The Search For Namibian Cuisine Part 2: Techniques

Last week I wrote about the ingredients that make our cuisine distinctive.

This week I want to take the conversation further by looking at the special techniques we employ to cook our food.

Like the rest of the world, we boil, roast, braise, grill and bake. We also dry and smoke food to preserve and add flavour.
Given who we are culturally and what our socio−economic circumstances are, we cook a lot of food on an open fire. Some do it because they enjoy it, others out of necessity.

Most of the common techniques we employ use (most often direct) heat to transform our food from raw to cooked. Although it takes longer for cooked food to spoil, it is not an effective way to preserve food. And given that most of rural Namibia has no refrigeration, preserving food is, or ought to be, a huge concern.

Grilling meat over an open flame is extremely popular amongst all Namibians, and kapana is most likely a national dish enjoyed by all Namibians, albeit not always in the same format. Veldkos is also commonly cooked over flames or in hot ashes because there is often no alternative.

We also tend to boil a lot of food.

For this the classic three-legged black cast iron pot has become iconic. It is strong, easy to clean and maintain and takes heat well. There is simply nothing else that affordable on the market.
There are perhaps three or four distinctive types of cuisines in our country that can be distinguished based on their cooking methods and ingredients.

The first: The nomadic hunter/gatherers who live off the veld and cook over open fires without a lot of utensils and techniques. They eat both meat and vegetables, but not a lot of dairy or cultivated crops, as they do not do animal husbandry or grow crops like maize or mahangu. The exception to this is during times of drought when they may receive drought relief in the form of maize meal.

The second: The pastoral nomads. They live mainly off the animals they breed, and as a result, their diets are meat− and dairy−based. They may collect veldkos and they too would cook mainly on open fires. Because of their mobility, they do not cultivate.
The third: The pastoralists, who practice animal husbandry. It could be sheep, goats or cattle. Traditionally they, like the pastoral nomads, survived from the meat and by−products of their animals. In recent times, grains that have been processed and sold commercially supplement this diet.

Fourthly: The agronomists, i.e. farmers, who cultivate plants such as maize, mahangu and a variety of vegetables, pulses and pseudo−grains such as sorghum.
Finally: The European−based food culture, which consists, more than any cuisines, of imported ingredients. They may also be farmers or agronomists but do so for commercial purposes and not subsistence.

By no means should one see these food cultures to be all−inclusive or even mutually exclusive. People can and do belong to more than one, and very often, move effortlessly from one to another, especially the European one.

The one technique I deem especially important and yet unexplored for the most part in this country is fermentation (i.e. controlled spoilage). Other than in some fermented drinks such as Oshikundu and home−made beer and spirits, we do not really employ fermentation. Perhaps we have no history with it or perhaps conditions are deemed unsuited, but the reality is that we are missing out on a powerful method for transforming food and promoting food security by extending its shelf−life.

There is much more to fermentation than sauerkraut, the one fermented food we are most familiar with after beer and sourdough bread.

The recipe this week was selected to highlight fermentation as a technique that transforms even the most humble of ingredients (in this case, a pineapple or just its peel) into something quite special. The recipe comes from the time of the Anglo Boer War when people had little food and almost no luxury goods. Making an alcohol−free beer from pineapple is testimony of the creativity people employ when times are tough. So next time you have an extra pineapple or a few handfuls of pineapple peel, give this recipe a try. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Pineapple Beer

Homemade pineapple beer
Homemade pineapple beer

Ingredients:

Fresh pineapple (or the peels of 4 pine apples)
4,5 liters Chlorine free mineral water
800 grams Sugar

Directions:

1. Day 1: Cut the pineapple into large chunks with the skin still left on. Put the chunks in a blender and blend until fine. Transfer the pineapple to a large aluminium stock pot or similar size plastic container and add the water. Cover the container with it’s ;id and let the mixture stand for at least 12 hours.

2. Day 2: Add the sugar to the mixture and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cover with the lid and let it stand for 3 days. The pineapple pulp will rise to the top. Stir it back in once or twice a day for each of the three days.

3. Day 6: Pour the pineapple beer through a cheese cloth to trap all peel and fibre. Store the beer in the refrigerator and serve cold.

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