This recipe is a great tradition in the Cape where the blommetjies, Aponogeton distachys, also known as wateruintjies, fill the ponds and dams in the Western Cape with pretty white snowdroplike strongly scented flowers. Louis Leipoldt, in his book on Cape Cookery, refers to them in English as Water Hawthorn and Myrna Robins as Water Hyacinth. It is important that the flowers be just opening with the calyces still bright green. To prepare them, remove any of the black centres of the flowers. They need to be soaked in lots of salted water and then rinsed through well in a couple of basins of freshly drawn water.
I have found it best to use a combination of thick rib – which adds a little flavourful fat to the dish – and lean shoulder. Many of the old Cape recipes, advocate using “a bit of sheep’s tail to add a bit of fat”, and others recommend “nice fat leg of lamb”.
You’ll need: 2 kgs waterblommetjies – prepared as above, 6 medium onions, peeled & finely sliced chopped, 2 Tbs sunflower oil – more if you need it.
3 small green chilis – seeded & chopped, 6 fat cloves garlic – peeled & chopped, 3 fat slices of ginger – peeled, 3 kg lamb – use I kg thick rib with bones & 2 kg boned shoulder, sea salt, freshly milled black pepper, 6 allspice berries, 4 cloves, half a nutmeg, grated, 250ml full bodied red wine, 1 litre good beef stock or demi glace, 2 handfuls wild sorrel – lemon juice or tamarind juice, 1 kg medium potatoes – peeled & quartered, 1Tbs brown sugar.
Method: In a heavy bottomed ovenproof casserole with a tight fitting lid, gently fry the onions in the oil and as they start turning golden, add the chilis, garlic and ginger and continue frying until golden. Remove drain on kitchen paper. Brown the meat in batches keep the temperature high. Keeping the browned meat aside on a plate. Pour off any excess oil from the casserole and wipe out with a kitchen paper towel. Return meat [with any juices which may have collected on the plate] and onion mixture to the casserole. Season well with sea salt, freshly milled black pepper and add the allspice berries, cloves and nutmeg. Add the wine and stock and braise either on top of the stove or in a 180C oven for 1½ hours. It is a good idea to cool the dish at this stage and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavours to mature. If you don’t have the time, continue with the recipe. Following day, reheat the casserole gently. Place the sorrel on top, then the blommetjies and finally the potato. Sprinkle over the sugar and spoon over some of the sauce. Steam, simmering gently for a further 1½ hours either on top of the stove or in a 180C oven. When ready to serve, stir through gently and serve with steamed white rice and wedges of lemon.
Serves 12 people.
Wine recommendation: click here