Vetkoek and curried mince. Curry-flavoured ground beef served inside a traditional vetkoek – a great alternative to the normal curry and rice.
What is a Vetkoek?
In South Africa, a Vetkoek is a ball of bread dough, deep-fried until it is crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. A vetkoek is delicous, served split in half and filled with your favourite curry. I love to serve them with a mince curry, made with lots of juicy sauce that soaks into the vetkoek, and drips out down your chin as you bite into the spicy goodness. You will need to keep plenty of serviettes handy 🙂 !
Vetkoek is an Afrikaans word, and translates into English as Fat Cake, pronounced ‘Fet Cook’. It is a bit like sheep, in that the word can be used as both singular and plural.
Vetkoek originated with the Dutch settlers, back in the 17th Century. As they explored further and further away from Cape Town into the interior in their covered wagons, they had no fresh bread and they didn’t have ovens to bake in. The alternative was to make deep fried dough balls instead. Filled with meat they made a quick and satisfying (and very tasty) meal.
Nowadays vetkoek is a popular South African dish. No self-respecting school or church fete would be complete without a Vetkoek stall.
Vetkoek are normally filled with curried beef mince, but lamb would go really well with them. Try them with my lamb curry in pita, using vetkoek instead of pita bread. They would go down a treat at a barbeque, filled with sausage and smothered in chilli tomato sauce.
You can also eat vetkoek smeared with butter and apricot jam (or honey, or maple syrup, or cheese, or anything else that takes your fancy). My daughter puts golden syrup on hers.
For another traditional South African curry recipe, why not have a look at this Bunny Chow recipe. This made by filling a hollowed out half-loaf of bread with a spicy beef or mutton curry.
Are Vetkoek unhealthy?
Now I know you are going to think that deep fried dough balls are really unhealthy and fattening, but to be honest, they don’t absorb much oil from the frying. The oil should be hot enough to crisp the outside immediately the vetkoek are placed into it. This prevents the oil being absorbed. They are then allowed to fry gently to cook the inside, until they are soft and spongy with little pockets of air bubbles.
Also, they are drained on kitchen paper afterwards, which helps to soak off any excess oil.
They have a slightly chewy texture which means the muscles in your face get lots of exercise from all the chewing you have to do. There is a saying that eating a stick of celery burns off more calories than are actually in the celery itself. I like to believe that Vetkoek falls into this category (I know it doesn’t but it takes away the guilt trip when I eat them).
I’m a firm believer that everything should be done in moderation. If you eat vetkoek every day, you will end up looking like one, but one or two every now and then won’t do any harm.
Ingredients for Vetkoek and Curried Mince
Whenever I read a recipe I like to have a look at the ingredients to see whether I have everything I need. To make it easy for you – I’ve listed the ingredients below. You can get the full list of ingredients and quantities in the printable recipe card further down in the post.
This looks like a lot of ingredients, but most of them are vegetables and spices that you probably have in your pantry anyway.
For the Vetkoek
- Plain Flour – otherwise known as All Purpose flour. Don’t use self-raising flour, the yeast takes care of the rising .
- Dried instant Yeast – you can buy this in packets in the supermarket, and you just tip it into the mixing bowl with the flour.
- Water – you should use lukewarm water as this will assist in activating the yeast.
- Salt – this is optional, but it does make the vetkoek taste better.
- Sugar – there is an old wives tale that says sugar will assist in the activation of yeast, but this not true. The yeast will activate perfectly well without sugar, so you can omit this if you want to.
- Sunflower oil – this is used to fry the vetkoek, and you need an oil with a high smoke point. Olive oil will not be suitable for this, so you will need to use sunflower or canola.
For the Curried Mince
- Beef Mince (or ground beef if you live in the US) – get a good quality beef mince with a low percentage of fat. I like to buy mince with a 5% fat content.
- Pork Mince – I use half pork and half beef as I feel the pork adds an additional layer of flavour . It is perfectly fine to use all beef mince though.
- Potatoes – because this curried mince is served inside a vetkoek, the vegetables should all be chopped into small pieces, so that you can pack plenty in. Chop the potatos into small dice, approximately 1cm in size.
