Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Waterblommetjie and Pepper-Feta Quiche

I didn't grow up in the Cape, so I'm not a big buyer of waterblommetjies, and nor am I a keen eater of waterblommetjie bredie. This traditional mutton stew, a treasured winter dish here in the Cape and a great classic of South African cuisine, has as one of its chief ingredients Aponogeton distachyos, a pretty aquatic plant also known as Cape Pond Weed and Water Hawthorn (see pictures below).

I'm not mad about them in stews because they tend to collapse into a muddy green heap when cooked for any length of time, but they are lovely stir-fried, with an intriguing crunchy texture and a taste that has been described as reminiscent of young green beans and asparagus.  (If you'd like to try a traditional waterblommetjie bredie, you cannot go wrong with my friend Michael Olivier's authentic recipe.)

There isn't much you can do to prevent waterblommetjies from losing their vibrant green colour after you've heated them - even plunging them into iced water, which I have tried, has little effect.

But please don't be put off trying them, because I think you will like them a lot.

With the pack of very fresh buds I bought at Woolies this week, I made a simple quiche, adding plenty of peppery, creamy feta, which I thought would contrast well with the slight astringency of the waterblommetjies.

The sweetly scented flower of Aponogeton distachyos.
Photo by J.F. Gaffard, via Wikimedia Commons 
Usually I test recipes a few times in order to improve the dish, but I don't think this recipe needs any tweaking.  It's substantial, yet light in texture, and the waterblommetjies add a most interesting and pleasant crunch.  Some little sautéed cubes of smoky bacon might add an extra layer of luxury, should you wish to go the whole hog.

I have given quite detailed instructions for making an easy, light and crumbly shortcrust pastry, because a good pastry can make the difference between an okay quiche and one that knocks your socks off.  If you're a dab hand at pastry, skip these paragraphs.

Here are some of my top tips for making shortcrust pastry.

If you're not in South Africa, try this recipe with fresh asparagus or broccoli.

And if you can't find peppered feta cheese, add plenty of extra freshly ground pepper to the quiche filling.

This quantity of pastry and filling is suitable for a 20 x 30 cm rectangular non-stick metal quiche pan.

As you probably don't have one of these beauties (I bought three at my local Chinese supermarket for a paltry R35 each) I asked the maths boffins in my house to figure out the equivalent sizes in other shapes:  this is enough for a shallow 25 x 25 cm square dish, or a shallow circular quiche pan with a 28-cm diameter.

Waterblommetjie and Pepper-Feta Quiche

For the pastry shell:
300 g white flour, sifted
180 g cold butter, cut into cubes
½ tsp (1.25 ml) salt
1 egg yolk from an extra-large free range egg
a few tablespoons of ice-cold water (see recipe)

For the filling:
300 g fresh waterblommetjies
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
the juice of half a lemon
150 g peppered feta cheese, roughly crumbled
1 cup (250 ml, fairly loosely packed) grated Cheddar
4 extra-large free-range eggs
½ cup (125 ml) milk
½ cup (125 ml) cream
1 tsp (5 ml) Hot English Mustard Powder or prepared Dijon mustard
salt and milled black pepper

Heat the oven to 190 °C, fan on,  and put a large metal baking sheet in it to heat.

First make the pastry.  If you have a food processor with a metal blade, place the sifted flour, butter and salt into the processor jug and whizz until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Add the egg yolk, then trickle ice-cold water - a teaspoon or two at a time - into the chute of the jug, pressing the pulse button in short bursts until the mixture just comes together in a ball.

Once it's formed a ball, press the pulse button again once or twice so that the ball makes five or six turns around the processor jug, but no more.

If you don't have a food processor, put the sifted flour into a large bowl and add the salt and butter cubes. Using your fingertips, lightly rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and iced water, as described above, and very lightly knead the mixture for a minute or two until it holds together. Tip the ball of dough on to a sheet of clingfilm, wrap it up and place in the fridge for 15-20 minutes to rest.

Roll the dough out on a floured board (or between sheets of clingfilm, which makes the whole process so easy) to a thickness of 3 mm.  It should be about 5 cm larger than your quiche dish, all the way round.

Use the pastry to line a quiche dish (again, tips here).  Let the pastry drape generously over the edges of dish - you'll trim it off later once you've baked it blind.  Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork, cover it with a sheet of kitchen paper and weigh that down with dried beans or baking beans. Slide the dish onto the heated baking sheet and bake at 190 °C for 10 minutes.

Remove the paper and beans, and put the dish back into the oven for a further 10-15 minutes, or until the base feels dry to the fingertips and is a light golden colour all over.  Remove the pastry shell from the oven, on its baking sheet, and turn the heat down to 180 °C.

In the meantime, prepare the filling. Roughly slice the waterblommetjies, leaving any smaller buds whole.  Heat the olive oil in a wok and stir-fry them over a high flame for 3-5 minutes, or until they are bright green and just tender-crisp. This is a critical stage of this recipe, because the buds must be cooked, yet still retain a slight crunch.  Splash in the lemon juice and cook for another 30 seconds, or until the juice has evaporated.  Season with a pinch of salt and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Arrange the cooked waterblommetjies all over the pastry base, and scatter over the crumbled feta and grated Cheddar. Firmly run a rolling pin over the edges of the quiche pan, to remove any overhanging pastry.

Put the eggs, milk, cream and mustard in a bowl and, using a balloon whisk, beat together for a minute or two, until well combined and slightly aerated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the egg mixture into the prepared pastry shell and bake at 180 °C for 30-40 minutes, or until the filling is puffed and golden.  If the pastry edges look as if they're browning too quickly, cover them lightly with strips of tin foil.

Serve warm (I don't know why this is, but to me all quiches seem best warm, while they're still wobbling gently) with rocket or watercress leaves dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

Makes 1 x 28 cm quiche; serves 6. 

Knock the overhanging edges off the quiche by
running a rolling pin all over the edges of the pan.

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Kit said...

Very nice to read of another way to use waterblommetjies. I've never cooked with them before, as, like you, I find the brown sludge look unappealing. But green crunch, now that's another matter!

Marisa said...

I tried waterblommetjies for the first time last winter. A friend found a great recipe for a baked lamb and waterblommetjie dish. It was amazing. I'm definitely keen to try this as well.

Suresh Urs said...

The recipe is of nice and fantastic one. Great post. Clickfoodsnearme

gloeiwurmpie said...

I have to thank you for sharing the link to Michael Olivier's recipe too.
I have tried this for the first time since childhood (not very fond memmories of the dish) and loved it now! If I can find smaller tender waterblommetjies I will try your recipe too. Thank you!