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An African Summer of Sorts

In this issue of Musings of a Foodie, Fatima Bheeko-Shah chats about long summer days, watermelon slices and road trips.

I know that most people think that down here in Africa we can’t possibly have much of a winter. While our winters might not reach the depths of a European winter, I still find winter a cold, depressing and grey season. When the Jacarandas trees start blooming and the leaves turn a pastel-purple colour I know that summer is well on its way. This is when I rejoice.

 

There is just something about sunny summer days that brings out the nostalgia in me. A long lazy summer day consists of swimming all day, alfresco dining and ice-cold watermelon slices – the children happily eating their share, letting the pink juice dribble down their chins. Instead of spending hours indoors cooking, most of my time is spent enjoying the outdoors and ending the day with quick and light meals like salads and tapas. Some days I even get away with setting out a fruit platter, weighed down with the Southern hemisphere’s abundance of tropical fruit. A particularly good way to end a summer’s day is to pair some lovely nectarines, grapes, mangoes and plums with a selection of cheeses and olives. Add a crusty loaf of sourdough bread and some ice-cold lemonade and no one will even notice that the meat is missing.

 

Then there is outdoor cooking. South Africans love a good BBQ and as a family we are no exception. My favourite type of BBQ is to throw together a few salads while the husband is grilling some rosemary flavoured lamb chops. And then there are days when it is simply too hot to cook.

 

With BBQs, picnics, alfresco dining and cold watermelon slices comes the annual summer holidays.  For us this means making the long road trip to visit our family in Cape Town and enjoy the coastline that Cape Town has on offer. A road trip is not a road trip without padkos.  For South Africans, padkos means the food and provisions we would pack to take on long journeys. It is also one of the aspects of long road trips that I love most. When I was a child, the huge cooler bag with our padkos would be stored on the floor of the back seat so my mother could have easy access to it.  My mother would rummage in the canvas bag and pull out a foil-lined rectangular Tupperware container with a red lid. I could smell them even before she opened the lid – chicken legs, roasted in ginger and garlic masala, her special blend. Milky tea, which I didn’t care for, was kept in a flask and packed for longer trips. For shorter trips, a few bottles of frozen water which thawed rapidly along the way and mini boxed Liqui fruit juices were kept in a trusty cooler box lodged between my brothers and I in the back. Sometimes there were sandwiches: curried chicken with mayonnaise and a few sausage and tomato sauce ones for my brothers. Other days there were lovely homemade pies. My mother always had a few packets of sweets for treats after our packed lunches. Those packed meals and drinks played a vital role in the days before almost every car had air-conditioning.

 

Today not much has changed; my family trips are very much the same. After fajr prayers, we pack up the car and leave. Travelling before the sun makes for a cooler drive and nothing beats watching the sunrise with just you and the long road ahead. A few hours later, we find ourselves in Bloemfontein. The car temp is displaying 36 degrees Celsius. We have covered close to 500 km and still have 900 km to go to reach Cape Town. It’s the summer school holidays so all the gas stations are packed with people waiting to buy ice cream, coffee and cool drinks. While my husband is filling up the car I unpack our padkos. They are all neatly packed in plastic containers with ice packs to keep the food cold. In one container I have packed crumbed chicken legs, the ends wrapped in foil so little hands stay clean and in another container I have packed cocktail steak pies, mini pizzas and samosas. No milky tea here as the husband and I treat ourselves to creamy cappuccinos available at the gas stations. The children slurp on ice-cold fruit juices and everyone has bananas as a sweet ending to the meal. With tummies full and smiles all around, we head off for the next part of the gruelling journey. Lucky for us, I still have some sweeties in my handbag.

 

This recipe is lovely served with some roast potatoes and a Greek salad. For a crumbed chicken variation, I steam the chicken legs for five minutes, dip in a beaten egg and then roll in some homemade breadcrumbs. Shallow fry in oil till a crispy golden colour.

 

Ingredients
• 12 chicken legs
• 5 whole cloves of garlic
• 1 piece of ginger (the size of your thumb)
• 1 whole red chilli (more if you like it strong)
• 3 whole peppercorns
• 1 tsp salt
• Juice of 1 lemon
• 15 ml olive oil

 
Method
1. In a food processor, add all your spices, lemon juice and oil. Grind the spices until you form a smooth paste. Rub this paste all over your chicken legs.
2. Marinate the chicken for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight in the fridge.
3. Heat a pan with oil or clarified butter (ghee). You should have your stove on a medium heat.
4. Fry your chicken legs until they are cooked through and a lovely golden-red colour.

 
Fatima Bheekoo Shah is a wife, mother, food blogger, foodie and breast-feeding activist finally answering her calling to be a writer.