3. Dec, 2014

My favourite dishes: Europe & Africa

And now, to paraphrase the classic BBC comedy show, for something completely different. Because Europe has so many and varied cuisines, and such a long recorded culinary history, it is very difficult to select just one dish per course. I have tried valiantly to combine fairness with personal taste. Africa is a different challenge: apart from the Arab nations in the North, and South Africa on the opposite side of the continent there is a relative paucity of literature and cook books on the cuisines of the rest of Africa. My African menu is an amalgam of internet research and first-hand experience.

 

Europe:

  • Cavaillon Melon with Jamon Ibérico. The grey-and-green striped Chanteloupe melons of the Cavaillon district of Provence are without peers anywhere. So sought-after are they that the great author Alexandre Dumas donated a signed copy of all 300-odd of his works to Cavaillon’s municipal library in exchange for 12 melons per year for the rest of his life! Equally unsurpassed is the air-dried Jamón Ibérico of Southern Spain, made from the legs of free-range, acorn-fed indigenous black Iberian pigs. A match made in heaven!
  • Potato and Leek Soup. Known as Potage Parmentier when served hot, or Vichysoisse when cold – I have it either way, depending on the weather – the latter version of this delicious soup is named after the French spa town of Vichy, where the chef who created it was trained. Easy to make, it is a combination of butter, potatoes, leeks, chicken stock and cream which is usually garnished with French chives.
  • Cod and Chips with Mushy Peas. I am not ashamed to admit that I prefer this down-to-earth pub grub to most larny fish dishes. Most people who are disappointed with UK Fish & Chips don’t realise that – unless you ask specifically for Cod and pay the resulting premium – you will get battered fillets of small sharks like tope or dogfish. Real, fresh Cod is creamy and delicate, in contrast to the crunchy beer batter.
  • Piccata al Limone. Veal is hard to come by in South Africa, but it is worth searching for. The melt-in-mouth tenderness of veal is further enhanced by a) sealing it in a coating of flour and b) the addition of the tart lemon sauce. I prefer the piccata served with steamed seasonal vegetables – especially broccoli, asparagus, carrots and baby sweetcorn.  
  • Crème Bruleé. The undisputed Queen of Desserts is a seemingly straight-forward dish it is a finely balanced combination of colours, flavours and textures. The essential ingredient is fresh vanilla, which permeates the custard with its wonderful aroma. The scorched castor sugar “shell” adds crunch and sweetness. For an unforgettable experience, serve with Noble Late Harvest (botrytis) wine or Ice Cider.   

Africa:

  • Smoked Snoek in Phyllo parcels with Moskonfyt. Snoek is an iconic South African fish. Huge shoals appear off our South-Western coast in winter, and sustain a commercial line fishery which provides thousands of jobs in season. Being a slightly oily fish, Snoek is mild-cured with salt soon after landing to keep it from spoiling. Smoking adds to the savouriness of the fish, which goes extremely well with the crispy pastry and sweet moskonfyt (grape jam).
  • Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup. This West African favourite successfully combines the sweetness of yams with the creaminess of ground peanuts and tartness of tomatoes, and teases one’s taste buds with the sting of hot chillies. Garlic and ginger adds depth of flavour, as do the chopped coriander leaves used as garnish. It is vegetarian, high in fibre, low in calories and cholesterol and gluten-free.
  • Pan-fried Chambo. Chambo is a Cychlid (freshwater bream) closely related to the Tilapia family. It is caught commercially in Lake Malawi, and is highly sought after all over Central Africa. It is normally rolled in sadza (maize meal) prior to frying it in very hot oil. Being coarser than wheat flour, it gives the fish a delightful crunchy texture. Chambo’s flavour is simply superb – reminiscent of Egli (Yellow Perch) from a Swiss lake.  
  • Gemsbok (Oryx) Rump Schnitzel with Marula Jelly. The Oryx is found in most dry parts of Africa and the Middle East, including the Namib and Arabian deserts. Its harsh habitat has led many people to believe that Oryx meat is tough and dry, and yet it has the most tender, succulent meat of any game species I’ve ever eaten – it can easily pass for veal. A golden-brown crumbed schnitzel accompanied by the sweet-and-sour taste of Marula jelly is one of my all-time favourite venison dishes.
  • Fruit Salad with Coconut and Honey. Tropical Africa has an abundance of appetising fruit, which range from very sweet to extremely tart. Apart from the usual suspects like mangos, dates and watermelons, there are dozens of lesser-known yet very tasty indigenous fruit like custard-apple, monkey-bread (baobab), tamarind, marula and sour fig. In traditional African society, the most readily available flavourant and sweetener for a fruit dessert would be coconut (both the juice and the flesh) and wild honey.    

I hope you found these suggestions appetising, and that they will inspire you to experiment with new ingredients and dishes. Next time I’ll share my Asian and Australasian favourites with you. Until then, bon apétit!