Algorithm’s gonna get ya


Algorithm’s gonna get ya

ALETTA LINTVELT serves up click-bait: two epic braai side dishes for which you don’t have to light the fire (if you don't want to).


RECENTLY I read something by chef Yotam Ottolenghi where he said he sometimes wonders if the recipes that make it into cookbooks are all created for extroverts. While the dishes we truly long for and eat most often — what he called introvert food — are not deemed special enough to be published.

I concur. I, too, am often soul-fatigued by the highlight reel. And I’m so tired of content. Even the word gives me the heebie-jeebies. A tent full of cons with little substance. It is almost impossibly hard not to have a toxic affair with the algorithm. It either serves up a buffet of horror or otters drifting on their backs while holding hands. There is no in-between. You click on something arbitrary that catches your eye and suddenly the algorithm starts feeding a stream of things for weeks on end. I almost long for the days when all I had to avoid clicking on was anything to do with the Kardashians.

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The algorithm rule seems to be: if you have seen it once, you are guaranteed to see it again. What determines the value of this content and the frequency with which it will be repeated? Not humanity. Nor quality. Nor originality. Instead the algorithm slurpy-slurps most fondly on the same ingredient that compels us to look when we drive past an accident scene.

I confess, my already fragile attention span has been broken by the smartphone. More and more I long for the brain I had before a smartphone started going to bed with me. I can’t help but wonder if in years to come, in the same manner that we condemn the ignorance of doctors recommending cigarettes in magazine ads a few decades ago, we will be astounded by what we’ve done by putting our brains in the hands of the algorithm.

I miss the texture, smell and heft of the unruly tide of cookbooks, magazines, novels and self-help books that used to ebb and flow next to my bed. I miss setting aside time to pore over every detail on pages without a notification whooshing my attention away.

Long ago I worked for a food magazine, and the highlight of the month was when a wrapped parcel of international food magazines and cookbooks arrived. One of the food writers I discovered then, and whose books still inspire me, is Maggie Beer.

The roasted onion recipe I share here is based on a technique I learnt from her. I relish what heat and time does to onions. While Maggie’s recipe certainly qualifies as extrovert cooking, I more frequently enjoy the introvert version which is to leave everything but the onions and vinegar out of the recipe below.

Maggie stuffs her roasted onions with garlicky croutons and fresh mozzarella after baking them in vino cotto. I usually serve the onions with just a smattering of parmesan as a side to a braai. However, this is one of those recipes where the addition of something luxurious such as a good cheese of preference takes it from an introvert to an extrovert dish if you have company.

One good thing the algorithm has introduced me to is hot honey. What can I say? The algorithm made me do it and I loved it. When I tested this recipe I had harissa on hand, but you can use any chilli sauce. Traditionally, hot honey is made by heating then infusing honey with fresh chilli and/or dried chilli flakes, but I was looking for a faster alternative. Because you know, short attention span. In any event, both recipes make excellent braai side dishes.


Baked red onions

Our family loves blue cheese but chevin, creamy feta or a vegan alternative work too. Add any cheese you decide to use at the last minute — you just want it slightly warm and oozy.

  • 8 red onions
  • ⅓  cup balsamic or sherry vinegar
  • ⅓  cup olive oil
  • small bunch of sage, thyme or oreganum
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp cayenne

  • 1 tsp smoked paprika 

  • 1 tin (410g) chickpeas, drained
  • 1 cup flaked almonds or pine nuts
  • ground black pepper
  • ground sea salt
  • 300g soft cheese (see point 3 below)


1. Preheat the oven to 180º C. Leave the last layer of inedible skin on the onions and cut a cross in the top of each one.

2. Place onions in an ovenproof dish into which they fit snugly. Pour over the vinegar and cover tightly with foil.

3. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 30 minutes or until the onions are very soft. If using cheese, stick 2-3 tablespoons into the top of each onion for the last five minutes.

4. Heat the oil in a pan and sizzle the herbs till crispy. Remove the pan from the heat, scoop the herbs out and set aside.

5. Add the minced garlic, cayenne and paprika to the pan with herby oil. Toss the chickpeas in the oil and spread them on a baking sheet. Bake them till crispy for about 30 minutes.

6. Scatter nuts in the tray with the chickpeas for the last five minutes or until they look slightly toasted. Remove. Season the nuts with salt, black pepper and the fried herbs.

7. Serve the onions with a scoop of the crispy herby nuts and chickpeas. These onions pair perfectly with a tangle of simply dressed radicchio or witlof leaves. Make sure you have at least one onion per guest — they are that good.

Corn with hot honey

Hot honey is particularly good on French toast. I can also recommend simply slathering a couple of rounds of feta with it, baking till warm then eating that hot mess with crackers, roasted vegetables or your braaivleis. Similar to the corn on the cob application below, you can also cheer up roasted sweet potato chips with it  — toss the roasted sweet potato chunks with the hot honey for the last five minutes of the roasting time. 

  • 4-6 corn on the cob
  • 3 tbsp rose harissa (or another chilli sauce)
  • 1 red chilli, chopped (optional if you don’t like heat)
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar or fresh lime juice
  • 2 rounds feta
  • fresh coriander and mint, chopped
  • extra lime juice


1. Combine all the ingredients for the hot honey in a small bowl.

2. Place the corn in a big pot and pour boiling water from a kettle over it. Let the corn stand for 10 minutes.

3. Braai the corn on a braai grid until it starts to blister. Or alternatively place it on a baking tray under a preheated grill and grill for eight minutes, turning occasionally.

4. Using a brush, coat the corn with a thick layer of hot honey for the last 2-3 minutes of cooking time.

5. Remove the corn and crumble feta and coriander and mint over it. Drizzle with remaining hot honey to taste.

♦ VWB ♦

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