Braais, boerewors and sunshine

2014-11-20 00:00

WE’VE been focusing on proudly South African produce for the past few weeks, because we love celebrating what makes South Africans unique.

Nothing screams out South Africa like the word “braai”. Preparing food over the fire is practised in every culture in our country and for this reason we believe nothing celebrates and unites us as a country like braaing does.

It’s been claimed humans have been controlling fire (in other words, not just building a bonfire and letting it burn until it dies out) for about a million years, according to a scientist working at the Cradle of Humankind.

Dr Brain (his real name, believe it or not!) says this ability to control fire (called pyrotechnology from which we get pyrotechnics — a fireworks display) was a significant step towards humans being predators and no longer prey. Consider that next time you braai — you are practising your genetic predatorial skills.

It’s believed the practice of cooking meat over the fire started by the accidental dropping of meat into the fire and the subsequent discovery it tasted better and could be kept for longer. The rest, as they say, is delicious history.

We’ve mentioned many times in this column before: there’s no comparison to the South African braai. Brazilians try, and come close, piling high stacks of meat flavoured with bay leaf, garlic and coarse salt, but it still misses the X-factor of our braais.

It probably has something to do with the sizzle of the fat dripping on to the coals, mixed with the smell of a sweet-spicy marinade caramelising from the heat and the jovial atmosphere braais always conjure. It’s a common occurrence across all cultures; rather obviously for the Afrikaans culture (“ons gaan nou braai”), but can be seen and smelt in townships and informal settlements on days of celebration in the far reaches of our country.

We often visit a community called Bulembu in the Swaziland mountains about two kilometres beyond the Barberton border.

We stay with local families and enjoy quiet times around the fire, foraging for wild spinach and leaves; having avocados picked from the high reaches of trees by small little bodies and bathing by candlelight out of a bucket.

It is always a humbling and soul-

satisfying experience. On one occasion when we visited the small village, the pastor hosting us invited us into his house and proudly exclaimed we were going to burn a snake.

He went on to tell us he had found the snake and killed it, wanting to burn it as a “sign”.

We were slightly disturbed and rather petrified by the thought of snakes crawling around in the area, but obliged and went outside where he was building a massive fire in a halved drum. He loudly yelled out to his oldest son, only 12 years old: “Go and fetch the snake!” — who swiftly returned with a plastic bag.

A loud squeal of laughter broke out as he slowly lifted out a looooong piece of boerewors from the bag. What a relief! He was treating us to a braai, knowing it was our custom and the sign to which he was referring was the sign of our friendship. We were so humbled (and very relieved) by the gesture. He had even made the makeshift braai especially for the visit.

This dish we’ve made today plays around with a few braai flavours and elements. Although Capetonians find it strange that Vaalies eat pap as part of a braai, we feel we can’t have a braai without it. It’s also a lovely example of how cultures in South Africa have borrowed from one another.

We’ve prepared the pap with milk for this recipe to have a creamier texture, but if you’re lactose intolerant, feel free to prepare it as usual. Synonymous with pap is chakalaka, a spicy vegetable-based sauce birthed in Johannesburg. We’ve made it with apricots for added sweetness and tang.

Most likely due to the connotation to weekends and celebrations, braais bring a sense of relief. If you’ve ever tried lighting a fire and cooking some meat over the coals in the middle of the week, you’ll know what we mean — a braai creates breathing room, because you simply have to wait for the coals to be ready and the therapeutic turning of the meat brings calm.

So even though the end of the year is near, it’s not here yet, and when you feel it is all reaching boiling point and you won’t make it until the end of the year, have a braai.

We think the English have it wrong — a change isn’t as good as a holiday, a braai is!

Braai bolletjies with fresh chakalaka

Braai Bolletjies with fresh chakalaka.

PHOTO: Seline van der WatT



For the braai bolletjies:

200 g leftover braai meat (or cooked mince)

1 sweetcorn

1 red onion, finely diced

5 ml thyme leaves

60 ml chutney

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup raw pap

1 litre milk

100 g butter

400 ml crushed cornflakes/bread crumbs

2 eggs, lightly beaten to coat the balls

125 ml flour to coat the balls

For the chakalaka:

30 ml olive oil

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

5 ml ground cumin

30 ml curry powder (we used mild)

4 large carrots, peeled

1 green pepper

1 yellow pepper

30 ml tomato paste

600 g tinned tomatoes

15 ml white vinegar

15 ml white sugar

4 apricots

15 g fresh coriander


1. Cook the pap in the milk by combining the two in a pot with a whisk and setting over a low-medium heat until cooked.

Season the water with salt. Once the pap is done, melt butter into it before setting aside to cool.

2. Boil the sweetcorn in boiling water for eight minutes. Remove and cut off the kernels before placing aside.

3. Shred the cooked braai meat and mix together with the salt and pepper, sweetcorn kernels, chutney, thyme leaves and onion. Use about a teaspoon of the meat mixture to make a ball, compressing the meat together.

4. Use two tablespoons of the cooked pap and make a flattened disk in your palm. Place the ball of meat in the centre of the disk and form the pap into a ball around the meat.

Dip the balls into flour; into egg and then into the crumbs. Bring a pot of oil up to temperature and fry the balls until crispy. Drain on kitchen towel.

5. Next, make the chakalaka. Finely chop all the vegetables (including the garlic and coriander).

6. In a saucepan, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil on a low heat until the onions are well-cooked.

7. Add the cumin and curry powder and sauté for a few minutes to release the oils in the spices.

8. Add the peppers and carrots and sauté for another two minutes.

9. Add the vinegar and sugar and allow to cook until the vinegar has dissolved (approximately three minutes).

10. Add the tomato paste and the tinned tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes at which point the carrots should be cooked, but still slightly crunchy.

Finish the chakalaka with apricots (cut into wedges) and some fresh coriander

11. Serve the fried balls while warm with some of the spicy chakalaka.

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