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Klein Jan’s cabbage-wrapped mince and hot cucumber so...

Maverick Life

MATTERS OF OBSESSION

Klein Jan’s cabbage-wrapped mince and hot cucumber soup recipe

Pages from Jan Hendrik's cookbook. Image: Supplied.

Michelin-starred chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen calls his latest cookbook, ‘Klein Jan Cookbook’, ‘a memoir of the tables from my childhood and my journey to the Kalahari’. Maverick Life’s Malibongwe Tyilo tries his clumsy hands at cooking like a superstar chef.

Recently, my partner and I missed out on a dear friend’s birthday lunch because we were out of town. To make it up to our friend, I promised that when we got back we’d pop over to her place and make lunch for her and a handful of mutual friends and acquaintances. But secretly, at the back of my mind, I hoped that my partner would do the cooking because up until recently he always got very nervous every time I offered to cook for company. In fact, for many years, he’d find a polite way to convince me to leave the cooking to him when we had guests.

Since cooking has never really been my thing, I didn’t take offence at this snubbing of my culinary… erm… skills. Besides, it freed me up to do what I really enjoyed: drinking wine and running my mouth. But as I’ve got older and opted for a life of less wine and the luxury of zero hangovers, I’ve slowly crept back into the kitchen, each time armed with a recipe. While those more talented in the culinary arts might cook from a soulful poetic place deep inside and combine ingredients with ease, I am not that lucky. I need very clear instructions and measurements that I can follow down to the gram and all will be well.

A week before the promised lunch, as I was contemplating breaking the news to my partner that by “we would cook” I meant “he would cook”, a copy of South African Michelin-starred chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen’s Klein Jan Cookbook arrived for review at the Daily Maverick offices, and I immediately put up my hand, begging to be the one to try out a recipe or two towards the book review, and just like that, the “we” that was meant to be “he” turned into “I”.

A page from Jan Hendrik’s cookbook. Image: Supplied.
A page from Jan Hendrik’s cookbook. Image: Supplied.
A shot from Jan Hendrik’s cookbook. Image: Supplied.

As I paged through the cookbook, filled with seductive images of Van der Westhuizen’s new restaurant, Klein Jan, which opened in April 2021, as well as images of its location and surrounds in the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, I found myself seduced by an overhead shot of a hot cucumber soup with parsley dumplings. It looked so tasty and inviting that I became convinced that perhaps in some countries where cucumber is taken seriously as a main ingredient, this must be their national dish. This would be my starter. Then for my mains, I spotted a recipe, sans picture, for Ouma Onder die Kombers, the classic meatballs wrapped in cabbage dish with a dodgy name. I’ve always loved this dish but I’ve never made it, and it doesn’t pop up on many restaurant menus so it’s been years since I’ve had it.

A picture of the Hot Cucumber soup from the Klein Jan cookbook. Image: supplied

A couple of days before the lunch, I sent a WhatsApp group message to our host and our five guests: “Hi guys. Just wanted to do a quick dietary check. Is there any type of food/ingredient that’s a definite no-no for anyone?”

“I’m gluten free. Thanks Mali,” the hostess replied. “Thank you 🙂 I’m vegetarian,” another guest typed.

Van der Westhuizen’s book has an entire section filled with what sounds like delicious salads, vegetables and sides. There’s the barley, wheat, and honey goat cheese salad, there’s the roasted beetroot salad with crispy beetroot leaves or the salad cake of carrots and baked grapes, to name just a few. However, the bulk of the mains section is decidedly carnivorous. So I carried on with Ouma Onder die Kombers, except I swapped out the beef mince for Beyond Meat vegan mince, making the entire meal vegetarian. Thankfully, my gluten-free hostess allowed me to keep the parsley dumplings. For a taste of Klein Jan’s dumplings, she would cheat.

Malibongwe Tyilo’s finished Hot Cucumber Soup, sans crispy fried parsley. Image: Supplied by the author.
A close-up of Malibongwe Tyilo’s finished Hot Cucumber Soup, sans crispy fried parsley. Image: Supplied by the author.

I have my doubts about whether my cooking was as successful as I’d hoped. Also, I did veer off Van der Westhuizen’s recipes on both counts. The cucumber soup recipe, which took over an hour to prepare and cook, called for one last step before serving, which I just couldn’t bring my inelegant fingers to execute: “Break leaves off stems of parsley. Carefully place the parsley leaves in warm oil. Fry until crispy then drain on kitchen towel… Garnish with the fried parsley.” The guests were hungry and I still needed to get started with mains, they would have to forgive me for the missing crispy-fried parsley.

