One of the memorable dishes that Cass Abrahams introduced to me was Denningvleis.
In her recipe book she uses ‘stewing lamb’ but when she made this dish for me she used thinly cut lamb rib chops. She also used dry tamarind that needs to be hydrated in warm water and once softened, the pip are separated.
There is no direct English translation for Denningvleis.
It is thought that the Dutch enjoyed ‘dendeng’ stew in Java and brought the recipe to the Cape, together with a supply of tamarind. Dendeng is Javanese for water buffalo meat, which was substituted with mutton or lamb locally.
I have varied Cass’s recipe slightly by using Tamarind Paste, which has become a staple in my kitchen. In many recipes it is recommended that one uses lemon or fresh lime juice instead of tamarind, but these days when most of the more exotic ingredients are so freely available I would rather stick to the authentic recipe. The one advantage of using the natural tamarind is that it is darker and gives the meat a richer colour.
What is Tamarind?
Tamarind has a mild fruity sourness that’s not quite the same as citrus sour. It is a delicious ingredient which was introduced to us from South East Asia and via our Cape Malay population who have origins in Malaysia, and the early Dutch traders.
It is interesting that Tamarind is actually grown in the tropical areas of Central Africa and was probably introduced to the Indian and Asian countries via the spice trade thousands of years ago.
The tamarind tree produces bean-like pods filled with seeds surrounded by a fibrous pale brown pulp that almost has a date-like texture. This paste is dried slightly and compressed into blocks which are shelf-stable and when needed a chunk it placed in warm water to rehydrate and for the flavour to infuse into the water. Usually the seeds are still present and these need to be removed before they cause a dental issue!
Tamarind paste is lightly processed my adding water & straining away the seeds and most of the pulp. Always check the tamarind content that that it has no additives other than a small % water, acid regular such as citric acid and a small % preservative. It is available bottled at most shops specialising in Asian ingredients and should have a fairly long shelf life.
Denningvleis is easy to prepare and like all stews and casseroles can be prepared in advance. It is a popular dish served at traditional Cape Malay weddings where the food is an important element of the festivities and large (before Covid restrictions struck) parties are catered for.
I love the acidity with the lamb as it cuts the richness in a similar fashion to the English tradition of serving mint sauce with lamb.
A hint of chilli and other fragrant spices are added but they merely add to the rich flavours and balance of the dish without being dominant.
Traditionally fragrant yellow rice or white is served. I rather like to serve it with creamy mashed potato.