South African Recipes

Christmas time in South Africa is the ideal time to dust off your recipe books and get creative. While there are plenty of international dishes that can be made, why not stick to something a bit more traditional with one of these delicious South African Christmas recipes.

If you’re looking for a quick menu to make this Christmas special, jump to the end of the post where we have South African Christmas Lunch and Dinner Menus.

Starter Recipes for a Traditional South African Christmas

These recipes are the perfect way to start off your meal over Christmas.

Biltong Soup

A classic South African Christmas starter, Biltong Soup combines the robust, savoury flavours of biltong (dried, cured meat) with a rich, creamy broth, creating a perfect balance of taste and texture. The secret to its depth of flavour lies in using high-quality biltong and gently simmering the soup to blend the flavours seamlessly. This dish is more than a mere appetiser; it’s a heartwarming introduction to the festive feast, embodying the warmth and generosity of South African culinary traditions.

Cape Malay Pickled Fish

Cape Malay Pickled Fish is a traditional South African delicacy, especially popular in Cape Town during Christmas. Marinated in a blend of tangy vinegar, spices, and a hint of sweetness, this dish is typically prepared in advance, allowing the fish to absorb the flavours and become tender. This starter is not just food; it’s a piece of Cape Malay heritage, perfect for a Christmas Eve dinner, reflecting the rich tapestry of South African culture.

Peri-Peri Chicken Livers

Peri-Peri Chicken Livers are a fiery and flavourful start to any South African Christmas celebration. The key to their success lies in cooking the livers to perfection – ensuring they’re tender but not overcooked. Infused with the warmth of peri-peri sauce, this dish is more than just a starter; it’s a taste adventure that sets the tone for the festive meal to come, highlighting the bold and diverse flavours of South African cuisine.

Pumpkin Fritters

Pumpkin Fritters, or ‘Pampoenkoekies‘, are a delightful mix of sweet and savoury, making them a perfect start to Christmas dining in South Africa. The trick to their perfect texture lies in the batter’s consistency. Drizzled with syrup or sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, these fritters are a testament to South Africa’s rich agricultural heritage, offering a comforting and homey introduction to the holiday feast.

Sosaties (Kebabs)

Sosaties, a flavourful blend of marinated, skewered meats, encapsulate the essence of South Africa’s diverse culinary influences. Traditionally made with lamb or chicken and marinated in a unique blend of spices, apricots, and vinegar, they are a testament to the importance of marination for achieving a tender and flavour-rich bite. These kebabs are more than a mere starter; they represent the shared culinary heritage of South Africa, making them a festive and celebratory dish.

South African Main Course Christmas Recipes

Bobotie

Bobotie, the South African culinary gem, is perfect for Christmas with its harmonious blend of sweet and savoury. This Cape Malay delight combines spiced minced meat with an egg-based topping, baked to perfection. A tip for aspiring Bobotie chefs: achieving the right balance of spices, particularly curry and turmeric, is crucial. The mixture should be moist but not overly wet before baking. Letting it rest after baking allows the flavors to settle, enhancing its taste. Bobotie is more than just a dish; it’s a festive celebration of South Africa’s rich, multicultural culinary history.

Potjiekos

Potjiekos, a beloved slow-cooked stew, encapsulates the essence of South African Christmas. This dish, traditionally prepared in a cast-iron pot over an open fire, requires patience and care. Layering is key – start with meat at the bottom, followed by vegetables, maintaining the order to ensure even cooking. Avoid stirring during cooking to preserve layers; let the ingredients simmer in their juices. The slow cooking process melds flavours beautifully, making potjiekos a rich and hearty main course that brings people together, embodying the spirit of a communal South African Christmas feast. Our two favourite versions are the Oxtail Potjie and Chicken Potjie.

south african potjiekos in the kitchen

Roast Lamb

Roast lamb, a centrepiece at many South African Christmas tables, embodies tradition and flavour. Choosing quality cuts and using simple seasonings like rosemary and garlic are crucial. For a perfectly roasted lamb, timing is key – avoid overcooking to keep the meat tender and juicy. Letting the lamb rest post-roasting allows the juices to redistribute, enhancing the flavour. This dish represents South Africa’s love for robust flavours and hearty meals, making it a perfect choice for a festive Christmas gathering.

