Adam Liaw's favourite South African dishes

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2010 MasterChef winner and TV presenter

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Boerewors with chakalaka and polenta

Boerewors with chakalaka and polenta Photo: William Meppem. Food preparation: Maxwell Adey. Styling: Hannah Meppem

The first time I went to South Africa, I knew very little about the place. I'd seen its teams play cricket and rugby, watched a few movies and read a bit about its history, but in terms of understanding its food, I don't mind admitting I was starting from a very low base.

Sometimes that's the best way to experience a new culture and cuisine - with a completely open mind. Over a week we ate incredible gammon and chutneys, biltong (like beef jerky, but much, much better) and tried bunny chows (hollowed-out loaves of bread filled with curry). I even cooked bobotie (a meaty casserole) on a campfire in the Kruger National Park, surrounded by hyenas.

I did flinch a little at the "walkie talkies", a popular township street dish of grilled chicken heads and feet, but on the whole, South African food has stuck with me ever since. It's bold, brave and rich in history, and if you've never tried it, you need to get on board. Here are a couple of classics to get you started.

Melkert

Melkert Photo: William Meppem

Boerewors with chakalaka and polenta

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SERVES 4

Chakalaka is a quick South African side dish that works perfectly with grilled meats or even on its own. It's usually served with pap, a local cornmeal, but polenta is tastier.

• 1 large rolled boerewors sausage (600g-800g), or other thick beef sausages

• 1 cup fine polenta

• 1 tsp salt

• 50g cold butter, cubed

• 4 cups mixed baby salad leaves Chakalaka (makes extra)

• 4 tbsp olive oil

• 2 large onions, finely diced

• 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

• 1 tbsp Keen's curry powder (or your preferred brand)

• 1 tsp turmeric powder

• 2 tbsp tomato paste

• 2 carrots, grated

• 1 green capsicum, finely diced

• 1 red capsicum, finely diced

• 3 tomatoes, diced

• 1 bird's eye chilli, sliced

• 1/2 tsp salt

• 1 tsp sugar

• 2 tbsp white wine vinegar

For the polenta, bring 1.25 litres of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the salt, then gradually add the polenta while whisking gently. Continue whisking for about 2 minutes while the polenta thickens. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer the polenta for 40 minutes, whisking occasionally. Remove from the heat and vigorously whisk in the cold butter.

For the chakalaka, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and fry the onions and garlic until translucent. Add the curry powder, turmeric and tomato paste and fry for about 2 minutes until fragrant, then stir through the carrot, capsicum, tomato, chilli, salt, sugar and vinegar. Add about 100ml of water and bring to a simmer. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes until the water is mostly evaporated. Cover and allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Grill the sausage on a barbecue or medium grill until cooked and serve with the polenta, salad leaves and lots of chakalaka.

Melkert

SERVES 6-8

Who doesn't love a classic custard tart? South Africa's version is one of the most popular dishes in the country.

For the pastry, combine flour, baking powder, butter, sugar and salt in a processor and pulse to form fine crumbs. Add egg and pulse again. Lightly knead until the dough becomes smooth, wrap with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

On a floured surface, roll the dough to 7mm thick and line a 24cm x 5cm fluted tart tin, trimming away the excess dough. Refrigerate the tart tin for a further 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Weight the pastry case with pie weights and blind-bake for 15 minutes. Remove the pie weights and continue to bake for 10 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the tin and allow to cool.

For the filling, whisk egg yolks and caster sugar together to a thick paste. Whisk in flours until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites until soft peaks form. Heat milk in a large saucepan to just before boiling. Add a little milk to the eggs, whisk quickly, then add the remaining milk and whisk until smooth. Return the mixture to the saucepan and whisk constantly until very thick. Remove from heat, whisk in butter and almond essence and fold through whisked egg whites. Pour custard into tart shell and flatten the top. Dust with cinnamon and chill for 1 hour before serving.

Sweet pastry

• 250g plain flour

• 2 tsp baking powder

• 125g unsalted butter, diced

• 60g caster sugar

• ¼ tsp salt

• 1 egg

Filling

• 3 eggs, whites and yolks separated

• 200g caster sugar

• 50g cornflour

• 50g plain flour

• 1.25 litres full-cream milk

• 50g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed

• 1/2 tsp almond essence

• 1 tbsp cinnamon powder

Adam's tip

Boerewors is a lean, coiled sausage that originated in South Africa's Afrikaans communities. It's mainly made from beef, although lamb or pork are often added. You'll find it at South African butchers (you may be surprised how many of them are around).