WE WILL gather on the farm this year, as we have always done. Except this year, it will be without both our parents. Every ritual — from sundowners around a fire to our traditional New Year's picnic by the river — will be tinged with a sense of loss and longing.
But there is healing in continuity. And this year, we will continue every ritual honouring the extraordinary life our parents gave us. And the privilege of still being able to return to the farm where we grew up, now with our children.
I look forward to spending quiet time in my mother's kitchen, with her pots and pans and the view over her kitchen garden with its pomegranate tree, aloes and big bushes of rosemary.
And I will cook because I love to. And the boys will make big fires because they love to. And we will make delicious food together. Then, all 16 of us will squeeze around the long table on the stoep. There will be candles, flowers, and crisp white napkins because that's how my mother liked it. We will join hands, and one of us will say the same grace my father did a thousand times.
“Oh Lord, for these and all thy mercies, make us truly thankful. Amen."
There will be laughter (and I suspect some tears, too).
Later, we will stoke the fire and talk deep into the night. At some point, someone will say, like someone always does, “look at the Southern Cross". We will look up at the clear, bright night sky above Bannockburn. And we will think of our mom and dad whose whole life was lived here with such integrity,
#1 A simple picnic in the veld
Za'atar kebabs with whipped feta
This is a perfect prep-ahead meal for our traditional New Year picnic at the river (with a fire).
The recipe comes from Donna Hay's Even More Basics to Brilliance.
Hay uses lamb but we will probably use beef from the farm. This would work just as well with pork or chicken. The meat is rubbed with a simple Za'atar mix (1 tablespoon dried thyme, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds lightly toasted in the pan, 2 tablespoons sumac and ½ teaspoon salt flakes) combined with olive oil, crushed garlic, lemon zest and fresh oregano. Served on no-fuss flatbreads that I will get the teenagers to roll out beforehand, interleaf with wax paper then take to the picnic site to cook in a cast-iron pan on the coals (I intend to use a lot of teenage labour this holiday). We will serve them with cooling cucumber, lettuce and whipped feta. And ice-cold beers. Everything in this recipe can be prepped beforehand and carted down to the river in baskets on the back of a bakkie.
# 2 A very-not-German potato salad
Crushed new potatoes with tahini butter
We will have a traditional Deutsche potato salad on Christmas Eve, but I will make this version from Persiana Everyday by Sabrina Ghayour for another night. She is one of my favourite food writers and this book is an absolute standout — even for someone who has written seven best-sellers. Her first book, Persiana, ignited the global wave of interest in Iranian food.
This is a simple yet stunning twist on a potato salad. Baby potatoes are mixed with a generous amount of butter, tahini, salt and pepper and sprinkled with pul biber chilli flakes (or any mild chilli you have will do) and finely chopped spring onion. I also add a handful of chopped dill and parsley or whatever soft herb I have. Finely chopped celery would add a nice crunch if you don't have spring onion.
# 3 Salad with smashed cherries
Toasted nuts, seeds and grains with smashed cherries, herbs and goat curd
New Feast: Modern Middle Eastern Vegetarian by Greg and Lucy Malouf is packed with modern interpretations of Middle Eastern food. I have dog-eared almost every second page.
The Middle East — from North Africa and Moorish Spain through Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to Iran and the Arabian Peninsula — has a vibrant tradition of home-style vegetarian cuisine. What I love in this book is the inspiration for dishes that star grains, legumes, couscous and rice. And there is an utterly wonderful chapter on making your own butter (they suggest using crème fraiche instead of regular cream) and soft cheeses (from yoghurt).
This salad uses bulgur wheat, red quinoa, pecan nuts and sunflower seeds as the base. Then watercress or rocket leaves, a finely chopped shallot, shredded mint and parsley and crushed, pitted cherries. And then goat curd or crumbled feta (I use a chevin). The quinoa is dry-fried in a pan to get a nutty taste before being simmered in water. The pecans, too, are dry-toasted.
The dressing is where the magic lies: 45 ml lime juice, 30 ml pomegranate molasses, 160 ml olive oil, ½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger, ¼ teaspoon Turkish red chilli flakes, and salt and pepper. Shake it all up in a jar. Absolutely delicious, and the cherries give it that festive flourish.
I could not find a recipe online, but this is one you can freewheel by combining the ingredients to your taste.
# 4 A dessert made on the fire
Pineapple steaks with maple custard
Mezcla: Recipes to Excite by Ixta Belfrage was published last year, but I'm ignoring that fact because I love it so much. After five years of honing her abilities in the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen and co-authoring the bestselling Ottolenghi FLAVOUR, this is Ixta's (pronounced Eesta) first solo book. The delicious cover reflects the joyous sort-of-mainly-Mexican-but-not-only flavour combinations. It is fresh and fab.
Like Ixta, I am not much of a dessert person, but slices of sugar-dusted pineapple broiled in the oven (but I will do these on the fire!) with her easy “333 custard cream" (300g double cream, 3 egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of maple syrup). Come on! Let's go!
Another standout from this book that I will do on the farm: Crispy oyster mushroom skewers with crushed chickpeas
#5 Burnt buttermilk cabbage
Caramelised cabbage wedges with buttermilk dressing, chives and fatty crispy puffed rice.
The one ingredient you will find in any rural South African supermarket is the humble cabbage. And my brother plants them on the farm, so I can just mosey on down and pluck them out of the ground. There is a fabulous recipe for “Roasted cabbage with mango and harissa sauce" in Mezcla, but I am going to make Karen Dudley's caramelised cabbage. It will scale up easily to feed a crowd, and it feels indulgent and special with the buttermilk dressing and the puffed rice. The rice is such a genius move — essentially, rice crispies fried with bacon bits, garlic, thyme or oregano. And while the recipe calls for roasting in the oven, I want to cook this on the coals while we sit and sip cold white wine around the fire and the sun melts away behind the koppies.
Dudley was previously the owner of The Kitchen, a tiny restaurant in Woodstock where Michelle Obama enjoyed a meal when she was in Cape Town. She has written two other lovely cookbooks, but this one is on another level. Each recipe is extraordinary in terms of its flavour combinations, with influences from India, Korea and Thailand.
Another cabbage fave from her book that I have planned (Karen is upfront about her “love affair with brassicas”) is this red cabbage with capers, basil and pine nuts.
# 6 Rice salad (with toasted quinoa)
Rice with lots of herbs and seeds
It's another make-ahead salad that will be scoffed way before the chops are even off the grid. This little recipe is such a great representation of the beautiful I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To): Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes by Ali Slagle. It is my best kind of cookbook — doable recipes that blow your mind, using simple ingredients combined surprisingly, all with a focus on crunch and bold flavours. And while there are meat recipes in this book, the most inspiring are the vegetable-forward ones.
This recipe has only seven ingredients: coconut chips, quinoa, white rice, shallot, lime, soft herbs and fish sauce.
Toast a cup of coconut chips and a tablespoon of quinoa in a pan until the coconut is golden and the quinoa starts to pop. Then boil one cup of rice with one cup of quinoa in a pot until tender. Meanwhile, chop one shallot (or red onion that you rinse in cold water to take off the sharp edge) and combine it with the zest of a lime. Add two cups of soft herbs — basil, mint, dill, parsley, cilantro — and season with salt and pepper.
Add the cooled grains to a bowl and season with two tablespoons of fish or soy sauce and the juice of the lime. Adjust the overall seasoning to taste. Top with the toasted coconut and quinoa.
Another ravishing make-ahead stunner. But add the fish sauce and dressing just before serving to avoid sogginess.
♦ VWB ♦
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