As a kid I was completely enamoured by the idea of a white Christmas even though, as a South African, our December holidays are anything but snow-filled. American films made us imagine what Christmas would be like with snow gently falling outside, covering the landscape in a thick, white blanket; a fireplace crackling merrily in the corner of a cosy living room.
In 2012 I moved to Joburg for a brief stint and one morning, as I was getting dressed snugly against the dry, frigid cold of the Highveld winter, I noticed through the window a flurry of thingamabobs floating gently to the ground, like goose down from a particularly savage sibling pillow fight. It was snowing in Johannesburg. Yes, it’s true. Google it if you don’t believe me.
I had never seen snow in real life and the 5-year-old kid in me jumped up and down. I rushed outside, stood with my arms outstretched and turned my face up to the fluffy, white magic falling from the sky. It was right then that I had a life-altering realisation.
Snow is freakin’ freezing! Like, unpleasantly cold. It’s hilarious that I never made the obvious connection between snow and ice. It was around this time that I became grateful that we, South Africans, are treated to warm, sunny festive seasons. Instead of heavy coats and gloves, we get to “gooi” on shorts and “plakkies”, and summer dresses and sandals.
And instead of a cosy fireplace, we light up a raging braai fire. Speaking of braaing, I’ve decided to cook this year’s entire Christmas lunch on the braai, right from the starter to the dessert. Because, honestly, is there anything more South African than a good old braai?
Starter: Peppadew & Dhania Braai Pie
Did you know that the peppadew is a proudly South African chilli? These bright and mild chillies were first discovered in Limpopo in 1993 and has been loved by Mzansi ever since, from a favourite on pizzas to brightening up a summer salad.
This recipe is quite straightforward, but super yummy. I’d suggest making more than one or two because a family fight will most definitely break out about second helpings. Grease your clean folding braai grid (cooking spray works like a bomb) and place a pastry sheet onto the bottom half of the cold grid.
Fill up the pastry sheet with roughly chopped peppadews, dhania (coriander) and a lot of grated cheddar and mozzarella. Place the second pastry on top, seal the edges of your two pastries together to form your pie and braai over moderate heat until golden and flaky (remember to turn constantly.) Cut in squares and serve with a chutney sauce for dipping.
Main: Brandy & Coke Glazed Gammon, Braai Potatoes and Chilled Noodle Salad
Step 1: Brandy & Coke Glazed Gammon
Some people would argue that a big glass of brandy and coke is without a doubt Mzansi’s unofficial drink of choice. Whichever way you feel about this sweet cocktail, this glazed gammon is bound to have your mouth all kinds of watering.
- 1 large gammon joint, about 2kg (mine was deboned)
- 1 onion, halved
- 10 whole cloves + extra for finishing
- 2 litres of Coca-Cola
- One bird-eye chilli roughly chopped including seeds (optional)
For the glaze:
- ¾ cup tightly packed soft brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp brandy
- 1-2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
- pinch of ground cloves (optional)
1 Tsp chilli flakes (optional)
- Place your gammon in a large stock pot. Add the onion, whole cloves, chopped chilli and Coca-Cola. Bring to a simmer, loosely cover with a lid and leave to cook for at least 30 minutes (40 minutes if bone-in) per 500g, or a little more if you have time. To give you an idea, mine was 2.5kg and I let it cook for 3 hours and it was perfect.
- Once the gammon is cooked, use two forks to lift it out of the cooking liquid and into a bowl to cool down.
- While the gammon is cooling, make the glaze. Heat all the ingredients together in a small saucepan until the sugar has completely dissolved (add more sugar if the glaze is too watery, or a little water if too thick). Do not boil as it will turn to hard caramel.
- When the gammon is cool enough to handle, carefully peel the skin off. Lift a corner and tug gently. You will see it comes off surprisingly easily. Score the fat to create a diamond pattern – the pattern is a matter of personal choice, but the scoring helps the glaze to stay on the fat instead of just sliding off. Press a clove into the centre of each diamond, baste the fat liberally with the glaze and place the gammon on your braai grid over medium heat, turning frequently so as not to burn the glaze. Baste regularly until the glazed fat has browned nicely (it should take about 15 minutes).
- Carve and serve immediately or allow to cool and store in the fridge to serve chilled the next day.
Step 2: Braai potatoes
A must-have side on any South African Christmas lunch table! So simple, place a cast iron skillet pan or pot directly on the fire/coals. Fill the bottom of the pan with 1cm of vegetable oil and when the oil is piping hot, throw in your halved potatoes and fry until tender on the inside and golden and crispy on the outside. To make this step even faster, cook your peeled potatoes covered in hot water in a microwave for 10min till tender.
Step 3: A fresh noodle salad with a twist
What is a braai without a noodle salad? I’d rather not find out. This simple but delicious noodle salad will have your guests raving about your cooking prowess. I suggest making this salad the day before and serving it chilled. Boil 500g of your favourite noodles until cooked but still firm and then strain in a colander. Transfer your noodles to a serving bowl and put in two large table spoons of creamy mayonnaise.
Drain a tin of corn kernels and throw it in with the noodles. Roughly chop up 5 large gherkins and put that in the bowl. Roughly chop a handful of fresh dhanja and pop it in to the salad. Throw in two teaspoons of the gherkin juice and mix everything together with a pinch of salt and pepper. Boom! Salad done.
Dessert: Sweet ‘n Sticky Sugar Cones
If you invite me over for Christmas lunch and there is no dessert, I’m walking out the front door. It’s just not done. And if you’re a little lazy like me, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with this ridiculously easy braai dessert. You take sugar cones, stuff it with mini-marshmallows and crushed peppermint crisp chocolate. Wrap this sugar bomb in foil, place on a braai grid over hot coals for 4-5 min and serve with a massive scoop of your favourite ice cream. Brilliant, right?