A few months ago I ventured north to Upington, a town on the Orange River that also happens to be my mothers birthplace. It was a fantastic trip. I was immersed for two solid days in Northern Cape culture and hospitality and I came back feeling enriched and enlightened.
The main reason for my trip was to attend the second !Naba Food & Wine Festival which was a huge amount of fun as small town festivals in South Africa always are. Sadly I didn’t get to taste the famed !Naba, but luckily came back with a bag of frozen ones. In case you are not sure what a !Naba is, its the smallish fruit of a plant that is somewhere between a potato and a mushroom. More details about this unique species in a bit.
I decided to add the !Nabas to mushrooms – since they fall into a similar flavour profile, and made this delicious pate which paired perfectly with the Orange River Cellars Colomard. I also added the wine to the recipe. This also happens to be the wine I drank
a lot of while at the festival and found it an easy drinking and pleasureable variety. I wonder why you dont find more Colombard in South Africa?
Scroll to the bottom to get the recipe, but in the meantime here are 10 things I learned about the Northern Cape:
1 My Afrikaans is not as bad as I thought
Everyone speaks Afrikaans so I had no choice but to draw on every memory I have of the language and dive into the conversation. I preferred to let the locals do the talking while I concentrated very hard to understand what they were saying. It was better for everyone if I stuck to English in my replies, but it all worked out well in the end.
2 A lot of wine is produced in the region
In case you thought that wine in South Africa is only grown in the Western Cape, think again. The lush banks of the Orange river are home to Orange River Cellars, the largest wine cooperative in South Africa and in the Southern Hemisphere, as well as the second largest in the world, according to the amount of grapes harvested. Their wines are easy drinking and excellent value for money.
3 What is a !Naba
This is the fruit of a plant species know in Southern Africa as the Kalahari truffle or Desert truffle. It only grows in very dry regions and in red sand. I gathered from the locals that its good to harvest this delicacy after a certain amount of rain and at certain times of year. It always grows in red sand and next to a specific type of low bush. They can spot them through tell tale cracks that appear in the soil next to this specific bush, and they are generally close to the surface so hands are used to pull them out. !Nabas may vary in size and can be cooked in a variety of ways.
4 They love eating meat
I remember a childhood holiday spent in Upington where meat appeared on the table three times a day and it doesn’t look like much has changed. This is meat eating country at its best and you can expect to find exceptional quality here. For the Northern Cape people chicken is a vegetable.
5 They love to braai
It makes sense that with all this meat eating the locals take their braai very seriously and I witnessed first hand when I helped Jan Braai judge the braai competition at the festival. You can see all my pics from the festival and both braai competitions here. (*cute kids warning alert)
6 They have a great local butchery
There are a few amazing local butcheries but the Kalahari Vleishuis in Keimoes is legendary. Patrys van Niekerk is a very atypical second generation butcher who keeps her busy business ticking over impeccably. She caters to all people in the community, and will make anything from palony to some of the finest biltong I’ve tasted. She is the go-to person when hunters bring in their kill to be processed from nose to tail. Absolutely nothing goes to waste. She is also a lamb expert, as are many of the locals, and they can tell the origin of the meat simply by smelling it on the braai and then tasting it. The lamb is either from Kenhhardt (local lamb) where the animal grazes on the local Northern Cape shrubs, and the second is Kalahari lamb, where they walk around dunes to graze on the wild grass. Each lamb produces unique qualities in flavour and texture related to the terroir they were raised in. I have a leg of Kenhardt lamb in my freezer and I’ve been plotting and planning a delicious recipe to make with that soon.
7 There is a cut of meat called Flip se Rib
Patrys makes a cut called ‘Flip se Rib’ which is a deboned lamb rib generously rubbed with her secret blend of herbs and spices. The story goes that the local chemist – a man named Flip, asked Patrys to do his rib for him in this special way. As his friends started tasting it, word spread and soon more people were asking for ‘Flip se Rib’. Over time this recipe and cut has become a speciallity in the area.
8 I got stay in my grandparents old house
When visiting Upington give the hotels a wide berth and check into one of the many B & B’s and guest houses to experience the Northern Cape hospitality at its best. I stayed at Bains House, which was originally my grandparents home in Upington and the house my mother and her sisters grew up in. This was very special for me. The swimming pool was the first pool built in Upington and is still in the garden that overlooks the Orange River.
9 The area is a fruit basket
Aside from this being a big wine producing region, the Orange River – through a simple but highly efffective irrigation system of canals is the life blood sustaining large citrus, dried fruit and pecan nut industries. Its obvious that the heat dries the fruit, so I came back with bags of raisins for my Christmas baking.
10 There are a lot of Spanish people living in the area
One of the first things you notice when you arrive in Upington is how many Spanish people there are. I mean a lot of them, and this is because they are providing much-needed expertise in the building of the concentrated solar power plants in the area. Its super complicated but basically these are plants that are sustainable and fueled entirely by harnessing the suns rays in clever ways. ‘Concentrated solar thermal power is able to store solar power generated during daylight hours’, and this is great news for us in South Africa dealing with our current energy crises. Viva el Español.
- Cooks Notes ~ As you are unlikely to get your hands on the rare !Naba, simply substitute them for additional mushrooms – or leave them out. The recipe works well both ways. I prefer to use brown portobellini mushrooms as they have more flavour than white mushrooms, but a mix could be good too.
Recipe – Mushroom and !Naba pate – makes about 400ml
- 1/2 white onion chopped
- 1/2 cup vegetable stock
- 50g butter
- 250g portobellini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup par cooked !nabas, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/2 cup dry white wine such as Orange River Cellars Colombard
- 1 heaped tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup cream cheese
- salt and freshly ground white or black pepper
In a frying pan cook the onion and stock over a low heat until the liquid has evaporated and then remove the softened onion and set aside.
Melt the butter in the same pan and gently fry the mushrooms for about a minute and then add the !Nabas. Continue to cook for a further 3 minutes, then add the garlic, the cooked onions, parsley and white wine. Let this simmer until all the liquid has cooked off. Remove from the heat and allow this to cool.
Blend this in a food processor with the cream cheese and season to taste with the salt and pepper. Serve with home-made ciabatta melba toasts or crackers.
How to make Melba toast
I love to make eat pate with home-made melba toast. Simply freeze the loaf you would like to use – ciabatta works well, and then allow it to thaw slightly. Slice very thinly using a bread slicer or electric carving knife (this is a little easier than doing it by hand). Lay the slices on a large baking tray and bake in the oven – pre heated to 180C for about 10 minutes until they harden and just start turning golden brown. Store in a sealed container until ready to use.
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