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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Kos & Wyn | Food & Wine > Rubrieke | Columns > Michael Olivier: Notes from my kitchen table

My kitchen table: Lamb Curry and a couple of good books

Michael Olivier - 2007-07-24

The kitchen table has been a busy place these past few weeks as we work to rekindle the tastes of our childhood with slow-cooked food, which always seems to smell part food and part of the smell of an Aga stove in the kitchen. Pigs' heads and trotters were cooked down into a delicious brawn, sheep's trotters and tripe made "afval" (offal) which my father so loved, pigeons from our loft were braised in the slow oven in red wine, and the muscovy ducks which inhabited our backyard were roasted with oranges.

Bobotie was always a great favourite too, and the ubiquitous lamb curry. We tended to eat sweet curries more of the old Batavian kind, brought to the Cape by the Dutch who always had a taste for something sweet, like dried apricots, with their curries (redolent of spices which had travelled overland from the East to Holland along the Spice Routes from India), traditionally served in South African homes with a bottle of Mrs Ball's best chutney, sliced banana and desiccated coconut.

This winter I cooked a curry which I think was more Indian in its flavouring. It's difficult when giving a recipe to know what type of curry powder the reader would use, so I am going to be quite specific about this one to help you get the flavour right. I used NoMu Indian Rub and dedicated the recipe to Tracy Foulkes, our very own Gourmet Girl of BBCFood fame who owns Nomu.

An Indian lamb curry for Tracy

This is a curry which requires a cool cucumber and mint raita, bhuni hui pyaz (crisp browned onions) and toasty warm naan breads and steaming basmati rice perfumed with garam masala. I used Tracy’s NoMu Garam Masala as the seasoning at the end too and it is for her that I name this recipe.
Tip: Use 2 Tbs Indian Rub if you like your curry milder.

You’ll need

2 large onions (400 g), 6 fat cloves garlic, fresh ginger the size of a fat thumb (30 g), 2 kg lamb shanks, seasoned flour, a little sunflower oil, 60 g butter, 3 Tbs curry powder (which gave a hottish sauce), 400 g tin of whole peeled tomatoes - pressed, 400 ml tin of coconut milk, 100 ml water, 200 ml plain yoghurt, sea salt, generous pinches of NoMu Masala Rub.


Chop the onion, garlic and ginger finely and keep them separate. Have ready a plate covered thinly with plain white flour and seasoned well with sea salt and freshly milled black pepper. In a large ovenproof casserole in a thin layer of oil and over medium heat, brown the lamb pieces just dunked in the seasoned flour (shake off the excess) until well coloured all over and set aside on a plate. Do not crowd the casserole, otherwise the lamb will “stew” rather than brown. Be patient, use fewer pieces and get them nicely brown. You should be able to do them in three batches. Set the oven on 180°C. Pour off the excess oil from the casserole and swirl in the butter and in it cook the onions over medium heat until light golden brown. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for a short while. Sprinkle over the NoMu Indian Rub and stir fry for a while to release the flavours from the spices. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, water and yoghurt. Bring to a simmer, taste and then add salt if required. Return the lamb shanks to the casserole with any juice which might have collected on the plate. Cover and place in the preset oven and leave it untouched for 2 hours. If you have the time, remove it from the oven, cool and refrigerate overnight. Next day, scrape the fat off the top and place it in a 180°C oven and allow it to cook for a further hour or until tender.

Serve with basmati rice scented with garam masala, cucumber raita, crispy onions, chopped tomato and onion salad and steaming hot naan bread.

Serves 4.

Wine recommendation

The Times of India, in a recent article about wine with food, seriously recommended Cabernet Sauvignon with their curry. I think a good Gewurztraminer, like the Paul Cluver or Altydgedacht would work. A chilled Cobra Beer might go down well too!


I have been so fascinated by a work by Dr Hettie Claassens called Die Geskiedenis van Boerekos 1652-1806. So fascinated that I had a lengthy conversation with her as she spoke to me from her Pretoria home. How she came to write it and the motivation behind it were evident in her reasoning as she came to realise that we have it all wrong - the Dutch introduced wonderful, spicy food to the Cape. We were exporters of Rosewater, growers of Star Anise and ginger; lemon grass and fennel flourished till the British took over the Cape in 1806 and all was virtually reduced to salt and pepper and parsley. Thank goodness for the Malay people who had cooked in the Dutch homes, and indeed, in an interview with Hilda Gerber, a Malay cook, she said, “We cook in the old Dutch way.”

If you are faintly interested in food and can cope with some fairly academic Afrikaans, you will be as fascinated as I was. Records of bobotie-like dishes cooked before the birth of Christ, Persian sweet dishes appearing on the tables of the Cape are a revelation. I believe there is room for a more accessible version of this book in English which would have great appeal.

Gwynne Conlyn's Food Gurus Uncovered is a celebration of some of South Africa's famously talented chefs. And Gwynne reveals what makes them tick. The book is packed with the spirit of dining out: photographs of luscious meals designed by the cooks using ingredients of the region; heart- and belly-warming occasions; and the faces of people from poets to award-winning winemakers, painters, film stars and icons. Each recipe is also matched with a specific South African wine.

“I believe the success of the book is due to the fact that I celebrate the cooks of our country, rather than the restaurant. After all, without the person in the kitchen, the restaurant wouldn’t win the award,” Gwynne says.

Many of Gwynne's chosen Gurus are close friends of mine, and Annette le Roux of Jemima's in Oudtshoorn worked for me as a chef at one time. Now she's in the highlands of Scotland cooking grouse and stag and smoking salmon - and taking a tot or two of single malt, I am sure.

Please visit my website, www.noshnews.co.za, for information about our associate wineries, food news and restaurant reviews, and more about books and new products.

Till next time