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September 23, 2010

National Braai Day recipe: Cape Malay-style lamb sosaties

cape malay sosaties

Cape Malay-style lamb sosaties

Jane-Anne Hobbs is a freelance journalist, editor and author; a cook, food writer and recipe developer; and a mother of three. She lived in Johannesburg for the past 17 years but recently moved, with her family, to Hout Bay.

Tomorrow is National Braai Day, and I can think of no dish that better sums up South Africa’s rich culinary history than sosaties, which are so evocative of the lazy, woodsmoky scent of a traditional braai. Drenched in a turmeric yellow, sharp-sweet marinade, sosaties of this sort are usually threaded with chunks of raw onion, dried fruit and fresh bay or lemon leaves; traditionally they contained chunks of sheep fat, which helped to keep the meat juicy. My bite-sized version of this dish contains little added fat, but, to compensate, the lamb is tenderised by a long marinating time and a small amount of plain yoghurt.

This is one of the classics of South African cuisine, and is certainly – along with bobotie – the best-known of all Cape Malay dishes. Some claim that the name “sosatie” is derived from a combination of the words “sous” (“sauce”) and “sate”, but the authoritative Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles tells me that the Afrikaans/Dutch name “sasaatje” comes from the Javanese word “sesate”, which means “meat on skewers”, and first appeared in print in 1833. 

So popular were these kebabs in the early days of the Cape, says that wonderful raconteur Lawrence Green in his book Cape Town: Tavern of the Seas, that many of the taverns of old Cape Town were known as “sosatie and rice houses”. Hildagonda Duckitt’s “Where is it?” of Recipes, first published in 1891, gives a recipe for “sasaties or kabobs” that do not differ substantially from a sosatie you might be offered at a family braai today, 120 years later. As is the case with any hallowed recipe, every cook has his or her own closely guarded formula.

Sosaties are always cooked slowly over hot coals and, for an authentic flavour, should be slightly blackened at the edges. If you can’t find lemon or orange leaves, use bay leaves (but citrus leaves are best, as they infuse the lamb with a wonderful perfume as it cooks). Ask your butcher for lamb from the leg or shoulder, or for some nice fatty mutton. You can add petals of raw onion to these kebabs, but be warned that they will retain a bit of raw crunch.

You will find all of these ingredients in a good Indian spice shop.

Cape Malay-style lamb sosaties

750g lamb from the leg or shoulder, cut into biggish cubes
fresh lemon or orange leaves
24 dried apricots
melted butter for brushing

For the marinade:
40g dried tamarind pulp
1 cup (250ml) boiling water
4 tablespoons (60ml) vegetable oil
2 onions, very finely chopped
3 cardamom pods
1 thumb-length quill of cinnamon
1 red chilli, seeds removed, and finely chopped
1 tablespoon (30ml) grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1½ teaspoons (7.5ml) ground cumin
1 teaspoon (5ml) ground coriander
1 teaspoon (5ml) red chilli powder
3 tablespoons (45ml) white wine vinegar
80ml thick fruit chutney (Mrs Ball’s Original, if you can find it)
2 tablespoons (30ml) sugar
2 teaspoons (10ml) mild curry powder
1½ teaspoons (7.5ml) turmeric
½ cup (125ml) water
salt and milled black pepper
the juice of half a lemon
½ cup (125ml) plain white yoghurt

Put the tamarind in a small bowl and cover it with the boiling water. Set aside. Heat the oil in a pan and add the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and onion. Cook, over a brisk heat, for five minutes, or until the onions take on a golden colour. Add the chilli, ginger and garlic, and cook for another minute or so, without allowing the garlic to brown. Add the cumin, coriander and chilli powder and allow to sizzle for one or two minutes, or until you have a rich golden paste. Stir in the vinegar and chutney, turn down the heat, and allow to bubble for three minutes.

Using your fingers, break up the tamarind pulp in the water. Tip the lot into a sieve set over a bowl, pressing down on the pulp to extract the juice. Discard the pulp. Pour the tamarind water into the pan and add the sugar, curry powder, turmeric and water. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Stir in the lemon juice and yoghurt.

Tip the marinade into a deep plastic or ceramic dish and add the lamb cubes. Stir well to coat, and cover and place in the fridge for at least 24 hours, or longer if possible (you can make these sosaties three or four days in advance).

Pour some boiling water over the apricots and allow to soak for five minutes. Drain and set aside. Soak some slim satay sticks in water for 10 minutes. Cut the lemon, orange or bay leaves into pieces the size of a postage stamp. Thread a piece of lamb onto a satay stick, then add a slice of lemon leaf, then an apricot, then another piece of lemon leaf, and finally a piece of lamb. Brush a little extra marinade over the sosaties. Grill, over hot coals, turning frequently, for 6 – 10 minutes, depending on the heat of your fire, or until the lamb is cooked right through. Brushing the kebabs with melted butter as they cook will give a nice glossy finish. Serve piping hot. If you like, you can bring the remains of the marinade to the boil, simmer for 10 minutes, and serve as a dipping sauce.

This recipe makes about 24 snack-sized kebabs.

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