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Pimp your picnic with this tasty biltong focaccia

This article first appeared in City Press.

11 Dec 2016

Yeast is a living organism that requires sugar, warmth and moisture to grow. It eats sugar, farts carbon dioxide and pees alcohol. That’s it in simple terms. When it releases carbon dioxide, we do our utmost to make sure the gas does not escape, as this causes the dough to rise as it bakes.

By kneading and kneading bread you are activating the starch proteins in the flour and making them more elastic. The more elastic the dough is, the more gas it will trap … and therefore the bread will rise softer and higher. Do not underestimate the power of kneading bread. Do it for as long as humanly possible. You get electric whisks that have dough hooks for kneading dough, but I highly recommend you do it by hand as the heat in your hands activates the yeast and helps it grow.

Biltong focaccia


2 teaspoons dry yeast

1 cup warm water

2 tablespoons sugar

3 1/2 to 4 cups flour

1 tablespoon coarse salt

1/4 cup olive oil

Biltong dust or thin shavings

Fresh rosemary sprigs


Proof the yeast by combining it with the warm water and sugar. Stir gently to dissolve. Let stand three minutes until foam appears.

Slowly add the flour to the bowl as you mix with a wooden spoon.

Dissolve salt in 2 tablespoons of water and add it to the mixture. Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil.

When the dough starts to come together, turn out on to a floured surface and begin to knead with your fists.

Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary. Add some (not all) of the biltong shavings to the dough.

Turn the dough out on to a work surface and fold over itself a few times. Form the dough into a round and place in an oiled bowl, turn to coat the entire ball with oil so it doesn’t form a skin. Cover with plastic wrap or damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Coat a sheet pan with a little olive oil and mealie meal.

Once the dough is doubled and domed, turn it out on to the counter. Roll and stretch the dough out to an oblong shape, about 5cm thick.

Lay the flattened dough on the pan and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Uncover the dough and dimple with your finger, and fill each dimple with a piece of rosemary and biltong. Brush the surface with more olive oil and sprinkle coarse salt over the dough, as well as more biltong shavings.

Bake on the bottom rack for 15 to 20 minutes.

Once done, sprinkle with a little more olive oil.

I love it with tapenade and pesto.

With all the wet weather we’ve been having these days, after months and months of drought, everything looks fresh and green again. The lovely thing about Joburg is that the heat doesn’t get too unbearable, making it ideal for picnics and outdoor dining. I’m a huge fan of outdoor cooking and outdoor cuisine. For some reason, people seem to get flustered when it’s time to pack food for a picnic. (To my brother: grabbing packets of crisps, dips and juices does not a picnic make!) So I’ve decided to put together a quick guide to an awesome picnic.

1. Check the weather and the location

As obvious as this sounds, you’d be surprised at how few people check the weather report or location before the picnic. Some parks don’t allow you to bring glass bottles on to the site. Other places don’t allow alcohol or cooler boxes. Another key thing to check is whether the park or area you’ll be having your picnic at allows you to braai. Sometimes there are small, personal braai stands available. They’re tiny, but useful enough for two people. What’s even cooler about them is that you can braai sitting down. Even if you don’t grill any meat, having a braai allows you to warm your food on an open flame. You can even add a unique touch, such as melting marshmallows at the end of your meal, which you can enjoy with a yummy chocolate dip.

2. What starch?

The old-school, soggy lettuce-and-ham sandwich is a no-no. Rather pack rotis, crepes, focaccia, taco shells or even pita bread. The key with these is that you’ll need to pack some dips, spreads and other cool fillings. Pack some cold meats, hummus, curried mince, liver spreads and cheeses separately. This ensures your starches stay crisp and it also gives you the perfect opportunity to show off your culinary skills by mixing and matching various ingredients.

3. Don’t forget the veg

One thing that is often neglected on picnics is the veggies. If you decide to pack a small braai, like I recommended above, then boil some sweetcorn at home, rub it down with butter and sprinkle it with some paprika and herbs, and pack it along for the ride. Once your braai is hot, heat the sweet corn. Simple. Another more old-school idea is simply packing baby veggies. The nice thing with baby vegetables is that you don’t have to cook them, just pack an awesome dip (or make your own sauce, like sweet chilli or wasabi mayonnaise). Asparagus wrapped in salmon is another winner, as are artichokes drizzled with honey, balsamic vinegar and peri-peri grilled on the braai. Guacamole loaded with sweetcorn, red onions and sweet peppers is also a lovely and simple addition to any picnic.

4. Make it easy

Though you want to create memories and show off a bit, it doesn’t mean you have to be fancy. Skewers, bread sticks and cold pastries are perfect for picnics. Wrap mozzarella balls in some baby spinach and cooked bacon and push on to skewers. You can have them cold or heated on the braai. Mini quiches are also a classic addition – be a bit different by adding different ingredients, such as biltong, peppadews and chopped chilli.

5. Proteins

It’s all about easy eating and food that is fuss-free. Chicken wings, sushi, smoked salmon, marinated sticky prawns, chunky biltong, chicken livers... Remember all the starches I mentioned before? This is where they come in handy. You can have the pita bread filled with livers, or crepes with prawns, or salmon on your focaccia.

6. Dessert? Yes, please

This is the fun part. Grab some large American-style choc-chip cookies, a pack of marshmallows and some chocolate. You’ll need your braai for this part. If you don’t want to take one along, invest in a blowtorch. You’ll use the blowtorch to melt the marshmallows and chocolate. Spread the soft and gooey melted goodness on to each cookie. You can also melt the chocolate in a metal cup or foil container on the braai. Make yourself some fruit skewers and dip them into the chocolate sauce. Classics like lemon-poppy loaf and banana bread are also perfect for picnics. Pack a can of whipped cream and some fresh cherries or berries, and you’re set.

7. Salads?

Bulky salads are out of fashion. Join the world of fashionable hipsters and pack salads into jam jars. A chickpea, couscous and feta salad with rocket and basil leaves drizzled with olive oil and sea salt works perfectly in jam jars. Sun-dried tomato, basil pesto and mozzarella are another combo. Why jam jars? They are easier to carry and when you’ve had enough salad you can simply close the jar and save it for dinner at home.

Semenya is a chef and entrepreneur. Check out more recipes on his blog at

For his professional services visit

ALSO READ: 6 Excuses to plan a Summer party

Read more on: picnic  |  biltong  |  bread  |  recipes

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