- Onions – chopped into 1cm dice
- Celery – chopped into small dice
- Carrots – chopped into small dice
- Fresh Tomatoes– finely chopped
- Tomato Puree – I buy my tomato puree in tubes because you can reseal it and it stays fresh if you keep it in the fridge
- Chutney – use your favourite brand – or make your own from this recipe
- Sugar – when cooking with tomatoes I like to add a sall amount of sugar as it brings out the flavour of the tomatoes
- Frozen petit pois – optional – but they add additional pops of sweetness
- Salt – optional if you don’t like adding salt to food.
- Beef Stock – if you don’t have any you can make this with a stock cube and a cup of boiling water
- Olive Oil – for browning the meat.
For the Spice Mix
- Garam Masala
- Curry Powder – you can use the strength you prefer. We like it hot, you could use a medium blend for a milder taste
- Mustard Seeds
- Fennel Seeds
- All Spice
- Ground Coriander
How to make Vetkoek and Curried Mince
Prepare the Vetkoek
Vetkoek are made with yeast. There, I’ve said it, but don’t let it put you off. They are made with instant yeast, not the sort that you have to mix with lukewarm water and flour and wait until it gets all frothy on top before you can use it. With instant yeast, you just tear open a packet and add it to the flour, and you won’t even realise you are using yeast.
I use my trusty Kenwood Chef to do the mixing, but you can easily knead the dough by hand.
Knead the dough
- Tip the flour into a nice big mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast on top and give it a bit of a mix. Then add the salt. Don’t let the yeast come into direct contact with the salt.
- Add most of the water, give it a good stir until it all comes together and then knead for about 10 minutes until you have a nice smooth elastic dough. You can use a food mixer with a dough hook to take all the hard work out of this.
- The reason you don’t add all the water is that it all depends on the flour you are using. You might not need all the water, and once you’ve put it in, you can’t take it out again. If you find you do need more water, just add it one tablespoon at a time until the dough is nice and soft.
- The ratio of flour to water should be approximately 2 flour : 1 water.
Leave the dough to rise
- Cover the mixing bowl with cling film, then cover it with a towel to keep it nice and warm. Put it in a warm place to allow the yeast to work its magic. I put mine on the kitchen window sill. Leave for about an hour. The dough should rise up and become spongy.
- Once the dough has risen, punch it down into a smooth ball and tip it out on a floured board.
- Break off golf-ball sized pieces of dough and press them into flat rounds. Stretch them a little and place on a floured surface. They shoul be about 1cm or half an inch thick. You could roll the dough out and cut circles with a pastry cutter if you prefer, but I like the irregular-sized pieces.
Fry the vetkoek
- Take a wok, or a large saucepan, and pour in enough oil to cover the vetkoek. You will probably need at least 5cm oil.
- Allow the oil to heat. The oil will be hot enough when a small piece of dough ‘sizzles’ and rises to the top when you add it. If the dough just sinks to the bottom of the oil, it is not hot enough.
- Carefully add as many vetkoek as will fit in a single layer. Don’t overcrowd the pan, leave enough room so you can turn them easily. The vetkoek will puff up as they fry, so allow enough room for this.
- Deep fry in hot oil, turning occasionally, until nicely puffed and golden.
- Tip, don’t let the oil get too hot or you will find the outside burns and the inside is still doughy.
- Cut a vetkoek in half to test whether it is done. It should be cooked through and full of air bubbles. If there is any raw dough in the centre you need to cook for a further few minutes.
- Drain the vetkoek on paper towels one they are cooked. Keep warm until ready to fill with the curried mince.
Make the mince curry
While the dough is rising, you can make the curry.
- Gently fry the spices in a little olive oil. This releases all the aromas.
- Add the mince and allow it to brown with the spices. You will have to keep stirring and break up the lumps of mince with a wooden spoon. Keep frying and stirring until the mince is brown and crumbly.
- Next add the onions and celery and fry with the mince until the onion starts to soften.
- Add the tomatoes and tomato puree, the chutney and the sugar and salt. Stir well and continue frying until the tomatoes start to soften.
- Then add the carrots, potatoes and beef stock.