Braai-Roasted Chicken

Braai-roasted chicken, a South African Christmas staple, brings the unique flavour of outdoor cooking to the festive table. Marinating the chicken in local flavours like lemon, garlic, and peri-peri and cooking it evenly on the braai are essential. The trick is in the heat management – a consistent, moderate temperature ensures a perfectly cooked, juicy chicken. Turning the chicken just enough to avoid burning while keeping it moist is an art. The braai isn’t just about cooking; it’s a cultural experience, reflecting the joy and communal spirit of South African Christmas.

Oxtail Stew

Oxtail stew is a luxurious, richly flavoured dish, perfect for a South African Christmas. The key to a great oxtail stew is slow cooking – it needs several hours to simmer, allowing the meat to become tender and the flavours to deepen. Browning the oxtail pieces before adding them to the stew adds an extra layer of flavour. This dish, often cooked with a blend of local spices and red wine, reflects the culinary depth and heritage of South Africa. Oxtail stew is not just a dish; it’s a warm, comforting embrace on a plate, ideal for festive gatherings.

Gammon

Gammon, a traditional Christmas main course in South Africa, is a type of cured ham typically glazed and roasted. It’s often served with a sweet and tangy glaze made from ingredients like honey, mustard, and orange juice. The key to perfect gammon lies in slow roasting to ensure the meat is tender and flavourful. Gammon at Christmas is a legacy of British influence on South African cuisine and represents the fusion of local and international flavours. It’s a centrepiece dish, symbolising celebration and festivity.

Side Dishes for a Traditional South African Christmas

Amadumbe

Amadumbe, also known as African potato, is a root vegetable indigenous to South Africa. It’s often boiled, mashed, or roasted and serves as a staple side dish in many South African homes during Christmas. Rich in flavour and similar to sweet potato, amadumbe is sometimes combined with butter, cream, and herbs to enhance its natural taste. This dish is a celebration of South Africa’s rich agricultural heritage, showcasing the country’s diverse and nutritious native produce.

Geelrys – Yellow Rice with Raisins

‘Geelrys’, or Yellow Rice with Raisins, is a sweet and aromatic staple at South African Christmas tables. Its vibrant hue, derived from turmeric, and the added sweetness from cinnamon and sugar, make it a visually appealing and palate-pleasing dish. Cooking it to the right fluffy texture is crucial. This dish is a colourful and sweet addition to the Christmas meal, perfectly complementing the savoury mains.

Creamy Samp

Creamy Samp, a cherished dish made from crushed maize kernels, is a comforting and hearty side essential to a South African Christmas feast. The key to its delightful texture lies in slow cooking and careful seasoning, allowing the samp to absorb flavours fully. Representing South Africa’s agricultural roots, this dish is a staple at many Christmas tables, offering a taste of the country’s rich culinary tradition.

Chakalaka

Chakalaka, a vibrant and spicy South African vegetable relish, adds a fiery kick to the Christmas feast. A blend of carrots, peppers, beans, and spices, this dish is best when its flavours are allowed to meld over time. Its versatility in heat and ingredients makes it a beloved addition to the festive menu, showcasing the dynamic nature of South African cuisine. If you want to try something different, you can try our our delicious Chakalaka bread recipe.

Pap and Tomato Relish

Pap and Tomato Relish, a quintessential combination in South African cuisine, offers a perfect blend of smooth, creamy maize porridge with spicy, tangy tomato relish. The key to a perfect pap lies in achieving a smooth, lump-free consistency. This dish is a comforting and flavourful accompaniment to any main, symbolising the simplicity and richness of South African flavours.

Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash, often simply roasted with a blend of spices, is a sweet and tender addition to the Christmas table. The roasting process enhances its natural sweetness, making it a hit among all ages. This simple yet delicious side dish perfectly complements the more robust and hearty flavours of other Christmas dishes, adding both colour and a touch of sweetness to the festive spread.

Umngqusho

Umngqusho, a traditional South African dish, is especially popular during festive gatherings like Christmas. It is made with samp (crushed dried corn) and beans, often flavoured with onions, potatoes, and spices. This dish requires slow cooking to achieve the perfect creamy texture, with the samp and beans retaining a slight bite. Umngqusho is more than just a side dish; it’s a hearty, comforting staple that reflects the diverse cultural heritage of South Africa, particularly beloved in Xhosa cuisine.

Traditional South African Christmas Salad Recipes

These are some of our favourite South African salads to make over the Christmas period. If you want a more comprehensive list, check out our detailed list of South African Christmas salads.

