By Christie Keulder
Is there a truly Namibian dish? One coherent collection of ingredients, prepared in combination and in a manner that most agree to as the best or the most appropriate, that we all enjoy frequently with loved ones and strangers alike, and that would stand out anywhere in the world to represent our nation and everything we stand for gastronomically.
Or are we still a fragmented culinary nation; a mere collection of relatively independent gastronomic entities, en route (perhaps) to mature statehood?
I would like to think that there is more to Namibian food than a collection of braai’ed (grilled) meats on a plate. But maybe I am overthinking the whole issue. Would a plate of braaivleis or kapana not be enough? Do we have to be that distinctive? Or are we special because we braai?
As a nation obsessed with meat cooked on an open fire, we are most certainly not unique.
Wherever there once had been a wild frontier, people will braai.
Wherever people would have reared livestock, they will braai.
Consider the gauchos (cowboys) of Argentina’s Pampas or Mongolian nomadic herders.
They all eat an enormous amount of braaivleis and their influence has spread far and wide throughout their nations to the extent that it is nearly impossible to cross a busy street in Buenos Aires without falling into a plate of asado.
Speaking of the Mongolians: They have at least two popular meat dishes that are cooked with hot stones: horhog and bodog.
To cook horhog, meat and vegetables are layered and cooked with hot stones in a large milk can. The milk can is thus converted into a rustic pressure cooker.
For bodog, a whole goat is cooked in its skin with hot stones and a blowtorch. Here the skin serves as the pressure cooker and the blowtorch is used to remove the hair whilst the hot rocks on the inside cook the meat.
I can’t vouch that these are national dishes but they are distinctly Mongolian. Besides, I think cooking meat and vegetables with hot rocks in a milk can is just super cool!
But be warned: This is a very rudimentary pressure cooker and if the lid is not properly secured, both food and cook may be laid to painful waste.
There is no shame in being an expert of cooking over an open fire.
The Argentinean chef Francis Mallmann is regarded as one of the world’s most innovative chefs and all he does is braai: All day and all night he stands by his fires and does it right.
Now that I think of it, he is much the same as my brother who by Namibian standards is by no means unique, there are many more.
Perhaps the problem is not that we do not have distinctive dishes, perhaps it is just that we do not know about them. They are not written down or widely available, and as a result they are not replicated beyond their immediate locality.
As far as I know, there are no historians or sociologists or anthropologists working on Namibian food or food−related matters.
I know of one young scholar who is in the process of writing up the history of beer and brewing in Namibia. But he is foreign and soon will return to pursue an academic career in his home country.
Much of what we as a nation cook, how we do it and how we combine it has not yet been recorded.
Only a few dishes are emerging as trendy ‘traditional Namibian fair’. Kapana and braaivleis lead the way and let us hope many more will follow.
It is however our duty to find inspiration in our local food and the ingredients and techniques with which we cook them. There is plenty of material to work with; we just need to commit to it.
I have dreaded writing this column the entire week because I could not think of any recipe to go with it. We are in the midst of a severe drought, plus it is almost winter so we have very little fresh Namibian ingredients available here in our nation’s capital to work with.
I have thus stuck with what we know: Meat.
And in a format we all appreciate: On a stick and grilled over an open fire.
But with a twist: A dipping sauce of beetroot and yogurt.
Why? Because if we are going to be a nation of kapana and braaivleis, we need to expand our repertoire.
Enjoy what would no doubt be a meat−filled weekend and be safe.
Lamb Sosaties with Mint Pesto and Beetroot and Yogurt Dip
8 Lamb sosaties, (choose your favorite kind marinade)
1 cup Fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup !Nara oil
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, Grated
2 medium Cloves Garlic
!Nara nuts , Shells removed and dry roasted until fragrant
Beetroot and Yogurt Dipping Sauce
225 grams Cooked or Bottled Beetroot
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon Fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1 Cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon Ground Cumin
1. To Make the Mint Pesto: Add all ingredients to a blender and blend into a smooth puree. Cover with plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator until needed.
2. To Make the Beetroot and Yogurt Dipping Sauce: Add all ingredients to a kitchen blender and blend int a smooth puree. Cover with plastic wrap and keep in te refrigerator until needed.
3. Cook the sosaties over hot coals until just done. Transfer to a large wooden board or large platter and serve with dipping sauces and some fruits, sliced spring onion and radishes for garnish.