Cooking: A Succulent South African Seder

south-african-chickenGrowing up in the ’50s and ’60s on a wine farm in the Cape Province of South Africa, Kyra Effren, who would eventually become a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, took great enjoyment in the rich array of flavors during the Jewish holidays.

Her grandmother, who had emigrated from Riga, Latvia, was a renowned cook and hotelier (and a sharp poker player—which drew many boarders to her hotel). At Passover time she’d serve her freshly made gefilte fish using 5 varieties of fish. Kyra’s father Simeon, who then owned the only winery that produced kosher wine for Pesach in South Africa, served his own vineyard’s wine; and her Uncle Issy, the largest candy manufacturer in the Southern Hemisphere, brought an assortment of his candies. Grandmother Katie Osrin supplied desserts—never fewer than 5 choices, including chocolate-dipped candied ginger, almond cakes, apricot pletzlach (dried apricots, ground, cooked into a thick dry paste, rolled in sugar, and dried), and carrot ingerblach (similar to pletzlach but made with grated carrots and ginger). Fruit-stuffed chremslach, or matzo meal pancakes, were also served. Kyra’s eyes lit up when she described her grandmother’s geshmirta matzah: milk-soaked matzah coated with lightly sweetened cream cheese and then broiled to a light golden brown.

This Passover, why not add South African cuisine to your family’s memories. Eat in good health!

Roasted Chicken, South African Style

This adaptation of Katie Osrin’s roast chicken—a family favorite—includes potatoes, apples, and ginger. Many varieties of apples are cultivated in South Africa, and the use of ginger is directly related to the spice route that made its way around the Cape of Africa.

1 whole chicken (4–5 pounds)

1 teaspoon salt

1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper

11⁄2 Tablespoons grated, peeled, fresh gingerroot

1 apple (Fuji, Gala, or Jonagold)

1 medium onion

8 small red new potatoes, cut into quarters

2 Tablespoons rendered chicken fat or pareve margarine

1 Tablespoon honey (optional)

1⁄2 cup apple juice

1⁄2 cup chicken broth or water

  1. Using running tap water, rinse the chicken cavity well and drain. Place the chicken in a roasting pan large enough to leave 1–2 inches open around the sides.
  2. Combine the salt, ground ginger, and black pepper in a small glass dish.
  3. Sprinkle 1⁄2 teaspoon of the salt-ginger-black pepper mixture throughout the inside of the chicken cavity and rub it into the cavity walls. Set aside.
  4. Core the (unpeeled) apple and cut into 16 pieces. Peel the onion and cut it into 16 pieces as well.
  5. Stuff the chicken cavity with as many apple and onion pieces as you can fit. Place any remaining pieces, along with the quartered potatoes, around the chicken in the pan.
  6. Thoroughly combine the chicken fat with the remaining dry spices, grated ginger, and honey (if using). Spread the mixture evenly all over the chicken skin, massaging the mixture well.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cover the chicken with a tent of foil, making sure that the shiny side of foil is facing you.
  8. Pour the apple juice and chicken broth around the bird in the pan’s base.
  9. Roast for 1 to 11⁄2 hours (if the bird is very large), then remove the foil tent. Baste with some of the juices at the bottom of the pan. Continue roasting the chicken until the leg can be moved easily, the breast meat is tender when pierced with a fork, and the skin is golden brown, approximately 15 to 30 minutes more depending on the size of the chicken.
  10. Let the chicken sit for 10 minutes to reabsorb some of its juices.
  11. Carve and serve with the roasted vegetables and accumulated gravy.

Serves 4–5 people.

Tina’s Tidbit

  • Be sure to salt the cavity of a chicken. It not only flavors the meat, it also prevents bacteria from growing.
  • To prevent poultry from overcooking, cover with the shiny side of foil facing you. Whereas the shiny side reflects the heat, the dull side out will absorb it, too rapidly cooking the white meat, making it dry and pasty.
  • Glazing your roasted poultry with a touch of honey will insure a beautiful golden brown skin on the bird.

Bubele, Modern Style

Last year a Reform Judaism magazine reader asked me to help re-create her grandmother’s recipe for Bubele, a matzah meal fritter similar to chremslach. I researched it for months and then, thanks to Kyra, who gave me a South African Union of Jewish Women cookbook, I found a recipe! The following is my adaptation for the modern cook.

1 cup matzo meal

1⁄4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1⁄4 teaspoon ground ginger

1⁄4 cup seedless raisins

2 Tablespoons finely ground almonds

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 apple, peeled and coarsely grated (Gala or Fuji)

1⁄4 cup Passover wine, preferably sweet to semi sweet

2 Tablespoons honey (or to taste)

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3⁄4 cup water or more as needed

Vegetable oil for frying

2 Tablespoons sugar with 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

  1. Combine the first 6 dry ingredients in a 2-quart medium bowl.
  2. Place the lemon juice in a 1-quart bowl and grate the peeled apple into the bowl. If you’re grating with a food pro­cessor, immediately mix the apple with the lemon juice to prevent browning.
  3. Add the wine, honey, and eggs to the apple mixture. Combine well.
  4. Stir mixture into dry ingredients.
  5. Add water until the mixture is a thick batter, but thin enough to drop from a spoon.
  6. Heat about 1 inch of oil in a frying pan until it’s hot, but not smoking.
  7. Drop 2 tablespoons of batter at a time into the hot oil. Repeat with additional spoonfuls, being sure not to crowd the pan. Fry until golden brown on both sides, for no more than 1 minute per side.
  8. Remove the Bubele with a slotted spatula or spoon. Drain on paper towels. If preparing as dessert, combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on top while the Bubele is still hot. Serves 4–6

Tina’s Tidbit

  • Don’t overcrowd the food in your frying pan. This is the best way to keep oil at an even frying temperature, which will insure a light, crispy end product.
  • Drain fried foods on a plate covered with crumpled paper towels. You’ll create a larger surface area for absorbing more oil and use fewer paper towels—saving trees at the same time!

Tina D. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, is the author of the new URJ Press book, Entree to Judaism, from which this column is adapted. She also teaches at her own cooking school, writes a kosher cooking newsletter on the Internet, and serves as a culinary scholar-in-residence throughout the U.S.

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