‘A Taste of South Africa’ With the Kosher Butcher’s Wife
Opening Sharon Lurie’s newest cookbook, A Taste of South Africa with the Kosher Butcher’s Wife, is like experiencing a new frontier of Jewish cooking. Indeed, South African cuisine has a far more complex history and make-up than I ever realized. When I reached out to the celebrated food personality for more on her community’s foodways, Lurie described her native cuisine to me in this wonderfully romantic way: “Hunter-gatherer herbal infusions and indigenous foraged foods fold into the fermented glories of amasi sour milk from Nguni cattle kraals. Waves of European and Asian settlement are made manifest in Cape Malay clove and tamarind-rich delicacies, Afrikaner syrup-laden sweet treats and the fiery feasts of the Durban Indian Diaspora. Piri piri (a hot pepper) provides tantalizing Afro-Lusitanean (Ancient Iberian) influences.”
In case you were wondering, Lurie truly is a kosher butcher’s wife. A native of Durban, a coastal city with a small Jewish population, she moved to Johannesburg as a young woman to find an Orthodox match. Which she did, marrying Ian Lurie almost 40 years ago. His family owns the beloved Nussbuam’s kosher butchery shop and the adjacent Burger and Brew restaurant.
“Cooking kosher and being a South African are not mutually exclusive,” she tells me, introducing me to the concept of “KoshAfrica,” a descriptor she uses for the food shared in her new cookbook as well as her first two recipe collections: Cooking with the Kosher Butcher’s Wife and Celebrating with the Kosher Butcher’s Wife.
“South African Jewish cuisine is an exciting element within a magnificent mélange,” she writes in the new book, crediting the unique melting pot of her native land. “Created to honor the spirit and splendor of universal Jewish religious dietary laws, it has become seasoned with the landscapes, climatic conditions and cultural connections of a uniquely African identity.”
At the same time, Lurie still feels a pull toward traditional Ashkenazi fare. She divulges that a particular weakness of hers, as a meat and bread lover, is a bagel topped with biltong—South African cured beef—and “succulent roast beef on a thick slice of homemade challah.”
In A Taste of South Africa, Lurie often relies on traditional South African ingredients like sorghum flour, treacle syrup (similar to British golden syrup), rooibos tea and psyllium husks; however, substitutions can be made with more familiar products—and, in the age of globalization, you might be surprised to learn which of these seemingly exotic pantry staples are available online or in specialty stores.
But back to the cuisine and Lurie’s, you guessed it!, delicious focus on meat—most spectacularly in her slow-cooked meat recipes and an entire chapter on barbecue, known as braii in South Africa.
I was interested to learn that many of Lurie’s slow-cooked meat recipes utilize a charcoal grill to sear the meat before slow cooking it until tender. That method of searing had never occurred to me, but it sounds amazing.
Other recipes I would especially recommend: Eggy Challah Bread, a stuffed French toast that is Lurie’s daughter’s favorite breakfast; a luxurious vanilla and cinnamon tea compote with yogurt and brulé topping; Dutch pea and cashew nut soup; and delightful mash-ups like pastrami and olive cornmeal flatbread.
Looking for decidedly Ashkenazi-leaning recipes? Check out Tickled Pink Brisket, which derives its rosy shade from beets; gribbenes and schmaltz, which Lurie jokes would make younger generations shutter; and borscht reimagined in salad form.
Those who like steak have many options here, including rib eye steaks in roosterkoek (the South African version of a pita) with red chimichurri salsa; and the health conscious will appreciate the many seeds and super greens used by Lurie in various soups and salads.
Overall, the compilation and storytelling in this book make for an interesting window into a Jewish community that still, even generations after its establishment, remains a mystery to many Jews who have never visited.
Here I am sharing recipes for sticky, slow-cooked ribs; biltong; and a milk custard tart, all featuring the unique taste of South Africa.
Whenever a South African says jislaaik (pronounced ‘yis-like’), it’s normally said with some sort of surprise. For instance in rugby, if a man scores a try by running from one end of the field to the other, avoiding all the other players, that’s jislaaik. Or if something tastes delicious you say, ‘Jislaaik this is good!’
