Our first stop after entering sub-Saharan Africa at Johannesburg was Eagle Island, a private game reserve in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. After the “rules” were laid out–the main one being not venturing out at night without a staff member in case of animal unruliness–we were served an elaborate high tea and met Moses, our guide. Moses knows every tree, springbok and termite for miles –even this tiny, baby banded mongoose.
Next morning on our first game drive (getting up at 5 or so is part of the game reserve drill), we met antelopes of many flavors (by the end of the trip I kick myself for inwardly saying “oh, just another herd of Impala”), warthog, elephants, hippos in water (when they open those jaws wide, it’s not to say “ahh”, it’s to signal displeasure) and a Malibu stork killing and swallowing a long snake. Yummy.
When not out viewing animals, our digs are beyond luxurious with beds shrouded in mosquito netting, excellent food, terrific in-and- outdoor showers, our own mini-pool and an introduction to that all-African snack, biltong, similar to our beef jerky and available in beef, kudu and other exotic flavors.
Several days later we move, via another ten-seater plate, to Ngoma Lodge further north overlooking a stunning view of the Chobe River. Here I learn to tell if an elephant is a lefty or righty (check which tusk is more worn down) and how to sex a giraffe (boys have thicker horns.) It’s also where Johannes, our guide, pulls our Land Rover off the road at lunchtime, setting out a complex meal complete with tablecloth and napkins. Afterwards there’s a dramatic afternoon show at the river: Impala locking horns to practice fighting; two large male elephants struggling as one attempts to hold the other underwater while the rest of the herd arrives trumpeting to check on the fracas. Then it’s Murder on the Chobe when a cow is set upon by a crocodile. The struggle is both gruesome and fascinating; we watch for a long time as the cow runs out of steam. Back to the lodge for drinks and dinner but, thank God, the choices are grilled fish or lamb curry, not beef.
Lamb Curry (converted to pounds from kilos so you don’t have to)
2 lbs boneless lamb
1 large onions, chopped, about 3 1/2 cups
3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp olive oil with butter
2-3 Tbsp curry powder
2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp black pepper
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped (OK, use dried)
1 tsp thyme, dried
1/2 Meyer lemon sliced (with rind) –(you can cheat with a regular lemon)
2 peeled and chopped apples (tart green granny smith if possible), about 2 cups
1/4 cup raisins (if you like them–not all that African but good in this dish)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
8-12 small potatoes, quartered, about 1 1/2 pounds
Preheat oven to 300° F. On stovetop, add butter-and-oil mixture to a large covered pot or Dutch oven and turn the burner to medium-high. Brown e meat well and remove it from pan.
Add curry powder , turn heat down to medium and cook gently for a minute or two. Add onions and garlic and cook 5 minutes. Return lamb to pan.
Add coriander, black pepper, cumin, rosemary, thyme, sliced lemon, apples, chicken broth, raisins if using, salt and pepper. Cover the pot and put it in the oven. Cook for 2 hours. Check at 2 hours to see if the meat is falling off the bone. It should be starting to do so. Add the potatoes and cook for another 45 minutes.
To serve, adjust salt and add some more curry powder or cayenne if you dish spicier. Serve over rice with chutney and yogurt.
With this, drink St. Louis Lager, a major beer brand in Botswana. Or, choose from one of S0uth African’s excellent red wines. Or, let it all hang out with mango juice.