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Taking it outside

South Africa is blessed with abundant sunshine and warmth. As a result entertaining friends and family is generally done outside – on a patio or veranda, in the back yard, around the pool or the braai. Ilse van der Merwe has just written the ideal companion to summer: Easy Al Fresco.

The dictionary definition of al fresco is to enjoy something outside, in the open air. It’s one of life’s greatest pleasures, especially when it comes to food. It could be a simple lunchtime salad eaten in the garden with the family – or a sandwich and piece of fruit while hiking a mountain trail, the enjoyment is amplified by the natural surroundings.


The assumption is that al fresco is derived from Latin – which it is – but if you were to approach a waiter at a restaurant in Rome or Milan and ask to be seated “al fresco”, you’d be laughed at! That’s because in Italian that phrase means “in the chill” or “in the cool”. (There’s also an alternative meaning: “in prison” because prisons were historically made with thick stone walls – and were thus cool.)


As the promotional material for Van der Merwe’s book states: “In Easy Al Fresco, Ilse van der Merwe offers a simple and inspiring guide for fabulous, fuss-free dishes that can all be prepared with a limited range of basic utensils – with the aim of dining outdoors. This should be the only book you pack for your next trail hike, seaside holiday or camping trip, but also the book you keep handy when the power goes out.”


With load-shedding a part of everyday life in South Africa, the award-winning Stellenbosch cook, food blogger, content creator and author of two other books, Cape Mediterranean and Simply Seasonal (both published by Penguin Random House SA), provides a range of 100% no-electricity-required dishes. There are more than 80 easy recipes from breads, spreads, appetisers, salads and sandwiches, through to mains and desserts.


Van der Merwe says it best in her introduction: “Food has always been a catalyst in bringing people together, hopefully for a good time with friends and loved ones, but the al fresco event becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. We come away energised, nurtured (in more ways than one) and deeply satisfied."


“This book celebrates that magic. Simple, scrumptious food, enjoyed and often also cooked in the open air without the need for fancy equipment, so that you can be truly present in those precious times and the new memories you’re making."


“As South Africans, we share an inherent, spirited love for outdoor cooking and entertaining, whether it is to light a fire and braai, or simply gather and share food under starry African skies. Yet, in an era of frequent scheduled power outages in South Africa (load-shedding), many of us have resorted to mediocre and usually unhealthy take-away meals to counter the cooking challenges that come with a lack of electricity.”

WIN!

Ilse van der Merwe's

Easy Al Fresco

To enter subscribe below

That needn’t be the case. The author not only supplies great recipes but has included a handy section on tools and equipment, cooking with fire, keeping it cool or how to make the most of store-bought shortcuts. Again, in her own words: “I’ve intentionally included the use of ready-made, store-bought products, such as tikka marinade, Thai curry paste, barbecue spice, marinated sun-dried tomatoes, falafel premix, rotisserie chicken, etc. It will cut hours from your prep time when your goal is to keep it effortless, especially when you don’t have access to electricity or power-driven food processing tools.


The recipes in this book vary from simple to ultra-simple – in many instances they’re more of a serving suggestion than an actual recipe – allowing you to prepare food without stress or effort, using minimal tools and accessible ingredients.”


Roll on summer!

COMPETITION TERMS AND CONDITIONS 

Competition submissions should reach us no later than 25th September 2023. The Prize/s is as indicated, no alternatives or cash will be provided. The decision of Integrated Media will be final, and no correspondence will be entered into. Under no circumstances shall Integrated Media, TOPS at SPAR, SPAR or its appointed representatives and the prize donors be liable to anyone who enters these Prize Draws for an indirect or consequential loss howsoever arising which may be suffered in relation to the Prize Draws. By entering these competitions, you make yourself subject to receiving promotional information. Entrants are deemed to have accepted these terms and conditions. Prize Draw Rules: The prize draw is only open to consumers who must be over 18 years of age and resident in South Africa. Employees of Integrated Media and TOPS at SPAR, SPAR and their respective advertising, media and PR agencies, as well as the family members, consultants, directors, associates and trading partners of such organisations and persons are ineligible for the draw. Participants can only win one competition every three issues.

The dictionary definition of al fresco is to enjoy something outside, in the open air. It’s one of life’s greatest pleasures, especially when it comes to food. It could be a simple lunchtime salad eaten in the garden with the family – or a sandwich and piece of fruit while hiking a mountain trail, the enjoyment is amplified by the natural surroundings.


The assumption is that al fresco is derived from Latin – which it is – but if you were to approach a waiter at a restaurant in Rome or Milan and ask to be seated “al fresco”, you’d be laughed at! That’s because in Italian that phrase means “in the chill” or “in the cool”. (There’s also an alternative meaning: “in prison” because prisons were historically made with thick stone walls – and were thus cool.)


