“What on earth?” I hear my non-indigenous (South African) readers ask.
Little water flowers is the literal translation. The botanical name is Aponogeton distachyos and they are indigenous to the natural freshwater ponds of the Western Cape Province of South Africa. Often considered a weed, the leaves float on the water and then, in winter and spring, the buds and flowers pop above the surface.
I had never cooked with them, and had tasted them once, long ago, in a past life, in a soup. The Husband, having grown up in a landlocked country to the north of us, had never heard of them, let alone tried them. I’d often looked longingly at them on the supermarket shelves, always bok (game) to try something new, but desisted, not quite sure what I’d do with them.
Then, one Saturday morning in May, a fellow stall holder at the McGregor’s Saturday pop-up market, had some for sale.
The Husband was informed that the menu for Sunday supper had changed – I was going to indulge myself by cooking one of my famous (ha!) experimental-made-up-dishes. I consulted my South African cookery bible. Invoked old friend, Google. The common ingredients in virtually all the recipes included lamb or mutton, white wine or lemon juice, onions and potatoes.
Oh, dear! No mutton or lamb in the pantry, so it would have to be vegetarian. The dish would not include tomato – I didn’t want another strong flavour overpowering what I suspected might be quite a delicate taste.
The standard procedure of soaking, for at least an hour, to get rid of the grit and other nasties took place, followed by another rinse, picking over and cleaning these pretty, but deceptively tough vegetables.
Into the trusty wok went some olive oil, chopped onion and garlic to sautéé. These were followed by chopped red bell pepper and some diced brinjal and potato (skin on). Finally, the waterblommetjies were added, along with some vegetable stock, a hefty glug of my evening plonk, a local Sauvignon blanc, and some judicious seasoning with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.
This mixture was allowed to cook for a goodly while, ensuring that it did not stick or dry out, and the vegetables were soft but not mushy.
We ate our (vegetarian) Waterblommetjie Bredie garnished with fresh parsley and avocado.
Well, we were both pleasantly surprised with the flavours and textures of my first attempt at a waterblommetjie bredie (stew), particularly on a chilly autumn evening. I will do some further experiments when I next am blessed with seeing waterblommetjies at the market.
In honour of the humble water flower, Anton Goosen, a South African songwriter, wrote a lovely ballad, which was a local hit in the 1980’s, if I remember correctly. Here is his recording of the song, with the lyrics in both English and Afrikaans sub-titles. For me, the clincher in this video is that it shows some of the beautiful region from which Waterblommetjies come, and in which we have the privilege of living.
First posted in 2015 – a subsequent wonderful encounter with Waterblommetjies is memorialised here.
PS – as I’ve not replicated this dish, I’m not offering a recipe….
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