Pho-cking Phantastic

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

I woke up with a craving for pho (pronounced ‘fuh’) and after a quick google search found a Vietnamese restaurant in Johannesburg. We tried it out and the pho was absolutely pathetic, so I did what one must do when living abroad and made my own.  If I do say so myself, it turned out quite good. It’ takes a bit of time but the result is sooo yummy. The ‘unusual’ ingredients can be found at your local Asian store or Chinatown, and since the shop workers at mine don’t speak English and I don’t speak Thai or Chinese I did a lot of Google image searching on my phone followed by gesturing, pointing and sweating. It all worked out in the end.

Pho bo (beef pho) for 8, adapted from Steamy Kitchen


1 kg beef bones

1 onion, halved

5 inch piece of ginger, halved

1 lb or about 500 grams of rump or flank steak

6 quarts of water

A bouquet garni made of 5 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 6 cloves, 3 green card0moms, tied in a cheese cloth with butcher string

1 medium chunk of rock sugar, more to taste

1/4 cup fish sauce, more to taste

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt


meat from broth

2 lbs rice noodles

1/2 lb or about 250 grams flank steak, thinly sliced (it’s easiest if you ask your butcher to use the deli slicer)

cilantro, thai basil, and mint plenty of each

3 big hand fulls of bean sprouts

2-3 limes, cut into fourths

3-4 chillies, sliced

hoisin sauce

sriracha sauce

1. Turn on your oven to broil on the highest temperature, put the onions and ginger (with a little bit of olive oil) into the oven on the highest shelf until the outside as charged. Turn over with tongs to char the other side.

2. Before making the broth, par boil the bones. Fill your biggest pot with as much water that will fit, allowing room for bones, bring a to rolling boil, add bones, boil for 10 minutes. Drain bones and rinse them. This will keep your broth more clear.

3. Add 6 quarts of water to a pot, with the bones, charred ginger and onion, bouquet garni, beef, rock sugar, fish sauce and salt. Bring it to a boil then simmer for 1 1/2 hours. While it is simmering it is EXTREMELY important to continually at first, then periodically skim the top with a spoon fine mesh strainer. After 1 1/2 hours, remove the beef and set aside, you’ll use it in the bowls later. Continue simmering and skimming the scum the rest of the ingredients for one and a half hours. After it’s finished, remove everything from the broth with your spoon, then pour it through a fine mesh strainer to get all of the gunk out. Taste the broth and add more rock sugar and fish sauce in small increments until the taste bowls you over.

4. Chop up all the herbs for the fixins’, thinly slice your raw beef if your butcher didn’t (freezing it for fifteen minutes will make it easier), and chop/shred the cooked beef. Follow the instructions on the package for cooking the rice noodles.

5. Right before eating, bring the broth back to a boil. Let guests fix up their bowls to their preference with the rice noodles as a base, then ladle boiling hot broth into each bowl. The broth will cook the raw pieces of meat. Use the Sriracha and hoisin sauces to your heart’s content.



Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

This week is Polish foods week and the title deserves an exclamation point because of the sheer effort that went into creating these pierogi last Sunday morning- I LOVE pierogi (and pelmeni, and variniki and….eastern European dumplings en general) so I convinced Katarzyna to get her mom’s and teach me how to make them. The only other time I’ve made pierogi is with pre-made dumpling skins (CHEATING).

This should make about 80 dumplings.


– 2 big tubs of hard feta cheese, grated*
– 5 med/large soft cooking potatoes, peeled *there should be roughly equal amounts of potato and feta
– One large onion, chopped and fried
– Black pepper, paprika, salt

– 6 cups of flour
– 2 cups of water


sour cream


onion, chopped and fried

bacon, chopped and fried


-A dumpling press (a MUST if you don’t want this to take longer than it already is going to. They’re cheap and easy to find)

-A dough hook for your KitchenAid. Or get a workout like we did and make the dough with your hands.

The night before peel and boil the potatoes. Dry them out overnight.

When you’re ready to get started, grate the boiled potatoes and mix them together with grated feta, and fried onion (which should be cooled at this point) and set aside.

Put flour in a mound or bowl and scoop out an opening in the middle. Add water little by little, mixing it together first with a wooden spoon and then with your hands. Keep kneading and working the dough until it is the right consistency, adding a bit of flour and water as needed. This will be one massive piece so you might want to separate it into two chunks and work each piece separately to make it more manageable. If you have a dough hook, put in flour and add water and let the KitchenAid do all the work for you!

