Wednesday 24 December 2014

Sail Cruising False Bay: Simon's Town


Yearning for an exotic cruise on a sail boat? Look no further than your own back yard.


Seal Island up close. The home of the great whites in False Bay
After long discussions through the year, the opportunity came up for a short break into cruising. So a friend and I set off in his boat. A three day trip with no cellphones and hardly any internet.

Provisioning the boat was easy. Two dinners and two breakfasts, some snacks. Water. And, of course, a few beers. It is a holiday after all!

After calling False Bay Yacht Club to arrange a mooring just to find out that there is none, we set off anyway. Real cruising by real sailors.

Peaceful afternoon sailing
Along the way we experimented with a stays'l arranged to be self-tacking. This makes for a lot less work when turning the boat. This had us sailing merrily along the beach front at the coastal town of Strand where I live. Wonderful views from the seaward side, the Helderberg basin making for an exotic backdrop to the golden beach. The wind freshened to seventeen knots, gusting twenty, from a southerly direction. Exquisite sailing weather indeed, not a cloud in the sky and I am sure lots of holidaymakers from upcountry enjoying the weather too.

Balmy weather

Soon we were close to East Shoal, a rocky outcrop about half way across the bay to Simon's Town. We had to make a choice of going north of this shoal and north of Seal Island. This would put us substantially downwind of Simon's Town, so we opted to bear into the wind and beat it southwards. One reef in the main and a bit of the genoa rolled away had us sailing about thirty degrees off the apparent wind at between five and six knots. The stays'l was still up, balancing the rig beautifully and we sailed for an hour and a half without touching the helm. The boat sailed like a dream, making happy noises while punching through the small choppy seas.

We sat quietly in the cockpit, having a grand old conversation about small things and big ideas, just enjoying the calming rythm of the sea and the boat. A balm to the soul, this felt like a continuous meditation in an idyllic atmosphere.

Look Ma, no hands!
Strand beachfront scenery, the Helderberg as a backdrop
Not too long after, we had cleared all the islands and rocks along the way and had to start stowing sails before anchoring. With the Governor's Cup race imminent, the marina looked a-buzz with activity. We opted to anchor in the outer anchorage, next to another boat clearly on a cruise as well. We had left our dinghy back on the quay at home, so we had to arrange the water taxi from the club. We were too late for that, so we just sat and enjoyed the scenery.

It is at times like this that one is reminded of the peace and quiet of an anchorage. A marina is very different, with people walking about, the and the creaking noises from the strain of the boats tugging at the quays. Here in the anchorage it is quiet. We could hear people talking on the beach about two hundred meters away.

Dinner consisted of chilli con carne and a loaf of bread that we baked while the chilli was resting. The evening breeze made small swishing sounds as it caressed the rigging, wafting us into a proper sleep.

Some decent speed
The next morning we caught the water taxi ashore and had a nice warm shower in the club. This left us with the rest of the day just to relax, explore the town and do nothing. It is surprising just how busy you can get just doing nothing, passing the time of day with a friendly chat to the odd shopkeeper and passers-by. Coffee was in order, then some shopping for more provisions.

We had invited our neigbours over for a braai on board that evening, which called for additional provisions. This proved to be more difficult than anticipated, as Simon's Town does not have a butchery in the town. The nearest shop that sells meat is about five kilometers away.

No problem, we caught a minibus taxi to Fish Hoek, the next town. Yes, one of THOSE minibus taxis.

Very cheap fare, we had a wonderful time chatting away with the other passengers and the driver. Our shopping took all of ten minutes, after which we simply caught another taxi back to Simon's Town.

Our stress levels were hitting rock bottom by this time. The weather played along and we had a balmy afternoon. We even had time to read a book. I managed to finish Ayn Rand's Anthem. A wonderful short read.

Our dinner guests arrived shortly before sunset and we had meat on the griddle. How else, this is South Africa in summer. The meat was complemented with a salad and yet another freshly baked loaf of bread.

Wonderful company to share the dinner, our guests turned out to be a couple from California on a world cruise. Lots of stories were exchanged before they rowed their dinghy back. Yes, rowed. No outboard motor to kill the quiet sounds of the anchorage.

