the halves gently to remove the seeds and juice, and chop the tomatoes as fine as possible.]
  • ½ cup finely chopped onions
  • ¼ cup finely chopped sweet red bell pepper
  • ½ small sweet green bell pepper, seeded, deribbed and cut into strips about 1/8 inch wide and 1 inch long
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh hot chiles
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 1/3 cup strained fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Shell the shrimp. Devein them by making a shallow incision down their backs with a small, sharp knife and lifting out the black or white intestinal vein with the point of the knife. Wash the shrimp under cold running water and drain them in a sieve or colander. Wrap the fish in a double thickness of cheesecloth and set the fish and shrimp aside.

Combine the water, coarsely chopped onions, bay leaves, peppercorns and salt in a heavy 3- to 4-quart casserole. Bring to a simmer over high heat, add the cheesecloth-wrapped fish and reduce the heat to low. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes, then drop in the shrimp and simmer for 5 minutes longer.

With kitchen tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the fish and shrimp to separate plates. Strain the stock through a fine sieve set over a bowl and reserve; discard the seasonings.

While the fish is still warm, lift it out of the cheesecloth and, with your fingers or a small knife, remove the skin and bones. Flake the fish coarsely with a table fork. Cut the shrimp into ½-inch pieces and combine the fish and shrimp in a large serving bowl.

Add the finely chopped tomatoes, onions, sweet red and green peppers, parsley, chilies and garlic, and turn them about with a spoon until all the ingredients are well mixed.

In a small bowl, beat the lemon juice and olive oil together with a wire whisk or a fork until they are blended. Stirring constantly, add 2/3 cup of the reserved cooking stock, the tomato paste and a few grindings of black pepper. Taste for seasoning.

Pour the sauce over the fish mixture and toss together gently but thoroughly. Let the salad marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.

In the Highlands of East Africa

There is another dish that I associate with Zanzibar. It is eaten to this day on the East African coast in areas that once were part of the vanished Sultanate, and I call it "Zanzibar duck". The duck was first pricked and browned in the oven to get rid of excess fat. It was then set in a casserole along with stock made from the minced liver of the duck, a cup of stock, and a dozen cloves. The casserole was firmly covered and cooked gently for at least two hours. At that point the duck was removed; the juice of a lemon, some salt and a finely chopped red pepper were added to the juices of the pot, and the sauce was thickened with cassava flour. We ate it with plain rice.

Zanzibar Duck (East Africa) [Tanzania]

Braised Duck with Orange-and-Lime Sauce

To serve 4 to 6

  • A 5- to 5½ pound duck
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups chicken stock, fresh or canned
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 1 fresh hot chile about 1½ to 2 inches long, stemmed and seeded
  • ½ cup strained fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons strained fresh lime juice
  • ½ cup finely chopped sweet bell pepper, preferably red
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Orange wedges or slices studded with whole cloves for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pat the duck completely dry inside and out with paper towels, and remove the large chucks of fat from the cavity. Cut off the loose neck skin and truss the bird securely, then prick the surface around the thighs, the back and the lower part of the breast with a skewer of the point of a sharp knife.

In a heavy 5- to 6- quart casserole, heat oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Add the duck and, turning it frequently with a slotted spoon or tongs, cook for about 15 minutes, or until it browns richly on all sides. Transfer the duck to a plate and discard the fat remaining in the casserole. Pour in 1 cup of the chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat, meanwhile scraping in any brown particles that cling to the bottom and sides of the pan. Stir in the cloves and chile, then return the duck and the liquids that have accumulated around it to the casserole.

Cover tightly and braise in the middle of the oven for 1 hour. Remove the duck to a plate, and with a large spoon skim as much fat as possible from the surface of the cooking liquid. Discard the cloves and chile.

Add the remaining cup of stock to the casserole and, stirring and scraping in the brown bits that cling to the pan, bring to a boil over high heat. Mix in the orange juice, lime juice, sweet bell pepper and salt. Return the duck to the casserole and baste it with the simmering sauce. Cover tightly and return the duck to the oven for about 15 minutes. To test for doneness, pierce the thigh of the bird with the point of small, sharp knife. The juice should trickle out a clear yellow; if it is slightly pink, cook the bird for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Place the duck on a heated platter and pour the sauce over it. Garnish the platter with the orange wedges or slices and serve at once.