When your dough is done being kneaded roll it flat with a rolling pin, as thin as possible. Use something with a circle approximately the same  circumference as your dumpling press and cut out small circles. This is where Kate cut her hand badly because we were using wine glasses and she put too much pressure on the glass- so be warned, go lightly with the glass!

Roll out the individual circles once more  to get them thin as possible before putting them in the dumpling press. Spoon a bit of filling in, close the press and squeeze, and cut out the extra dough with a knife.

After you’re done with that, boil the water with plenty of salt (at least two teaspoons) and cook 6 dumplings at a time for about 3.5 minutes. Let the dumplings dry on a drying rack, and don’t stack them or they’ll stick.

You can freeze all you want at this point. When you’re ready to eat throw some oil in a frying pan and fry up the dumplings so they get a bit browned. Garnish with sour cream, dill, fried bacon pieces and fried onion.

GOOD LUCK. I recommend doing this over the course of a few days or getting a group of at least 3 people (even with three people it will still take you 4 hours). Oh yea, and starve yourself the week before because it’s so many calories I refuse to even count. Maybe you want to serve it with some homemade borscht.

For more detailed instructions and photos visit Katarzyna’s blog.


Borscht (or barszcz)

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

It’s fall in South Africa, the weather is turning and my body is craving foods to keep it warm. Thus I spent an inordinate amount of time this weekend (over 20 hours) cooking (I know how pathetic that is). Since we didn’t have guests for the first time in 4 weeks (btw, apologies for last week’s pathetic posting I needed to CHILLAX THE F OUT) I found myself with a lot of time on my hands and creative energy to burn, thus things were cooked and other things were spray painted.

Sometimes recipes on Land of Nams are quick weeknight pursuits. This is definitely not one of those recipes.

In pursuit of authenticity, I first consulted my Polish friend Katarzyna to prevail upon her mom for her recipe. I thought only Indian moms dictated recipes that go something like “add some of this, throw in a little bit of this, then cook it until it’s finished” but was happy to find that Polish moms do the same. So I used her guidelines, rounded it out with some internet research, and measured it all so that I can recreate it whenever I want. The soup itself is quite easy but it requires gelatinous beef broth (dun dun dun).

 As appetizing as that sounds, it makes all the difference between an ‘oh yea, this is pretty good’ soup and holyshitthisisfuckingdelicious soup. Before I started I thought I would use a bouillon cube and call it a day but something (being finished with work early?)  possessed me to pop over to our butcher (BEST BUTCHER IN JOHANNESBURG btw, Meat on Grant in Norwood) and buy 2 kilos of beef bones.

Pro tip: I made enough beef broth for a lifetime and then froze the extra in pint-sized freezer bags, so I only have to torture myself with the broth a couple times a year.

Gelatinous beef broth (makes about 6 litres)

2 kilograms beef bones

Tomato paste, approx 3 tbsp

Soup vegetables roughly chopped, you don’t want them too small (1 celery stalk, 1 white onion, 2 carrots, a few sprigs of parsley, 1 potatoes)

1 bay leaf

6 litres (12 pints) of water, plus more along the way

Heat oven to about 400 degrees F or 220 degrees C (the temperature isn’t that important). In a roasting pan spread tomato paste over the beef bones. Roast bones in oven for 45 minutes to an hour. In the meantime, chop your vegetables. After the bones are done, transfer them into a giant soup pot with the water and heat to a boil. Reserve some fat from the roasting pans and cover vegetables in it, roast vegetables covered in fat for 20-30 minutes. Then add roasted veggies to the boiling water. Bring water to boil again, then turn heat down to a very light simmer. I proceeded to simmer it all night on veeeery low heat, since we don’t want any fires but did want complexity. Using a spoon with a sieve, take out all the bones and vegetables and discard them, then pour liquid through a proper sieve to catch all the bits you missed. Then, the most important step: SKIM THE FAT. I used my spoon sieve to skim the (very disgusting) fat, in my three litre portion I was using for the soup, there was en ENTIRE JAR OF IT. Gross. Set aside what you need for the borscht, and freeze the rest in small freezer bags.