As the promotional material for Van der Merwe’s book states: “In Easy Al Fresco, Ilse van der Merwe offers a simple and inspiring guide for fabulous, fuss-free dishes that can all be prepared with a limited range of basic utensils – with the aim of dining outdoors. This should be the only book you pack for your next trail hike, seaside holiday or camping trip, but also the book you keep handy when the power goes out.”


With load-shedding a part of everyday life in South Africa, the award-winning Stellenbosch cook, food blogger, content creator and author of two other books, Cape Mediterranean and Simply Seasonal (both published by Penguin Random House SA), provides a range of 100% no-electricity-required dishes. There are more than 80 easy recipes from breads, spreads, appetisers, salads and sandwiches, through to mains and desserts.


Van der Merwe says it best in her introduction: “Food has always been a catalyst in bringing people together, hopefully for a good time with friends and loved ones, but the al fresco event becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. We come away energised, nurtured (in more ways than one) and deeply satisfied."


“This book celebrates that magic. Simple, scrumptious food, enjoyed and often also cooked in the open air without the need for fancy equipment, so that you can be truly present in those precious times and the new memories you’re making."


“As South Africans, we share an inherent, spirited love for outdoor cooking and entertaining, whether it is to light a fire and braai, or simply gather and share food under starry African skies. Yet, in an era of frequent scheduled power outages in South Africa (load-shedding), many of us have resorted to mediocre and usually unhealthy take-away meals to counter the cooking challenges that come with a lack of electricity.”

That needn’t be the case. The author not only supplies great recipes but has included a handy section on tools and equipment, cooking with fire, keeping it cool or how to make the most of store-bought shortcuts. Again, in her own words: “I’ve intentionally included the use of ready-made, store-bought products, such as tikka marinade, Thai curry paste, barbecue spice, marinated sun-dried tomatoes, falafel premix, rotisserie chicken, etc. It will cut hours from your prep time when your goal is to keep it effortless, especially when you don’t have access to electricity or power-driven food processing tools.


The recipes in this book vary from simple to ultra-simple – in many instances they’re more of a serving suggestion than an actual recipe – allowing you to prepare food without stress or effort, using minimal tools and accessible ingredients.”


Roll on summer!

WIN!

Ilse van der Merwe's

Easy Al Fresco

To enter subscribe below

COMPETITION TERMS AND CONDITIONS 

Competition submissions should reach us no later than 25th August 2023. The Prize/s is as indicated, no alternatives or cash will be provided. The decision of Integrated Media will be final, and no correspondence will be entered into. Under no circumstances shall Integrated Media, TOPS at SPAR, SPAR or its appointed representatives and the prize donors be liable to anyone who enters these Prize Draws for an indirect or consequential loss howsoever arising which may be suffered in relation to the Prize Draws. By entering these competitions, you make yourself subject to receiving promotional information. Entrants are deemed to have accepted these terms and conditions. Prize Draw Rules: The prize draw is only open to consumers who must be over 18 years of age and resident in South Africa. Employees of Integrated Media and TOPS at SPAR, SPAR and their respective advertising, media and PR agencies, as well as the family members, consultants, directors, associates and trading partners of such organisations and persons are ineligible for the draw. Participants can only win one competition every three issues.

It’s a survival strategy, busy author, chef, food stylist and mom Vickie de Beer maintains. And she would know. As the food editor for popular Afrikaans magazine Rooi Rose for 18 years, she knows how hard it can be juggling work deadlines and feeding a family of growing boys and their sports schedules! So meal prep of nutritious, balanced and tasty food is vital.


Planning is second nature to this food dynamo. It's something she has had to do for years after one of her sons was diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic. It turned out to be fortuitous because the family’s transition to a low-carb lifestyle inspired a range of books: The Low-Carb Solution for Diabetics which won the Sunday Times Best Cookbook of the Year award in 2015, My Low-Carb Kitchen and Low-Carb Express, all of which have sold thousands of copies locally and internationally.


Some of her family’s favourite dishes feature on the pages of this new book, from soups and stews to oven bakes and one-pan dishes. Then there are sauces and ‘flavour starters’, which can be prepared ahead of time, so a wholesome meal from scratch can easily be pulled together on busy nights.


What’s more, Vickie knows that all South Africans are faced with the unique challenge of loadshedding, which can disrupt cooking time in the kitchen. Meal prep is a clever way to work around annoying blackouts – making wholesome meals in advance, when the electricity is available, as a great way to ensure the family can still eat well, even with limited resources.


