South Africa’s sweet and spicy flavors

It was a chutney marinade that made the chef’s chicken sosaties so tender and delicious.

3 quinoa 521 (photo credit: Yakir Levy)
3 quinoa 521
(photo credit: Yakir Levy)
A couple of weeks ago we went to a braai, or South African barbecue – not in Cape Town or Johannesburg, but in Los Angeles, at the Wines of South Africa USA Braai Tour.
Our favorite wine was pinotage, South Africa’s signature wine, a fruity red that went well with the South African coriander-spiced dried beef sausage. The small pieces of meat that were served as an appetizer on trays with dried fruits provided a hint of the flavors to come.
South Africans like sweet flavors balanced with a touch of spice. Fruit chutneys appeared throughout the barbecue menu. Grilled ostrich steak strips came on corn tortillas spread with spicy citrus raisin chutney and topped with lettuce, diced tomato and avocado. When we asked South African chef Hugo Uys, who designed the menu and prepared the food, about the role of chutneys in his country’s menus, he told us, “We use chutneys with most of our proteins, not only as sauces but also as marinades.”
It was a chutney marinade that made the chef’s chicken sosaties – South African grilled skewered chicken cubes – so tender and delicious. First he made fresh mango chutney flavored with ginger, garlic and curry spices and used it to marinate the chicken, which he then threaded on skewers with thin pieces of red pepper and dried apricot.
At the barbecue we met Israeli-born Edna Stobel, who lived in Johannesburg for many years and organizes food and wine tours of South Africa. Sosaties are related to Indonesian satays, said Stobel, and are central to South African barbecues. At home she makes sosaties from chicken or fish, but they can be made from meat as well (see recipe). Other popular items for a South African braai are lamb, beef and sausage.
Chutney sandwiches are a traditional accompaniment to South African barbecued meats, and those we sampled were delightful. To make them, the cook placed small pieces of bread dough to bake directly on the outdoor grill, and then filled each freshly baked roll with a spoonful of lemon- and chili-flavored fig chutney.
The barbecue side dishes, which were also sweet and spicy, included a colorful carrot salad that chef Uys prepared from carrot ribbons, pineapple cubes and raisins marinated in a sweet citrus dressing and embellished with curry-roasted sunflower seeds. We thought the chef had used a machine to cut the carrots in strands resembling papardelle noodles, but Nerissa Vitello, his assistant, told us that she made them with a vegetable peeler.
It was hard to stop eating the sweet potato fries sprinkled with a mixture of salt, cinnamon and curry, but our favorite dish was the colorful grain salad. It was made of quinoa in three colors – white, red and black – mixed with black rice, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and enhanced with red onions, multicolored sweet peppers, roasted almonds and sliced dried figs, which Uys added on impulse instead of the usual prunes after a trip to the farmers’ market. To make a grain salad with ingredients that are found in many people’s pantries, South Africa-born Gloria Rootshtain, author of the Hebrew cookbook Mitbah Yehudi Meshubah (Fine Jewish Cooking), combines cooked rice with raisins, diced peaches, tomatoes and green onions, and flavors the dressing with fruit chutney and curry (see recipe).
When we asked chef Uys what accounts for the South African fondness for spice and sweetness, he replied that the country was the halfway point on the spice route, so people could use spices like coriander, turmeric and other curry seasonings in their cooking. In addition to the cooking of the indigenous people, South Africa’s food is influenced by the cuisines of the various groups that settled there, such as the Dutch, other Europeans and the Malays. According to The Africa News Cookbook (Tami Hultman, ed.), “Of the many groups who have influenced South Africa’s cuisine, none had greater impact than the Malays, who were brought as slaves for 17th-century Dutch settlers.” Sosaties, for example, are of Malay origin.
The tasty dessert that was served at the barbecue, malva pudding, is based on a Dutch recipe. To prepare it, Uys baked a brandy-flavored cake studded with dates and walnuts, coated it generously with whipped cream and sprinkled it with crumbled lightly candied nuts.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
Sosaties – South African Skewered Grilled Meat
This recipe is from The Africa News Cookbook. It calls for lamb that is marinated overnight. You can substitute boneless chicken and marinate it for a shorter time, but at least two hours.
Makes 6 servings
❖ 1.4 kg. (3 pounds) boneless lamb ❖ 1 garlic clove, split ❖ Salt and pepper to taste ❖ 4 medium onions, finely chopped ❖ 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil ❖ 1½ tsp. ground coriander ❖ ½ tsp. ground cumin ❖ 1 heaping tsp. hot curry powder ❖ 1 Tbsp. brown sugar ❖ ½ cup fresh lemon juice ❖ 2 Tbsp. apricot jam ❖ 2 bay leaves or fresh lemon leaves ❖ 2 Tbsp. flour (optional)
Rub the lamb with garlic, then cut it in bite-sized cubes. Place them in a dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, fry the onions in oil in a large skillet until golden. Stir in the coriander, cumin and curry powder and cook for 2 minutes. Add the brown sugar, lemon juice and jam, then ½ cup water.