Semi Authentic But Very Delicious Borscht for 8

100 grams butter (no one said this was health food)

650 gm beetroots, peeled and diced (except for one, which should be peeled and shredded)

2 medium onions, chopped

1 large leek, chopped and rings sepearated

1 large stick of celery, chopped

1 laaarge carrot

Any other soup vegetables you feel like throwing in, finely chopped

4-6 grains of allspice (yes, all spice is a thing that comes off of a tree)

1 bay leaf

3 litres gelatinous beef broth

4 potatoes, peeled and chopped

 Pepper, to taste
1 medium cabbage, shredded

8 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

Apple Cider Vinegar (a lot, like 6 tablespoons, more to taste)

3-5 teaspoons of sugar, to taste

Dill and sour cream for serving

At the bottom of a very large pot, melt the butter. Add onions, cook for 5 minutes. Add the diced beetroot and remaining vegetables, coating in the butter and cook for 10 minutes. Add broth, bay leaf, all spice and potatoes, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, adding the grated beetroot, garlic, cabbage, and pepper. After all the vegetables are cooked and soft use an immersion blender to puree it. Of course this is an optional step but I love the brilliant color of beetroot and I don’t love the texture of soupy cabbage. Then let it continue to simmer for a long time. Katarzyna’s mom said, and of course was very right about, for a long time it tastes like nothing and then all of a sudden, it’s delicious. For a while, I was quite worried that my soup wasn’t going to taste like anything, but I needn’t have worried. Add the ciger vinegar and sugar, adjusting amounts to taste. Since traditional borscht involves fermented beets, the vinegar gives it that taste if you’re too afraid/lazy to ferment beets. Serve with sour cream, chopped dill and rye bread.

We had a pan-eastern European extravaganza, we supplied the borscht and our friends Heidi and Jeremy supplied the cabbage roles, and then we rolled ourselves home and didn’t eat again for 3 weeks had pierogi for brunch the next day.

Typing that out was about as exhausted as actually making it! The end.


Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Shakshouka, according to all-knowing Wikipedia, is a north African dish (though many Middle Eastern countries like to claim it as their own) where the general idea is to poach eggs in a spicy tomato sauce. It is so easy and sooo delicious. It’s traditionally a breakfast dish but we make it for a Sunday meal or even for a dinner party I’m having later this week. The effort is minimal and payoff is huge. So how do you make this easy dish?

This is enough for 6 for brunch or 4 for dinner. You will need:

6 long green peppers, roughly chopped with about half the seeds scraped out. (I realize that this is not very descriptive  but the peppers I bought literally had no label. If you don’t like spicy, and these are not very spicy, you can use bell peppers)

1 tablespoon of EVOO

1 white onion roughly chopped

1 teaspoon hot chilli powder

6 cloves of garlic, minced or a couple teaspoons of lazy garlic

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 cans of whole tomato, drained of most of the liquid

salt to taste

a handful of parsley

1/2 a cup of haloumi cheese, cubed

black pepper to taste

To accompany:

1 pita bread per person

olive oil


Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

First, preheat the oven to the broil setting on the highest setting, this is to quickly brown the pita before eating. Put your roughly chopped peppers and onions into a food processor and give it a quick wizz. I like to do this because I like my shakshouka smooth-ish. If you want, instead you can just give them a very fine chop with your knife. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium high heat, I used my 3 quart Le Creuset sauce pan. Add the pepper/onion mixture and cook for about 5 minutes. While the onion/peppers are cooking, squeeze the whole tomatoes with your hands or smash them up with a spoon. Remember to drain most but not all of the liquid from the cans.  Add garlic, cumin, paprika, and chili powder to the pan. Mix it around, letting the garlic cook for a minute and then add the tomatoes. If it is too dry at this point and back in some water, shakshouka should be thick. Let the whole mixture simmer for about 10 or 15 minutes. Add salt until it tastes right to you, I went with about a teaspoon. When you’re happy with the consistency crack the eggs in. I put five in a circle around the pan and one in the middle. Remember you are poaching the eggs, so after you drop them in there is no stirring since you can’t break the yolks. Cover the pan and let cook until the eggs are finished.