Steamed Papaya (East Africa)

To serve 4 to 6

  • 1½ pounds underripe papaya, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Pour enough boiling water into the lower part of a steamer to come within 1 inch of the cooking rack . . . . Spread the papaya cubes on the rack of the steamer . . . , and bring the water to the boil again. Cover the pan tightly and steam over moderate heat for 15 to 20 minutes. When the papaya is tender and somewhat translucent, transfer it to a sieve or colander to drain.

In a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, melt the butter over moderate heat. When the foam begins to subside, drop in the papaya and season it with the nutmeg and salt. Toss the papaya about gently with a spoon until it is evenly coated with the butter

Serve at once in a heated bowl. Steamed papaya may be an accompaniment to Zanzibar duck or other poultry, game or rich meats like lamb or pork.

The World of Portuguese Africa

Peixe à Lumbo (Mozambique)

Fish-and-Shrimp Stew

To serve 4 to 6

  • 1 pound uncooked medium-sized shrimp (about 21 to 25 to the pound)
  • 8 four-ounce sea bass or red snapper steaks. about 1 inch thick
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ cups finely chopped onions
  • 2 medium-sized bell peppers, seeded, deribbed and finely chopped
  • 2 medium-sized firm ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, finely chopped [see Fish Imojo recipe, above] or substitute 2/3 cup chopped, drained canned tomatoes /LI>
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 teaspoon crumbled dried hot red chilies
  • ½ cup fresh coconut milk made from ½ cup coarsely chopped coconut and ½ cup hot water [or substitute canned]

Shell the shrimp. Devein them by making a shallow incision down their backs with a small, sharp knife and lifting out the black or white intestinal vein with the point of the knife. Wash the shrimp under running cold water and pat them dry with paper towels. Pat the fish steaks dry and sprinkle them on both sides with ½ teaspoon of the salt. Set the shrimp and fish aside.

In a heavy 10 to 12-inch skillet, heat the olive oil over moderate heat until a light haze form above it. Drop in the onions and peppers and, stirring frequently, cook for about 5 minutes, until they are soft but not brown. Watch carefully for any sign of burning and regulate the heat accordingly. Add the tomatoes and, stirring frequently, cook briskly until most of the liquid in the pan evaporates and the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape almost solidly in a spoon. Remove the pan from the heat, then stir in the coriander, chilies and the remaining teaspoon of salt, and taste for seasoning.

Arrange 4 of the fish steaks in a heavy saucepan large enough to hold them in one layer. Scatter half of the shrimp over and around the fish and spoon half the vegetable mixture over them. Add the remaining fish steaks and shrimp, and cover them with the rest of the vegetables.

Pour in the coconut milk and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Reduce the heat to its lowest point. Cook partially covered for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the shrimp are firm and pink and the fish flakes easily when prodded with a fork.

To serve, transfer the entire contents of the saucepan to a deep heated platter or bowl. Peixe à Lumbo may be accompanied by . . . hot boiled rice.

East and West Meet at the Cape

. . . the Cape Malays came up with other dishes -- dishes that are all so a part of the South African way of life that they have become almost sacramental substances. Among them are bobotie, sosaties, and bredie. Bobotie, a kind of minced pie, is to South African what moussaka is to the Greeks. Sosaties, or skewered and grilled meats are what shashlyk are to the people of the Caucasus and shish kabob to the Turks. The stew called bredie is what goulash is to Hungarians.

A basic bobotie begins with minced lamb or beef, a little soaked bread, eggs, butter, finely chopped onion, garlic, curry powder and turmeric. All are mixed together, put in a pie dish with meat drippings, and baked in a low oven for a time. The moment the mixture begins to brown, the dish is taken from the oven and some eggs beaten up with milk are poured over the top; then the dish is put back into the oven and baked very slowly to a deep brown. The pace of the cooking is important: if the oven is too hot the bobotie will be dry, and that should never happen, for an ideal bobotie is eaten moist, over rice.

