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Dumela and welcome to Botswana. It's been a while since our last blog back in October 2018 but we're back in the saddle now! The last few months have been busy ones with a friends wedding in Germany, business travels in the US, another wedding in Hawke's Bay (New Zealand) and bountiful surf sessions at our local break. During that time we still managed to continue cooking our way around the world, but the blog part didn't quite kept up...so here goes.
Continuing the theme of Southern Africa from our travels last year, we head across the border of Zimbabwe to beautiful Botswana. Botswana is renown for their rich range of wildlife, no area more so than the Okavango Delta, a watery Eden. We were fortunate enough to spend a couple of days in the world's largest inland delta on a traditional mokoro (canoe) safari. This proved to be a great opportunity to taste the local cuisine, especially when we found out we were assigned our own Motswana chef.
True to form and much like the rest of Africa, the food was based on meat and grains. Beef, goat, chicken and river fish were all on the menu alongside the likes of sorghum, maize and millet. Typically most meals were slow cooked using cast iron pots or casserole dishes over the open camp fire. Many of these dishes were variations of seswaa, Botswana's national dish. Each tasted amazing after a day of traversing the savanna. It was especially cool seeing the locals set up their nets each day amongst the reeds, near the hippo pools, and catch dinner not more then 100 metres from our safari camp.
For our take on Botswana cuisine, we found a number of recipes online. In keeping with finding meals representative of the county, we went with Seswaa as our main dish. Seswaa consists of stewed meat, slow cooked over an open fire for a couple of hours, using just salt (lots of it) and water to flavour. Improvising, we choose an oven based recipe that avoids having to create an open fire in the backyard. It also features the addition of onions and bay leaves, a substitute, of sorts, for the traditional charcoal taste.
Accompanying the meat was Dikgobe, a dish made with sorghum, beans and other vegetables. Word is that Dikgobe is one of the few acceptable starches that may be served at a funeral in Botswana. Sorghum is a whole grain that produces a grain, meal, bran meal and rice. It is gluten-free and is the fifth most commonly grown grain crop in the world behind wheat, rice, corn, and barley. The grain is becoming more readily available in New Zealand and is now in many of the cereals and flours present in the supermarket aisle. Although the items within Dikgobe are typically mixed together to create what is best described a a porridge, we separated the three to give a little more flexibility to the diner.
Propping up the carbohydrate intake was our third item, Phaphatha. Phaphatha is a flattened bread like muffin cooked on the stove top. It can also be described as a flattened dumpling cooked without water. Typically eaten at breakfast or as a snack alongside something more flavoursome, these breads/muffins/dumplings are not to be taken lightly and fill you up in no time.
Rounding out our meal with something sweet was lemon and condensed milk biscuits. It would only be fair to wonder how is that traditional to Botswana? We had the same sentiment, so carried out a little research. The recipe hails from 'Mma Ramotswe's Cookbook', who happens to be a character in a fictional series of novels called 'The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency'. While the cookbook purports to be a collection of recipes from Botswana, it's probably best treated with a grain of salt. Nonetheless these little delights go down a treat and we weren't complaining with a plate full of them in front of us.
Cast iron braiser
Large mixing bowl
800 grams slow cooking beef
1 whole onion (optional)
3 bay leaves
Salt to taste
Black pepper (optional)
Water (enough to cover the meat)
1. Preheat oven to 160 °C / 320 °F.
2. Cut meat into large chunks then brown in a dish suitable for slow cooking in the oven, for example a cast iron skillet or braiser.
3. Add whole peeled onion, salt, cracked black pepper, water and leaves.
4. Bring to the boil then cover and place into the oven for 4 hours.
5. After 4 hours, remove from oven and place onto stove burner in order to cook off remaining liquid. Use a wooden spoon to pound or mash up the meat, the meat should fall apart quite easily and will appear shredded. You may brown the meat further if desired.
6. Season to taste then serve.
1. In a large pot, bring four cups of water to a boil.
2. Remove about a quarter of the maize meal and set it aside. Place the remaining maize meal in a large bowl.
3. Mix the maize meal with four cups of cold water. Stir until the flour-water mixture is a thick paste.
4. Slowly add the flour-water paste to the boiling water, stirring constantly.
5. Bring to a second boil, stirring constantly while the mixture thickens. Do not allow lumps to form and do not allow it to stick to the bottom of the pot. Cook and stir for a few minutes.
6. Slowly add the remaining flour. The mixture should be very thick and smooth, like extra-thick mashed potatoes. At this point the sadza should begin to pull away from the sides of the pot and form a large ball. Cook for a few minutes more.