While the eggs are cooking, drip some olive oil and minced garlic on the pita breads and put them under the broiler for a minute. After the shakshouka is finished, sprinkle the haloumi, parsley and black pepper over the top. Serve 1 egg per person with pita to mop up the sauce.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, Jewlicious, and Epicurious

our first christmas in jozi

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

I said that I was going to use this blog to document what’s going on more and then I didn’t post and pictures from Christmas, silly me.

One of the most wonderful things about Jozi has been the warmth and generosity of people we’ve met. Maybe it was because of the language divide in Berlin, but we’ve made so many friends so much faster here (I suppose I didn’t blog in Berlin and I’ve made quite a few friends through blogging!). We spent Christmas eve and day with a group of expats from all over. We received our first ever holiday crackers. Inside P’s was a pair of tweezers and inside mine was a refrigerator magnet. Very practical.

It was not as good as a snowy Minnesota Christmas (though P said he is not missing the cold ONE BIT) with family, especially because my mother-in-law got me my very own stocking(!!!) but it was lovely and our first as a married couple. Plus we ate so much delicious food and didn’t even cook. I wish there was a holiday season every month.

Thanksgiving in Jozi (wonderful, manageable)

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Our first Thanksgiving in Jozi and our third together, came off without a hitch. This is also my third Thanksgiving not flying home to my family, and this time of year is the worst part about living abroad. I miss my family, especially my sister, and I miss the people that we do Thanksgiving with every year. Of course, this year P and I realized that we are officially our own family which was strange and wonderful, though not really different from years past. The weather was cold and rainy which made me feel like it’s fall and not summer and put me in the holiday mood a bit. We were lucky to have two Thanksgivings this year, one cooked by our friends who are half American/half South African  (how amazing is it to EAT and not cook?? or clean??) and one we put on for another group of our friends. A few of them had never been to an American Thanksgiving so I was happy to feed them their first. The night was lovely, the wine flowed freely (but not too freely because we have to drive in this country!), and we talked about…blogging? (haha poor blog widows as Martina’s Rob calls them).

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

This is my third time cooking Thanksgiving dinner and it went the smoothest it has ever gone, and I’ve found a turkey recipe I’m sticking to forever. I thought I’d show you our menu because maybe you’re looking for a manageable menu too. It did take me 8+ hours but besides that 8 hours is normal for T Day, I was literally cooking by myself as P was at work (haha WHO AM I?). Also, it was a super zen 8 hours in which I cooked everything, elaborately set the table, and got dressed (but didn’t shower, it was me or the house that was getting clean). Anyway, ahem:

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Here I’ll show you which recipes I used and any changes I made, this was for 9 people with plenty of left overs:

Figs, roasted and wrapped in bacon stuffed with goat’s cheese and walnuts


10 figs, halved

5 long strips of bacon, halved

250 grams or about 8oz goat’s cheese

10 walnuts (obviously not in their shells)

Preheat oven to 200 C or 390 F Stuff each fig half with cheese and a walnuts. Wrap with half a strip of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Put stuffed figs in oven for about 30 minutes, until bacon is cooked through. They will be gone in no time.

Gem squash, scored and roasted with brown sugar glaze. 


9 gem squash halves

2 tablespoons brown sugar

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons maple syrup

I used the Foodwishes recipe but instead of acorn, I used gem squash.

Turkey Roasted in a casserole, with butter and white wine glaze and gravy


1 4 kg or 9 pound turkey
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), melted, plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 bottle dry white wine
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry red or white wine for gravy (optional)

Kitchen string
Pastry brush
meat thermometer

I used Martha Stewart’s recipe and I was so happy I’ve definitely found my life long turkey recipe. There was no brining, and the turkey was amazingly juicey. The trick for me was to using a casserole dish and not a roasting pan (it could cook in it’s own juices) and keeping the cheesecloth wet with white wine/butter glaze. I also covered both drumsticks with bacon.



1 loaf of freshly baked whole grain white bread
1 loaf French Bread, Somewhat Crusty
1 stick Butter
1 whole Medium Onion, Diced
2 cups Celery, Chopped
4 cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1 tablespoon fresh Basil
1 teaspoon chopped Thyme
3 sprigs Fresh Rosemary, Chopped
1/4 cup Fresh Parsley, Chopped
Salt To Taste

I used Pioneer Woman’s stuffing with the following changes: I did not use cornbread, but freshly baked whole grain white bread. Instead of leaving my bread out for 24 hours, I chopped it up and spread on the baking trays and put it in the oven on the lowest setting for an hour to dry them out. I used fresh basil and thyme as reflected above.

