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Try 'Top Chef' alum's South African-style Labor Day barbecue

Prepare a South African-inspired feast this Labor Day weekend.

Born, raised and educated in South Africa, Elizabeth Binder's connection with the cuisine of her native country runs deep. Though the "Top Chef: Seattle" contestant now lives in Napa, Calif., with her husband, the flavors of South Africa are still an essential part of her cooking. And for those of you in need of some Labor Day cookout inspiration, Binder shares recipes and memories from the braais, the South African equivalent of barbecues, of her youth.

Braais are a South African barbecue tradition — we usually have them once or twice a week, if not more. Like many American cookouts, braais are casual and laid-back social events where families and friends converge on a picnic spot, someone's home in the garden or on the veranda. This South African tradition can be easily incorporated into your own barbecue repertoire for an international twist on the traditional Labor Day feast.

It typically starts with a glass of Chenin Blanc or an ice-cold beer and a little biltong (similar to jerky). Meats are the mainstay of the South African braai and typically include sosaties (skewered lmb or mutton), kebabs, marinated chicken, pork and lamb chops, steaks, sausages of different flavors and thickness, racks of ribs, and a variety of whole fish. And let’s not forget boerewors, a type of sausage that is a staple at any South African braai! 

Story: Sauces, seasonings and marinades to spice up the Labor Day feast

Growing up in South Africa, my dad often prepared whole sheep spit-roast braais for family and friends, which would often take all day. There would be music floating down the garden, and a good game of cricket or touch rugby was inevitable. My father was an avid fisherman and taught us all as little kids to cast like nobody's business. I remember fishing for shad off Durban's coast during the excitement of the Sardine Run and we would throw the whole fish on a makeshift braai in the rocks, right on the beach — deliciously good times! 

To this day, the flavors of South Africa are often featured in my food: peppadews, apricot, mango, peri-peri, Indian spices, ginger, coriander, rooibos, Chenin Blanc and Pinotage are all prolific in my cooking. I think one of my most noticeable South African techniques is the use of acids (vinegar and wine) and the sweetness of fruit (dried or fresh). I love the vibrancy of sweet and sour aspects in dishes. 

The sheer diversity of South African food allows an enormous amount of space for creativity. The recipes I have shared with you are surprisingly easy to make, and would work at any barbecue! It’s also important to note that South Africa has an amazing food culture beyond our legendary braai. Not only is South Africa beautiful and exciting but it is indeed a rainbow nation, a fusion of many colors and cultures. This cultural mélange brings vibrant flavors to the South African table that cannot be found anywhere else.

Elizabeth Binder / Today

Peri-peri New York strip steak
Serves 8

8 prime New York strip steaks (11/2 inches thick, about 14 to 16 ounces each; the thickness is more important than the weight)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Peri-Peri spice rub (see recipe below)

Lightly coat each side of the steaks with extra virgin olive oil, then lift the steaks to allow the excess oil to drip off. Coat each side of the steaks with good tbsp of peri-peri spice rub. 

Place the meat on the hottest part of the grill. If at any time the grill flares up, move the steaks to the outside edge, returning them to the center when the flame dies down. Do not slide the steaks across the grill; gently pick them up with tongs. The key is not to flip them around. Ultimately you want to turn a New York strip steak only three times, cooking each side twice for 3 minutes at a time (for a total cooking time of 12 minutes), to get a rare steak with adequate char. 

Allow the meat to rest for 4 to 5 minutes before serving, to allows the juices to emerge from the center.

Peri-peri spice rub
Makes 1 1/2 cups

4 tbsp smoked sweet paprika
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
4 tbsp course ground black pepper
4 tbsp lemon zest (zest 4 lemons)
2 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp turbinado sugar
6 tbsp kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Store in an airtight container.

Elizabeth Binder / Today

Serves 8

2 - 3 tbsp canola oil
1 knuckle fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 green jalapeno, remove seeds and finely dice
2 yellow onions, diced
2 - 3 tbsp marsala curry powder
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 lg carrot, peeled and grated
3 baskets cherry / toy box tomatoes
2 cups cooked cannellini beans (1 cup dried makes 2 cups cooked)

Fry ginger, garlic and onion in the oil until soft and translucent. Add curry powder and toast lightly over a medium heat.

Add peppers and carrots and stir well, then add tomatoes, stir well and cover with a lid and simmer for twenty minutes. Simmer allowing the tomatoes to burst and release their natural juices. Add a little water if needed and stir frequently.

Remove lid and add cooked beans and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve hot or cold.