Sunday, 8 December 2013

Amasi Cheese Pops with Herbs and Spices

This recipe has been loafing in my drafts folder for weeks, waiting for me to find a chance to blog it, but I whipped it out yesterday after receiving a call from the producer of Jenny Crwys-Williams' show on Talk Radio 702.  Could I, the producer asked, suggest an iconic dish that might be adopted by South Africans in memory of Nelson Mandela?  And could I talk about this on the radio in 50 minutes' time?


Amasi Cheese Pops with Herbs and Spices
Amasi Cheese Pops with Herbs and Spices. Plate by David Walters.

After yet another outburst of weeping (I'm still, like many South Africans, swollen-eyed about the passing of this extraordinary soul) I applied my mind, and this idea popped up.  As I sifted through the pictures I took a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that these little bites contain ingredients that could symbolise many aspects of the life and spirit of one of the greatest leaders of modern times.

To be honest, I felt a bit silly telling Jenny about my idea on air, not least because chattering about a snacky little recipe seemed irrelevant, even inappropriate, at such a sombre time. Then again, there are scenes of jubilation, dancing and singing all over the country as South Africans honour the life of their beloved leader, so why not celebrate his legacy with food?

And, besides, I felt most honoured to be asked to contribute.  I never met Nelson Mandela, but I feel  privileged to have stood as a young woman in front of Cape Town's City Hall on 10 February 1990 to hear his historic speech, delivered hours after his release from prison.

So, I mused, the amasi cheese in this recipe (made from drained, soured milk) represents Madiba's humble beginnings and his happy childhood in rural Qunu, where he became a herd boy at an early age, looking after his father's cattle.

The lemon represents his great zest for life, and the smoked paprika the dust of Africa, from which all humankind arose. The black pepper recalls his struggle on behalf of the black majority in South African, and his warmth and spicy sense of humour.

The chillies represent his verve and fiery revolutionary spirit, while the white pepper recalls the limestone dust from Madiba's years of back-breaking work in a quarry on Robben Island.

Amasi Cheese Pops with Herbs and Spices
Sprinkle the spices on a piece of paper and roll
the balls around so they are lightly coated.
Parsley is is a symbol of renewal, rebirth and redemption (especially on the Jewish Passover Seder plate, where it is dipped in salt water, recalling the tears shed during Egyptian enslavement).  This, I thought, was a fitting nod to his close relationships with many Jewish activists of the apartheid era.  The aromatic cumin is a nod to his love of Indian food and his fellow Indian-South African activists.

And the cake glitter? Well, I had to scratch my head about that, but then it came to me: the playful spangles refer to his twinkling sense of humour, his profound love of children, and the global celebrities who attached themselves to him like homesick limpets.

One flavour missing here - oh, so missing - is sweetness, but you could make a dessert version of these pops by sweetening the cheese with honey, then dipping them in crushed pistachios or almonds.

Or perhaps fresh pomegranate seeds, which symbolise prosperity, abundance, fruitfulness and, in ancient Israel, the fertility of the promised land.

Amasi Cheese Pops with Herbs and Spice

For the pops:
  • 250 g amasi cheese (click here for the recipe), or a good, dense cream cheese if you don't have access to amasi
  • the finely grated zest of a small lemon
  • salt and white pepper, to taste

For the coatings: 
  • smoked paprika
  • cake glitter
  • finely chopped fresh parsley
  • crushed pink peppercorns
  • coarsely cracked black pepper
  • finely chopped fresh red chillies
  • cumin

Lightly knead the fresh cheese on a board together with the lemon zest, salt and white pepper. Go easy on the white pepper, as it has a powerful taste.

Cover your chopping board with a sheet of non-stick baking paper or clingfilm.

Pull the cheese into pieces and roll them between your palms to create neat balls.  Lightly roll each ball in the coatings for your choice, push a lolly stick or slim wooden ice-cream stick into each one, then refrigerate until firm.

Serve with a sweet chilli dipping sauce, or a fruity chutney, or pomegranate syrup.

Makes about 12 cheese pops. 



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