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A spicy little spicy Christmas

Baked apple with sultanas

The Cape of Good Hope is a spicy place, Christmas food is traditionally all about fruit and spices, and this menu embraces all of that in a way that does justice to the traditions of our own ancient spice route.

The starter turns our wonderful smoked snoek into a subtly spiced fish cake, served with a home-made Cape gooseberry chutney that’s quick and easy to make, while the main course is a new take on an old-fashioned glazed gammon. Mixing fynbos honey with an inordinate amount of saffron and allowing the flavours to infuse is a refreshing new approach for gammon, and the saffron also lends it a lovely golden hue.

The baked apples are another local tradition, and make a (relatively) light ending to a splurge of a festive feast.

Smoked snoek fish cakes with Cape gooseberry chutney

500g flaked smoked snoek

2 plump potatoes

2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped

1 thumb fresh ginger, grated

1 Tbs butter plus 2 Tbs for the potatoes

1 tsp onion seeds (kulunji seeds)

Handful fresh coriander leaves, chopped

100ml fresh cream

1 tsp fish masala

1 egg, lightly beaten

Oil for frying

Flour for shaping the fish cakes

For the Cape gooseberry chutney:

About 30 gooseberries, halved

1 dried red chilli, finely chopped, with seeds

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 thumb fresh ginger, grated

2 Tbs butter or ghee

A little salt

Smoked snoek fishcake

Flake the snoek into a bowl, carefully discarding the bones. Steam the potatoes for about 20-25 minutes, until soft, and mash. Add 2 Tbs butter and cream to them and mash/stir until smooth. Season generously with salt, and lightly with pepper. Melt 1 Tbs butter and simmer the chopped fresh ginger and garlic until soft, with the onion seeds. Add this to the potatoes with the chopped coriander leaves and masala, and stir the potato mix into the flaked fish, until it becomes dough-like. Flour a board and your hands, and take lumps of the mix to shape into round balls, rolling them in the flour to cover all over. Flatten on the board and fry gently in heated cooking oil (sunflower, canola or similar) until golden brown on both sides.

To make the chutney, melt the butter or ghee and add the mustard seeds, simmering until they begin to crackle. Add the ginger, chilli and gooseberries and simmer, stirring, for about 20 minutes until the liquids have turned to a syrup and the ginger is soft. Season with a little salt. This is a savoury, unsweetened chutney, and tastes a little like an atjar.

Saffron gammon with preserved figs

1 boneless gammon joint, uncooked

2 large carrots, roughly chopped

2 leeks, roughly chopped

2 sticks celery, roughly chopped

Water to cover

6 peppercorns

As many saffron stamens as you can afford (I used about 1 generous teaspoon)

3 or 4 preserved figs, sliced

Glaze:

250g fynbos honey

Lots of saffron

Saffron glazed gammon

Place the gammon in a large, deep pot and cover with cold water – it must stay covered throughout the long cooking. Add the chopped vegetables and the peppercorns and a few strands of saffron (most of which is going in the glaze). Bring to a boil and then simmer very gently for 30 minutes for every 500g of weight, plus another 30 minutes. So a 2kg gammon cooks for two-and-a-half hours. Carefully remove from the liquid and drain. Once it has cooled to room temperature, carefully remove the thick layer of fat, and score the remaining fat into a diamond pattern using a sharp (not serrated) knife. Traditionally one would pop a clove into each corner of the diamond pattern but because we’re using saffron, we’re not using cloves, which would fight the delicate saffron flavour. Make the glaze by simmering the honey with the saffron stamens for about 10 minutes on a low heat. The honey will foam beautifully, so keep stirring while the colour slowly turns a golden pink as the hues release from the saffron. Pour some of the glaze over the scored fat, add rows of sliced preserved figs, and then add more glaze on top. Bake on the lowest rung of the oven for up to 20 minutes, with the oven on grill.

Baked apples with drunken sultanas

4-6 apples

100g sultanas, macerated for an hour in:

2 Tbs brandy

1 scant tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp muscovado sugar

3 Tbs butter

Simmer the macerated sultanas in 2 Tbs butter until soft, about 20 minutes on a gentle heat, stirring. Core the apples, but don’t peel them. Spoon the sultana mix into the centre of the apples, place the apples in a greased ceramic oven dish, and pour the remaining sultana mix around, with more butter. Cover with foil and bake in a preheated 160°C oven for two hours. Spoon the remaining sultanas and juices over the apples when serving.

First published in Weekend Argus December 2012

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