Festive, Fascinating, Fabulous

Review: Myrna Robins 

Friends. Food. Flavour  – Great South African Recipes, by Michael Olivier with Roelien Immelman (Penguin)

This treasury had its origins more than two decades ago, when Michael and Maddy Olivier presented a buffet-style Cape Table at the Margaret River Wine Festival in Western Australia. The menu reflected a feast of South Africa’s heritage fare which had some ex-pats in tears, said Olivier.

Part of this delectable hardback is given over to those heritage recipes, being Olivier’s workings of traditional dishes with 21st-century treatment, while there is a bigger section of contemporary South African cuisine, sourced from a variety of cooks, bloggers, caterers, food writers and friends, many reflecting family connections to Portugal, Italy and other far-flung places.

What makes this collection uniquely appealing is firstly the combo of culinary trad and trend, both being alive and well in South Africa.  Secondly, while dishes are illustrated with a fine photograph, they are further enhanced by winsome sketches of ingredients that add both visual and mouth-watering appeal. Sometimes Roelien Immelman’s art shines through even brighter when she has a whole page to illustrate.  

The book’s content is organised using the menu formula, opening with starters, salads and light meals. Classic soups, samoosas and smoked snoek paté precede continental flair in the form of  panzanella, dolmades and Burgundian oeufs en meurette. Then there’s Olivier’s BLT “with a college education” starring camembert and other cheesy snacks. Up next are vegetable and vegetarian dishes, with heritage favourites mingling with vegan French toast and Sicilian sweet-sour baby marrows. 

Fish, pickled, braaied, curried and more offer some great Easter weekend ideas, and this is followed by a feast of poultry main courses: Tuscan chicken, quick chicken and corn nachos alongside chicken biryani and curry, Portuguese duck rice, and pot-roasted turkey breast. 

 On to red meat, where cool autumn evenings make the prospect of bobotie and bredies attractive. Or try Olivier’s Indian lamb curry, Taiwanese Teppan beef, or splash out on beef fillet with Burrata and a caper sauce from Christine Capendale. For al fresco affairs, haul out the potjie to try Dine van Zyl’s curried offal for a truly South African supper for, as she says, “potjiekos is an attitude, a state of mind… a way of life.”

The penultimate chapter on desserts opens with an impressive creation from Chef Olivier, presenting his favourite prickly pears in a sophisticated rendering that pairs them with meringue and cream, finished with rose petals and pomegranate syrup.  You will also find several seasonal fruit-filled pies, tarts and crumbles. 

Cakes and cookies for afternoon tea – an occasion that deserves to be celebrated over weekends with family and friends – gets a chapter to itself.  There’s a recipe for simnel cake for Easter bakers, and several other large cakes, or perhaps bake a batch of brandy snaps or Anzac biscuits for Aussie friends. Koeksusters, melktert and Hertzoggies keep the heritage flag flying  as this eclectic ensemble comes to a close, with a comprehensive index. Recipes that will be enhanced by a glass of wine are accompanied by recommendations, and these pairing suggestions are the best I have encountered in any recent cookbook.

While Michael Olivier needs no introduction to anyone who enjoys dining, wining, cooking or writing about food, newcomers to the distinctive culinary tapestry of our extraordinary cuisine will soon discover that he is a well-qualified chef, was a renowned restaurateur and an award-winner in hospitality management. Today he continues to entertain and inform via his hugely popular food and wine website www.michaelolivier.co.za. This is his sixth title, and one that takes browsing, baking, cooking and eating to a pinnacle.


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