Vickie includes tips for freezing and defrosting food, batch cooking, as well as a sample seven-day meal plan to show how you can combine advance prep with dishes made from scratch on the night. All of the 75 recipes indicate how many portions they make, allowing you to choose whether to freeze them as a single meal, or in portion sizes to suit the family’s needs.


Chapters include meal prep, flavour starters such as pastes, spice mixes and rubs, marinades and the like. Then there are cook-in sauces, fermented salads and salsas. Broths and soups get their time to shine in a chapter, as does slow cooking. Naturally there are one pan and tray-bake meals, along with the old faithfuls of basics and side dishes.


It is indeed clever cooking.

COMPETITION TERMS AND CONDITIONS 

Competition submissions should reach us no later than 25th April 2023. The Prize/s is as indicated, no alternatives or cash will be provided. The decision of Integrated Media will be final, and no correspondence will be entered into. Under no circumstances shall Integrated Media, TOPS at SPAR, SPAR or its appointed representatives and the prize donors be liable to anyone who enters these Prize Draws for an indirect or consequential loss howsoever arising which may be suffered in relation to the Prize Draws. By entering these competitions, you make yourself subject to receiving promotional information. Entrants are deemed to have accepted these terms and conditions. Prize Draw Rules: The prize draw is only open to consumers who must be over 18 years of age and resident in South Africa. Employees of Integrated Media and TOPS at SPAR, SPAR and their respective advertising, media and PR agencies, as well as the family members, consultants, directors, associates and trading partners of such organisations and persons are ineligible for the draw. Participants can only win one competition every three issues.

Cheese-stuffed pull-apart bread

This is a clever and simple trick to take a store-bought loaf to the next level. It’s a crowd pleaser every time. Use your favourite cheese and change up the herbs to whatever you have on hand.

Makes: 1 large loaf

makes:

1 loaf

Prep time:

20min

Cook time:

10min

Ingredients:

1 large fresh or day-old sourdough loaf
(or wood-fired ciabatta)

200 g (2 cups) roughly grated mature cheddar
(or your choice of cheese)

a handful finely chopped fresh Italian parsley or thyme (optional)

salt and pepper, to taste

125 g (½ cup) butter, melted

Method:

Using a very sharp bread knife, slice the bread diagonally in two directions to create diamond shapes, but do not cut all the way through to the bottom (i.e. leave the loaf intact). Place the loaf on a large sheet of foil. (If you will be using an oven, you could use baking paper instead of foil.) Stuff the cheese into all the cuts, along with the parsley or thyme (if using) and season all over with salt and pepper. Pour the melted butter all over the sliced cracks, letting it seep into the stuffing. Wrap the foil over the top to enclose the loaf, then set aside until ready to cook.


For kettle braai cooking: Place the foil-wrapped loaf over indirect heat in the kettle braai, close the lid and cook for about 15 minutes until golden at the edges and the cheese is fully melted. Remove from the heat and transfer to a wooden board, carefully peeling the foil to the sides.


For fire cooking: Place the foil-wrapped loaf on a grid over medium-hot coals for 15–20 minutes, turning every few minutes, until golden at the edges and the cheese is fully melted. Remove from the heat and transfer to a wooden board, carefully peeling the foil to the sides.


For oven cooking: Place the foil-wrapped loaf on a baking tray in a preheated oven at 200°C and bake for 15 minutes, then open up the foil and continue to bake for another 10–15 minutes until golden at the edges and the cheese is fully melted. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wooden board, carefully peeling the foil to the sides.


Serve warm at a shared table, with guests pulling off portions of hot, cheesy bread.

Notes

Defrost frozen phyllo pastry in its packaging for 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge. Half a 500 g pack should be sufficient for one pie. This recipe is not suitable for freezing.

Coconut kingklip curry with cardamom and curry leaves 

This delicious fish curry is mild and incredibly fragrant. Curry leaves and cardamom are my secret weapons here – they create all the magic. There simply isn’t a substitute for fresh curry leaves in my opinion, so if you can’t find them in a shop, ask around if anyone has a tree at home.

Serves 4

Serves:

4

Prep time:

20min

Cook time:

15m

Serves:

4-6

Prep time:

20min

Cook time:

15min

Ingredients:

30 ml (2 Tbsp) vegetable oil (I use canola)

2 onions, finely chopped

45 ml (3 Tbsp) finely grated/chopped fresh ginger

3 cloves garlic, finely grated/chopped

20 fresh curry leaves

30 ml (2 Tbsp) mild curry powder or roasted garam masala

seeds from 6–8 cardamom pods, pounded with a pestle and mortar and husks removed

15 ml (1 Tbsp) ground fennel (barishap)

10 ml (2 tsp) ground coriander

5 ml (1 tsp) ground turmeric

2.5 ml (½ tsp) chilli flakes (optional)