The next morning we hoisted the anchor, set our sails and had yet another wonderful sail back home. The wind was the same as two days before, seventeen knots gusting twenty from a southerly direction. Again, I was pleasantly surprised at the boat's performance. We were going at over seven knots average, peaking at seven and a half knots speed over ground as measured by the GPS. Decent performance from a seven and a half ton cruising boat.

This was a wonderful cruise. My first proper cruise where we did nothing and just relaxed. We did not even visit the pub in the yacht clubAnd it is on our own doorstep.

Freshly baked bread
Having done this has now rekindled the wanderlust in me. This cruising thing grows on one. I started reading the sailing directions for False Bay and found lots of other nooks and crannies where one can spend a night or two, given the right conditions.

Increasingly, I get the impression that fewer people do these little overnight trips, opting for far more expensive long trips, flying overseas.

False Bay Yacht Club marina, Simon's Town
For my money, I  am rich in time and have enough money to enjoy my own back yard.

One of the most beautiful places in the world.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-12-24

Sunday 14 December 2014

Pagan Style Lamb Chops

I like lamb chops on the braai. But forever the meat is overdone by the time the layer of fat on the outside is done properly.

Use simple ingredients
Then the chops are definitely not OK. Cooking them until the meat is to your taste leaves the fat still mostly underdone. The chop is also then too fatty to my tastes. Even though we tend to the Banting side of diet, we still eat less fat than the French, I think.

You need hot coals
So here was an opportunity for some real creativity in preparing food. After some deliberation and much consumption of red wine and, especially at this summery time of year, lots of beer. Specifically around the braai fire. South African men treat the braai and their methods like a religion. A very serious subject indeed.

I think that the late professor Marthinus Versfeld, one of the most noted philosophers of South Africa, had it right. He reckoned that this passion for cooking meat on a braai is a leftover from primal days where our pagan forefathers regularly built an altar and offered meat to their gods. Even the Bible states this, adding that the meat was then consumed by the people. This now after the gods that be blessed the offering. Even so for the fledgling Christians of those times. The first murder also was perpetrated as a direct result of a dispute arising from an argument ensuing during a braai.

We need to heed these things, they play an important role in our daily lives.

While the braai itself is very important, the end result is even more so. Imagine dishing up an overdone lamb chop to your loved ones. My wife will simply not eat it. These disputes then rage long after the braai.

So, as you will understand, this subject is very near and dear to my heart.

Cook the meat on all sides
Preparing meat on a bed of coals is not a simple matter for some. In this case, the answer was not that difficult. In the end, the trick is to understand heat transfer and keeping the soft parts of the meat away from heat until the fat is done to a nice crisp state. Then the meat part is done. A two stage process.. Once I had figured this, the rest was easy. You assemble the chops back to a block as for a roast. Use some kebab skewers. Or you buy a roast from the start. For this experiment I used a lamb rib roast.

All sides...
Pat coarse salt all over the outside of the cut, then put it fat side down over very hot coals. Use a can of water placed among the coals to help with preventing flames. The steam will displace some of the air, so this helps. Make sure you don't scorch the fat, it will go bitter. Braai the cut on all sides. The bony parts may be well done, it is OK. They keep the heat away from the inside.

Don't scorch the meat
Once the fat and both bony sides are done to your satisfaction, you take the meat off the fire and cut it into chops. Or remove the skewers.

Now is the time to spice and salt your chops with your favourite braai salt or other condiments. I opted for a Spanish style basting. This is made with equal amounts of freshly crushed garlic, olive oil and red wine vinegar. If you don't have red wine vinegar, use normal vinegar and add a dollop of wine from your glass.

The inside is still raw
Baste regularly and royally. This activity forms part of the psychological warfare that you wage against the rest of the neigbourhood downwind of your braai, so take care. Also, if you make a mistake here, the whole neigbourhood will know, even upwind of where you are. I don't know how this works, I just know that this type of bad news travels in weird directions.

Simple basting, applied with a sprig of rosemary
By this time your coals would have cooled down sufficiently to make the rest of the cooking process a cinch. Cook the meat to your taste, then remove to the side of the coals to keep them warm and allow them to repose. This will help to develop the flavour and allow the heat to disperse evenly through the meat. The colour of the meat will also go to red as opposed to being a dull, unappetising grey.

