A Peri-Peri Good Time: Spiced-Up South Africa

A Peri-Peri Good Time: Spiced Up South Africa

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Story by Dave DeWitt
Photos by Dave DeWitt and Mary Jane Wilan
Recipes by Rochelle Schaetzl and Nancy Gerlach


Peri Q
Sweet and Sticky Chicken Wings
Roasted Reds Tomato and Vodka Soup
Ricotta Gnocchi with Nando’s Roasted
Reds and Wilted Spinach Casserole
Peri Peri Nutty Chicken
Whisky Maple Pear and Peri Peri Ice Cream

Chile peppers lured us to South Africa. One was a popular pickled pepper that was the focus of a plant patent matter that I was consulting on. The other was the Peri-Peri, the principal pepper used in the hot sauces of Nando’s, a large chain of spicy chicken restaurants based in South Africa.

The adventure began with email from Derek Harms, a barrister who was handling a legal action challenging a plant patent. Would I consult on the case as an expert? Yes, I replied. Would I travel to South Africa as the client’s guest expert and testify at the hearing in front of the Registrar of Plant Patents of the South Africa Department of Agriculture? You bet!

By a weird coincidence, I also had email from another South African deeply involved with peppers, Chris Thorpe, the general manager of the international grocery division of Nando’s. Chris offered me a tour of South Africa and the Nando’s operations there if I were ever in the country. I replied yes, of course, and told him about legal case I was consulting on and a deal was struck. The first week I’d be in Pretoria for the hearing, but after that Chris would show us around his country.


Nando’s Chickenmobile

Pretoria and Johannesburg

To get to South Africa, we first flew from Albuquerque to Minneapolis, where we caught a flight to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. That remarkable airport has both a casino and a museum! We were able to change our dollars for rand, the currency of South Africa. Then we boarded the nonstop flight to Johannesburg that went nearly the entire length of the African continent. At the airport, we were picked up by a polite but reticent driver who drove us to the Holiday Inn in Pretoria, the capital of the country. Our room overlooked a lovely garden of tropical plants surrounding the swimming pool.

For the first few days I was constantly in meetings with Derek as we planned out the testimony for the hearing. During the down time, we did touristy things like visiting National Zoo and the impressive Voortrekker Monument that was a tribute to the Dutch settlers. I also watched several rugby matches which I enjoyed enormously. We ate hotel food that was pretty good, including bobotie, a curry mince pie, fiery mutton chops, chicken that tasted like chicken in the old days, and spicy masala chickpeas. However, the South African beer was very disappointing. All the brands are owned by South African Breweries, which also owns Miller Beer in the U.S., and although there is a great wine tradition in South Africa, the beers are very ordinary.

The hearing in the plant patent case went very well, but I had to do fight off an aggressive attorney for the other side who kept trying to put words in my mouth. But I had previous experience in court, kept my cool, and some of my sarcastic replies to questions made the Registrar laugh. I can’t really go into the details of the case, and as of this writing, the Registrar had not ruled, more than two months later. With the work over, it was time for some fun. Big game fun.

Kruger National Park

Chris picked us up at the hotel in a van that held numerous other people, including his girlfriend Valerie; Selwyn Bron, the personal assistant to the owner of Nando’s, Robbie Brozin; Rochelle Schaetzl, director of new product development. John Paidoussi, the CEO of the grocery division of Nando’s and his wife, Dawn, met with us later that evening.

Crocodile River Nile Crocodile

View of the Crocodile River from the Verandah of Robbie’s Lodge. A Nile Crocodile.

We were headed to Robbie’s lodge at Leopard Creek, the exclusive golf estate just across the Crocodile River from Kruger National Park. The three-hour drive on excellent highways took us through rolling grassland, patches of forests, lakes with trout in them, and mountain passes—but no jungles. Forget jungles, because South Africa doesn’t have them.

Dave and Rochelle

Dave and Rochelle

Apparently Robbie does a lot of entertaining at his lodge, because the five bedrooms were beautifully decorated and each had its own luxurious bath. There was cable TV for watching the rugby matches, or you could go out on the verandah and watch the hippos in the Crocodile River or the vervet monkeys in the trees. I’m no expert, but the golf course was amazingly beautiful, with ponds and perfectly manicured greens. There were birds like fish eagles and little antelopes called bushbucks everywhere. That night, Rochelle, who’s the de facto Nando’s Official Corporate Chef, prepared an amazing dinner with nearly every course spiced up with various Nando’s products, especially their Peri-Peri sauces.

Hippo Crossing

Hippo Crossing

The next day we took an 8-hour tour of Kruger National Park with the hopes of seeing the Big Five: elephant, rhino, Cape buffalo, lion, and leopard. Paved roads loaded with elephant and other animals’ droppings took us through the park, and only at official tourist stops with buildings were we allowed to get out of the van. Our hosts were extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife. The scenery was pure savannah, with open spaces, brush, acacia trees, and the occasional watering hole. Finally, we were in what looked like the African plains of the movies.

