Today’s post is the final one in my 365 day culinary challenge.
I know I have said it to you all before- but thank you. Thank you for encouraging me, for reading these ridiculous posts, and for cooking the meals and for responding to me. I have loved chatting to everyone, I’ve loved meeting new people, and reconnecting with old friends, and I have really enjoyed the fact that some of these recipes are in fact now being cooked by people on a regular basis. That, for me, is the best thing ever. I have always said that having people stay with us, and cooking for them, is one of my favourite things ever. I love the preparation, the ritual, the organisation, and, most important of all, the sitting down and eating and drinking. The chatting, the laughing, the being silly and making, most of the time, complete fools of ourselves, is a good way to spend a weekend. Friends, food, and just being together: I really don’t think I could spend a weekend in a better place. When you are with those you love, you find that once you’ve left them, or they’ve left you, you’re utterly, ridiculously exhausted. Exhausted from all the talk, the laughing, the everything. But you know what else happens after you see your friends? You’re energised. You come away feeling happy, and smiling, and, even though you are literally crawling into bed with tiredness, you feel ready to take on the world with the energy and positivity you’ve gained from being with them.
And this is what I have taken away from The Plain Kitchen. It has exhausted me, it has drained me of the ability to speak at times, but it has also inspired me and imbued me with a new found creativity and excitement which I haven’t felt in a long time. Parameters, and constraints are a good thing: I am not very disciplined, and as I said to a friend recently- this discipline has been good for me. I can only recommend this manner of work to anybody who may be in a similar situation to me: I was entering a year of memories, many of which were not that positive. As I have said before- when you reach the age of the age your parent was when they died, a lot of stuff goes through your head. It just does. It’s normal. And, at 42, I wanted to focus on the positive, and I wanted to celebrate. I think I have done that, a little.
And so I end the year with one of my best things in the world. Today’s post, for Bunny Chow (or, a quarter Lamb Bunny, to be precise) represents so much. I am South African; I am African. My country of birth, and the country I lived in for 23 years is in my blood, and in my life, and it will never leave me; it will soar through my veins, its music will take me over, my tears will fall at the most unexpected of times, and I will only really feel alive under the African sun. I am, though, also British. I am wildly, fiercely, defensively British. This is my country, my home, my love. It is the country that has welcomed me for the last 19 years, it has loved me, and it has enveloped me into its tightly knit heart- it has seen me change from awkward twentysomething, to a grown-up (or so I thought) thirty something, to now (really grown-up; I think) forty-something: and I am in love with this island, and I never want to be parted from it. We are what we make of ourselves; we are where we have been; and the world is a good place. We all have to hold this in our hearts; we all have to remember this; for else we will implode.
Back to today’s final little lovely recipe. Bunny Chow, ladies and gentlemen, is a South African take-away favourite. The basic premise is always the same: a quarter or half loaf of (shop bought, generally cheap) white bread, the inside hollowed out, the cavity filled with curry or a stew of sorts, and served with the hollowed-out chunk of bread on the side. No cutlery, no nothing- and usually served in newspaper or a chip-type greaseproof packet (note I have used the South African word ‘packet’ here- not bag- which confused the hell out of me when I arrived on these shores). You eat with your hands, and you wipe your hands wherever you can find a place to wipe them: your jeans, a paper towel, the dog: wherever. One of my favourite bunny chows, ever, was one that we used to eat at about 3 or 4 in the morning, heading home after a night out, and bought from a very dodgy roadside van just outside Pietermaritzburg. It was a Spicy Chicken Giblet Bunny Chow: and yes, that’s just what was in it. Blow-your-head-off-chilli-giblets. In a loaf of bread. God, we loved them! Giblets were very common things to eat in South Africa, and when I came to live in England, I couldn’t believe that every chicken I bought was devoid of the giblets- why, oh why, would one do such a thing? They are the most wonderful things to cook, and to eat- but no British chook had its giblets, and they still don’t.
The Bunny Chow therefore has a fond place in my memory as part of these late night spiced visits- it may be due to the state I was in at the time, but memories are strong things, and, like love, they override common sense at times.
Here a little recipe is for you: I have used a shoulder of lamb, and I cooked it for a long time… you must use cheap, white bread. I, of course, as pictured, used a brilliant large white gluten free loaf from Bath Bakery, because that’s what I can have! But, the rest of you: tuck in to the supermarket stuff. Now, the thing is, with our mixed culture and influences in South Africa; Bunny Chow has its roots in our Indian cooking. However, as I write, I am overtaken by the most African of flavours; we are a country of mixtures: and none more so in our cooking.
As I write this recipe, I am listening to my beloved Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Shaka Zulu, if you’re interested is the album: not a popular one, but my favourite). If anything were to reduce me to tears, this is it. Listen to them, feel the crazy mix of culinary influence Africa has to offer you, make this recipe, and feel a little of Africa inside you.
Serves 2, very generously
1 loaf of white, unsliced bread
For the curry:
I small shoulder of lamb, about 500g meat in total cut from the bone
2 tbsp ghee, or, if you don’t have, a combination of salted butter and vegetable oil
2 white onions, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, microplaned
1 knob ginger, about 5 cm in length, peeled and microplaned
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp fenugreek
1 tsp mustard seeds, ground to a powder
1 fat chilli, seeds retained, chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1 star anise
2 cardamom pods, pods discarded and seeds crushed
1 tbsp stock powder: Marigold, or lamb stock, whatever you have to hand
1 tin plum tomatoes
1 tsp caster sugar
Maldon salt and pepper
Fresh coriander and parsley to serve and stir through the curry at the end
Make the curry, if you can, the day before. It will be very good if you cook it for 4-5 hours on the day of eating; of course it will. But- it will be fantastic cooked for those hours, and then kept, and reheated for a few hours the next day. I have to say, it will not be good with two hours of cooking: I am being honest with you here, just don’t do it. Good old fashioned stew, or curry, with a cheaper cut of meat, needs time. Don’t do the meat a disservice.
So, going on this rather draconian advice of mine, please sauté the onion, garlic and ginger in the oil or ghee, or whatever you’re using, AND the shoulder meat, for 5 minutes. Do this on a medium high heat, but carefully. Add the spices, and stir about for a few minutes. Turn the heat up, and begin to brown the meat further- for only a few minutes, but to ensure those gorgeous flavours permeate the meat. Keep stirring for about another 5-10 minutes.
Add the tinned tomatoes, sugar and the salt and pepper. Now, you need to simmer this for a long time: 4 hours is good, or, as I said previously, make it earlier, and then reheat when you are ready to eat. Ensure you remove the star anise from the curry before serving.
Pour into the halved loaves, and serve with the extra bread on the side.