As for mains, not only had I swapped out beef mince for vegan mince, I also couldn’t find the savoy cabbage Van der Westhuizen’s recipe called for at the local Woolies. I went with the common cabbage instead and googled other recipes for the dish to find the best way to prepare the cabbage, at which point I came across Daily Maverick’s very own Tony Jackman’s take on the recipe. I took tips from Jackman on the best way to blanche it but followed Van der Westhuizen’s recipe for the rest.

Malibongwe Tyilo’s vegetarian take on the Ouma Onder die Kombers dish. Image: Supplied by the author

I am happy to say that feedback was all-around positive, and words like “refreshing”, “tasty” and “subtle” followed after the starter. And perhaps the best compliment came from a guest’s seven-year-old son; young Khaya couldn’t get enough of  the cabbage-wrapped vegan mince, and he told me a few times how much he loved it. Imagine that, kids loving the taste of cabbage and vegan mince. My work here is done.

Still, I fully intend to try that meal again with proper beef mince and Van der Westhuizen’s savoy cabbage recipe. I might even deep-fry parsley leaves; or perhaps you can try the recipes below as they were intended, and let me know how it goes.

***

Hot cucumber soup with parsley dumplings. Image: Supplied

Hot cucumber soup with parsley dumplings

Time: 1 hour
Serves: 4 

For the soup

1 medium cucumber, peeled and coarsely grated
15ml olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, sliced
3 potatoes, peeled and diced
10g flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
Kalahari salt and freshly ground black pepper
800ml vegetable stock 

For the parsley dumplings

110g (190 ml) self-raising flour
15ml flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Pinch of Kalahari salt
90ml milk
250ml vegetable stock 

To finish the soup

100ml canola oil
Flat-leaf parsley
Crème fraîche  

For the soup

Place the grated cucumber into a bowl and sprinkle a little salt on top. Let it sit for half an hour, then squeeze the excess water out. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Fry until soft and translucent. Add the diced potatoes, parsley and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper and add the stock. Let it cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Spoon in the grated cucumber. 

For the parsley dumplings

Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the parsley and salt and mix well. Slowly add the milk and mix until it forms a dough. Spoon teaspoonfuls of dough into the palm of your hand and roll into balls. Heat the stock to a simmer. Gently place a few dumplings into the stock and let them simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the dumplings. 

To finish the soup

Heat the oil in a saucepan. Break leaves off the stems of parsley. Carefully place the parsley leaves in the warm oil. Fry until crispy then drain on a kitchen towel. Arrange dumplings in the soup and spoon in some crème fraîche. Garnish with the fried parsley. 

Ouma Onder die Kombers

Time: 2 hours
Serves: 6 

For the cabbage

1 savoy cabbage 

For the stuffing

30g (35ml) unsalted butter
1 onion, finely chopped
6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
800g pork fillet (it must be very lean meat), diced or minced
2 eggs
Kalahari salt and freshly ground black pepper 

For the poaching liquid

2.5 litres low-fat chicken stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled 

For the cabbage

Discard the tough outside cabbage leaves. Trim the root off the base of the stem. With a small knife cut off each cabbage leaf at its base, taking care not to cut through the stem. Remove all the leaves until you reach the heart of the cabbage. Leave the heart as it is, still attached to the stem. Pour 2 litres of water into a large saucepan and add salt. Bring to the boil. Boil the leaves for 30 seconds. Boil the heart attached to its stem for one minute. Take out the leaves and refresh them in a bowl of cold water. Lie the leaves down flat with the inside of the leaves facing upwards and pat dry. Arrange the leaves, according to size, on a tray. 

For the stuffing

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion and sage. Fry over low heat for 10 minutes until soft. Leave to cool. Add the onion mixture to the diced pork. Add the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Wrap the first two smaller leaves filled with mince around the heart of the cabbage and continue to reconstruct the cabbage placing the pork mince between the leaves. Secure with string. 

For the poaching liquid

Place the cabbage base side down into a casserole dish and cover with the chicken stock. Add the thyme, bay leaves and garlic. Bring to the boil, skim, then cover with a lid. Let it simmer for 1½ to 2 hours, turning the cabbage over halfway through. Remove the cabbage from the stock. Place on a board, remove the string and cut into portions. Pour the stock into large soup bowls and arrange the cabbage portions in the stock. DM/ML

Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen’s Klein Jan Cookbook is on the Exclusive Books Recommended monthly promotion and is available at Exclusive Books across the country; retail price: R490. 

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