Traditional South African cuisine offers something for every palate, and Sharon Lurie turns a few favourite local recipes on their heads … with a Jewish twist.
In her latest cookbook, A Taste of South Africa with the Kosher Butcher’s Wife, Sharon Lurie takes the home cook on an adventure encompassing many of the country’ s traditional foods – with an extra touch.
‘I wanted to bring in real South African food.’ In her inimitable style, Sharon keeps readers laughing along the way and her latest book is also full of humour, meaningful anecdotes, family insights and a love of the Jewish culinary heritage.
On a recent Friday – the sixth day and the eve of Shabbat, which was also the anniversary of her mother, Jill’s, death – Sharon’s Highlands North home smells of freshly baked challah, ready for Shabbat dinner.
‘Making challah is a spiritual and very therapeutic experience. Two loaves of challah are placed on tonight’s dinner table which represent the double portion of manna that fed the Israelites over Shabbat after their exodus from Egypt.’
Making challah it is known to be a spiritual experience filled with prayers and blessings … even if not spoken out loud. ‘Baking challah is a mitzvah given to women and is much more significant than combining ingredients in an act of baking. What starts as water, yeast, sugar, eggs, oil, flour and salt can transform into meditation, blessings and prayers.’
Sharon’s dining room table is set for Shabbat. ‘But as it’s my mother’s yahrzeit (a Yiddish word referring to the anniversary of the soul’s passing), I’ve also decorated it with my mother’s favourite flowers. The yahrzeit is an observance intended to celebrate the life of a loved one, on the anniversary of their death, and today we are honouring my mother’s memory.
‘My mother instilled in me a love of baking and she taught me the right way. She was a cordon bleu chef, trained in London, so everything I learned was through her.’
Many of Sharon’s earliest memories are of their time together in the kitchen – peeling and cutting, grating cheese, making a white sauce and baking cookies.
Sharon writes that her mother was famous for her vanilla and cinnamon compote with yogurt and brûlée topping. ‘It became known as Jill’s best break-fast (breaking of the fast) on Yom Kippur.’
Sharon’s first book, Cooking with the Kosher Butcher’s Wife, shares her vast knowledge of meat cuts – how to select, cook, season and serve them. Her second book, Celebrating with the Kosher Butcher’s Wife, follows the Jewish cooking year and shares dishes for holidays, Shabbat and any day meals. In her third book, Sharon combines the influences of her culinary inheritance – cooking kosher as a proud South African.
As she says, South African cuisine is as deliciously diverse as its inhabitants and the recipes in the book pay homage to the country’s most iconic foods with creative titles like Bobotie Fish Blintzes, Yentl Soup with an African twist, Shaka Sausage, Mealie Meal Toast, Brandy (Klippies) and Coke Malva Pudding and Mosbolletjie Rooibos Babka. ‘As a bread lover I had to include a mosbolletjie recipe, but I’ve replaced grape juice with rooibos tea. If you don’t finish the babka, you could slice them and dry them to make rusks.’
There’s nothing more South African than a braai or shisa nyama so Sharon dedicated a whole chapter to the one thing that unites food-loving South Africans. ‘My favourite method of cooking is braaiing and I’m the self-proclaimed braai queen of Highlands North. Whether I’m braaiing lamb shanks, then slow roasting them afterwards, or sizzling steaks, the flare of the flame just does it for me and chicken always tastes better on the braai!’
Sharon reveals that the secret ingredient in all her recipes is love. ‘Preparing food with love really makes a difference. When your intention is love, even if you make a mistake, the food just tastes better. And for tonight’s yahrzeit, we prepared my loving mom’s favourite dishes, all made with love.’
Details: A Taste of South Africa with the Kosher Butcher’s Wife by Sharon Lurie, published by Struik Lifestyle, an imprint of Penguin Random House South Africa. R297.
Soup, glorious (Yentl) soup … with an African twist
1kg butternut, cubed; 2 large potatoes, cubed; water; 2 x 400g cans lentils; 2 x 410g cans whole kernel corn; 1 tsp harissa spice; 1 tsp curry powder; 3 Tblsps vegetable stock powder; 1 x 165ml can coconut cream; salt and pepper to taste; finely chopped fresh coriander for serving.
1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds; 1/2 cup crunchy toasted corn; pinch of dukkah spice
Place butternut and potatoes in a saucepan and add sufficient water to cover by 5cm. Bring to the boil and cook until vegetables are soft. Blend with hand blender until smooth. Add lentils, corn, harissa spice, curry powder, vegetable stock and coconut cream and return to the boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 30 minutes with lid placed loosely on top. Switch off heat, replace lid firmly and allow soup to absorb all the lovely flavours. Check the seasoning, as lentils love salt. Sprinkle with coriander and a topping of your choice (or all of them) before serving.
Makes 12 – 14
Bobotie is a popular South African dish of curried minced meat baked with a rich, savoury custard. This recipe is prepared with fish, but non-dairy substitutes for the milk can be used for a ground beef version. The blintzes (crepes) can also be made with dairy-free options, as well as potato flour instead of cake flour for a gluten-free version.
3 extra large eggs; 1 1/2 cups milk (or 1 cup soya milk and 1/2 cup water); 1 cup cake flour (or potato flour); 1/2 tsp salt
Fish bobotie filling
3 slices bread, crusts removed; 1 cup milk (or soya or coconut milk); 1 large onion, finely chopped; 3 Tblsps butter; 1/2 tsp crushed garlic; 2 tsp curry powder; 1/2 tsp ground turmeric; 2 Tblsps tomato paste; 1 Tblsp smooth apricot jam; 3 x 120g cans tuna in brine, drained; salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs; 1 cup fresh cream (or non-dairy substitute); 1 cup milk (or soya milk); pinch of salt; 2 – 3 bay leaves; sprinkling of grated nutmeg
Blend all blintz ingredients together in a food processor or mixer. Leave batter to rest in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to allow bubbles to subside to prevent blintzes breaking up. If using potato flour, refrigerating batter is unnecessary as potato flour settles and needs to be whisked before each blintz is made.
Heat a 20cm non-stick frying pan over medium to high heat, then gently pour a quarter to a third of a cup of batter into centre of pan and swirl to spread evenly. Cook for about 30 seconds, flip over and cook for another 10 seconds. Repeat until all batter is used, layering blintzes on top of one another or separating them with baking paper or plastic sheets.
For bobotie filling, place slices of bread in a bowl, pour over the milk and leave to soak. Meanwhile, in a pan fry onion in butter. As onion starts to soften, add garlic, curry powder, turmeric, tomato paste and apricot jam and fry for another minute until well incorporated. Remove from heat. Add drained tuna and mix well. Squeeze some of the milk out of the bread, then add bread to tuna mixture. Season with salt and pepper and mix.
Preheat oven to 180°C and grease a 20 x 30cm baking dish. Fill blintzes with 2 Tblsps of tuna mixture each, folding the sides into the middle and rolling them up. Arrange in the prepared baking dish.
To make the topping, beat eggs, cream, milk and salt together, then pour over the filled blintzes. Place bay leaves on top of the custard mixture, sprinkle with nutmeg and bake for 30 minutes.