South African Potjiekos

4 Jul

The South African Vegetarian Potjie is a classic and traditional Afrikaans recipe, usually made in a cast iron pot over a campfire. This version is basically a vegetable stew, but its how you cook the veggies, and how you present them that really makes them shine. This dish is usually made with lamb or meat, but occasionally you will find a vegetarian version. This is my favourite combination. It is a simple recipe because it comes down to which vegetables are available, and knowing how to combine said vegetables so that they sparkle.

Shopping is an integral part of cooking. Organic vegetables are always more expensive (they shouldn’t be but they are!) and so if you cant afford to go all organic, shop smart. Go to the organic section first and figure out what is freshest, ripest, smells and feels the best. Prod and touch and sniff and stroke your vegetables (much like the old lady in Tampopo) and choose a balance of colour and flavour. Max out your budget here, and then round out your vegetable selection with non-organic staples, that might have a larger range or more interesting choices then the organic aisle.

The single most important rule to remember when you make potjiekos is to let your imagination, wallet, and the state of your vegetable aisle combine in magical partnership! In terms of the vegetables you use, I would try to remember that you need something from each of these groups: aromatics to pull the entire dish together, such as onions, garlic, or for those who abstain, peppers and celery; starchy and firm vegetables that will standup to being on the bottom of the pot, and will cook the longest; sweet vegetables like pumpkin; vegetables that will release a lot of water, and flavour into the broth like mushrooms or tomatoes; and strong savoury green vegetables.

The potjiekos below will feed at least 12 – 16 people, and was made in a 32cm round (not oval) cast iron dutch oven. Get one if you can. Whatever you make in here will feed hoards, and it will last a lifetime. I quite like the smaller oval dutch ovens, but the round one is just fantastic.

I chose vegetables that were at their peak in terms of ripeness, luciousness and I tried to include a nice balance of organic and regular vegetables. I used a mix of tastes and textures that I like and enjoy, and layered the roughly chopped vegetables with a sludgey jam that I made from the onions and garlic.

I find this is a meditative dish. Cutting the vegetables, layering them, thinking about what goes where and how they will taste with each other – all these processes make you intensely aware of the food you are eating and serving. It’s a loving dish.

You can certainly adjust this recipe for much smaller crowds – though if youre cooking for 2 I would make enough for 4, and puree the remainder the next day for a comforting vegetable soup.

Potjiekos is beyond delicious! The best part, in my opinion, is the extraordinary, and scant, sauce that pools at the bottom of the cooked dish. It is the essence of the vegetables you used, and needs no seasoning. Sublime.

For a large crowd, you will need:

  • 3 – 4 onions roughly chopped
  • 8 – 12 garlic cloves, either chopped or smashed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Oregano, basil or any other dried herb that you like
  • Salt & Pepper
  • White wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar or port wine or regular wine or juice – just something acidic and liquid)
  • Mustard for that little hit of fire
  • Vegetable oil
  • 2 – 4 tbsp butter

Combine all the ingredients above, in your dutch oven, and cook until the onions are wilted and slightly jammy in consistency. Transfer almost all of this mixture into a bowl, allowing a thin film of oil and onions to remain at the bottom of the pot.

Take your pot off the heat.

Roughly peel and chop

  • 3 – 4 red potatoes
  • 3 white potatoes
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 – 2 large carrots

They should cover the bottom of the pot. Mix them with the left over oil and onion coating the pot.

  • Roughly peel and chop
  • 4 Japanese sweet potatoes
  • ½ medium sized butternut squash

and layer on top of the potato mixture. You should almost cover it. Spoon a bit of the onion mixture over this.

Roughly chop

  • 4 -5 large Portobello mushrooms
  • 4 – 5 small very ripe tomatoes

and layer on top of the butternut mixture. You should almost cover it. Spoon a bit of the onion mixture over this. You could also layer a few fresh herbs – rosemary, thyme, basil – here as well.

Roughly chop

  • 1 large yellow zucchini
  • 1 large green zucchini

and shuck and slice

  • 1 ear of corn

and layer on top of the mushroom mixture. Spoon over your onion mixture again.

Roughly chop

  • 1 – 2 small heads of broccoli
  • 1 -2 small heads of broccoli rabe or cauliflower or purple broccoli
  • 1 bunch of spinach
  • A few baby corns

And layer on top.

Your dutch oven should be full now. If its not, add more vegetables as you see fit. DON’T mix the layers.

Spoon over the last of your onion mixture.

Either make a vegetable broth with an organic broth cube, or use plain water, add enough water to come about 1/4th of the way up the pot.

Cover. Do not stir whatever you do! Check only occasionally as you cook this over a lowish to medium heat for an hour or more. You will know when its ready. Everything will have steamed, lightly. All the vegetables retain their individuality, but the gorgeous elixir which has been created by their mingled cooking steam will unify the dish. It is truly a case of the sum being more than the parts. Check for salt and pepper.

To make this look “presentable” and party perfect, sprinkle a few breadcrumbs and over the top for the last five minutes. Pop into a hot oven, with the broiler on. Alternatively, chop up a few bright green asparagus or some broccoli, and put on top in the last 5 minutes. They will stay bright green and make the dish look delicious. Or sprinkle the top with some Italian parsley.

Day Two: If you have leftovers, you can do much with this stew. Blend in food processor or blender for a vegetable soup that is beyond delicious.

7 Responses to “South African Potjiekos”

  1. goddessmoments July 5, 2010 at 12:22 am #

    I tried this in SA with various meats and loooved it! Oh the memories dancing on my tingling tongue 🙂 Thank you as always Pia for reminding us about what’s best in life XOX

    • delectableblog July 5, 2010 at 11:09 am #

      Apparently its lovely with meat, but I think its really phenomenal with just veggies. Theyre so clean and clear – and their liquor is like ambrosia! I love this dish, it makes me a little homesick though 🙂 x

  2. Laurie Steinke April 25, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    I’m attending a Save the Rhino event here in Charleston, SC that includes a potjie cook-off. Can’t wait to submit this yummy looking dish. Thanks!

    • delectableblog April 30, 2013 at 1:38 am #

      So glad to hear it! I am going to make it again tomorrow so we will be cooking together 🙂

  3. tanya hagen coppola May 22, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    I’m going to make this on Sunday on the fire but for around 30 adults plus kids. Do you think if I doubled the recipe, and served with rice, it would be sufficient? thanks!

    • delectableblog May 22, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

      Hi Tanya … Depends on how many kids and how hungry they are! It should do, particularly with rice. Do you have pots that are large enough? I would also serve with a cheese bread or cheese scones to up the protein and fullness level! Enjoy x

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Lent 2014 | The Hunters - May 14, 2014

    […] https://delectablecooks.com/2010/07/04/south-african-potjiekos/- I did an all vegetable potjieko in the crock pot with all our leftover veggies from the week and whatever was lying around the house.  It was delicious.  This is one I definitely will make next winter (probably with the Eritrean hembesha bread).  It ends up tasting like a fabulous chunky veggie stew. […]

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