Lesego Semenya, better known as LesDaChef, shares some recipes from his book Dijo. Celebrate Heritage Day with a deliciously African twist!

Serves 4 as a side

A go-to salad for many when cooking ‘seven colour’ meals on Sundays is a grated carrot salad, often mixed with a whole lot of mayonnaise or swimming in chutney. This is another version of my mom’s favourite salad. Quick, easy, simple.

3 large carrots, peeled and grated
½ a pineapple, peeled and cut into small cubes
½ cup small raisins
3 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ cup flaked almonds
50g rocket leaves

1. Mix the carrots, pineapple and raisins and set aside.
2. To make the dressing, whisk the honey, balsamic vinegar and olive oil together until emulsified. Drizzle the dressing over the carrot and pineapple mix, and add the almonds and rocket.
3. Gently toss the salad just before serving.

Makes about 3 cups

To many South Africans, this is a relatively simple recipe. When I started sharing my recipes online, my mission was to educate through demystifying food and complex food trends. Over the years, I’ve come to realise that even the simple stuff is complex to some people. We all have different levels of cooking prowess (or lack thereof) and even the most confident person who claims to be a culinary genius can make bad food! Chakalaka is one of those things.

Everyone claims to have an awesome recipe but very few have the depth and flavour a good chakalaka should have. So, what is chakalaka? I’ve tried to do some research to find out its roots but there really isn’t much info out there. In culinary terms, it’s a relish or ‘ragout’ – the French culinary term.

It is South African in origin and my gut feeling is that it’s a township creation, as I don’t remember having it as a kid until it became popular in the 90s. Why I say I think it’s a township creation is because it makes use of curry powders and canned beans – modern additions to African food.

We love it with braais and pap and for days in the park and picnics. I love it in burgers as well. I prefer my chakalaka a bit hot and to have a kick to it, but you can tone it down if you’re not a fan of hot food. I prefer using butter in my recipe rather than oil because of the depth of flavour it offers.

125g butter
2 red onions, finely chopped
4 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and grated
250ml raw sweetcorn kernels
2 tsp finely chopped red chillies
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp good quality masala
½ tsp chopped garlic
½ tsp ground coriander spice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tin quality baked beans in tomato sauce

1. Heat a large frying pan and add the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the onions and saute them until they become transparent. Add all the other ingredients except the baked beans and cook over a low heat for about 15 minutes. Then add the baked beans. Stir occasionally and cook for a further 15 minutes until thick but still moist. That's it! Simple as that.

Note: To peel a tomato, make an ‘X’ incision on one side, put it in boiling water for a few minutes, and then in ice-cold water. The skin should fall away with a gentle tug.

Serves 3

I personally don’t understand where the South African obsession with creamed spinach comes from. Thankfully, in the 10 years I’ve been part of this food industry, not one client has ever asked me to make it for their function or event. Touch wood!

I’ve spent some time fiddling with the concept, though. So when I do make creamed spinach this is how I do it. Quick and easy, and the nutrients in the spinach aren’t boiled away. The peanut butter is the African twist. We love adding nuts and legumes to dishes.

300g baby spinach
50g butter
175ml crème fraîche
15ml peanut butter
45ml grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper

1. Set a pot of water to boil on the stove. Once the water is boiling, space the spinach briefly in the water, just for a few seconds. You just want the leaves to wilt. Drain the spinach through a sieve and shake off any excess water.

2. Melt the butter in a pan, stir in the spinach and saute for a minute. Add the 175ml crème fraîche, peanut butter and Parmesan and increase the heat. Once the sauce thickens, season and serve immediately.

Serves 3

One dessert that follows me wherever I go – similar to how I am haunted by red velvet cake – is this one here. It is Cape Dutch in origin and one of the few Afrikaner foods that wasn’t taken from Cape Malay slaves. Malva pudding is a classic and is totally fused to the South African psyche like no other dessert. No one quite knows where the name comes from but there are very strong opinions on who came up with it first. I’ve also had the odd Afrikaans speaker correct my pronunciation of the name. I say it the way it’s spelled… it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is an awesome recipe.

So what is malva pudding? Essentially, it’s a vanilla and apricot sponge that has been soaked lovingly – and unhealthily – in a butter-and-cream sauce. Enjoy it with vanilla Anglaise (custard) or vanilla ice cream. Although purists will tell you it must be eaten warm, cold malva pudding is good too.

For the pudding
30ml butter
125ml sugar
15ml apricot jam
1 large egg
5ml bicarbonate of soda
250ml cake flour
A pinch of salt
125ml milk
15ml vinegar

For the soaking sauce
125g butter
185ml sugar
65ml water
185ml cream
5ml vanilla extract
For the custard
250ml cream
250ml milk
4 egg yolks
¼ cup castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and light by beating it with a paddle in a mixer or with a wooden spoon. Add the jam and beat further. Beat in the egg. 

2. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the milk. Sift the flour and salt together and then add it to the butter/jam mixture. Add the milk, and finally the vinegar. 

3. Pour into individual moulds or into a deep greased oven dish. Bake at 190°C for 45 minutes or until the malva is golden brown as in the picture.

4. To make the sauce, melt all the ingredients together in a pot on the stove, and pour it over the malva pudding as soon as it comes out of the oven.

5. For the custard, pour the cream and milk into a pot and bring to scalding point (this is when it starts to steam but doesn’t boil). Mix the yolks and sugar in a large metal bowl and pour the scalding cream and milk in slowly while stirring. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering (not boiling) water and stir. (I suggest you hold the bowl steady with a cloth or oven mitt.) Add the vanilla to the mixture and keep stirring until the custard thickens. Strain through a sieve to remove any lumps. Serve hot. If you want to cool it down, make sure you place cling wrap or wax paper on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin forming.

That’s it. Real custard that tastes better than the store-bought stuff.

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