MY CAPE MALAY KITCHEN by Cariema Isaacs. Published by Struik Lifestyle, 2016.
Unusually, this cookbook has a sub-title that precedes the main title. “Cooking for my father in” indicates the importance of the tender relationship between author and her late father. While her grandmother taught her how to cook, it was her father, recalls Isaacs, who taught her why we cook.
Her culinary interest was sparked in the family’s Bo-Kaap kitchen when, as a small child, she discovered jars of aromatic spices and was given tasks like shelling peas . Preparing food developed into a passion that endures today, as she recollects dishes she and her father cooked and enjoyed together as he shared his philosophy of the importance of cooking with love.
Opening chapters focus on bredies and Cape Malay classics such as denningvleis and mavroom. Cabbage-wrapped frikkadelle are placed on top of a mutton stew, while Cape Dutch or Afrikaans recipes nestle them in a tomato-based sauce. Either way, this sustaining comfort fare has been influenced by Indonesian heritage cuisine, along with many others.
Smoortjies star in another chapter – referring to fast meal solutions when time is short and money minimal. I like the fact that Isaacs includes humble dishes like Braised Penny Polonies (Gesmore Olap Worsies) in her book, which few others do. Onions are chopped and fried in oil, potatoes and water added, tomato paste follows, then the viennas or polonies are added to the sauce and the mixture simmered and served with fresh bread.
Curries make an aromatic section and readers can choose from mutton, mince, dal and prawn. Isaacs discusses th culture, customs and food served at times of celebration and sadness, including Ramadan. Snack fare that helps break the fast could be samoosas, daltjies , boeber, koesisters, pancakes, spring rolls and that ultimate comfort bite, pumpkin fritters. Eid sees cooks turn to biriyani, steak pies and corned beef and tongue for savoury highlights.
Contemporary recipes for working mothers break with tradition and include stir-fries, while novice cooks are encouraged to try one of Cariema’s potato and rice variations. Sweet treats include trad favourites like hertzoggies , Eid trifle and chocolate cake, along with sponge cake, kolwyntjies (cupcakes), date loaf and chocolate mousse, with lemon meringue pie making a luscious finale.
It’s been a while since we have seen a new Cape Malay cookbook – along with Cass Abrahams’ classic collection released in 1995 (and reprinted since,) Faldela Williams published two well-received titles and Zainab Lagardien added her beautifully illustrated title to the mix. In 2013 Bo-Kaap Kitchen presented a recipe treasury contributed by many Cape Malay cooks. Cariema Isaacs will renew interest (not that it has ever really flagged) to the flavourful delights of this exceptional cuisine, one that I think should be rated among the top peasant cuisines in the world.
Comparing versions of heritage classics shows that what some cooks call “the holy grail of bredies”, aka cauliflower bredie, does not feature at all on other Cape Malay menus. One bredie that everyone cooks is tomato, today a firm favourite with many South Africans – especially Afrikaans-speaking. For this, Isaacs uses no spices other than salt, and adds one green chilli. Abrahams starts hers by simmering peppercorns and cloves with onions then adds cinnamon, ginger and cardamom pods with the meat, along with green chilli . Lagardien includes green chilli plus turmeric and leaf masala. Williams adds a dry chilli, but no other spices. And so recipes vary and evolve, crossing continents , changing according to the availability of ingredients and personal tastes. This new title, a well-illustrated softback, adds much to the Cape gastronomic heritage, with added appeal in the form of an enjoyable family story.