When I was a kid growing up in Malawi there was a small Chinese restaurant that we loved, because they used to make a dish called Ants in a Tree. Seriously! You will be pleased to know the dish, in fact, has nothing to do with ants or trees, its only called that because of the way it looks. But as all kids will, we first ordered it because of its weird name, the South African equivalent of a weird name is probably Monkey Gland Sauce (explain that to a tourist). I would suggest using a good quality of coarse ground grass fed beef for this dish. It is perfect if you are on a low carb diet, and if you are on the Banting program whilst the dish is low in fat, you could swop the lean mince for one with more fat. The mince has very few ingredients added to it, but each of them delivers an immense amount of flavour. The original dish that I have tried to remember this from also had finely sliced bamboo shoots, contributing to the tree portion of the name, you can add this for some fresh crunch if you want, I’m not a fan.
Ants In a Tree
Serves 4 (As a starter or 2 as a light meal)
– 500gms (grass fed)beef mince
– 1 onion finely chopped
– 2,5cm piece of fresh garlic (peeled and finely sliced match sticks)
– 3 cloves garlic
– 3 red chili (adjust accodringly, I use 6)
– 1/4 cup light soya sauce
– 2,5 tbsp rough chopped coriander
– 4 tbsp raw peanuts
– 3 tbsp oil
– 1tbsp tomato paste (optional)
– 1 spring onion finely chopped (optional)
– 1 whole lettuce, washed and leaves seperated
In a heavy based frying pan, heat the oil, add the onions, 2 of the chili, the crushed garlic and cook over a medium-high heat until the onions have begun to soften, now add the ginger (reserve some of the pieces to use later), cook till onions are completely soft. Increase the heat to high, add the mince – loosen the mince up and scatter it into the pan so that it can brown). Don’t be temped to stir the mince allow it to begin to brown and caramelise before you stir it, and again once you have stirred it leave it to fry. If you keep mixing the mince it will cool too much and begin to broil, you want the mince to develop a golden colour not grey! After about 8 minutes add the soya sauce and the tomato paste if you are using it. If the mince is dry you can add some water, but do so in batches. You are frying this mince, not boiling it, so add just enough liquid to stop it from sticking. Cook for about 25 minutes in total, till the mince is done. Now add the chopped coriander, peanuts, more fresh chopped chili and the reserved ginger sticks. By adding the same ingredients in two stages, you get two different flavours from the same thing, making this simple dish really punchy. Serve the mince with more fresh ingredients sprinkled over the top with lettuce leaves. If you are using the spring onion sprinkle those on right at the end, you could also serve them on the side, personally I don’t like the strong flavour of onion, it covers the amame of the meat and soya sauce.
This makes a great dinner party starter, serve the mince in one bowl and a platter of lettuce leaves and your guests can make their own parcels, serve extra little bowls of chili, ginger, coriander, peanuts and lemon on the side for your guest to use as garnish to create their own flavours.
For a great variation try this dish with good quality ground pork, the texture is finer, but it is also really good.