What I have described is (I believe) bobotie as it was eaten in the beginning, but it is no linger the bobotie eaten in South Africa, except in Malay homes. In my own home, for instance, we added a handful of finely chopped blanched almonds and some raisins to the mixture. The simple egg-and-milk mixture poured over the bobotie halfway through the baking (a mixture that can easily turn into a stodgy baked custard) was scorned by our cooks. At a late stage in the cooking they would bat bread crumbs fried in drippings into the mixture and bake it quickly in a hot oven. In her famous book Where Is It? Hildagonda Duckitt, the Fannie Farmer of South Africa, says that a teaspoon of sugar should be added to the meat mixture, and an ounce of tamarind water gives the dish an exceptionally pleasant, tart flavor. But these are only a few variations, and there are almost as many as there are homes in South Africa.

The word sosatie is derived from two Malay words: saté, which means "spiced sauce"; and sésate, which means "meat on a skewer." This second great standby of the South African diet is usually made of mutton cut into small cubes suitable for spiking on thin wooden skewers. Originally the Cape Malays marinated the meat in a mixture of shredded fried onions, curry powder, chilies, garlic and a generous quantity of tamarind water. They usually did this early in the afternoon and left the meat in the marinade until the next day. They would then skewer the cubes of meat with alternate pieces of mutton fat, and roast them on an open fire or fry them in a heavy skillet. Just before the sosaties were ready the cook would boil the marinade in a saucepan until its ingredient were cooked and the liquid reduced, and he would serve the sosaties with rice and this sauce. But I have had Malay sosaties in which the green ginger also went into the marinade and during the simmering stage the cook added a few bay leaves, an orange leaf or two and another spoonful of curry. Again, the variations are endless; the Olympian Miss Duckitt rounds out her marinade with either vinegar or the juice of lemons (we always used lemon juice at home), sugar and milk. Because of the Muslim proscription against pig products, the Malays never skewered bacon with their sosaties, but it is quite common among other Cape residents nowadays to do sosaties with alternate cubes of mutton and squares of bacon, all conventionally marinated.

The last of the three great Cape Malay main dishes is the stew called bredie. Almost every country in the Western world has its meat stew. The Irish, of course, have Irish stew; the English, Lancashire hotpot; the Dutch, hutspot; the Germans, Eintopf; and the Hungarians, goulash. But only in South Africa is the dish of Oriental origin. The very word bredie is significant: it is a Malagasy word from Madagascar, and between the east coast of Madagascar and the world of India and Malaya there has been a steady coming and going since recorded history began. To this day, the bredies are a culinary reminder of that traffic

A Cape Malay cook starts a bredie by browning thinly sliced onions in mutton fat, butter or oil, in that order of preference. Meat or fish is then laid over the onions and gently braised. The chosen vegetables, sliced or cubed, are placed on top of the meat with various seasonings, but always with chiles. Curiously, the vegetable used n one of the earliest forms of bredie was pumpkin, even though the Dutch regarded it as food fit only for slaves. Today, pumpkin bredie is one of South Africa's almost mystical dishes, and if the pumpkin is firm and crisp it can be excellent. Some Cape Malay cooks add a little salt, a few chiles and a potato or two to the pumpkin; others flavor it with green ginger, cinnamon sticks, a few cloves and a little chopped garlic. The variations are endless, and pumpkin bredies are only a subdivision of them. I have had wonderful cauliflower bredies, and others made with green beans, curried beans, turnips, kohlrabi, celery, carrots, peas, button turnips, and a spinach bredie enlivened by the addition of sorrel.

The variation that most stimulates the South African palate, however, is unquestionably tomato bredie. I know about a dozen recipes for cooking tomato bredie, and all of them are good; the one in Miss Duckitt's Where Is It? is probably as good as any. All bredies begin roughly in the way I have described, but in this recipe boneless mutton is cut into small pieces and browned with onions over a fairly hot fire. Large tomatoes are cut into slices or passed through a mincing machine; if the tomatoes are not quite ripe, sugar and slat as well as the traditional chiles are added. The braised meat, crisp fat and tomato are then stewed as slowly as possible until the liquid in the pot is reduced to a rich, thick gravy. Upcountry, we often added some peeled, cored and sliced quinces to the mixture, cutting the razor edge of the quince flavor with a small addition of sugar. To my mind there is no stew, goulash or hotpot to equal bredie cooked this way and eaten with simple but perfect rice.