I served this with blinis and sour cream, adding some steamed broccoli. Nothing to be scared of, a blini is a form of Russian bread. There is a gazillion recipes on the internet. My version was making a basic flapjack batter, adding grated baby marrows and some chopped grass onions. Spices were some coriander and cumin powder, salt and pepper.

Do the meat to your taste
These were baked in a dry pan, scooping spoonfuls of the batter onto the hot pan. These you can do beforehand, they warm up nicely afterwards. Dish up with some sour cream and onions, tzatziki or the like.

The meat is quite rich, so beware of mixing this with red wine and beer.

There, you are done. This dish goes well with a full bodied red wine.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman.

Last updated on 2014-12-14

Monday 17 November 2014

Taking the plunge

I was recently approached by a friend to participate in his campaign to participate in a long distance ocean race. Starting in the historic Simon's Town, the race then continues around the famous and awesome Cape Point and continues to the distant island of Saint Helena. One of the most remote places in the world. Only reachable by sea.

There is no airport on the island. However, this will soon be changed forever. Construction work on the airport is well under way.

So this opportunity knocks on my door. To sail in a race to this remote place, steeped in history.

I have been to the island several times, stopping there on the way across the Atlantic ocean. Not much to see on the island. Napoleon's house, the Anglo Boer War graveyard in the dell, Plantation House with the world's oldest tortoise. Interesting, but limited.

But the visit is not about the tourist attractions. It is about the getting there.

This will be the first time that I shall go there just to get there. The island is the end of the voyage. Once one starts to think about this a little, one then realises that that is not quite the whole picture.

You have to get back home again.

And therein lies the rub.

Going to the island is relatively easy, the voyage is basically downwind and with the ocean currents. Going along with prevailing weather patterns, following the trade routes of old.

Getting back is a different story altogether. You travel from the island due south until a day after you see the first albatross, then turn sharply to port and continue on to Cape Town. This will take you right down to just north of the roaring forties in the South Atlantic ocean. With the swells higher than the boat's mast. Following a route just north of Gough island and Tristan da Cunha, you then turn slightly north again to reach Cape Town. A far longer voyage than the race itself.

Or you can sail back whence you came, making a landfall at Walvis bay on the Namibian coast. This route is much shorter and will allow you to replenish supplies at Walvis Bay. However, this route will take you against the wind and the ocean currents.  Not an easy route either.

From Walvis Bay you then do what is known as harbour hopping.  Wait for a suitable weather window, then dash to the next harbour.

Altogether an interesting voyage. Supplies in St Helena are very scarce, with sketchy supplies to the local market. Almost all their fresh produce comes from Cape Town and Britain, which makes food very expensive.

So the provisioning for the race must then include provisions also for the voyage to Walvis Bay.

Interesting thinking required here.

All of these thoughts washed around in my head before I answered the question. Shall I or shall I not?

Eventually my sense of adventure prevailed. My friend is a sly old fox and read my instincts correctly.

So I took the plunge. Again.

Having said this, I started to wonder just how many of us face similar opportunities and do not even  recognise them. This opportunity is probably the last time that one will visit the island in its present state. Soon, people will travel there by air. Already there is talk of a five star hotel advertising the most remote golf course in the world. The time capsule of almost medieval culture will then be exposed to big money and the tourist business.

People often come up to me and tell me that I am living a dream. Interesting, this phenomenon.

I live my dream, yes. And I used to think that other people are also doing the same thing, not just eke-ing out an existence. After some reasoning and deep thought, I realise that lots of people have, like me, buried their dreams deep inside themselves and are working hard to conform to some social needs fired by urban civilisation. Some, it seems, die at twenty, but is only buried at eighty.

It took two knee replacements and the passing away of one of my children before I realised that life is terminal. I then dug up my dreams, dusted them off and made a lifestyle change.

Now, life is not really easier. Putting food on the table takes much the same effort. Life is much richer, however. I have freedom of my spirit. And I am less of a slave to Mammon, the god of money.

I am rich in experience.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-11-17

Monday 3 November 2014

Not Your Traditional Rice Pudding


Rice pudding? Yea, right. Not necessarily a favourite dessert. But with a little foresight and planning, something completely different emerges.