- Leave it to simmer, with the lid on, for about 45 minutes until it is all cooked through and is nice and juicy.
- If there is too much liquid in the mince, remove the lid for the last 10 minutes or so to allow some of the liquid to evapourate
- Finally add the frozen peas and stir through. Keep the curry warm while you fry the vetkoek.
To serve, split each vetkoek in half and fill with the curry mixture. There is no need to butter the vetkoek.
A spoonful of chutney on top makes a nice addition. You could eat this with a knife and fork, but I think it tastes better if you pick it up in your hands and eat it like a hamburger. Just keep plenty of serviettes handy to wipe the juices off your chin!
Convert grams to cups
To help you convert your recipes, I have created a handy Cookery Conversion Calculator which will convert ingredients between grams, ounces, tablespoons, cups and millilitres. I hope you will find it useful.
If you live at a high altitude you may find you need to adjust your baking recipes to compensate for this. You can read about how to do this in this post on baking at high altitudes.
This recipe was number 3 on my top 10 recipes for December 2019.
Recipe – South African Vetkoek with Curried Mince
South African Vetkoek filled with Curried Mince
- Kenwood chef or kitchen helper
- Mixing bowl
- Wok or deep frying pan
- Sharp Knife
- Chopping Board
For the Vetkoek
- 2 cups Plain Flour
- 1 7g packet dried instant Yeast
- 1 cup lukewarm Water approximately
- 1 teaspoon Salt optional
- 1 teaspoon Sugar optional
- Sunflower oil for frying
For the Curried Mince
- 250 g Beef Mince
- 250 g Pork Mince You could leave out the pork and use 500 g beef mince instead
- 2 large potatoes chopped into small dice
- 1 large onion chopped into small dice
- 1 large stick celery chopped into small dice
- 1 large carrot chopped into small dice
- 2 large Tomatoes finely chopped
- 3 Tablespoons Tomato Puree
- 2 Tablespoons Chutney I use Mango chutney, but you can use your favourite brand
- 1 teaspoon Sugar
- ½ cup frozen petit pois
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1 cup Beef Stock (you can make this with a stock cube)
- 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil for frying
For the Spice Mix
- 2 Tablespoons Garam Masala
- 2 Tablespoons Hot Curry Powder we like it hot, you could use Medium for a milder taste
- 1 teaspoon Mustard Seeds
- 1 teaspoon Fennel Seeds
- 1 teaspoon Turmeric
- 1 teaspoon All Spice
- 1 teaspoon Ground Coriander
For the Vetkoek
- Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the mixing bowl and add the yeast. Don't put the yeast directly on the salt.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour, add the water and stir to combine.
- Knead for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic
- Cover the bowl with cling-film, then cover with a small towel and leave in a warm place to rise for about an hour.
- Once the vetkoek has risen (it will have a spongy texture if you pull your fingers across the surface), punch it down and form it into a soft ball and place it on a floured board.
- You can either roll out with a rolling pin, and cut into pieces or break off golf-ball sized pieces of dough and flatten into thin rounds.
- Heat sufficient Sunflower Oil to deep fry the vetkoek. Test the oil by dropping a small ball of dough It should sizzle and rise to the surface immediately if the oil is hot enough.
- Place 2 or 3 rounds of dough (depending on the size of your pan) at a time into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. You will have to turn them in the oil to ensure they cook on both sides. Don't allow the oil to get too hot or they will burn.
- Drain on kitchen paper towels
For the Curried Mince
- Pour the olive oil into a large frying pan or wok and heat gently.
- Mix all the spice ingredients together, add to the pan and fry gently to release the aromas.
- Add the beef and pork, break it up in the spices with a wooden spoon, and fry gently until it is all separated and no longer pink.
- Add the onions and celery and fry with the meat for a couple of minutes until it starts to soften
- Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, sugar, chutney and salt and stir through.
- Add the carrots and potatoes and mix to combine.
- Add the beef stock and bring to the boil
- Put a lid on the pan and allow to simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evapourated. This should take approximately 45 minutes.
- Add the frozen peas and stir through. Heat a couple of minutes more until the peas are hot.
- Split each vetkoek down the middle and fill with the mince mixture.
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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