Bredie – Green bean stew

By Chrisie Keulder 

See recipe below

Bredie is winter food. It is both a single-pot source of nourishment and warmth and comfort, and if by any reason you and your dearest family will go through this winter without at least once congregating around a pot of hearty bredie, I would consider you to be human of the most unfortunate kind, i.e. one of “them-who-knows-no-bredie”.

The origin of the word “bredie” is not entirely clear, but a bredie can be defined as “[…] vegetables, stewed or smoored in animal fat and meat juices; with meat added […].[1] In his own inimitable way Leipoldt writes: “Whatever the lexicographers – the ooms who assemble dictionaries – may say about the provenance of the word bredie, in practice, in the hurly burly of everyday life, we know what it means: a mixture, a deurmekaar, which in cookery has a generally positive connotation, although in other fields it often implies something a little off”.[2]

A bredie contains both meat and vegetables but the ratio of vegetables to meat may vary depending on the local circumstances such as the price and availability of the key ingredients; and off course, being a deurmekaar, implies that all ingredients are assembled and cooked in one pot, usually at a slow simmer, to allow the meat and vegetables to fully benefit from each other’s presence. A discerning bredie-maker will however know, that making a deurmekaar do require an understanding of the ingredients included and a sense of timing, for a bredie is not a puree or a soup; each ingredient must be discernable and left strong enough to add its own unique character and texture.

Off course one-pot braised vegetable and meat dishes such as our beloved bredie, is by no means exclusive or unique to our part of the world; in fact one plausible explanation of the origins of the bredie, is that it started as a “skeepmansmoes” or “skeepsbredie”; i.e. a dish created for and by long distance sailors.

I vaguely remember a time during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when a special kind of bredie, “potjiekos”, was the rage.

Matie Brink, a dominee from Paarl, wrote a book about it, and became famous in some social circles for trying to elevate potjiekos from its common, humble status as Sunday-lunch-backyard-food.

I distinctly remember some folks employing multiple spatulas to keep the meat and vegetable components of their dish separate inside the potjie.

“It is not a stew!” they would holler if you were to suggest that ingredients should roam free and be allowed to mingle with each other.

Fortunately, God, no doubt under great duress of a great many desperate pleas and a barrage of frightened prayers, did not allow the Elaborate Potjiekos Movement of the 1970’s and 80’s to become a world movement. Instead, they just sort of withered away, much like rain water in the Kalahari. Thankfully, we got our bredies back.

Groenboontjiebredie – stew

To me, personally, bredies are not the same as a stew. The difference is personal and is to be found in the spices used to flavour the dish. Bredies have that special Cape Malay flavour to them that comes from the inclusion of warm spices such as clove, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, cardamom and a few chillies.

Stews on the other hand are flavoured the European way: with bay leave, garlic, pepper, and a variety of hard and soft herbs such as rosemary and thyme. More often that now stews include alcohol such as beer or wine. For other like Leipoldt, the two are the same and “stew” and “bredie” could be used interchangeably.

For Leipoldt “[B]redies, whether made with chillies or not, must always be smooth, bland and uniform in taste; they ought not to be greasy, lumpy or too liquid; the meat constituent should be deliciously tender and wholly in sympathy with the main vegetable ally so that neither dominates but both combine to make a delectable whole that is a triumph of co-operative achievement”.[3]

Perhaps the biggest threat to the triumph of the bredie, is over-cooking it. Therein lies the skill of the bredie-cook; know what to bring together, know when to add what, and knowing how long these ingredients need to spend together to ensure optimum, co-operative agreement.

This week’s bredie recipe is a one of the classics: groenboontjiebredie. Somehow, its loose translation – “greenbeanstew” – does not have that romantic Cape Malay ring to it, don’t you agree? Anyway, I like my groenboontjiebredie, the way Margareth made it for me all those years back when I was a student; with warm spices and a bit of heat. And lots of love, always.

[1] C Louis Leipoldt, 2005, Leipoldt’s Cellar and Kitchen, Cederberg Publishers.

[2] Leipolt 2005, p.1-2.

[3] C. Louis Leipoldt, 1976, Leipoldt’s Cape Cookery, Flesch.

RECIPE – Groenboontjiebredie


1 kilogram Lamb shanks, Cut in to small sections
2 kilograms Greenbeans, Sliced into 2 cm pieces
2 Onions, diced
4 large Potatoes, diced into 3cm squares
4 whole Cloves
1/2 teaspoon Black pepper corns
2 tablespoons Lemon juice
1/2  teaspoon Nutmeg
2 teaspoons Garlic, finey chopped or grated
2 tablespoons Vegetable oil
1/2 cup Water
2 Red chilli (optional), seeds removed and sliced


1. Add the water, onions, cloves, nutmeg and pepper corns to a pot large enough to hold all the ingredients. Let it simmer over medium heat until the onions are translucent and the water has evaporated.

2. Once the water is gone, add the oil and sauté the onions until golden brown. Add the meat, chilli and garlic and sauté until the meat is nicely browed and nearly cooked about 45 minutes. Then add the green beans and cook covered over medium heat for 15 minutes before adding the potatoes. Add a little water if required and cook for 15 more minutes until the potatoes are tender. Serve with rice.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Thanks for the recipe and history. Can’t wait to try it!

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