And therein lies the rub.

After some recent experimentation with sourdough mixes and fermentation, I came across a flat bread made with rice. Palappam, made with rice and coconut milk is quite well known in Asia. The  standard dish is made in the form of a pancake, which is delicious. It is also quite easy to make and being gluten free, a new way of adding a starch to a stewed dish. Especially spicy dishes.

After discussing this with some friends on a Banting diet, they decided to try this newfangled dish. So off they went to do the shopping and not long thereafter created the opportunity for this culinary venture. Needless to say, the feedback was filled with ecstasy.

Part of the reason for this was that they experimented with the leftover pancakes. They had them with a bit of sugar, lemon juice and some lemon zest. And voila!, a new dessert was born.

After some more discussions with  a chef friend of mine, The idea of a baked version came out. In a muffin size it would make a heavenly dessert, served with some fruity compote and cream.

So here goes my latest dabbing into the world of baked desserts.

Not your traditional South African style rice pudding.

I made several versions. You may also use some desiccated coconut to get a bit of crunchy texture. Whatever the method, you will get a toasted coconut flavour in the dish. No use in adding flavour to the rice pudding, as the sauce and coconut will overpower the other flavours. This version has some flour to help with structure. It is quite tricky to get the cakes to set properly during baking. This version will give some body to the pudding as well as some gluten.

Small muffin pans will make bite sized ones for a children's party.


For the rice muffins

This will make eight muffin sized portions.

1 cup cooked rice
½ cup cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder. You may omit this if you use self raising flour instead.
½ cup coconut cream or -milk
1 medium to large egg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 dessert spoons sugar. I used brown sugar.
1 dessert spoon butter

For the compote

2-3 dessert spoons fresh blueberries
3 dessert spoons brown sugar
2 dessert spoons butter
3 dessert spoons water
sprig of mint for garnish
whipped cream


For the rice muffins

Mix the ingredients thoroughly, then blitz the mix in the blender. This will cut the rice into very small bits. The mix should have the consistency of cake mix. Add more coconut milk as required.

Lubricate your favourite muffin pan and pour a little batter into each section. This while your oven is heating up to 200コC/390コF. The rice needs a slightly hotter oven. I had to experiment a bit. Not all ovens have the same heat distribution.

Pop the pan in the oven for 30 minutes or until the puddings are baked through. Test with a steel pin to see if they are done. The steel pin will come out dry when they are done.

By this time they will have a nice light brown to tan colour. Put then out to cool while you make the compote.


Mash half of the blueberries and keep to one side.

Dissolve the sugar in the water, then add the butter and bring to the boil. Keep stirring, you don't want this lot to burn. This will caramelise the sugar. The mix will foam for a while, but don't despair, this is what happens. The water will give a consistent texture and colour to the caramel. When the caramel is nice an light brown, add the mashed blueberries and stir through thoroughly. Wait until the foaming and frothing has stopped, then remove the compote from the heat and add the rest of the blueberries.

Allow this to cool. Properly cool. This mix has a substantially higher temperature than boiling water and will give you second degree burns. Wait until it has cooled sufficiently before using it.

Dishing up is a matter of arranging a muffin on a plate, add a dollop of whipped cream and some of the compote. Garnish with a sprig of mint and there you go.

A delicious new way of having leftover rice as a pudding.

I  am sorry about your Banting diet...

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-11-03

Monday 20 October 2014

Spicy Seafood For A Romantic Summer Evening

Summer has arrived with a vengeance the last few days. Granted,  is still officially spring. But it is quite warm and the southeaster is blowing us into the next century.

Weather which calls for relaxing with friends and loved ones over a light meal. A braai with meat is OK, but the food tends to be heavy. In addition, we have a regular braai once a week at the yacht club. So a lighter meal is in order.

Which brought me to think more towards a salad. But salads are too light to my taste. Even those with something hot, like pieces of chicken or fish. So the choice went to something Asian. Asian dishes are generally easy and quick to make, as well as being on the light side. Of course, this is just what one wants, as it leaves more time to spend with your close ones.

