Chocolate and hazelnut meringues

Cape Town - Going nutty is a great way to jazz up predictable meals, to add crunch to weekend treats, and inject new flavour into old standbys.

Late winter can be a tiresome time when it comes to catering. Everyone is bored with casseroles, mac and cheese and hearty vegetable soups. But it’s not yet time to turn to leafy salads and light grills. One way to ring the changes is to invest in a selection of nuts, to add inspiration to familiar dishes and to star in yummy bakes.

We cultivate almonds and pecans in the Western Cape and macadamias in Limpopo, while cashews come south from Mozambique. It’s worth making sure that your nuts are locally grown, not only for patriotic reasons, but they are likely to be fresher than imported ones. Peanuts or groundnuts are included in the mix below, although they are actually a legume rather than a nut. But they are both affordable and versatile, and popular with all ages, contributing their unique flavour to savoury and sweet fare.

Store nuts in their shells in an airtight container, keep in a cool place or in the fridge if you are not likely to use them for a while. You can also freeze nuts for up to six months.

For nutty inspiration I turned to three appealing new local cookbooks and an enduring classic which has been updated with a new edition. You will find these titles on the shelves of most book stores.


Chocolate and hazelnut meringues

Sarah Dall graduated from the Silwood School of Cookery in Rondebosch five years ago, and is now a successful caterer who also bakes for weddings and other functions. She is also in demand as a food stylist and recipe developer. For The Love Of Baking is her first book, published by Struik Lifestyle, and it's packed with recipes that offer fresh angles on old favourites, as the one below proves. Meringues keep well, so make them in advance and use as a topping on cakes or ice cream. They can also be served topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a spoonful of granadilla curd.

Makes 8

240g egg whites (about 8 eggs)

pinch of salt

480g castor sugar

5ml (1tsp) cornflour

100g roasted hazelnuts, chopped

50g dark chocolate chips

40ml (4 dpns) cocoa powder, sifted

Line two baking trays with foil and preheat the oven to 110 deg C.

Make the meringues: Whisk the egg whites to soft peak stage, add the salt and continue whisking until the stiff peak stage. Add one tablespoon of castor sugar at a time, whisking continuously until all the sugar has been incorporated. This should result in a fluffy meringue.

Fold the cornflour, hazelnuts and chocolate chips into the meringue mixture. Finally add the sifted cocoa, lightly swirling it through the meringue. Use a large metal spoon to scoop eight meringue dollops (spaced about 3cm apart) on to the foil.

Bake the meringues for 1 hour or until they are hard on the outside and easily peel off the foil. Leave to cool on the tray.


Pear, gorgonzola and steak salad

Eats, by Mary Rolph Lamontagne, published by Struik Lifestyle, presents 27 master recipes, followed by more than 100 others, arranged by the colour of the ingredients. Aimed at providing delicious and practical solutions for saving and reusing ingredients to create new meals, these suggestions also help eliminate waste and save money.

The writer developed ideas while working in a bush camp in Botswana, but her interest in food started years earlier, during her childhood in Canada. She and her family live outside Cape Town , where she cultivates fruit and vegetables, has a worm farm and raises chickens.

Replace pricey gorgonzola with local blue cheese to cut cost, and keep leftover spiced nuts for sprinkling over pizzas with ham and pineapple or pear or use as a topping for icecream. The salad is a way of using leftover steak from dinner and just needs crusty bread to accompany.

Serves 6.

2 T grated root ginger

4 cloves garlic, minced

half cup soy sauce

quarter cup maple syrup

2 flank steaks or skirt steak

3 poached pears or fully ripened raw pears

4 cups mixed lettuce leaves, including rocket and baby greens

1 wedge Gorgonzola, crumbled

2 T apple cider vinegar

1 T Dijon mustard

1 tsp maple syrup

2 T liquid reserved from poaching pears

quarter cup olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Spicy maple nuts:

2 T brown sugar

1 T butter

1 T maple syrup

half cup pecan nuts

quarter tsp chilli powder

In a shallow, flat dish, mix together the ginger, garlic, soy sauce and maple syrup. Marinate the steaks in this mixture overnight.

