In Afrikaans (which stems from Dutch), a potjie is a little pot. These pots are, for the most part, really not so little and actually weigh a whole lot since they're made from cast iron.
According to Wikipedia, they were brought to South Africa from the Netherlands in the 17th century. These so called potjie pots (which is a little odd, as it means: little pots pots) usually have three legs for packing coal/wood underneath for cooking, a heavy lid that keeps the contents in even while they're boiling furiously, and a sturdy handle for lifting a heavy, fire-hot vessel.
Almost every culture that has some cold weather during their year-long cycle has some version of stew, and potjiekos (direct translation: little pot food) is basically a very traditional version of just that...stew.
And we all know stew has a hundred-and-one incarnations! Meat, veg and a starch of some sort can be remarkably versatile.
My version is an entirely vegan recipe, made on the day we christened our potjie pot (size: #4, which feeds around 8 - 10 people).
- 1 kg carrots
- 1.4 kg baby potatoes
- 700 g - 1 kg pumpkin chunks
- 1 punnet each of zucchini + patty pans + baby butternut + baby gem squash
- fresh curry leaves
- fresh rosemary
- fresh basil
- fresh thyme
- Once the new pot has been 'seasoned' for use by heating over the fire and wiping out with cooking oil numerous times, you're ready to begin your cooking exploits.
- Lay the fresh herbs along the base of the pot. Make sure they cover the entire base of the pot. This will do two things: 1 - prevent the vegetables from burning during cooking, and 2 - flavour the entire potjiekos evenly.
- Cut carrots into chunks and baby potatoes in half. Add them to salted, boiling water in the potjie and cook with the lid on for at least 40 minutes.
- Test the carrots and potatoes to see that they're almost cooked. Now add all of the softer vegetables: layer pumpkin chunks first, then baby gem halves, then patty pan halves and zucchini chunks. Top with enough boiling water to cover, season with more salt and put the lid back on the pot. It goes back onto the fire for another 30 - 40 minutes.
- Test that the veg are done. Take the pot off the fire and stir through 1 tablespoon of agar-agar. This will act as the thickening agent (when the stew cools, it will turn slightly gelatinous, but this abates when the leftovers are reheated).
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with basmati rice.
- You will find that a stew cooked over a fire is infused with a delicious smoky flavour. And you might get a kick out of the authenticity too: (wo)man versus fire! :)