Having gone through all of this reasoning, I decided on a Thai style seafood curry in a coconut sauce. I had this idea in my mind for a long time. Now, at last, the weather is playing along.

This dish is very easy to make, with hardly any messy work. It also is quick to  make, as the ingredients are not heavy and therefore cooks fast. You don't want to overcook fish anyway. The coconut base makes it quite fruity, which adds to the idea that it can serve as something with more body than a salad, but in the same category of light food.

Try to steer away from using a ready mix seafood. These tend to have more of the cheaper cuts. I settled for mussels and small prawns, with a dash of seafood mix. I was a bit put off with the quality of the mix. Next time I shall buy the ingredients directly and make my own mix.

This dish is prepared by making a sauce, then cooking the fish in this sauce. No need for frying the fish. For the coconut one can use a can of coconut milk, mix powdered coconut with water or even use desiccated coconut soaked for a hour in hot water. All will work.

Having read about the latest Banting craze, I am following suit by using real butter to fry the onions. It does make a difference, not only in the taste. The butter triggers your body's reaction to make you feel satisfied, so you tend to eat less because you feel full sooner.
Which, in my case, is good.

This dish goes very well with a fruity dry sparkling wine, as it is not that spicy. Here in South Africa we are blessed with a variety of bottle fermented sparkling wines at a steal. The La Vallee from JC le Roux and Pongracz  immediately comes to mind as a romantic pairing. We also have some magnificent Sauvignon blanc wines from the Durbanville region, our neighbours. Choose your own, bearing in mind the type of company you will have for dinner.

In my case it is my missus of over thirty-five years' standing, so the JC le Roux la Vallee wins hands down.

As for cooking utensils, I used my new stainless steel saucepan from le Creuset. These have a stainless steel lining inside, a layer of high carbon steel outside to make it magnetic for use on induction hobs, and a layer of aluminium sandwiched in between. This causes better heat distribution and more effective cooking. The pot gets warm on the sides too, unlike some other brands of cookware. This better heat distribution also uses less gas. In fact, a lot less. One needs to be careful of burning the food.

The ingredients are simple and few, which makes it easier to get them all together. I used the canned variety of bamboo sprouts. There are others. Some recipes call for the sour variety, others use the plain bamboo sprouts. It seems not to make a real difference.


500 g seafood, I used a mix of prawns and mussels
1 cup basmati or jasmine rice
1 can coconut milk or cream. Or a sachet of coconut powder.
1 medium to large onion, chopped
½ sweet bell pepper, chopped
3 toes garlic, mashed
2 hot chillies, chopped
1 teaspoon medium dry masala
2 teaspoons wet masala (recipe here)
1 dessert spoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
2 dessert spoons fish sauce
½ cup bamboo sprouts
½ cup sugar snap peas
½ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
½  cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped
4 bay leaves
some butter for frying
salt and pepper to taste


Fry the onions and sweet pepper in the butter until the onion goes translucent. Add the wet masala, chopped chillies and mashed garlic and fry these for thirty seconds. Add the dry powdered spices and fry for fifteen seconds or until the flavours come out. Add the coconut milk and stir, making sure that there is nothing sticking to the bottom of the saucepan.

Bring this to the boil, then add the seafood. Add the fish sauce and sugar and check for enough salt. Turn down the gas flame and cook this for ten minutes or until the seafood is almost done, then add the sugar snap peas and the bamboo sprouts. Cook for another five minutes, then take the saucepan off the heat. Add the chopped basil and coriander leaves and mix through. Then set this aside to rest while you cook the rice. This will allow the curry to repose and develop flavour.

Then dish up.

Now is the time to open that second bottle of bubbly...

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-10-20

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Pakistani Style Biriyani

Biriyani must be the most the most underrated dish in the culinary world. Here in South Africa you even get it in cans, if you look in the right place. Very common over the whole of Asia, it appears.

It is very easy to make. Perhaps that is where the idea comes from that it is a commonplace dish and therefore treated with disdain.

However, there is much variation to this dish. You can make it in a multitude of flavours, ranging from mild to strong. You can actually make the meaty part very strongly spiced as the rice part will dilute the strength somewhat.