Three Bean Salad

The Three Bean Salad, a blend of green beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas in a tangy dressing, is a refreshing and nutritious addition to any South African Christmas feast. The art of this salad lies in the balance of flavors in the dressing – a harmonious mix of vinegar, oil, and a hint of sweetness. Not only does this salad bring a vibrant and healthy element to the festive table, but it also represents the diverse agricultural bounty of South Africa. It’s a celebration of freshness and simplicity, making it an indispensable part of Christmas dining.

three bean salad on a table

Classic Coleslaw

Classic Coleslaw, combining crunchy cabbage and carrots in a creamy dressing, is a Christmas staple in South Africa. The key to its success is using fresh ingredients and achieving a harmonious blend in the dressing, typically comprising mayonnaise, vinegar, and a touch of sugar. This salad brings a refreshing contrast to the array of warm dishes served during the festive season. It’s a simple yet essential part of the Christmas spread, offering a cool, crisp texture and a creamy taste.

Potato Salad

A beloved side dish in South Africa, Potato Salad is particularly cherished during the festive season. Made with tender boiled potatoes, rich mayonnaise, crisp onions, and aromatic herbs, its preparation involves ensuring the potatoes are cooked to just the right level of tenderness. This salad is a creamy, comforting addition that seamlessly complements the robust flavours of the main courses, embodying the spirit of a heartwarming South African Christmas.

Beetroot Salad

Beetroot Salad, known for its vibrant color and earthy flavour, is a healthy and visually appealing addition to the South African Christmas table. Prepared by boiling or roasting beetroots and dressing them in a simple vinaigrette, the salad is best served chilled, allowing the flavours to fully develop. This dish not only adds a pop of colour to the meal but also offers a nutritious balance, showcasing South Africa’s love for incorporating fresh, local produce into their festive feasts.

Curried Noodle Salad (Pasta Salad)

The Curried Noodle Salad, often referred to as ‘Curried Pasta Salad’ in South Africa, is a unique and flavourful addition to Christmas dining. This dish combines perfectly cooked noodles with a curry-flavoured dressing and assorted vegetables, creating a fusion of tastes. It’s important to maintain a firm texture in the noodles and balance the curry’s distinctive flavor. This salad stands out for its memorable taste and is a testament to South Africa’s culinary diversity, making it a standout dish in the festive spread.

Desserts for a Traditional South African Christmas

Malva Pudding

Malva Pudding, a staple at South African Christmases, is a delightful dessert known for its sweet, spongy texture, infused with apricot jam. The key to a perfect Malva Pudding lies in achieving a delicate balance between sweet and tart flavours, ensuring the sponge is light and moist. Typically served warm with custard or vanilla ice cream, this dessert is not just a treat for the palate; it embodies the warmth and generosity of South African hospitality. The origins of Malva Pudding are a blend of Dutch influences and local flavours, making it a heartwarming end to the Christmas feast.

Koeksisters

Koeksisters, a traditional South African sweet treat, are an essential part of Christmas celebrations. These plaited or twisted doughnuts are deep-fried to golden perfection and then soaked in a cold, sweet syrup. The contrast between the hot, crispy exterior and the cold, syrupy interior creates a unique texture. The key to their success is maintaining the syrup’s cold temperature while the koeksisters are hot. This dessert is a testament to the country’s love for sweet, indulgent treats, and its Dutch culinary heritage.

Melktert

Melktert, meaning ‘milk tart’ in Afrikaans, is a beloved South African dessert characterised by its creamy, custard-like filling encased in a sweet pastry crust. The smooth and velvety filling, often infused with a hint of cinnamon, makes it a comforting and gentle end to a festive meal. The origins of Melktert can be traced back to the Dutch settlers, and over time, it has become a cherished part of South African culinary tradition, especially during Christmas.

Tipsy Tart

Tipsy Tart, also known as Cape Brandy Pudding, is a rich and flavourful dessert that’s a favourite at South African Christmas gatherings. Made with dried fruit, nuts, and infused with a brandy syrup, this moist fruit cake is a celebration of flavours. Allowing the tart sufficient time to soak in the syrup is crucial for developing its depth of flavor. This dessert is not just a sweet treat; it represents a fusion of local ingredients and international influences, making it a festive favourite.

