Traditional African Food: Seswaa from Botswana
Another Tasty Traditional Recipe
It’s about time for another traditional recipe here, seriously overdue I know. This is a very popular traditional dish from Botswana – although the concept of finely pounded meat is common to several African cultures. Walking into a supermarket and purchasing a pound of minced/ground meat wasn’t an option back when these techniques evolved. Even today, many rural inhabitants don’t have the luxury of a nearby source for provisions.
The beauty of this recipe lies in its simplicity. Use the best, grass-fed beef you can get your hands on – you want the superb flavor that comes with really good meat. Don’t skimp on the cooking time, rather more than less. When I first made this – I won’t say how many years ago – it was in a flat bottom, iron pot on a gas stove. The water cooked away a couple of times as I struggled to get the timing and the heat just right. In the end, it was so worth the effort, producing a rich, meaty dish, a bit like pulled beef only softer, finer and more flavorful. Hard to describe adequately but much loved by the five dedicated carnivores in my family.
- (allow about 4 to 5 hours for preparation and cooking)
- 2 – 3 kg lean beef on the bone (shin, chuck or brisket)
- 1 large or 2 small onions, chopped
- 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- Water to cover
Cut the meat into chunks, through any bone, leave shin whole, unless the pieces are very large. Use a heavy, lidded, cast iron pot or casserole to cook. Your La Creuset, Dutch oven is perfect here, unless, of course, you have a traditional three-legged pot.
Brown the meat well then add enough water to cover, add salt sparingly and simmer gently for several hours. The water will reduce; you can top it up with some boiling water. Continue to simmer until the meat starts to fall apart. Remove the bones. At this point, add the onions to the meat in the pot and season with salt (and pepper). Continue to cook slowly, allowing the liquid to reduce until nearly all gone – between 1/2 and 1 Cup remaining. If you want to serve this with putu pap (known in Botswana as bogobe) , now is the time to start that dish cooking…
Some cooks like to let the seswaa dry out completely and caramelize in the pot. You can do this but at this stage, any hungry diners are likely to be salivating over your shoulder, driven crazy by the tantalizing aromas. Caramelized or not, you still have to finish by pounding the meat into a flaky, fine shred. Put those guys to work. A herd of hungry men pound better than one tired woman. (Seswaa is traditionally prepared by men using poles) Most available recipes recommend using a wooden spoon – trial and error has taught me that by far the best weapon for this process is the straight-up-and-down, modern wooden rolling pin.
Traditionally Marog… Comes Along
For a truly traditional meal, you may want to serve marog (wild greens or spinach or kale, etc.), along with the seswaa and pap. This can be prepared earlier while the meat is simmering and then re-heated.
Tasty and delicious – best results happen when this is part of a communal party or celebration. This time, too many cooks don’t spoil the broth; everyone can help!