But the appeal of this dish lies in the gentle flavours it carries. If you intend to use saffron, it is sacrilege to make it too spicy. The spiciness will overpower the exotic flavour of the saffron and it will turn out to be just another spicy rice dish.

Biriyani is made in two parts, then assembled and steamed. Cook the rice and cook the meaty part. And the exotic flavour lies in the preparation of the meaty part. Especially the process.

The meat is marinated in a spiced yoghurt marinade. Fresh herbs make a huge difference to the end result. I used fresh coriander leaves. The rest of the herbs and spices are the normal ground spices available through your local supermarket or spice shop. Whatever you do, try your utmost to get hold of fresh herbs and spices. It really makes a difference.

For this version I decided to broadly go along with the basic recipe from my food blogger friend Maria Nasir. She lives in Lahore, Pakistan and makes the most heavenly food in her kitchen. Pakistani food is quite spiced, but not strong. They focus on flavours over there. You can find Maria's recipes at her Foodaholic web site. Well worth the visit.

Of course, the Hungry Sailor will impart his own ideas on the basic dish. Just because I live in a different part of the world and simply cannot get hold of the same spices as in Pakistan. But also just because  the Hungry Sailor is in a creative mode.

Perhaps also because I am a bit of a pirate at heart. There is a saying in sailing circles that you should always  be yourself, except when you can be a pirate. Then always be a pirate. Very tongue in cheek, but quite uplifting. So I decided to do the pirate thing.

I used Maria's recipe as input to my dish. You  need to marinate the chicken, no arguments about that. Use lemon juice to cut the heat if too spicy. I used lemon as garnish only, This dish does not normally come out spicy.

You will need quite a large casserole with a lid to make this dish. As it is a rice dish, the rice needs to be fluffy and loose. You steam it slowly to obtain the final flavours.

So here goes.

The marinade ingredients 


1 kg chicken. I used a barbecue pack with loose pieces.
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 dessert spoon level masala paste. (Get a recipe here)
1 teaspoon turmeric
250 ml plain yogurt
Some coriander leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon heaped masala powder
This is a chunky version
8 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
pinch of saffron stalks, soaked in ½ cup of boiling water
2 star aniseed
3 cinnamon sticks
some butter for frying
1½ cup raw basmati rice
½ cup raw lentils
some butter for frying



Chop some of the coriander leaves and mix with the yogurt. Add the turmeric, some salt, masala powder and cumin. Mix thoroughly. Add the chicken and marinade for at least half an hour. I removed the skin from the breast and thighs. Cut the chicken into manageable pieces. I find that the marinade does nor penetrate the skin, so I remove chicken skin as far as is sensible. Cut the breast pieces into double thumb sized chunks. This dish is chunky.

After the meat has been properly marinated, start the cooking. As usual, we start by frying the onions in the butter until at least translucent, but preferably caramelized. Add the garlic at the end, frying it for about fifteen to twenty seconds. Then add the meat. You don't need all the marinade, so chuck it. It will clutter your final dish and make it soggy.

Main dish

In the mean time, cook the rice and lentils on the side.

Fry the meat until it is well cooked, then add the chopped tomatoes.  Add the cinnamon sticks and aniseed at this stage. Turn the heat down to minimum and simmer for at least twenty minutes. The juices need to cook away a bit and the resulting masala needs to be on the dry side. Watch out for burning, you don't want that, it will make the dish bitter and you start over.

The last part of the masala coming along nicely
Remove the meat and masala from the pot and keep warm on the side. You will now start to build the final biriyani.

Building the final dish
Put  a layer of rice in the bottom of the pot, then add some of the meat and masala. Cover this with another layer of rice and add the rest of the meat part. Don't add the mushy gravy part, your biriyani will come out soggy. Cover the last meat layer with the last of the rice and lentils. Garnish this with some lemon slices and some coriander leaves. Add the saffron tea to the dish now, cover and simmer at the lowest heat for at least twenty minutes. Then switch off the heat and let the dish rest for another twenty minutes to develop flavour.