30 ml (2 Tbsp) tomato paste

1 × 400 g can chopped tomatoes

1 × 400 ml can coconut cream

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

800 g–1 kg skinless boneless kingklip (or any firm

white fish) fillets, cut into bite-size cubes

cooked jasmine or basmati rice, for serving

fresh coriander, for garnishing

flaked almonds and/or black sesame seeds, for garnishing

Method:

Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat and fry the onions until translucent (not brown). Add the ginger, garlic and curry leaves, and fry for 1 minute. Add the curry powder, cardamom, fennel, coriander, turmeric and chilli, then fry for another minute. The bottom of the pot will become quite dry at this point. Add the tomato paste and canned tomatoes and stir well. Pour in the coconut cream, stir and bring to a simmer, turning down the heat.

Simmer for about 5 minutes, still stirring, then season well with salt and pepper. Add the fish cubes, stirring gently to cover them in sauce. Cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes over low heat. Remove from the heat and serve in bowls with freshly cooked rice, all garnished with coriander leaves, flaked almonds and/or sesame seeds.

Asian-style BBQ pork loin ribs 

I don't prepare ribs often, but when I do, this recipe is lip-smackingly delicious. As with many other sweet marinades, it is best to par-cook the meat in the marinade until it almost falls from the bone, then finish it over medium-hot coals until sticky and glossy. Hoisin sauce is the hero here – available in the Asian food section of many good supermarkets.

Serves 4

Serves:

4

Prep time:

20min

Cook time:

10min

Ingredients:

30 ml (2 Tbsp) vegetable oil

1 onion, roughly grated

4 cloves garlic, finely grated

30 ml (2 Tbsp) finely grated fresh ginger

125 ml (½ cup) hoisin sauce

60 ml (¼ cup) honey

45 ml (3 Tbsp) soy sauce

30 ml (2 Tbsp) white vinegar

15 ml (1 Tbsp) sesame oil

4 large pork loin rib racks (fresh, not smoked)

a small bunch spring onions, sliced, for serving

Method:

To a large pot, add the vegetable oil, onion, garlic, ginger, hoisin sauce, honey, soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil.


Stir, then add the rib racks (cut them in half to fit into the pot, if necessary).


Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a simmer over a low heat for at least 1 hour or until the meat is very tender and almost falling off the bone (turn the ribs halfway to coat all sides in the sauce), stirring the bottom from time to time to prevent burning.


Remove the ribs from the pot and bring the sauce to a rolling boil, reducing it by about a third until it reaches the consistency of a runny chutney. Grill the ribs over medium-hot coals on both sides, basting with the reduced marinade, until glossy and sticky and slightly charred, then remove from the heat.


Serve hot, scattered with spring onions.

Notes

Defrost frozen phyllo pastry in its packaging for 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge. Half a 500 g pack should be sufficient for one pie. This recipe is not suitable for freezing.

Marinated spiced fruit salad 

My darling Aunt Wilma Smit – a master embroiderer from Oudtshoorn – and her husband Johan recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a scrumptious lunch for extended family and friends. As part of the dessert buffet, they served legendary French chef Alain Senderens’s recipe for a chilled fruit salad in a light syrup infused with cloves, vanilla, ginger, citrus, etc. It reminded me again how simplicity can be cleverly elevated. This is my version of the original recipe; use whatever seasonal fruit you have on hand and marinate it in the syrup for no longer than 3 hours to maintain the cut fruit’s natural freshness.

Serves 6

Serves:

6

Prep time:

20min

Cook time:

15m

Serves:

4-6

Prep time:

20min

Cook time:

15min

Ingredients:

100 g (½ cup) white sugar

500 ml (2 cups) water

1 vanilla pod, sliced lengthways and seeds scraped out

2 whole cloves

1 whole star anise

1 cinnamon stick

peeled zest 1 lime

peeled zest ½ lemon

a few slices fresh ginger

a few fresh mint leaves, plus extra, for serving

± 8 cups sliced fruit of your choice (e.g. papaya, mango, watermelon, strawberries, nectarines, peaches, kiwi, litchi, grapes)

Method:

In a pot or saucepan over medium heat, add the sugar, water, scraped vanilla seeds and pod, whole cloves, star anise, cinnamon, lime and lemon zest, ginger and mint leaves. Bring to a simmer, stirring, then remove from the heat as soon as the sugar has dissolved. Leave to infuse until completely cool (this may be done a day or two ahead), then strain through a sieve, discarding the solids. Arrange the sliced fruit in a bowl, pour over the syrup, stir gently, and leave to marinate in the fridge for 2–3 hours before serving. Stir again before serving, then top with a few mint leaves and serve cold, with or without vanilla ice cream.