7. Transfer the sadza to a large bowl. With wet hands, form the sadaz into one large ball (to serve family-style) or serving sized-portions.
8. Serve immediately with the Seswaa.
1 cup sorghum grains
1 ½ cups beans
Mixed veggies of your choice (example: potatoes, carrots, corn, peas, onions, cabbage)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Soak the sorghum grains and beans in lightly salted water for an hour (keep the sorghum grains and beans separate).
2. Boil the sorghum grains for 20 minutes and then add the beans.
3. Boil for 40 minutes, or until the mixture is well done.
4. Lightly stir-fry the vegetables and flavour them to your taste.
5. Add the vegetables to the mixture, mix well and simmer for about 20 minutes.
6. Serve immediately.
500 grams cake or bread flour (plus extra for kneading)
½ packet of yeast
1 cup of lukewarm water
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1. Sift flour and yeast into a bowl.
2. Add sugar and salt
3. Gradually add water and combine with your hands to form a dough. Only add enough water to form the dough.
4. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes till it’s soft and pliable.
5. Put aside in a bowl covered with a damp cloth and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
6. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about half an inch thickness. Using a round object like a cup or cookie cutter, cut the dough into circles.
7. Dust the phaphathas liberally on both sides and place in a flat pan on medium heat with enough space between them to allow for rising. The heat should not be too high or the phaphatha burns before it fully cooks on the inside.
8. The phaphatha should rise while cooking. When bubbles appear on the surface of the dough, turn over to cook on the other side.
8. Remove from heat when cooked through and enjoy.
Lemon and Condensed Milk Biscuits ingredients:
2 ¾ cups flour
½ cup caster sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon lemon juice
7 fluid ounces / 268 grams condensed milk
Pinch of salt
8 ounces / 227 grams unsalted butter
Powdered sugar for dusting
Lemon and Condensed Milk Biscuits method:
1. Preheat oven to 180 °C / 335 °F
2. Cream together butter and sugar.
3. Add condensed milk and continue mixing.
4. Add lemon juice and grated zest.
5. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the wet ingredients mixture. Keep mixing until the ingredients are well combined.
6. Take tablespoons of dough and roll them into balls. Then place them on a lined baking sheet and flatten gently with a fork.
7. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until starting to brown underneath.
8. Let cool, then dust with powdered sugar.
Here are some interesting tidbits about the country:
Zebra is the national animal. When Botswana became independent in 1966, the black and white stripes on the new flag were primarily influenced by the zebra. The stripes were meant to represent the harmony between people of different races and ethnicities in Botswana. Interestingly, the first president of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama had earlier married a white woman who became the country's first lady, Ruth Khama. It is obvious that Seretse having been persecuted for marrying a white woman in the late 1940s wanted to teach the young nation and its neighbours that blacks and whites could live in harmony by adopting the black and white strips of the zebra for the flag. Two zebras also adorn the Botswana coat of arms, which shows that the animal is a symbol of national unity.
Lake Ngami is one of the most mysterious lakes on the planet due to the fact that it suddenly disappeared soon after it was discovered by Dr. David Livingstone in the year 1849, only to reappear towards the end of the 19th century. This pattern has continued over the years, and the lake reappeared once again in the year 2000. Home to all kinds of exotic birds such as ibises, pelicans, flamingos, terns, gulls, eagles, kingfishers and storks, this lake is a birders dream.
Diamond revenue pays for primary school education for every child in Botswana until the age of 13. Botswana is the largest producer of diamonds in the world in terms of value and carats quantity. This has provided the platform for the free education program which has been ongoing for the past two decades.
Outside of the Okavango Delta we got to see a little of Maun, Kasane and very briefly the renown Chobe National Park. Considering Botswana is one of the premier wildlife destinations in the world there is plenty more to go back for. Here's a couple of those places:
Walk out over the lunar-like surfaces of the Makgadikgadi Pans and stand alongside the gigantic millennia-old baobab trees in the nearby Nxai Pan National Park.
Visit (or re-visit) the Okavango Delta. Opt for the down-to-earth mokoro bush camp experience or splash out on a luxury lodge in the heart of the delta. There's a reason why this area has been documented and narrated so many times by David Attenborough.
Sleep under canvas around the golden sands and open savanna of the vast Kalahari wilderness. Each year, thousands of zebras move across these rolling plains to form the world's second largest land migration.
Next week we zip across to Zambia, the last place we visited on our trip last year. Join our subscribers list to receive updates on new posts!
Sundowning at the local hippo pool