Mix everything up before dishing up. Add salt as required. This dish has a very subtle set of flavours, so perhaps it is not a good idea to pair this with a heavy red wine. In Pakistan this is served with a raita, a sauce made of yogurt and spices.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-09-21

Sunday 21 September 2014

Eggs Poached In Spicy Tomato Relish: Shakshouka

The Berber word for “the mix,” I am told. This dish is made in various forms all over North Africa and the Middle East, perhaps even up to Turkey and Greece. A gorgeous dish in its simplicity, it holds flavours like you haven't tasted before.

And I was totally ignorant of its existence. That is, until a few days ago. Again, it is a story of the sea. A sailing story, no less. But let me start at the beginning.

My blog is about sailing and cooking on board. Having proper food goes a long way to keep the  morale on board high, especially during spells of inclement weather. Which, in the Cape of Storms, is often. So I am always on the lookout for decent recipes that can be cooked aboard a boat heaving and pitching in choppy seas. Your galley and stove do not stand still like at home.

On a recent sailing expedition to our neighbouring village of Simon's Town, we had a long discussion on this very subject. Of course the weather was balmy and we had lots of time for talk. Soon the topic went to food. Sailors on board do seem to be forever hungry.

My friend Vic then came out with this recipe of poaching eggs in a tomato relish. And it hit me that we have lots of tomatoes here in South Africa. So much so that you get canned tomato relish, complete with onions and even spices. Tomato relish is very popular here, to be had with a boerewors roll (a local version of a hot dog) or with maize pap (a very thick maize porridge, even crumbly) along with your braai. (Barbecued meat).

After a short research on the internet I found a myriad of recipes. These vary according to regional tastes. The Moroccan version using slightly different spices than those made towards the Middle east.

The ingredients all include lots of tomatoes and onions. Garlic is common and so is a hot chilli. Some sweet pepper are also in the mix. Spices vary, but include paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Simple.

The dish appears to be Berberic in origin, real desert dwellers. No time for long-winded food preparation. So we expect the preparation process to be simple as well.

I pondered this for a while, then decided to go with the standard process, chunky chopped ingredients. No tomato paste or -puree. Basic spices, keeping it simple.

This dish came out way beyond my expectations. Granted, it was the first time I made tomato relish with cumin and paprika, but the result was worth it. And the process is a no-brainer. Budget two eggs and three medium sized tomatoes per person. The rest of the ingredients are for additional flavour and texture.

The dish is suitable as a main dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Add some barbecued sausage (read boerewors) for lunch or dinner. You will not need a starch with this, it is quite filling, especially when made with real butter instead of just oil. An out and out Banting dish, for sure.

Use a deep pan or shallow casserole. You need to poach all the eggs at once. The pan needs a lid too. This is a one pot dish.

Here goes.

Ingredients for two people

2 large eggs per person
3 tomatoes per person, chopped coarsely
½ sweet bell pepper, chopped coarsely
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 dried chilli, chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika I used sweet smoked paprika
some salt
some ground pepper
some butter for frying


Fry the onions and sweet peppers in butter until the onions go nice and brown, then add the garlic and chilli and fry for fifteen seconds. Then add the chopped tomatoes. Mix thoroughly and bring to the boil. Simmer until the fluid has reduced a little. Check for and add salt as required, the dish may be quite fresh. The dish needs to be quite dry, definitely not runny. Pat the relish flat, then make a dent for each egg. Break the eggs carefully in each dent.

This is where you may also do lots of creative things. Some recipes break the eggs so you end with something of a frittata. Others keep the eggs whole as per normal poached eggs. Sprinkle the pepper, paprika and cumin over the lot, then put the lid on and reduce the heat. Simmer for at least ten minutes.

You can make the dish with the eggs soft and runny or hard, it is up to you. Make sure that the relish is almost done and not  too watery before adding the eggs. You are not making soup.

There won't be leftovers, I'm afraid. That is what my friend told me, and that was my exact experience. Be careful, the relish is very hot.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-09-21

Friday 12 September 2014

Paella En El Estilo Del Momento

Paella in the style of the moment. This is hopefully a proper translation.

Having been at sea for two solid months with lots of cooking, I took a rest. But recently I felt the urge for being creative again. Summer is almost here and my paella pan is hanging on the wall, gathering dust, not having been used much as a result of my seafaring activities. This is a good pointer to a stir-fried dish or a paella.

