Driven by curiosity and community, Cass Abrahams carved a name for herself as the face of Cape Malay cooking, without stepping foot inside a culinary school. She’s now well known for sharing her own take on this foodie heritage.
Q When did you start cooking?
A I married into the Cape Malay community; so I had to adapt. I read a lot of books, asked a lot of questions and watched the women around me. You have to watch, you can never take a recipe from a Cape Malay woman; she will always leave out something. But I have a retentive memory…
Q So, everything you know, you’ve learnt from your in-laws?
A I didn’t do anything exactly the way they did – I added my own twists. Soon, my food tasted better than theirs, so they started calling on me for the recipes. I’ve developed a Cape Malay lasagne – unique because of the spices and chilli I add. Another example is adding nutmeg or allspice to a traditional heritage dish such as waterblommetjiebredie.
Q What do you love about Malay food?
A It layers flavours, just like an orchestra with all the different instruments: first the base notes, which are your basic flavours; then the melody; and then, right at the end, the fine upper notes. Like putting whole cumin seeds into cabbage bredie (something no one else does) to really round the dish off. The talent comes in when you learn to play with the different levels.
Q Any hot tips for readers?
A Always fry mustard seeds for a few seconds to pop them before adding to your dish, otherwise they will have a bitter taste.
Bonus! Cass’s top 5 spices
Cumin, Coriander, Cassia, Cardamom, Garam masala