Peppermint Crisp Tart

The Peppermint Crisp Tart, with its layers of caramel, cream, and peppermint chocolate, is a classic South African dessert and a must-have for Christmas celebrations. Known for its simplicity and delicious taste, the preparation involves layering ingredients and allowing them to chill, resulting in a dessert that is both crunchy and creamy. It’s a modern classic that captures the heart of South African dessert traditions, combining local flavours to create something uniquely delightful.

Hertzoggies

Hertzoggies are a beloved South African treat, particularly popular around Christmas. These small, tart-like pastries combine a sweet pastry crust with a filling of apricot jam, topped with a coconut meringue. The contrasting textures and flavours – the crumbly crust, the sweet jam, and the fluffy, slightly crispy meringue – make Hertzoggies a delightful confection. Named after a former South African Prime Minister, General J.B.M. Hertzog, these pastries are steeped in history and are a testament to South Africa’s Dutch and British colonial past. They are a festive favourite, symbolising the blend of cultures in South African cuisine.

Mince Pies

Mince pies are a Christmas classic in South Africa, originating from British tradition. These small pies are filled with mincemeat – a mixture of dried fruits, spices, and sometimes a splash of brandy. The secret to a great mince pie is in the pastry, which should be light and flaky, and the rich, spiced filling, which should be neither too dry nor too moist. Mince pies are a nostalgic nod to South Africa’s colonial history, embodying the spirit of Christmas in their rich, spiced flavour.

south african mince pies during christmas

Nectarine Tart

A Nectarine Tart is a refreshing and delightful dessert often enjoyed during the South African Christmas season. Utilising the summer’s bounty of fresh nectarines, this tart combines the sweetness of the fruit with a crisp, buttery pastry. Often glazed with a light syrup and sometimes flavoured with spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, the Nectarine Tart is a celebration of local produce and simple yet elegant dessert-making. It’s a lighter alternative to traditional Christmas desserts, offering a balance of sweetness and freshness.

Christmas Cake

A South African Christmas Cake is a rich, dense fruitcake that is a staple during the festive season. Heavily influenced by British traditions, it’s made with a variety of dried fruits such as raisins, currants, and sultanas, often soaked in brandy or rum. The cake is also packed with nuts and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and mixed spice, embodying the warm and cozy flavours of Christmas. A key tip for baking this cake is to prepare it well in advance of the holiday—sometimes even months before. This allows the flavours to develop and the alcohol to infuse thoroughly into the cake, making it moist and flavourful. The cake is usually decorated with marzipan and royal icing, turning it into not just a delicious treat but also a festive centrepiece. The South African Christmas Cake represents a fusion of local ingredients and colonial influences, making it a cherished part of the holiday celebrations.

Trifle

A South African Trifle is a beloved dessert, particularly during the Christmas season. This layered sweet treat combines sponge cake (often soaked in sherry or brandy), custard, fruit, jelly (Jell-O), and whipped cream, creating a symphony of flavours and textures. A key aspect of a great trifle is the balance between the different layers – ensuring each is distinct yet harmonious when combined. The sponge layer provides a base that absorbs the alcohol, while the custard and cream add richness and smoothness. Fresh fruit or jam adds a tangy contrast, and the jelly brings a unique texture. Traditionally, trifles are adorned with festive decorations or fruit, making them not only a delicious finale to the Christmas meal but also a visually stunning centrepiece. The trifle’s history in South Africa reflects the country’s British influence and its adaptation to local tastes and ingredients, symbolising the fusion of cultures that characterises South African cuisine.

Beverages for a Traditional South African Christmas

Rooibos Tea

Rooibos Tea, a naturally caffeine-free herbal tea native to South Africa, is a popular beverage during the Christmas season. Known for its soothing properties and rich, earthy flavour, it can be enjoyed both hot and cold, with or without milk. Adding a slice of lemon or a dash of honey can enhance its flavour, making it a versatile and comforting drink. Rooibos tea is not just a beverage; it’s a reflection of South Africa’s rich botanical heritage, offering a taste of the country’s natural beauty.

Homemade Ginger Beer

Homemade Ginger Beer is a traditional South African drink, especially favoured during the festive season. This slightly spicy, sweet beverage is known for its refreshing qualities. The fermentation process is key to achieving the perfect balance of fizziness and flavour. Careful monitoring and patience are required to ensure the ginger beer ferments to just the right level. It’s a drink that embodies the spirit of homemade, artisanal South African culinary practices, perfect for toasting the festive season.