After some deliberation the choice fell on a paella. But the pan is too big to make a dish for two people. No problem. I have friends. So, after a phone call or two a dinner date was arranged. Ten guests. Thanks to my friends Tony and Marjo, I had a venue, the ingredients and guests to boot!

What remained was to think up something new.

A paella is very easy to make, but I was looking for a new way of doing things. Perhaps in the preparation. An eclectic mix of ingredients do not tickle my fancy. Paella is supposed to be a simple, almost rustic dish. Not complicated.

The answer was lurking in the process. How do I get more flavour in the dish without using external chemical means. Read spicy mixes. The idea came to me from methods more often used in making stews. You can add stock from external sources, but it seemed more fun to use the stock already in the pan.

This line of reasoning led to a sequence of frying the ingredients that would leave some caramelised  residue in the pan to be soaked up by the sauces later, before the dish gets too dry. Very much like making a stew or a risotto. Most of the stock is created by frying the ingredients itself.

The choice of the day fell on a mixed paella, easy to make and open to experimentation. The only caveat is not to burn the ingredients, because then you start over.

This recipe is well known in the paella world, being mostly chicken, with a spruce-up of prawns and mussels making it a mixed paella. I decided to go with turmeric and saffron, instead of a smoked paprika. The chourizo sausages in the dish would provide sufficient smokiness to the overall flavour. I also used proper Spanish short grain rice. There is a slight difference in flavour to the long grain rice and the dish also tends to be a bit drier than when using long grain rice. Which makes it a paella as opposed to a risotto, I guess.

In the end I used some additional chicken stock. Use the best you can get with the least chemical content. The spring onions are chopped into thumb size lengths as garnish with the peas. The green, leafy part of the stems are chopped up finely as garnish with the coriander leaves. A paella needs to be done using olive oil. Olive oil will add to the authentic taste. But you may use any vegetable oil, they all are suitable.

This dish is enough for ten to fifteen people. I used my 42cm /16 ½ inch paella pan obtainable in South Africa from Perfect Paella in Cape Town. I am pretty sure that this type of pan is reasonably available all over the world.


1 kg short grain rice
2,5 kg chicken breast fillets, cubed and dried
2 chourizo sausages, they are about 150-200mm long (6-8”), sliced finely.
1 kg blanched prawn tails
500 g shelled mussels
3 medium onions
3 medium tomatoes, chopped coarsely
2 hot Thai chillies, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, mashed
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
4 spring onions for garnish
1/ cup of fresh coriander leaves, chopped coarsely for garnish
2 cups frozen peas
1 ½ teaspoon turmeric
6 saffron stalks in a cup of boiling water
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
some salt to taste
1 l chicken stock
400ml dry white wine
Some olive oil for frying


Make sure the chicken cubes are quite dry. Start by frying the chourizo sausages in the pan with some oil. Once these are done to a nice brown colour, remove them from the pan and fry the chicken cubes. Do it in batches, otherwise you tend to get lots of fluid, in which case you are boiling the meat, not frying it. I had to bail the pan twice to get rid of all the chicken juice. I kept this with the stock for use later. When the chicken is done, remove it all and keep warm.

Then start the onions. Once the onions are getting to a nice brown colour, add the chilies, coriander seeds and garlic. Fry these for thirty seconds, then add the chopped tomato. Once these are all going nicely, add the rice. The caramelised bits will have come off the bottom of the pan and into the sauces.

Fry the rice for a while to take up the flavours, then add the wine. Cook the lot until the wine reduces, somewhat, then add chicken stock a little bit at a time. Make sure the dish doesn't burn. After the chicken stock you add water as required until the rice has swollen enough to be almost edible. The add the prawns and the mussels. They don't need much cooking. Stir the dish to ensure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. Add the saffron, pepper and turmeric at this stage. Keep adding water as required, keeping the dish only just fluid.

Add the chicken and chourizo back to the dish. Test for saltiness, the dish may be too fresh still.

Add the chopped spring onions and the peas just before the dish is done. Allow the dish to rest for ten to fifteen minutes. Add the coriander and spring onion leaves as garnish. Arrange it artistically, your friends would love it. I cut some rings from a red bell pepper as further garnish.

Then dish up. This dish goes very well with a dry white wine.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-09-12