When I visited Seychelles last year on a Top Billing photo shoot, I ate bat curry. Yes, you read right – bat; those winged, eerie, blood-sucking creatures that live in caves. It's a treasured delicacy on the island and a story that, when recounted, either earns me mucho brownie points in foodie circles or garners an open-mouthed stare or instant gasp-and recoil reflex.
China has birds nest soup and tuna eyeballs, Cambodia has fried tarantulas, maggot cheese or Casu Marzu is a delicacy in Sardinia while thousand year old eggs are big in Asia - bat isn't sounding so bad right now is it? And while it may not be as shocking to us locals, it's still a little weird that here in South Africa we eat.... pondweed. Also known as waterblommetjies.
Not being Afrikaans, I didn't grow up with ouma's waterblommetjie bredie simmering on the stove. So when I first found myself confronted with a bowl of waterblommetjies, I recoiled in horror at what I was told was wild plants that were harvested from a dam or pond. To be fair, put the word 'pond' or 'weed' on the end of any word and it does not sound like something I want on the other end of my fork. But, dunk the fleshy green bulbs into a frothy tempura batter and deep-fry until crisp and golden, then sprinkle the light batter with a generous squeeze of zesty lemon and a sprinkling of sea salt and waterblommetjies turn into a sublime delicacy. The supermarket shelves are now bulging with fresh, seasonal waterblommetjies so try them in the easy-cheesy risotto below, pair it with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and you'll earn some serious culinary credentials in my eyes. Enjoy!
500g waterblommetjies, washed well
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 onion, finely chopped
1 head of garlic, halved and roasted in foil until golden
1 ¼ cups Arborio or risotto rice
1 cup white wine
zest and juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup grated gruyère cheese
¼ cup crumbled goat's cheese (optional)
2T chopped parsley
Cook the waterblommetjies in the boiling stock until tender. Refresh the waterblommetjies in ice water and set aside. Bring the stock to a simmer again. Saute the onion in the butter until soft. Squeeze the roasted garlic from the cloves and add to the onion. Add the rice and stir for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until completely evaporated. Stir in ½ cup of stock at a time and simmer gently while stirring until completely absorbed before adding more. Keep adding until the rice is al dente. Stir in the chopped, cooked waterblommetjies and the rest of the ingredients. Season well and serve with tempura waterblommetjies, if desired.
TIP: For a quick tempura batter, sift 85g cake flour and 1T cornflour with a little salt. Whisk in 200ml ice-cold sparling water and whisk with a fork until just combined (a few lumps are fine). Dip the waterblommetjies into the batter and deep-fry in hot oil until golden.