Amarula Cream Liqueur

Amarula Cream Liqueur, made from the exotic Marula fruit, is a creamy, rich beverage often enjoyed over ice during Christmas in South Africa. Its smooth texture and distinct flavour make it a luxurious treat. Amarula is not only a liqueur; it’s a celebration of South Africa’s unique natural produce, offering a taste that is both indulgent and distinctly African.

Dom Pedro

The Dom Pedro, a delightful blend of ice cream and liquor, is a popular dessert beverage in South Africa during Christmas. The secret lies in finding the perfect balance between the creamy ice cream and the chosen alcohol, often whiskey or brandy. Served chilled, it’s a decadent treat that combines the joy of dessert with the pleasure of a festive drink, showcasing South Africa’s innovative and indulgent side.

Milk Tart Martini

The Milk Tart Martini offers a creative and sophisticated twist on the traditional Melktert. Combining vodka with flavours reminiscent of this beloved dessert, it’s a modern cocktail that captures the essence of South African flavours. The key to a perfect Milk Tart Martini lies

South African Christmas Lunch Menu

Starter:

  1. Biltong Soup – A warm, creamy soup with the robust flavors of biltong, perfect for welcoming guests to the Christmas feast.
  2. Cape Malay Pickled Fish – A tangy, sweet-spiced fish dish, embodying the rich Cape Malay culinary heritage.

Main Course:

  1. Bobotie – A flavourful Cape Malay dish combining spiced minced meat with a savoury egg topping.
  2. Chicken Potjiekos – A hearty stew cooked slowly in a cast-iron pot, blending various meats and vegetables.

Side Dishes:

  1. Geelrys (Yellow Rice with Raisins) – A sweet and aromatic rice dish, adding a festive touch with its vibrant colour.
  2. Creamy Samp – A comforting, creamy dish made from crushed maize kernels, representing South Africa’s agricultural roots.
  3. Amadumbe – Mashed or roasted, these indigenous root vegetables offer a unique and nutritious side option.

Salads:

  1. Three Bean Salad – A refreshing mix of beans in a tangy dressing, adding a healthy element to the meal.
  2. Classic Coleslaw – A crunchy, creamy salad that offers a refreshing contrast to the warm dishes.

Dessert:

  1. Malva Pudding – A spongy, sweet pudding served warm with custard or ice cream.
  2. Hertzoggies – Delightful small pastries filled with apricot jam and topped with coconut meringue.

Beverage:

  1. Rooibos Tea – A soothing, caffeine-free herbal tea that complements the meal perfectly.

South African Christmas Dinner Menu

Starter:

  1. Peri-Peri Chicken Livers – A spicy and rich starter that sets the tone for an exciting meal.
  2. Pumpkin Fritters (‘Pampoenkoekies’) – Sweet and savoury fritters, a nod to South Africa’s agricultural heritage.

Main Course:

  1. Roast Lamb – A traditional, juicy roast flavored with rosemary and garlic.
  2. Oxtail Stew – A luxurious, slow-cooked stew offering rich and deep flavours.

Side Dishes:

  1. Chakalaka – A spicy vegetable relish that adds a vibrant kick to the meal.
  2. Pap and Tomato Relish – A classic South African combination, offering a balance of creamy and tangy flavours.
  3. Butternut Squash – Roasted to enhance its natural sweetness, a favourite among all ages.

Salads:

  1. Potato Salad – A creamy, comforting salad that pairs well with the main courses.
  2. Beetroot Salad – A visually stunning addition, bringing a sweet, earthy flavour to the table.

Dessert:

  1. Peppermint Crisp Tart – A crunchy, creamy tart that’s a modern classic in South African desserts.
  2. Christmas Cake – Christmas dinner isn’t complete without a Christmas cake. Not only is it delicious, but it will brighten up your table.

Beverage:

  1. Homemade Ginger Beer – A slightly spicy, sweet, and refreshing beverage, perfect for a festive evening.
  2. Amarula Cream Liqueur – A rich, creamy drink served over ice, adding a luxurious touch to the end of the meal.

Start Cooking Your South African Christmas Recipes!

You’ve got everything you need to make the holidays an absolute treat. Now all you have to do is start cooking! Enjoy these South African classics and let us know if you have anything you love making during a Summer Christmas in South Africa.