Heat the grill and cook the steaks to desired doneness. Medium-rare is best for a flank steak. Set aside for 10 minutes before carving. When cutting the steak, be sure to cut against the grain.

While the steak is cooking, cut the poached pears into slivers.

Place the mixed lettuce leaves in a large bowl. Add the pears and crumbled gorgonzola.

In a small bowl, whisk together the apple cider vinegar and Dijon mustard. When thickened, add a few drops of maple syrup and poaching liquid. Put a towel under the bowl, to secure it, and start slowly pouring oil into the vinegar mixture while constantly mixing to create an emulsion. Add parsley at the end as well as salt and pepper.

To make the spicy maple nuts, line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.

Stir the sugar, butter and maple syrup together in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.

Add the pecans and stir until well coated. Sprinkle with chilli powder and continue stirring for a few minutes.

Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and allow to cool.

Once the dressing is ready, toss a little into the salad and arrange the steak pieces on top. Sprinkle with quarter cup spicy maple nuts and serve immediately.


Nutty toffee (tameletjie)

September is Heritage Month and this a good time to turn to cookbooks starring time-honoured fare. Traditional South African Cooking is one of the best. Produced by Magdaleen van Wyk and Pat Barton, and published by Struik Lifestyle, the title has been republished half a dozen times since it first appeared in 1993. In the chapter on sweets and sweetmeats, you will find this very sticky toffee, often called stick-jaw, which has been a Cape favourite since the time of the French Huguenots, adopted and adapted by the Cape Malay cooks. Pine kernels were the traditional ingredient, but as these are exorbitantly expensive, almonds or desiccated coconut can be used instead.

400g (2 cups)white sugar

250ml (1 cup) water

almonds or pine kernels, chopped or desiccated coconut

Boil the sugar and water until the mixture is a caramel colour and starts frothing. Add a sprinkling of chopped pine kernels, almonds or desiccated coconut. Pour into a well-greased, 23cm-square shallow baking pan and mark off squares with a wet knife. Leave to cool, then cut. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 400g.


Peanut sesame chicken rice-paper rolls

Cape Town food blogger Sarah Graham has just produced her second cookbook called Smitten following on the success of the first, which was Bitten. Published by Struik Lifestyle the new title is similar in style to its predecessor, filled with mostly budget-friendly fun and funky food for every occasion. Her peanut sesame chicken appears again, this time as fillings for rice-paper rolls, but you can serve the chicken with rice noodles or rice if preferred. You could also replace the chicken with prawns.

Makes 10.

2T olive oil

4 chicken breasts, sliced into 1cm slivers

1 cup sugar snap peas, thinly sliced lengthways

1 red bell pepper,seeded and thinly

sliced lengthways

2 T roughly chopped fresh coriander

quarter cup roughly chopped peanuts (or cashews)

10 sheets rice paper

Peanut sesame sauce:

3 T sesame oil

1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

3 T soy sauce

6 T sweet chilli sauce

2 T smooth peanut butter

juice of 2 limes

Heat the olive oil in a wok or large frying pan and fry the chicken until cooked through and light golden on all sides. Add the peas and red pepper for the last minute of cooking. Tip into a mixing bowl along with the coriander and peanuts.

Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and pour a third over the chicken and vegetables. Gently toss to coat and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Ready a large bowl of warm water and lay out the rice-paper sheets in front of you. One at a time, float the rice-paper sheets in the water for 30-45 seconds and remove just as they start to collapse and sink. (They look like sinking silk scarves when they reach this stage.) Lay them on a clean plate in front of you. Do not stack them, as they will stick together like glue.

To assemble the rolls, place about 2T chicken mixture down the centre of each rice-paper sheet, then fold in the shorter edges and roll to close. Serve with the extra sauce on the side.

Cape Argus