Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Bo-Kaap’s Bounty

One thing I love about cities is that your own two feet can take you from downtown to uptown, from working-class pubs to hipster-filled martini bars, from thrift store alley to swank boutique street, from places of historical significance to present-day bastions of power, and from the Catholic festivals and canolis of the North End to the dim sum and dragons of Chinatown. That’s why, on a recent visit to Cape Town, I loved walking past the tall buildings and taxis of downtown, taking a right onto Wale Street, and strolling up the slope of Signal Hill into Bo-Kaap.

Bo-Kaap is the traditional home of the city’s Cape Malay community, the descendents of people from Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka whom the Dutch East India Company imprisoned as slaves in the late 1600s and early 1700s and brought to the Cape. This amalgamation of cultures produced its own cuisine and music, and contributed to the development of a lingua franca – Afrikaans. Bo-Kaap’s street fronts are stunning - think a pastel palette worthy of Miami Beach combined with elements of Cape Dutch architecture. The community is predominately Muslim, and the neighborhood boasts nine mosques.

Mark and I were particularly interested in learning about Cape Malay food, so we signed up for a half-day “cooking safari” with Andulela, a tour company devoted to responsible tourism that balances the needs of both visitors and communities. We’re not typically organized-tour people, but I had read a glowing review of this particular tour in Food and Home Entertaining, a beloved South African magazine, and it was the only aspect of our trip to Cape Town that we actually planned before our arrival.

Our tour began with a visit to the Bo-Kaap Museum and the community’s oldest mosque. Then we got down to business. Monique, Andulela’s cofounder, took us ingredient-shopping in the halaal butcheries and spice shops that dot the streets. We brought our bag-o-goodies to the home of a Cape Malay mother, and she regaled us with stories about her community as we helped her cook a bountiful feast. We ended the tour with a full belly, a packet of homemade masala, and a folder full of recipes. Here is one of them.

Dhal Curry with Squash
Serves 6
Adapted from Andulela

1½ cups brown lentils, picked over, thoroughly washed and soaked for at least an hour
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 cardamom pods
2 medium tomatoes, grated
2 green chilies, minced (remove seeds if you are spice-averse)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon masala mix (such as garam masala)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
3 gem squash (or whatever 1-pound of squash or pumpkin you have available), seeded, peeled and cut into small cubes
4 tablespoons cilantro leaves

Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add the cardamom pods and let them sizzle for a few seconds. Then, add the onions. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the onions become soft. Add the tomatoes, chili, garlic and spices and simmer for another 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the lentils, and add them to the pan along with the 2 cups of water and the salt. Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer.

After 30 minutes, add the squash and another cup of water. Continue to simmer for another 45 minutes, adding more water if necessary, until the lentils are soft and the squash is tender. Adjust salt, as needed, then garnish with the cilantro leaves and serve hot with rice or roti.

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