Bobotie (South Africa)

Baked Ground Lamb Curry with Custard Topping

To serve 6

  • 1 slice homemade-type white bread, 1 inch thick, broken into small bite
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 pounds coarsely ground lean lamb
  • 1½ cups finely chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder, preferably Madras type
  • 1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup strained fresh lemon juice
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 medium-sized tart cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely grated
  • ½ cup seedless raisins
  • ¼ cup blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 4 small fresh lemon or orange leaves, or substitute 4 small bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees (F). Combine the bread and milk in a small bowl and let the bread soak for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, melt the butter over moderate heat. When the foam begins to subside, add the lamb and cook it, stirring constantly and mashing any lumps with the back of a spoon, until the meat separates into granules and no traces of pink remain. With a slotted spoon, transfer the lamb into a deep bowl.

Pour off and discard all but about 2 tablespoons of fat from the skillet and drop in the onions. Stirring frequently, cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent but not brown. Watch carefully for any sign of burning and regulate heat accordingly. Add the curry powder, sugar, salt and pepper, and stir for 1 or 2 minutes. Then stir in the lemon juice and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour the entire mixture into the bowl of lamb.

Drain the bread in a sieve over a bowl and squeeze the bread completely dry. Reserve the drained milk. Add the bread, 1 of the eggs, the apple, raisins, and almonds to the lamb. Knead vigorously with both hands or beat with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are well combined. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if desired. Pack the lamb mixture loosely into a 3-quart soufflé dish or other deep 3-quart baking dish, smoothing the top with a spatula. Tuck the lemon, orange or bay leaves beneath the surface of the meat.

With a wire whisk or rotary beater, beat the remaining 2 eggs with the reserved milk for about 1 minute, or until they froth. Slowly pour the mixture evenly over the meat and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, or until the custard is a light golden brown.

Serve at once, directly from the baking dish. Bobotie is traditionally accompanied by hot boiled rice.

On the Track of the Voortrekkers

Sosaties (South Africa)

Skewered Marinated Lamb with Curry-Tamarind Sauce

To serve 6

  • 3 tablespoons rendered bacon fat or lard
  • 1½ cups finely chopped onions
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder, preferably Madras type
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 cup tamarind water or substitute ½ cup strained fresh lemon juice combined with ½ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon apricot jam
  • 1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
  • 2 pounds lean boneless lamb, preferably leg, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1½ inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 fresh lemon leaves or 4 medium-sized bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh hot chiles
  • 2 medium-sized onions, peeled, cut lengthwise into quarters and separated into individual layers
  • ¼ pound fresh pork fat, sliced ¼ inch thick and cut into 1-inch squares
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 tablespoons cold water

Starting a day ahead, heat the bacon fat or lard in a heavy 8- to 10-inch skillet over moderate heat until it is very hot but not smoking. Drop in the chopped onions and, stirring frequently, cook for about 5 minutes, or until they are soft and translucent but not brown. Watch carefully for any sign of burning and regulate the heat accordingly. Add the curry powder, coriander and turmeric, and stir for 2 or 4 minutes longer, Then add the tamarind water (or lemon-juice mixture), jam and sugar, and continue to stir until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer partially covered for 15 minutes. Pour the curry-and-tamarind mixture into a large, shallow bowl and cool to room temperature.

Sprinkle the lamb with the salt and a few grindings of pepper. Toss the lamb, lemon or bay leaves, garlic and chiles together with the cooled curry mixture, cover tightly with foil or plastic wrap, and marinate the lamb in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours, turning the cubes over from time to time.

Light a layer of coals in a charcoal broiler and let them burn until a white ash appears on the surface, or preheat the broiler in your oven to its highest point.

Remove the lamb from the marinade and string the cubes tightly on 6 long skewers, alternating the meat with the layers of onions and the squares of fresh pork fat. Broil 4 inches from the heat, turning the skewers occasionally, until the lamb is done to your taste. For pink lamb, allow about 8 minutes. For well-done lamb, which is more typical of South African cooking, allow 12 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Discard the lemon or bay leaves and pour the marinade into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low. Make a smooth paste of the flour and 2 tablespoons of cold water and, with a wire whisk or spoon, stir it gradually into the simmering marinade. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce slightly thickens. Taste for seasoning.

