September is Heritage Month. So … braai. But why not up your braai game by catering for vegetarians, too?
Coal-cooked vegetarian options
Tomato risotto. An ice-tea sandwich. Chermoula mielies. Cheese fondue. A braai doesn’t have to be just a twirl boerewors and a rump kebab. And it really doesn’t have to scare off any vegetarians coming to the Heritage Day party. Jan Braai The Vegetarian Option kicks off with a traditional braaibroodjie and ends 200-odd pages later with apple tart in a potjie. In between there’s recipe after delicious recipe for cooking over the coals, without a chop in sight. Plenty of inspiration taken from abroad – Greece, Italy, India, all with a local twist (after all, ‘here in Africa we know how to make a fire and we know how to braai,’), but traditionalists will be kept happy with Umngqusho, bobotie, soetpatat. For us … we’re making this braaied sweet pepper salad, the aubergine pita and coal-baked peaches in port. A great spin on the traditional braai. Bookstorm
Braai aubergine pita
Depending on whether you prefer speaking Greek, Turkish or Arabic around the braai, you might also like to call this meal a gyro, döner or shawarma – it’s really up to you. Whatever language you speak, the important thing is to gather around a fire. Everyone loves this meal and, as a bonus, it looks great in photos. Feeds six.
What you’ll need: 6 pita breads; 2 large aubergines
For the marinade: 1 teaspoon each of coriander seeds, cumin seeds, salt, and ground black pepper; 2 chopped garlic cloves; juice of 1 lemon; 3 tots olive oil
For the yoghurt sauce: 1 cup double-cream yoghurt; half a cucumber, chopped; 1 tot olive oil; 2 chopped garlic cloves
For the salad: 2 big tomatoes (or 12 cherry tomatoes) chopped; half a cucumber (use the other half left over from the yoghurt sauce); 1 smallish red onion (or half a big one) finely chopped; 1 tot each fresh mint, fresh parsley, fresh oregano and olive oil
To make: Crush the coriander and cumin seeds in a pestle and mortar, and mix in the salt, pepper, garlic cloves, lemon juice and olive oil. Make the marinade by combining all the ingredients.
Cut the aubergines into 1 cm-thick slices and use all the marinade to baste the slices of aubergines.
Prepare the yoghurt sauce by combining all ingredients in a bowl and mixing well.
Make the salad by combining the tomatoes with the cucumber, onion, mint, parsley and oregano. Add a bit of olive oil to give it that nice shine.
Braai the aubergine slices over hot coals, turning a few times until done. They should be completely soft and a bit charred on the sides. As the aubergines come off the fire, immediately add the pita breads to the grid and toast them for a few minutes, turning a few times and taking care not to let them burn. Open the toasted pita breads and evenly distribute the ingredients into them, starting with the salad, then the aubergines, and ending with the yoghurt sauce.
Braaied sweet pepper salad
Preparing braaied or charred peppers on the fire is very easy and once done they are like a utility back in a rugby team – quite versatile. There are a few reasons why it’s a good idea to braai or, more accurately, char peppers. It makes the process easier to separate the tough skin from the silky flesh of sweet peppers. They also become even sweeter through the process of caramelisation. It makes them softer. And it gives them a smoked fire taste. In summary, braaing peppers transforms them from good to great.
3 bell peppers (1 red, 1 yellow, 1 green); ½ cup pumpkin seeds; 200 g baby spinach leaves (this is not an exact science; use more if you are rabbit-like and fond of leaves); 1 tin chickpeas (drained and washed under cold running water); 1 red onion (sliced thinly); 1 cup pitted olives; a few basil leaves (torn); 1 tub feta cheese (200 g, drained and crumbled); 2 tots olive oil; 1 lemon (juice); 2 tots balsamic vinegar; salt and pepper
- Place the peppers on a grid, or skewer them on your grandfather’s sword from the war and suspend them over flames until blackened on all sides. You will obviously need to turn them now and again to expose all sides to the flames.
- Once blackened on all sides, place the peppers into a plastic bag, close the bag and leave for 20 minutes to cool down.
- While you wait, roast the pumpkin seeds in a dry pan over a hot fire for a few minutes until they start to smell fantastic. Here and there they will also start to pop. Immediately remove from the pan and let them wait somewhere tranquil like in a bowl, plate or mug.
- Peel the skins off the peppers (they will come off easily) and cut them open. Scrape out and discard all the unsavoury innards and seeds, and then cut the flesh into chunky blocks. Here and there you will have bits of charred skin left on the flesh. This is fine and part of the final flavour.
- Place the spinach in a bowl and add the charred pieces of pepper, chickpeas, red onion, olives and basil, and mix everything together.
- Sprinkle the roasted pumpkin seeds and crumbled feta over the salad.
- Dress with high-quality South African olive oil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.
Peaches in port
The fact of the matter is, ‘Peaches in Cape Vintage’ does not have the same alliteration and ring as ‘Peaches in port’. At the time of writing, port made in South Africa is called Cape Vintage though, and that is the wine I suggest you use for this recipe. The flavour profile is similar to Glühwein, and the port adds a fantastic sweetness while the peaches just soak up all the flavours. Be sure to reduce the sauce a bit as there is absolutely no damage done by letting the peaches cool down while the sauce reduces. This recipe is foolproof – just follow the steps and bask in the glory.
8 peaches (fresh, peeled, but whole with the pip in); 8 black peppercorns; 2 cinnamon sticks; 2 star anise; 2 cloves; 2 cardamom pods; ½ cup brown sugar; 1 bottle port (Cape Vintage wine); ice cream (to serve)
- Peel the peaches. I find it works best with a vegetable peeler, and I find it works best to buy a new vegetable peeler if the one you currently have frustrates you.
- Add all the ingredients, except the peaches and ice cream, to the potjie. Heat and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.
- Put the whole peeled peaches into the potjie, cover with the lid, and cook for 30 minutes until the peaches are soft and sweet. If the peaches are not completely covered by port you can use your clean braai tongs to flip them over after 15 of the 30 minutes.
- Remove the peaches and plate in dessert bowls.
- Leaving the lid off, generate some more heat under the potjie and reduce the sauce a bit until you have just enough to divide among the 8 dessert bowls.
- Serve the peaches with ice cream and pour the sauce reduction over that.