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Flower stew is perfect comfort food for South Africans

When most people think of edible flowers, they tend to picture using them as garnishes or to top salads, but some flowers are more versatile and can be used in other dishes. In South Africa, flowers are used to make a stew called waterblommetjie bredie. When the Dutch first arrived in South Africa in the 1600s, they relied on local vegetation for the first few years, while they tried to introduce their crops to the African soil. They worked together with the indigenous Khoikhoi to develop the stew and other culturally diverse foods to bring a unique flavor to the South African menu.

Waterblommetjies means “little water flowers,” which is appropriate for flowers that grow primarily in ponds and swamps. The small white flowers are harvested between June and September, before they bloom. CookSister.com suggests that the waterblommetjies have a texture similar to artichokes, but with a more subtle flavor, similar to green beans with a hint of citrus.

They are used to make waterblommetjie bredie, a stew that combines the flowers with lamb, potatoes, onions and wild sorrel – a sour plant that is toxic in large quantities, but harmless in smaller portions. Sorrel can be difficult to find, but it can be substituted with different ingredients, such as white wine and watercress, to achieve the same flavor.

The flowers are native to South Africa’s Western Cape, but have been transplanted and grown successfully in France and the U.K. Even though you can’t find fresh waterblommetjies in these places, South African stores throughout the world generally sell canned flowers so you can cook up a tasty stew that will remind you of home if you moved away for work. You can also send money to South Africa so your loved ones can buy the ingredients to make the waterblommetjie bredie as well.

The stew is made by first browning the lamb in oil. Once that is done, you can heat up onions, garlic and spices until the onions are translucent. You also need to cook up the potatoes with some lamb or beef stock before adding everything to the casserole dish and popping it into the oven for about an hour. Traditionally, the stew was cooked in a pot over a fire, but work with what you’ve got. After the hour is up, it’s time to add the waterblommetjie and the wild sorrel or watercress. Bake the stew for another 15 minutes and it will be ready to serve over rice, mashed potatoes or whatever you desire.

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