Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spinach bredie

I learned to make bredie somewhere along the way. It is a typically Cape dish and my mother most often made tomato bredie. Bredie is usually lamb and a seasonal vegetable, long and slow-cooked. Somewhere is a chile.

I picked up three lamb shanks from the Halal butcher on Atlantic, east of Court Street, and asked him to cut them across the bone (I only used half and froze the rest). Usually one would use ribs or chops, but I wanted the succulent richness that only slow-cooked shanks have. And I wasn't cooking it on top of the stove as one should. More heresy, I was going to put it in the oven. I also had in mind my mom's roast lamb that cooks on a bed of spinach, with a delicious sauce as a result.

In a casserole I braised 2 sliced onions and 2 cloves of garlic in some olive oil. I added the lamb and browned one side. I was in a hurry to pop it in the oven. Then I added 1 teaspoon of sumac, 2 tsps chile flakes, since I didn't have fresh ones, and 4 allspice berries. Those are important. If you don't have sumac use lemon juice. Salt and pepper.

2 bunches of spinach, well washed and stripped off the stalks. Squash it on top of the meat, add 1 cup of water and put the lid on. You mightn't fit it all in. Wait until the first load of leaves has wilted (below) after about 20 minutes and add the rest. Oven at 350'F.

This lot cooked for just under 3 hours. The spinach makes a lot of water and the meat tenderises in it. Taste every now and then for salt and pepper. Serve with basmati rice. I used some of the cooking liquid to cook the rice, as well.

You would be within your rights if you added some cut up potato half way through cooking...
I froze the rest for another day.

You could use almost any vegetable instead of spinach: carrots make a sweet bredie; tomatoes; pumpkin; cauliflower; peas; green beans.

But just ONE vegetable.

In the Cape, in winter, we use waterblommetjies, beautiful white aquatic flowers that thicken into fleshy green seed capsules. They taste a little like artichoke hearts, and are a slightly astringent.

There is a wonderful piece of Africana. My mom has a copy and recently Jane Parkin posted me her copy before she decamped to New Zealand. I am still making my way through it and finding some lovely surprizes, like purslane bredie. And seaweed jelly.

From Hilda Gerber's Traditional Cookery of the Cape Malays, A.A. Balkema, Cape Town, 1954. When Hilda Gerber died in 1954 this 1949 manuscript was found amongst her papers.

"Spinasie Bredie (Spinach Bredie)

Recipe: Old Miss Jacobs, off Vineyard Rd., Claremont

This is such an old fashioned bredie that you will not find many people any more who can tell you how to make it. My mother still made it in the old way and she taught me.

Brown your onions in fat and fry your meat in that. Put in your chillies and salt. Now cook the spinach by itself and throw away the water in which it was cooked. Wash off the spinach nicely under the running tap. Then put it on top of the meat. If you like, you can add a few stalks of the yellow suring: just chop them and cook them with the spinach."

Suring. That means oxalis, or clover. And its mention puts me in a quiet pine forest in Tokai in spring when the air is still rain filled, with ragged blue strips for sky. Growing at intervals on the sandy path that my horse walks on are clumps of bright yellow flowered oxalis, with long juicy, emerald, sour stems. This is the suring that old Miss Jacobs would have put in her bredie. It makes perfect sense with the spinach.

And it makes this a bredie for early spring.


  1. Mmm sounds like a delicious dish, with a long tradition. And lovely memories of oxalis.

  2. So pleased the book is being used!

  3. QC - tasted better than it looked!

    Jane - thank you so much: I am loving it. And sorry about the bah ram ewe...(have you seen Babe?). There is a recipe, sort of ("the old people made it"), for purslane bredie, that I want to send to Rob Small. His ladies were tossing the purslane from their patches...

    How. Are. You?


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