Book Review: Safaris & Spices – An African Food Journey

Nico Verster


Review: Brian Joss

If you want to add some spice to your cooking, whether it’s for a special occasion or to lift your meal to another level, celebrated chef Nico Verster will help you do just that.

Verster, who has been a chef for 15 years, takes you on a spicy, culinary journey taking in Morocco in North Africa, past East Africa, in to Mozambique, Madagascar and southern Africa, not forgetting Tanzania and Zanzibar, following the ancient trade roots.

The chapter headings are Dunes and Dhows, focusing on spice mixes, pastes and nuts, pickles, preserves and chutneys; Marimba and Mangroves, where you can learn to make stock and sauces. Included here are recipes for soups of all kinds: from Bean Soup with Bacon to the exotic-sounding Cauliflower Soup with white Kalahari Truffle. (According to Verster Kalahari truffles are found throughout Namibia and the Bushmen have been eating them for years. If you can’t find any then you can use truffle flavoured oil or normal truffles). In this section you can find a recipe for Pea Soup which is not as bland as it sounds.

In Kaftans and Cumin you can learn to make sides such as Fondant Potatoes, Hummus, Chapatti and Moroccan Flat bread, to name some. You will also find mains in this chapter and they include Guinea Fowl Stew, Harissa and Lime Octopus Salad, a Vegetable Tart and Masala Fish Curry with Chapatti.

You will find deserts to die for in the chapter Baobab and Vanilla Beans which also includes cakes from a classic Sponge Cake to a Coffee Sponge Cake. There are also recipes for Portuguese Custard Tarts (the real thing) and Caramel Salted Brittle.

The recipes for the most part are uncomplicated and Verster’s step-by-step instructions are concise. The most difficult aspect will be finding some of the ingredients: they’re definitely not on the shelves at your supermarket. However, if you need Berbere spice, a key ingredient in Ethiopian dishes, or Tsire, a West African roasted peanut and spice mixture, Verster tells you how to make it.

Verster says he wrote this recipe book during his African journey to “capture the essence of southern African food steeped in tradition, while highlighting the modern diversity in the current gastronomic scene”.

The chef has certainly achieved his aim: Safaris and Spices is not just a coffee table cook book, it is practical and will be well thumbed. It will spur you to move out of your cooking comfort zone. The mouth-watering full colour images are by Joe Dreyer.

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