Steamed broccoli with garlic and salt (boooring, but necessary!)


3 heads of broccoli

3 cloves of garlic, minced

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon olive oil

Cut up broccoli to the size that you want them. Pour olive oil in to pan, mix up broccoli, garlic and a salt, and steam on low heat with cover on for about 15 minutes.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

5 pounds potatoes, whichever kind you like

Half a cup of heavy cream

1 stick of butter

4 oz of cream cheese

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon of steak rub spices

Salt to taste

Boil the potatoes for 45 minutes to an hour in generously salted water with approximately half the garlic. Once the potatoes are mashable, drain them from the water and mash, on the stove over low heat. Add remaining garlic and butter, stir in mix in. Add heavy cream and mix. Add cream cheese and mix thoroughly. Add your steak rub spice, and salt to taste. Don’t tell anyone how much butter or cheese is in it! You can keep it covered over the lowest heat setting you have until it is time to serve. Mix again and put in separate dish before dinner time.

Cranberry Sauce, the triumph of my Thanksgiving dinner

1 14.5 oz can of whole berry cranberry sauce

1 medium onion, chopped

2 sprigs rosemary, chopped

1 pint chicken broth

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, more to taste

Salt to taste

There were no cranberry sauces on the web which were equal parts delicious and last minute and expat friendly so I made one up and it was a delicious compliment to the plate if I do say so myself. Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Add onions, stir until they get translucent. Add chicken broth, canned cranberry sauce, and balsamic vinegar. Stir until sauce breaks up, then bring it to a boil for 10 minutes until it reduces a bit. You can reheat it at dinner time.

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Luckily I didn’t have to think about dessert, if I did I would have done it the day before, but thankfully (and deliciously) Karen was all over it. And Jenna sweetly offered to bring delicious twice baked mashed potatoes (which, as far as I’m concerned should be our national food) so I had plenty of help. And as of this post, the dishes are already done! Thanksgiving, you are my b*tch.

living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love


Read more about our South African thanksgiving on these blogs:

Story of Bing

Martina in Jozi

A Home Away from Home

our first dinner party in joburg

Namrata Singh//caramel cake

in berlin we loved to entertain on the trusty long black ikea dining table and in joburg that hasn’t changed. so last week we decided that the house was in a state of ordered chaos ready for our first dinner party in south africa.  on sunday I spent the whole day cooking a french menu while p dutifully painted the bathroom and put up pictures.

i like this menu because if you have your sh*t together theoretically you can cook all of it beforehand and keep it warm which is perfect for entertaining. in fact, the coq au vin, mushrooms, onions, and soup all taste BETTER the more time they’ve had to stew. the menu:

soupe à l’oignon (french onion soup) from smitten kitchen

coq au vin (chicken in red wine) from the incomparable julia child

champignons sautés au buerre (butter drenched sauteed mushrooms) via julia

oignons glacés a brun (brown braised baby onions) via julia 

french mashed potatoes from tasty kitchen

caramel cake is from woolworths*. oh snap! that’s right i didn’t bake for our precious guests. and i bought a cake from a huge department store.  it’s ok i’ll they’ll get over it.

 *for people who don’t live in rsa, woolworth’s is a whole new world down here.

Namrata Singh//bud vases

i managed to clip a few flowers for our test tube bud vases (thanks mo). i could only get a few simple ones since i knew where they were in the dark and i didn’t have time to do the song and dance of turning on the outside lights on (our property is an acre!).  the french onion soup turned out well enough but since our day was chaotic i didn’t manage to heat up the broiler to a high enough temp by dinner time to get that delicious burned crispy look on top. 

Namrata Singh//soupe à l’oignon

we got use our wedding stuff for the first time so it was fun to set the table. (and um, we’re still working on our thank you cards. gulp.)

Namrata Singh//table setting

the other tragedy is after the first course i guess i started drinking a little too much wine (hehe)  and forgot to take pictures of the subsequent courses. so instead, i’ll leave you with one more gratuitous shot of that delicious cake.


Namrata Singh//good enough to eat 

the night was a success as our guests were hilarious, the food was gone and we were a tad hungover the next day.

19th october, 2011