Death or glory

2010-06-12 00:00

THE World Cup is coming to KwaZulu-Natal tomorrow — Australia vs Germany. Having spent most of my life living in west London close to Stamford Bridge, home of my team, Chelsea, who for the most part never won anything, not that I cared, win or lose, they are my team, my tribe. I remain xenophobic, devoted, irrational and feverish­ about them.

As a result I’ve only ever seen rugby as gay pornography­ with shorts on. Football is the beautiful game and when played properly it has no equal.

Perhaps quite contradictorily I’ve never liked flag waving. I associate it with nationalism, race-dividing jingoism, suspicion and narrowness; however, it feels good to see South Africa rallying and uniting around Bafana Bafana. Optimistically I’m hoping for an England vs South Africa Cup final. On Sunday I’m supporting Australia for two reasons: one, Germany is the ancient enemy; two, I’ve had on/off relationships with Kylie Minogue and Nicole Kidman. They’re off at the moment and we’re not talking, but that could all change if Australia win.

Footballers and chefs belong to those professions that live in a watchful jealous world in which reputations are exposed or rescued by a single game or dish. They can both be brought low by public criticism and status anxiety.

And cooking and football share a drama of strong wills where qualities of character are revealed under pressure — theatrically if Chelsea are losing or I’m struggling with a heavy service. I remind myself of Henry V’s rousing speech at Agincourt: “When you’re really down summon the blood...” My co-dependent love of football and cooking become extended metaphors of my character defects. Every mistake made by the team or me is so profoundly annoying, so typical, an affliction instantly familiar running hard to lose.

Scampering around the stove or pitch, the constant change of direction tiring me as much as my gathering self-hatred. I become ineffectual and stupid with the wrong time co-ordinates; I’m in them all at once. Only football and I can go wrong in quite this way and we deserve to lose in just this manner. Why do I volunteer or even anticipate with pleasure this humiliation, this torture­, this kitchen, this game?

There’s no such thing as a gentle match or a gentle Friday night service, especially if I’m involved. Cooking and watching football can be mental death, murderous and beautiful, like a matador bringing down a fighting bull.

Some of the best food I’ve eaten has come from street vendors around the world — Bangkok, Barcelona and Nairobi being memorable. I hope our visitors and local fans will feel the same about the samoosas, smagwinyas (vetkoek) and bunny chows that are to be found around the astonishing, architecturally-stunning Moses Mabida Stadium.

Looking ahead to tomorrow and Australia emerging as victors, I will expect phone calls from Minogue and Kidman. I will give them this reconciliatory cabbage recipe encompassing the German love of saurkraut and Australia’s passion for fusion (sometimes confusion) food — marrying Down Under produce with Asian ingredients. • Dan Evans is consulting head chef at Havana Grill at Suncoast Casino. He can be contacted at 072 195 7171.

THE combination of Thai and Indonesian flavour produces a fresh-tasting, but spicy salad that is particularly good served at room temperature. It is easy to make and because of the high vinegar content, keeps for several days in the fridge.

METHOD

1 small cabbage (a savoy, if you can find one)

1 red sweet pepper

1 onion

2 large red chilli peppers

2 stalks of lemon grass

2,5 cm piece of ginger

1 carrot

1 clove of garlic

4 tbs rice wine vinegar or white white vinegar

2 lime leaves

4 tbs sunflower oil

bunch of coriander

4 tbs Kikkoman soya sauce

1 tbs Thai fish sauce

1 tbs sesame oil

This may seem rather lengthy, but it’s typical of stir-frying, where getting everything ready takes a while and the cooking needs almost no time at all. It’s useful to assemble all the different ingredients in bowls like one of those questionable TV cooks.

METHOD

1. Quarter the cabbage and cut out the base stalk, then finely shred.

2. Char the red pepper over a flame or under a grill. Peel off the blackened skin, deseed and finely shred the flesh.

3. Peel and cut the onion into thin rings.

4. Trim lemon grass and slice into very thin rounds, then cut these across into fine strips.

5. Cut the chillis also into fine strips, do the same with the ginger, carrot and garlic.

6. Heat the vinegar in a pot and simmer with the lemon grass, lime leaves and chilli peppers for five minutes, then set aside.

7. Preheat a pan (a wok is ideal). When hot put in the sunflower oil. Add the onion, garlic, pepper, ginger and carrot. Toss and stir. Tip into a bowl and leave to cool. When ready to serve, chop the coriander and stir it into the salad. Feel free to add noodles for a more substantial and sublime vegetarian course, or use it as a garnish for chicken, pork or fish.

This recipe is from my old mentor and culinary genius Alastair Little’s book Keep it Simple.

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