Justin Bonello: Cooked in the Karoo

Justin Bonello

Justin Bonello

By Julienne du Toit

Pictures supplied by Penguin Books and Chris Marais

Justin Bonello’s new Cooked in the Karoo is a curious amalgam of books. It’s obviously a cook book. But it is also a richly illustrated account of a rambling roadtrip across this vast thirstland.Justin Bonello - Cooked in the Karoo

Bonello’s fame as a chef mostly comes from his television show Cooked, several books and more recently, the Ultimate Braai Master series.

This is a man who is used to travelling long distances, finding interesting foods and making lekker kos. And he has fallen head over heels in love with the Karoo.

Cooked in the Karoo was put together while creating a new television show (still to be screened), called Karoo, Land of Thirst (you can see a trailer for it by clicking here).

The book, while obviously driven by Bonello, is written by Helena Lombard.

Justin and his team take a looping roadtrip from Calvinia’s Vleisfees to Sutherland, Merweville, the Swartberg Pass, Nieu-Bethesda, Jansenville, Steytlerville and many other stops in between, camping all the way.

The book is full of cameo encounters with eccentric Karoo people, foodies and hospitable farmers. There are inserts on Sutherland’s starscapes, the corbelled houses of Carnarvon and Williston, Anatolian shepherd dogs, ancient fossils and Bushman paintings.

But obviously, the main focus is on food.

Many of the recipes relate to their encounters. At the Vleisfees they picked up a few ways of making skilpadjies (bits of liver wrapped in kidney fat). At Wolverfontein farm along the R62, they discovered a great way to use up braai leftovers by filling a wrap with lamb chops, salsa and tzatziki.

Justin Bonello

Justin Bonello is fascinated by the ancient history of fossils and Bushman rock art.

Marianne Palmer, co-author of cookbook Prickly Pears and Pomegranates from Cranemere Farm near Pearston (made famous by Eve Palmer’s classic book The Plains of Camdeboo) inspires Justin to prepare skaapstertjies (lamb’s tails), springbok shanks, an easy homemade mayonnaise, and a refreshing peach punch.

There are plenty of padkos- and Karoo-inspired recipes for old fashioned salt rib, vetkoek, goat sausage, frikkadelle, roosterkoek, biltong carpaccio, ash bread, slaphakskeentjies, olive tapenade, afval, roast leg of lamb, prickly pear ice lollies, ginger beer, sticky figs, pecan nut pie and Ouma Grietjie’s milktart.

As you might expect, there are interesting open fire recipes too – like the braaied Karoo pizza and braaied Wellington (involving a beef fillet and corner cafe loaf of white bread).

But Bonello also throws in non-Karoo food, like moussaka, beef, stout and dumpling stew, crumbly pork chops with sweet apple and onion gravy, pestos, mustards, chilli relish, ricotta quiche, peach dumplings, salted caramel popcorn, banana bread muffins.

Comfort food all the way.

Bonello has great respect for the delicate flavours of Karoo lamb and mutton.

Bonello has great respect for the delicate flavours of Karoo lamb and mutton.

On every page, Bonello’s love for the Karoo shines through. He finds it an intriguing and inspiring space. He thinks its stories are fascinating, and relate back to our ancient and near ancestors.

Its narrative is also made up of “the oddballs, the drama queens, the movers, the shakers and the great food makers. It’s also the famous Karoo lamb, nurtured and reared by the Karoo farmers who continue to preserve the generational knowledge of this space.

“And it’s the plants and the animals and the festivities and the hospitality that permeates through the communities in the Karoo,” writes Justin near the end of the book.

“This space has left me humbled.

“Throughout my two-year journey, I’ve had to keep asking myself ‘Justin, why did you come here?’

“I think you come here to find out who you are.”

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