To serve, slide the lamb, onions, and fat off the skewers onto heated individual plates. Present the sauce separately in a small bowl or sauceboat.

Recipe Index

Tamarind Water

To make about 1 cup

  • 2 ounces dried tamarind pulp
  • 1½ cups boiling water

Place the tamarind pulp in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Stirring and mashing it occasionally with a spoon or your hands, let the tamarind soak for about 1 hour, or until the pulp separates and begins to dissolve in the water. Rub the tamarind through a fine sieve set over a bowl, pressing down hard with the back of a spoon before discarding the seeds and fibers. Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use. Tamarind water can be kept safely for a week or so.

Tomato Bredie (South Africa)

Lamb-and-Tomato Stew

Bredie: "Bredie" is an old Cape name for a thick, richly flavored meat-and-vegetable stew. Both the name and the stew are of Malay origin, but "bredies" are now popular now throughout South Africa. They are almost always made with lamb or mutton -- preferably the fattier cuts of these meats, because of their richer flavor. While onions and chiles dominate the seasonings, a typical "bredie" is also cooked with -- and named for -- a vegetable such as tomato, pumpkin, green beans, cabbage, dried beans, or cauliflower.

To serve 4

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1½ pounds boneless shoulder, cut into 1-by-2-inch chunks
  • 1 large onion, peeled and cut crosswise into slices 1/8 inch thick
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
  • 6 medium-sized firm ripe tomatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut crosswise into slices ¼ inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh hot chiles
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

In a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms over it. Add the lamb and brown it a few pieces at a time. Turn the pieces frequently with a slotted spoon and regulate the heat so that they color richly and evenly without burning. As the lamb browns, transfer the pieces to a plate.

Pour off and discard all but about 2 tablespoons of fat from the skillet and drop in the onion slices and the garlic. Stirring frequently and scraping any brown particles that cling to the bottom of the pan, cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the onions are soft and golden brown. Stir in the tomatoes, chiles, cloves, sugar and salt, then add the lamb and any juices that have accumulated around it. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible point, cover tightly, and cook the bredie for 1 hour, stirring it from time to time.

Remove the cover and, stirring and mashing the tomatoes occasionally, simmer for 30 to 40 minutes longer, or until the lamb is very tender and most of the liquid in the pan has cooked away. The sauce should be thick enough to hold its shape almost solidly in the spoon.

Taste for seasoning. Pick out and discard the cloves and serve the bredie at once from a heated platter, accompanied by hot boiled rice.

Klappertert (South Africa)

Coconut Pie

To make one 9-inch pie

  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1½ cups water
  • 3 cups finely grated fresh coconut
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small bits
  • 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons apricot jam
  • 1 baked 9-inch short-crust pastry pie shell
  • 8 strips candied citron, 1inch long by 1/8 inch wide

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Cook briskly, undisturbed, until the syrup reaches a temperature of 230 degrees F on a candy thermometer or until a few drops spooned into ice water immediately form coarse threads.

Remove the pan from the heat, add the coconut and butter, and stir until the butter is completely melted. Let the coconut mixture cool to room temperature, then vigorously beat in the eggs and vanilla, continuing to beat until the eggs are completely absorbed.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small pan, melt the apricot jam over low heat, stirring constantly. Then rub the jam through a fine sieve with the back of a spoon, and brush the jam evenly over the bottom of the baked pie shell.

Pour the coconut mixture into the pie shell, spreading it and smoothinf the top with a spatula. Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the filling is firm to the touch and golden brown. Arrange striops of citron in a sunburst pattern in the center of the pie. Serve the klappertert warm or at room temperature; accompanied if you like by whipped cream.

The Rare Recipes pages contain African and African-inspired recipes from antique and out-of-print cookbooks.

Van der Post's recipe for Zanzibar Duck has been reproduced on many webpages (often without credit) and has evidently morphed into a "Zanzibar Chicken" recipe that calls for frozen concentrated lime juice and soy sauce (not too traditional, but it sounds good). Two classic fowl-and-citrus recipes are Poulet Yassa and Tagine of Chicken, Preserved Lemon, and Olives .

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