Sometimes a book is multiple things. Recipes. Adventure. Tribute. Education.
You’ll find all that in My Cape Malay Kitchen. Cape Malay is a section of Cape Town in South Africa. It is, obviously, the Malay part of town. Oh, perhaps it wasn’t obvious that at the bottom of Africa you’d find a strong Malay population. But you do.
Americans pride ourselves on being a melting pot, but it does seem that South Africa can stake an equal claim. There’s an indigenous population of course. And all the Europeans who have come over the centuries: Brits, Italians, Dutch, Germans. There is an equally important influx from Asia: Indian, Pakistani, Malaysian, and Chinese.
Cariema is Malay and Muslim. She grew up with a father who followed a family tradition of cooking. Her grandmother was the person who taught her the techniques of cooking. Her father taught her the spirit, the why of cooking. He told her cooking was really a kind of meditation or prayer. And therefore exceptionally important.
Her father died four years ago and, in the last few months of his life, Cariema cooked all his favorite dishes. And, she promised to share them with the world. This first book by her is a promise kept and kept lovingly.
With that high motivation, what does My Cape Malay Kitchen hold for you? There are pathways here that will be quite familiar to any of us. Chocolate cake and cookies and, yes, lots of rice. And there are culinary journeys to foods quite different and quite excellent.
No pork here, of course, but plenty of lamb. Specifically, mutton, which tends to be a tad tough. So the recipes here employ braising and spices to soften and to infuse. The classic dish is the bredie, a comfort food that is like a stew with meat and vegetables cooked long and slow. The distinction of a bredie is the use of green chili or chili flakes to deepen and sharpen the flavor. This post ends with a picture of the pea bredie, a combination of lamb and fresh peas that announces spring has arrives. Of course, in South Africa, spring is in September!
The chili here is not overpowering. One chili in a dish for six persons, a half teaspoon of dried chili powder if you prefer. It’s about flavor and accent, not setting off fires.
There are chapters here for the Muslim holidays, like Ramadan. There you see that holidays around the world can be very similar: minestrone soup and fried doughnuts and crepe-like pancakes filled with sweetened coconut.
The best chapter in the book is the dozen pages devoted to curries, quite extravagant recipes that I can only imagine are teeming with flavors ricocheting in your mouth:
Mutton Curry with 21 ingredients including roasted masala, kokhni masala, turmeric, cardamom, and cinnamon
Minced Steak Curry with only 19 ingredients including ginger, chile paste, cumin, turmeric, cardamom, tomatoes and potatoes and peas
Dal Curry deep red with lamb and lentils surrounded by tomatoes and spices
Prawn Pathia Curry, popular with the Parsis of India who came there from Persia and merged Persian and Indian cuisines.
“Merger of cuisines” is perhaps the best summary of this book. Every dish shines with its culinary heritage on display. And every dish has some hook to entice you to try it. An old friend or a new constellation of spices.
My Cape Malay Kitchen is a sweet book — well spicy, too — and one you’ll find charming and flavorful.