Elephant in Kruger National Park

An Elephant in Kruger National Park

We had mammal and bird identification books, and I kept a list of what we saw—in all, 16 species of animals and 23 species of birds. We didn’t see any lions, leopards, or Cape buffaloes, but we did see elephants, rhinos, hippos, baboons, impalas, kudus, giraffes, wildebeests, zebras, crocodiles, monitor lizards, and a warthog. The most impressive bird was a gigantic martial eagle, and we also spotted hornbills, ox pickers, herons, plovers, vultures, shrikes, kingfishers, and a black-breasted snake eagle. It was the most amazing nature tour I’ve ever taken. Rochelle, Selwin, and Chris even prepared a bush breakfast for us at one of the camps, fired up with Nando’s sauces, of course.

Bush Breakfast

Chris and Selwyn Cooking
Up a Bush Breakfast

Cape Town

Back in Johannesburg, we were given a tour of Nando’s manufacturing and bottling operation, including their beautifully decorated Brand Room where they give seminars to their restaurant and grocery managers. Nando’s now has approximately 560 restaurants in 32 countries, and they plan to expand into the U.S. starting in late 2007 with a restaurant in Washington, D.C. They also have dozens of products on the market, including hot sauces and other condiments. Their products are available atwww.nandosusa.com. Mary Jane fell in love with their Perinaise, a mayo with hot sauce added, but that’s not yet available in the U.S. (Fudge it by adding your favorite peri-peri sauce with a good mayonnaise to taste.)

Cape Town

View of Cape Town
from Table Mountain

Chris took us to a Nando’s location in Parktown North in J-Burg, and I ordered the 1/4 chicken meal, with spicy rice. When asked if I wanted it mild, medium, or hot, I said “hot.” After biting into a chicken thigh, I knew immediately that this was not just hot, it was very hot. The chicken was extremely tasty, much more so than U.S. poultry. The chicken is marinated in hot sauce, then basted with more hot sauce as it is grilled over open flames.

Our next diversion was a flight to Cape Town, probably the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. Within a few miles, the beaches at sea level rise to thousands of feet high at the flat top of Table Mountain, which is reached via a tram. The views are nothing but spectacular. Cape Town spreads from the front of Table Mountain to the back, and the outlying areas, including Stellenbosch, boast the best vineyards and wineries in South Africa. We stayed at the five-star Lanzerac Manor and Winery in the heart of wine country. Our room was 720 square feet plus the bath and walk-in closet. The grounds were beautiful, and every morning a flock of guinea fowl would assemble for breakfast outside in a courtyard visible from one of our windows. It was here that I started drinking wine instead of beer!

Lanzerac Manor and Winery Entrance

Entrance to Lanzerac Manor and Winery

Chris then took us to his prototype Peri-Peri chile field, where we met Riaan Breet and Marianna Smith, who were consulting on the breeding program. I examined the small plants and concluded that the sandy soil needed more organic material to hold the moisture. Nando’s has several experimental fields and are hoping to develop their own variety of Peri-Peri. I will be working with them on this project.

Dave Inspects the First Peri-Peri Planting

Dave Inspects the First Peri-Peri Planting

One of the glories of Cape Town is the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, which is one of eight gardens of the South African National Biodiversity Institute in the country. I have visited botanical gardens all over the world, and this one is the most dramatic and beautiful that I’ve ever seen. Their succulent collection is outstanding and they have many theme gardens and a nature reserve. It stretches over about 1200 acres with the magnificent Table Mountain as a backdrop.

Table Mountain

View of Table Mountain from
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens

Another fascinating nature display is Boulders, the part of Table Mountain National Park that is host to hundreds of African penguins (formerly jackass penguins for their braying-like mating call). Lots of animals want to eat these penguins including sharks, Cape fur seals, killer whales, mongooses, cats, dogs, and kelp gulls, but somehow they manage to survive. Maybe it’s their charm, as they are very cute.

March of the Penguins

March of the Penguins

Last but not least in Cape Town was the shopping, especially at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, which is a large mall that offers every possible kind of native art and craft plus more than forty ethnically diverse restaurants. I’m not a fan of shopping, but this place is great, and we found the perfect piece of folk art for our collection: a five-foot long beaded lizard, with the beads in the shape of monitor lizards on its back. Magnificent! And affordable.

All good things must end, as did our first trip to South Africa. But we’ll be back, and soon.

Nando’s Hot Sauces, available at www.nandosusa.com

Peri Peri Sauce: A blend of African birds eye chiles combined with lemons, garlic, and mixture of herbs and spices. Comes in medium heat, hot, xtra -hot, and garlic.

Roasted Reds Sauce: A Mediterranean inspired sauce with roasted sweet red peppers and tomatoes blended with balsamic vinegar and a hint of Peri Peri.

Moroccan Curry Cooking Sauce: A combination of chickpeas, lentils, cumin, curry and a hint of Peri Peri.

Curry Coconut Cooking Sauce: A Goan curry containing coconut, cumin, cardamom, and a hint of Peri Peri.

Sweet Apricot Cooking Sauce: A blend of summer vegetables, apricot chutney, honey, and spices, with a hint of Peri Peri.

Peri Q

Here is a great way to start a spicy meal!

