With the kick-off to the 2010 World Cup less than 39 days away, my home town Cape Town is all abuzz, and South Africa is polishing her biggie boots and laying out the welcome mat for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who'll soon be winging our way.
My thoughts have naturally turned to soccer food, and so for the next couple of weeks I'll be focusing on fan fodder: delicious snacks with a South African flavour, ideal for stadium food, or for serving to your mates as you gather round the TV set to enjoy the greatest show on earth. ('What do you mean by soccer food?' snorted my husband when I told him about this project. 'The only soccer food you need is beer.' )
South African cuisine is often dubbed 'rainbow food' because of its myriad cultural influences, but I imagine it as a many-textured crazy-patchwork quilt, stitched together with shining thread that is anchored in the soil and unfurls northwards through Africa to Europe, and west to the Middle East and Asia. I don't want to lecture you about the diversity of dishes you'll find in South Africa: if you're interested, take a look at Wikipedia's entry on the subject, which is a reasonable (though disappointingly incomplete) summing-up of what we 'Saffers' eat, and why. Suffice to say that you will find delicious indigenous food in South African villages, towns and cities, and that the culinary heritage of various immigrant communities - from Greece to Ghana, from Mozambique to Malaysia, Nigeria to the Netherlands, India to Israel to Italy - bubbles with great vigour in kitchens all over our country.
So, where to start?
Among South Africa's most beloved snack foods are meatballs, also known as frikkadels or - enchantingly - 'frikkies'. These spicy nuggets are quintessential padkos (this means, literally, 'road food', but is so much more than that) and no car, bus, train or taxi journey is the same without them. The best ones are home-made, always to grandma's secret recipe, and are eaten cold out of a lidded plastic container (known, in Afrikaans, as a blikkie), or from a crumpled nest of tin foil. Finding a decent frikkadel in a shop is not easy: I'd rather chew a gallstone than one of the gnarled, over-peppered bullets produced, for example, by our swankiest food retailer, Woolworths.
Frikkies are easy and inexpensive to make, and are great for feeding a crowd. Here, I've made marble-sized frikkadels, and stuffed them into toasted mini-pita breads with lashings of hummous and some fresh coriander. If you like, you can add a lick of garlicky tzatziki to the inside of each pita bread. If you can't find mini pita breads, cut big ones in half. And if almost-raw onion isn't your thing, you can fry the onion in a little olive oil before you add it to the mixture, but I just love the crunchy onioniness of these frikkies. My instructions presume that you have such a food processor, or a similar appliance: if you don't, you'll need to chop everything finely by hand (or grate the ingredients).
The dusting of chickpea (channa) flour and turmeric gives the meatballs a lovely golden crust, but you can use ordinary flour instead. The yoghurt helps prevent the meatballs from toughening as they cook.
Mini Pita-Breads with Spicy Meatballs and Hummous
For the meatballs:
3 slices fresh bread, white or brown
a large handful of fresh coriander leaves (125 ml, loosely packed)
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 large free-range eggs
4 Tbsp (60 ml) thick natural yoghurt
750 g minced beef (or half-and-half beef and pork)
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) ground coriander
a finely minced green chilli (optional, and to taste)
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) salt
milled black pepper
½ cup (125 ml) chickpea [channa] flour (ordinary flour will do)
1 tsp (5 ml) turmeric
3 Tbsp (45 ml) vegetable oil
pita breads (40 mini ones, or 10 big ones)
a tub (about 250 ml) hummous
sprigs of fresh coriander
1 tsp (5 ml) paprika
Tear up the bread, place the pieces in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and whizz to a fine crumb. Add the fresh coriander and press the pulse button a few times, until the coriander is finely chopped. Tip the mixture into a large mixing bowl and set aside. Now put the chopped onion, garlic, eggs and yoghurt in the food processor and blitz until you have a gritty slush. Tip this mixture into the bowl containing the breadcrumbs and add the minced beef, cumin, coriander, chilli, salt and several generous grinds of the peppermill. Using your hands, squish and squeeze all the ingredients until well combined. Now test the seasoning: take small piece of the mixture, flatten it to a disc and fry it quickly in a lick of oil. Add more salt or spices, if necessary. Once you're satisfied with the taste of your mixture, pinch off pieces the size of a large marble and roll them into balls. Place on plate, cover with clingfilm and put them in the fridge for 30 minutes so they can firm up.
Heat the oven to 100°C. Put the chickpea flour on a plate, season with a little salt and pepper and stir in the turmeric. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high flame. Dust the meatballs, eight or ten at a time, with the seasoned chickpea flour. Fry the meatballs in batches in the hot oil, turning them often, until they are golden brown and crusty on the outside and cooked through inside. Place the cooked meatballs in the warm oven while you fry the rest.
When you've cooked all the meatballs, heat the pita breads on a baking sheet in the oven. Using a pair of scissors or a sharp knife, cut a 5 mm slice off the top edge of each pita bread. Use a knife blade to open a pocket in the bread (this has to be done while they are piping hot: if you allow them to cool off, they will tear). Add a generous dollop of hummous to each pita, then fill the pocket with a hot meatball. Tuck in a sprig of fresh coriander. Pile into a bowl and serve immediately, with lemon wedges.
Serves 10 as a snack. Makes about 40 marble-sized meatballs. Print Friendly