By Noluthando Ngcakani

It is hard to beat the instant relief of ice-cold beverages, cold swims, ice cream and air conditioning with summer temperatures continuing to rise. But there could possibly be another way to cool off. Ever considered soup?

Yeah, we know we are reaching. But did you know that your granny was right? Hot foods in summer have been proven to cool you down?
And anyway, we believe that hot, smoky dishes should never be out of season. That is why financier turned chef, Lentswe Bhengu, a wavemaker in Mzansi’s culinary scene, shares his recipe for a seasonal roasted pepper soup.

The chef, traveller, and ambassador, was born in Durban, where he grew up in a huge family. Food was an expression of love in the Bhengu household.  

“I come from a very large family, and I draw a lot of my inspiration from my friends and loved ones. I have 21 siblings. I learned to understand love and food at home,” he says. 

“Cooking was always an experience and an event; coming from a family with 21 children, we were always making a meal.”
He first expressed his own love and passion for food as a teen. In the kitchen each member of his family had a role to play when it came to preparing meals, he adds.

“The meals we ate, everyone had a specific role when we cooked, you either did the dishes or you were picking vegetables from the garden or you are peeling or chopping.”

From KwaZulu-Natal to the world
While he loved cooking in his younger days, Bhengu only became a chef at 25. He worked in the investment finance industry until 2010, before he traded his corporate suit for a chef’s jacket.

He graduated from the Culinary Academy (Hurst Campus) in the Cape Winelands town of Paarl. He laid roots in the Cape working his way up the professional kitchen ladder at renowned restaurants including the Savoy Cabbage, the Roundhouse Restaurant and Saucisse Deli in Woodstock.

His passion and talent for cooking opened many doors and saw him journey into Africa with a web series turned BBC show and cookbook, Africa on a Plate.

He has since become a household regular, appearing on South African TV series including the Great South African Bake Off, Kasi Kitchen, Expresso, Cheeky Palate and more recently, Taste Kitchen on Mzansi Magic.

Despite his success, simple ingredients like garlic, butter, salt, and thyme will always be present in his Johannesburg pantry, he says.
His secret to culinary success is to always, “Stay true to who you are and what you know and the rest will follow.”
He advises young chefs on the come-up to stick to their guns. “Find your niche and tell your story.”

Make Lentswe’s roasted red pepper soup
Using different methods like smoking, Bhengu changes the flavour profile of his ingredients

“I used different cooking methods which change the flavour profiles of certain ingredients by cooking at different temperatures while testing the effect heating had on the dish prepared,” says Bhengu.
“I specifically chose a roasted red pepper soup dish to demonstrate this because the flavour profile of the red pepper and tomatoes changes drastically depending on the temperature the ingredient is prepared at.”

Roasted red pepper soup
8½ cups warm chicken stock (2 litres)
6 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 red onions, quartered
4 red peppers, quartered
1 leek, roughly chopped
1 stalk of celery, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic
2 sprigs of thyme, rinsed
Coriander/parsley rinsed and picked
Small French loaf
Salt and pepper
1 spring onion
10 tbsp olive oil, for drizzling
Preheat your oven to 180°C.

On a roasting tray, place your quartered tomatoes, red onions and peppers with a sprig of thyme and 2 cloves of garlic, drizzle with 6 tablespoons of olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Place the roasting tray into the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until caramelised.

Place a large pot on the stovetop, sauté the celery with 4 tablespoons of olive oil, the leeks and spring onion with the remaining garlic cloves and 1 sprig of thyme. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken stock and reduce it by half.

Add the roasted ingredients to the pot and cook for a further 10 minutes, once cooked remove from heat.
Blend the ingredients, pass through a sieve and strain (if desired), season to taste if necessary.
Garnish with chopped parsley or coriander. –

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