  • 1 1/2 shots vanilla-flavored vodka

  • Dash Grand Marnier

  • 1/2 peeled and cubed cucumber

  • Dash Nando’s Extra Hot peri peri sauce

  • Garnish: Cucumber slices

Place the vodka and Grand Marnier in a shaker and add ice. Add the cucumber and shake.

Pour the mixture into a martini glass and add a dash of Nandos Extra Hot peri peri sauce. Garnish the glass with a slice of cucumber and serve.

Yield: 1 cocktail

Heat Scale: Medium

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Sweet and Sticky Chicken Wings

Ideal as a starter (appetizer) course, these crispy chicken wings can also be prepared under the broiler on your stove.

  • 12 chicken wings

  • 2/3 cup Nando’s Sweet Apricot Cooking Sauce

  • 1/3 cup honey

  • 2 tablespoons Nando’s Mild Peri Peri Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

Combine the Nando’s Sweet Apricot Cooking Sauce, honey, Nando’s Mild Peri Peri Sauce, and soy sauce in a bowl. Reserve some for basting. Add the chicken, toss to coat and marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Preheat the grill to medium-high.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill for 12 to 15 minutes, turning and basting frequently with the reserved marinade.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

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Roasted Reds Tomato and Vodka Soup

Yes, this takes an entire bottle of Roasted Reds Sauce, but it’s well worth it, as you’ll see when you taste this soup.

  • 4 1/2 pounds Italian plum tomatoes

  • 2 small onions, sliced

  • Olive oil

  • Vodka

  • 2 cups vegetable broth

  • 1 bottle Nando’s Roasted Reds Sauce

  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese

Roast the tomatoes over an open flame until the skins begin to blacken and split. Peel the tomatoes and coarsely chop.

Heat the oil in a heavy saute pan, add the onions and saute until they are soft and translucent. Add a splash of vodka and continue to cook to burn off the alcohol.

Pour in the broth, add the tomatoes and Roasted Reds Sauce. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Allow the mixture to cool slightly and place in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Strain the soup back into the pan.

Reheat the soup, taste and adjust the seasonings. Stir in the mascarpone and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

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Ricotta Gnocchi with Nando’s Roasted Reds and Wilted Spinach Casserole

You have to make your own gnocchi for this recipe, but it doesn’t really take that long to do.

  • 14 ounces fresh ricotta, well drained

  • 4 ounces Parmigiano cheese, grated

  • 4 eggs, 2 whole, 2 yolks

  • All-purpose flour

  • Salt

2 cups cooked and drained spinach, gently squeezed to remove excess water

1 bottle of Nando’s Roasted Reds sauce

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Push the ricotta though a sieve into a bowl. Add the eggs and egg yolks, half of the Parmigiano, and a pinch of salt and mix well. While mixing, add as much flour as needed to obtain a firm but soft dough.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up the dough to make the dumplings about the size of a walnut.

In a large stockpot bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add salt. Add the gnocchi and stir gently. Cook until the gnocchi float to the top. Drain.

To assemble, place a layer of the spinach in the bottom of a greased casserole dish. Top with a layer of gnocchi, the Roasted Reds Sauce, and some of the remaining Parmigiano. Repeat the layers ending with Roasted Reds Sauce and Parmigiano.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

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Peri Peri Nutty Chicken

This will give you an idea of how Nando’s works with chicken!

  • 8 chicken portions, drumsticks or thighs

  • 3 tablespoons Nando’s Peri Peri Sauce, more if you like it hot

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, peanut preferred to oil the baking dish

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

  • 1 clove garlic, crushed

  • 1/3 cup finely chopped peanuts or cashews

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and place in a single layer in a well greased baking dish. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until they become brown and crisp.

Place the Nando’s Peri Peri Sauce, soy sauce, peanut butter, and garlic in a saucepan and stir to combine. Heat the sauce over a low heat, stirring frequently until smooth. Stir in the nuts.

Brush the chicken generously with the sauce and continue to bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.

Serves: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

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Whisky Maple Pear and Peri Peri Ice Cream

Ice cream with hot sauce is all the rage in both South Africa and the U.S.

  • 3 pears, cored and quartered

  • 1/3 cup maple syrup

  • 3 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons melted butter

  • 1 teaspoon crushed red chile

  • 1 quart plus 1/4 cup milk

  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup whisky

  • 2 tablespoons Nando’s Peri Peri Sauce

  • 12 egg yolks

  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons superfine sugar

  • 2 cups heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a bowl, combine the pears, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, butter, and chile and toss to coat. Spread the mixture on a baking pan and roast for 20 minutes. Cool.

Heat the milk, whisky, and Nando’s Peri Peri sauce ,in a saucepan over a medium heat until small bubbles form around the rim of the milk. Cool slightly

In a bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until combined. While whisking, strain the milk mixture into the eggs. Pour the mixture into the saucepan and return to the heat.

Heat the mixture over a low heat until it forms a thick custard, stirring constantly.

Strain the mixture into a bowl and stir in the cream. Allow the mixture to cool.

Freeze the mixture in an ice cream machine following the manufacturer’s directions until it freezes.

Yield: 1 quart

Heat Scale: Mild

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