3 racks meaty-smoked steakhouse ribs, cut up individually (20 ribs, each approximately 5 inches long)
1/2 gallon cola
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1 heaping tablespoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1 cup tomato sauce or ketchup
1/4 cup hotdog mustard
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup smooth apricot jam
- Wash the ribs well to remove excess salt from the smoking process. Place them in a large pot and cover with the cola, garlic, ginger and chilli flakes. Don’t worry if they are not covered completely as there should be sufficient liquid to steam them.
- Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and allow the ribs to cook for at least 30 minutes. After 15 minutes swap the ribs at the bottom of the pot to the top so that all the ribs are cooked evenly in the cola.
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Transfer the ribs to a roasting dish, discarding any cola that hasn’t already cooked out.
- To make the basting sauce, mix the tomato sauce or ketchup, mustard, soy sauce and apricot jam in a bowl until well combined. Baste the ribs with this mixture, then roast in the oven, covered, for 1 hour, turning after 30 minutes. After an hour, reduce the heat to 325° and roast for another hour, uncovered, until the ribs are dark and crispy.
This is the South African dried meat that has been around for centuries, some saying it is more addictive than crisps (chips) and nuts. What can this delicacy be compared to? Nothing!! It’s in a class of its own.
It’s quite normal to experiment a few times before you hear “this is the best batch you’ve ever made!” That recipe will become your best kept secret.
Although it may seem that you are buying quite a lot of meat to make this delicacy, it dehydrates and reduces to half its weight, and then after tasting it you may just wish you’d bought more!
13 pounds beef (top round/London broil/eye of round)
1 scant cup fine salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dried coriander seeds, coarsely ground
1/4 cup malt vinegar (I put mine in a spray bottle to make it easier to cover meat)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- Cut the meat along the natural dividing lines of the muscles of the meat of choice. Cut into strips of approximately 1-inch thick and any desired length, always cutting with the grain.
- Mix the salt, sugar, baking soda, pepper and coriander together. Rub the seasoning mixture thoroughly into the strips of meat.
- Layer the meat, with the more bulky pieces at the bottom, in a glass or plastic container, spraying brown vinegar over each layer, as you add them. Leave the meat in a cool place for 12 hours or more, depending on how salty you want the meat to be.
- Remove the meat from the marinade. Mix water and red wine vinegar and dip the meat into this mixture. This makes the biltong shiny and dark. Once this is complete, the biltong is ready to dry.
- Pat the pieces of meat dry and then hang them up on S-shaped hooks, or use pieces of string, about 2 inches apart. Hang the biltong in a cool to warm, dry place with an oscillating fan blowing on it. (Note: Ensure that the air is dry, as too much moisture will cause the meat to spoil.) The biltong is ready when the outside is hard and the center part of the biltong strip is still a little moist. Let the center dry according to personal taste. Biltong is cut from the “stick” in thin pieces using a very sharp knife.
My grandchildren asked me to make them a melktert (milk tart), South Africa’s all-time favorite. Naturally, I couldn’t wait to get home and start baking. After cleaning out my storage shed I found recipe files and books going back 35 years. The page for this recipe was torn, but there was a handwritten note on top that stated “outstanding recipe.” What a find of hidden treasures that day proved to be. Best of all, the melktert was just in time for Shavuot, when we traditionally eat milk-based dishes. If you’re making a non-dairy version, ensure that the biscuits are dairy-free, too.
2 1/2 cups crushed tea biscuits
3/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
4 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter
1, 14 ounce can condensed milk
Pinch of salt
1 heaping tablespoon instant pudding powder
3 tablespoons cornflour
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla essence or extract
Ground cinnamon for sprinkling
- First make the shell. Place the crushed biscuits into a bowl, then add the melted butter and mix well. Press the mixture onto the base and sides of a 10-inch pie dish. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- In a saucepan, heat 3 cups of the milk, reserving the remaining cup for later. Add the butter and condensed milk and keep stirring with a whisk. Just as it starts to come to the boil, remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, combine the salt, instant pudding powder, cornflour and beaten eggs with the reserved cup of milk. Whisk until smooth. Very slowly add the cooled milk mixture to the egg mixture (it mustn’t scramble the eggs) and keep whisking until well combined. Return this mixture to the saucepan in which the milk was warmed earlier. Heat and continue whisking until it thickens. (It’s important to whisk all the time as the mixture must be very smooth, without any lumps. If you find a few, strain the mixture through a fine sieve.) Finally, add the vanilla essence/extract and stir well.
- Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie crust. Sprinkle with cinnamon and allow to cool. Cover with clingfilm and leave to set overnight.