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Denningvleis, a traditional Cape Malay braised lamb dish, is a symphony of textures and flavors that is a celebration of sweet, sour and savory flavors and epitomizes the richness of South African cuisine.
Since childhood this has been one of my favorite meals and one that Katriena still makes when I visit home. Although the origins of Denningvleis history is lost in the annals of time, I remember having to stop by the spice shop after madressa to buy the tamarind pulp that was an essential ingredient for my mother’s original Cape Malay Denningvleis recipe. We also loved snacking on any remaining tamarind pulp because the sweet and sour flavor was so addictive.
At some point during my teens tamarind became very scarce and my mom found that balsamic vinegar, even a local brand, gave a similar sweet and sour flavor to the slow braised lamb.
What makes the Cape Malay Denningvleis recipe special?
Denningvleis is a dish where each ingredient plays a crucial role in creating a tapestry of flavors and textures. It’s a celebration of sweet, sour, and savory, combined in a way that is uniquely satisfying and quintessentially Cape Malay.
The lamb chops or stewing lamb pieces, central to this Denningvleis recipe, become exceptionally tender and succulent after slow cooking, effortlessly falling off the bone. The meat’s natural flavors are enhanced by the aromatic spices, creating a harmonious balance with the rich and meaty texture.
The onions, caramelized to perfection, bring a sweet and slightly smoky flavor that complements the meat’s robustness. Their texture becomes silky and luscious, melting in your mouth with each bite. The addition of garlic adds a gentle heat and earthiness, which is subtle yet integral to the dish’s depth of flavor. The sweet and sour onion gravy is probably my favorite part of this Denningvleis recipe, and I love it over the mash and yellow rice.
Spices like bay leaves, cloves, and pimento balls introduce a warm, slightly spicy, and aromatic profile. They infuse the dish with a complexity that is both inviting and comforting. The bay leaves, in particular, add a subtle layer of herbal freshness.
The balsamic vinegar or tamarind paste, whichever you choose to use, introduces a crucial acidic component to this Denningvleis recipe. This acidity cuts through the richness of the lamb and caramelized onions, adding a tangy and slightly sweet dimension. It brightens the overall flavor profile and ensures that the dish is not overly heavy.
Lastly, the sugar, while seemingly a minor addition, plays a vital role. It enhances the natural sweetness of the onions and balances the acidity of the vinegar or tamarind paste. The resulting sauce is a thick, glossy, and flavorful coating that envelops the tender lamb and onions, making every spoonful a delightful experience.
How to make melt in the mouth tender Denningvleis
- To add sweetness and depth of flavor, caramelize the onions until they are a deep golden brown color without becoming scorched. This will give the Denningvleis levels of flavor that are missing when the onions are not caramelized enough.
- To enhance the flavor and give the meat more color, braise it with the onions until it is deeply brown. Do not burn the meat and onions.
- Use meat on the bone for added flavor. The best cuts of lamb for slow cooking in Denningvleis are lamb knuckles, stewing lamb or thick ribs. However, traditionally lamb chops was favored as long as they are not cut too thin.
- Water should only be added to prevent the Denningvleis from catching at the pot’s bottom. It will produce its own liquid and moisture while cooking slowly with the lid closed, which will concentrate the flavor.
What NOT to add to your Denningvleis recipe
- Red, yellow or green bell peppers – the flavor is slightly grassy and adds a slightly bitter note and changes the taste of traditional Denningvleis by altering the sweet and sour balance of flavors.
- Lemon juice – tamarind and balsamic vinegar offer complex, fruity and tangy flavors while lemon juice is more one dimensional in it’s sourness. It lacks the natural sweetness of tamarind or balsamic vinegar and the dish will require much more sugar to achieve the balance of sweet and sour.
What to serve with Denningvleis
- Yellow Rice: A classic accompaniment in Cape Malay cuisine, yellow rice is fragrant and slightly sweet, often flavored with turmeric, cinnamon, and raisins. Its sweetness and soft texture complement the savory and tangy flavors of Denningvleis perfectly.
- Cauliflower Rice: For a low-carb option, cauliflower rice, lightly sautéed with garlic and a hint of turmeric, can be a flavorful and healthy side dish that complements the flavors of Denningvleis without adding heaviness to the meal.
- Couscous: Light and fluffy couscous can be an excellent side dish, especially when flavored with herbs like cilantro or parsley, and a touch of lemon zest. It provides a subtle, grainy texture that pairs well with the tender lamb, absorbing the sauce beautifully.
- Mashed Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes: A smooth, creamy side of mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes can serve as a comforting base for the Denningvleis. Their mild sweetness and velvety texture pair well with the spiced, tangy sauce of the dish.
- Roasted Vegetables: A medley of roasted root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes, seasoned with rosemary or thyme, can offer a sweet and earthy side that contrasts nicely with the rich sauce of the Denningvleis.
Other recipes you may enjoy
- Slow Cooked Pulled Lamb shoulder
- Roasted Bone-in Leg of Lamb
- Authentic Cape Malay Lamb Curry
- Finger licking Peri Peri Garlic Butter Prawns fry
- Mouthwatering Chicken Akni recipe (chicken pulao)
Denningvleis recipe - Sweet and Sour Braised lamb
- 750 grams onions, finely chopped approximately 3 onions
- 45 ml olive oil
- 3 bay leaves
- 5 cloves
- 5 all spice berries
- 1 kg lamb meat lamb chops, lamb knuckles or stewing lamb
- 15 ml minced garlic
- 5 ml salt
- 5 ml chili flakes optional
- 60 ml balsamic vinegar or tamarind pulp
- 30 ml granulated sugar
- black pepper, to taste
- Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat and add the chopped onions, bay leaves, cloves and all spice berries.
- Sauté until the onions are caramelised and golden about 30 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent it catching.
- Add the minced garlic and the meat and stir to combine.
- Cook the meat covered, on low for 15 minutes stirring occasionally, then add the salt and chili flakes (if using).
- Add the balsamic vinegar or tamarind pulp and sugar and cook covered for a further 30-45 minutes or until the meat is fall off the bone tender. Stir occasionally to ensure it doesn't catch on the bottom of the pot.
- Check the seasoning and add more salt, sugar or vinegar per your personal taste.
- Serve hot with yellow rice and creamy mashed potato,
Disclaimer: Nutritional information for the recipe is an approximation and varies according to the ingredients and products used.
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