Bring to a quick boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and let cool completely.
Pour mixture over the meat. Add the bay leaves, cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight or at least 12 hours.
Prepare barbecue or grill. Thread the meat on skewers and grill over hot coals. Save the marinade in which the meat was soaked. (For an indoor meal, lay skewers on a grill or slotted tray over a pan to catch drippings and broil in the oven.) The lamb will cook in 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, transfer the marinade to a heavy pot.
Discard the bay leaves. Bring marinade to a boil. For a thicker sauce, spoon out a bit of the hot liquid to blend with flour. Whisk to a smooth paste and stir gradually into the pan; cook until thickened. Pass sauce separately to pour over the meat.
Carrot and Fruit Salad with Toasted Sunflower Seeds
If you would like the carrots to resemble noodles, use a sharp vegetable peeler to cut them in lengthwise strips.
This salad has a light orange-juice dressing. To marinate the carrots in a sweet orange dressing similar to the one used by chef Uys, see the note following the recipe.
Makes 4 servings
❖ 2¼ cups shredded carrots (about 225 gr. or 8 ounces) ❖ 2 Tbsp. strained fresh lemon juice ❖ 3 Tbsp. orange juice ❖ 1½ tsp. olive or vegetable oil ❖ ½ tsp. ground ginger ❖ Small pinches of salt and freshly ground pepper ❖ ¼ cup raisins ❖ ½ cup diced pineapple ❖ 2 oranges, cut in small cubes ❖ 2 to 3 Tbsp. raw or toasted sunflower seeds ❖ Pinch curry powder
In a serving bowl, mix carrots with lemon juice, orange juice, 1 teaspoon of the oil, ginger, and salt and pepper to taste. Add raisins, pineapple and orange pieces and mix lightly. Let stand, covered, for 30 minutes; or refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Put the sunflower seeds on a small baking sheet or the baking tray of a toaster oven, and sprinkle them with the remaining oil, curry powder and a pinch of salt (if they are unsalted). Mix lightly.
If using toasted sunflower seeds, bake in the oven for 3 minutes, just to heat them through. If using raw seeds, bake them for about 15 minutes or until they turn slightly darker; be careful not to let them burn. Transfer to a plate to cool.
Just before serving, taste and adjust seasoning.
Sprinkle the salad with the toasted sunflower seeds.
Note: To make a sweet citrus dressing and dress the salad in the style of chef Uys, omit the lemon juice, orange juice, 1 teaspoon olive oil and ginger in the recipe above. Combine the raisins with ½ cup orange juice and let stand to plump the raisins. For the dressing, combine ½ cup orange juice, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and ¾ cup sugar, and mix well to dissolve the sugar. Mix with the carrot and fruit mixture. Let stand for about 2 hours. If the salad is too wet, drain off some of the dressing before serving.
Rice Salad with Chutney Dressing
This recipe is from Mitbah Yehudi Meshubah (Fine Jewish Cooking). Author Gloria Rootshtain wrote that the chutney, curry and crunchy vegetables give this salad its pleasing taste. She recommends it as an accompaniment for cold fish or beef.
Instead of using mayonnaise in the dressing, you can substitute vinaigrette made with ⅓ cup balsamic vinegar and 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, and add fruit chutney and curry powder to taste. Add just enough dressing to the rice salad to moisten it.
You can substitute diced dried apricots, figs, prunes or other dried fruit for the canned peaches in the recipe. If you like, garnish the salad with toasted sliced or slivered almonds.
Makes 12 servings
❖ 4 cups cooked seasoned rice ❖ 2 Tbsp. raisins ❖ 2 tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped ❖ 2 celery ribs, strings removed, diced small ❖ 1 bunch green onions, chopped fine ❖ 1 green pepper, chopped fine ❖ 6 canned peach halves, diced small ❖ Chutney-Curry Dressing (see Note below) ❖ Parsley sprigs (for garnish) ❖ Paprika (for garnish)
Mix the rice with the raisins, tomatoes, celery, green onions, green pepper and diced peaches in a large bowl. Add enough dressing to moisten.
Mix gently. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve garnished with parsley and paprika.
Note: Chutney-Curry Dressing Mix 1 cup mayonnaise, ½ cup fruit chutney and 2 tablespoons curry powder. Season to taste with salt and pepper.