Firing up for vegetarian Heritage day
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ONCE upon a time, vegetarians were considered to be radical libtards with hairy legs and unshaven armpits.
Of course, there were some hirsute exponents of diet as a statement, a way of life.
But mostly the non-carnivorous gang simply chose to do no harm and we flocked to the one vegetarian restaurant in Durban, the Hungry Hermit in Heritage Street.
It was a delight to get proper food at a restaurant. In the others, terror washed over the faces of the waiters/resses when you asked about vegetable options.
“Oh, we’ll make you up a veggie platter,” they’d trill.
We knew what was coming: over-cooked peas, a few sloppy carrots, mashed squash and/or potato, with pretty tomato, parsley and lettuce bits to try to make it sort of palatable.
Nothing like the delicious, garlicky wonder that was the Hermit’s Brinjal Bake. None of us were “foodies” but that bake was like a haven in a world that considered us alien life. We even tried to make it at home, but never came close.
This past life experience came back in the run-up to Heritage Day on September 24. It has sort of become national braai day because Saffers love to gather around a fire, cook their meat and swig a drink. Even as a vegetarian, the smell of a braai or shisanyama somewhere nearby fires up the saliva glands.
But mostly, us veggies get a salad, a potato baked in foil or a roll. Back in the old days, we could braai a soya sausage and fart like elephants for days.
The modern no-meat alternatives are really good: I fed my carnivore son a fake chicken burger and he was surprised when I let him in on the secret.
Now there’s even better news: that doyen of the braai tongs, Jan Braai, has published a big fat book that only has vegetarian options. We are seen!
I’ve not been his target audience, so have never read/used his books before. Also, because of above-mentioned limitations, braais have never made it on to my radar as particularly heritage-ish. Jan Braai explains that it is his vision to use the love of cooking over fires as a uniting activity in this country because the basic, the fire, is central to so many Saffers.
I was delighted with his dry wit and light touch in his writing generally and his “how-to” explanations. For instance, the iced tea sandwich: “The British on the muddy Island off the west coast of Europe do a soft version of this sandwich and serve it with tea. But here in Africa we know how to make fires and we know how to braai.”
Something else that appeals to my cook-y ineptitude and irritation with finicky bits: he factors in an effort-to-impressive ratio, so nothing is outlandishly arduous. And no matter how it’s made, even if it’s in a pot, if it’s done over an open fire, it’s a braai.
It is a lovely book, filled with new recipes, and some old favourites converted to vegetable-only options. As a foodie himself, Jan Braai has made sure that even carnivorous foodies can find something delicious in here.
The pictures are beautiful, there are a few must-try brinjal offerings. And the vegetarians gathered around the fire and lived happily ever after.
- Lindsay Slogrove is the news editor
The Independent on Saturday