Boereboontjies – South African beans with mashed potatoes

BoereboontjiesTitle © J Horak-Druiff 2013

“Your cat likes to eat… what?”, said the teacher as she loomed over me, seemingly impossibly tall and alarmingly perplexed.  I wasn’t aware that I’d said anything particularly unusual but I was suddenly aware that all my classmates were now also looking at me.  “Umm… asparagus, Miss,” I repeated. “You know, the long white things in the tall tins that you put in salads?”.  The thin frown line between her eyes deepened momentarily, then relaxed as she broke into a kindly smile.  “Oh, you must have confused it with another tin.  Everybody knows cats don’t eat asparagus.” And with that she moved on to ask the next kid something special about their pet. She may have been right about the correct sequence of letters in the alphabet, or the two-times table but damn, was she ever wrong about the asparagus-loving cat!

The truth is that back in the late 1970s in Port Elizabeth, I had no idea that asparagus occurred in any other form except the pale, fat semi-rigid spears that came from tins, just as I was unaware that garlic came in any form other than dried, emasculated flakes. And even the tinned white asparagus that my parents loved so much was something of a novelty – none of my friends ever seemed to have them on the menu at their houses.  So who knows – maybe I grew up in an entire town of asparagus-fiend cats, but most of them just never got to try any and discover their obsession.  Smokey, however, learnt to love them at an early age.  Of our three cats, he was the only one who rushed forward the day my mom accidentally dropped a spear on the kitchen floor and he practically inhaled it.  We assumed he had swallowed it whole before realising it wasn’t actually chicken and that he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice – but we were wrong.  For the rest of his life, every time we opened a tin of asparagus, he would come bounding in from wherever he had been sleeping/climbing/scratching/hunting and beg so ferociously that you had no choice but to give him a spear.  It was his party trick.

When Nick found Rocket on his allotment earlier this year, a tiny ball of black fur with piercing amber eyes, and brought him home the first thing my friend Elizabeth asked was whether he liked green beans.  Her black cat has an obsession with them and she wondered whether this was a black cat “thing”.  I had my doubts – surely lightning would not strike twice?  But it seems that you can take the kitten out of the allotment but not the allotment out of the kitten.  Every bag of vegetables that Nick has brought in since Rocket’s arrival has been eagerly nosed open, prodded, sniffed and (usually) stolen from.  I was wondering why I was finding limp beet greens and spinach leaves in the conservatory… until I noticed Rocket tearing off leaves and furtively running off with them, to shred in private.  Mostly, though, he does not eat them, except when it comes to (you guessed it) the fat, crunchy dwarf beans that Nick grew on the allotment this summer.  Rocket will happily munch, crunch and swallow these before fixing you with his piercing amber gaze as if to say “keep the green crunchies coming, human!”.


BeansRaw © J Horak-Druiff 2013


Fortunately, I managed to save a few beans (as seen in the pic above – all shapes and sizes, and both green and purple!) from his voracious appetite for this dish, which was always known in our house as “hot coleslaw” – a phrase coined by my younger brother. Let me say first off that the dish has nothing whatsoever to do with coleslaw.  It is in fact a dish properly known as  boereboontjies or, literally, farmer’s beans.  It consists of potatoes mashed together with green beans and onions and is served as an accompaniment to stews or roasts.  I have eaten it my entire life – my mom often made it at home and together with petit pois peas with butter it’s one of the few vegetable dishes I have always liked.  For some reason my brother decided that this combination of green beans, onions and potatoes reminded him of coleslaw and for years, that’s what it was called in our house.  One of the first meals I cooked in London when we were still sleeping on a friend’s floor consisted of  pork sausages with apple rings and boereboontjies.  You can imagine our friends’ puzzled looks when the “coleslaw” turned out to be nothing of the sort, but it is indicative of how much this dish reminds me of home.  When homesickness for another time, another place and another life grips me like a fever, this remains one of my failsafe comfort foods. Try it and you’ll understand why.

BoereboontjiesFinal © J Horak-Druiff 2013


Other green bean recipes from bloggers include:

4.6 from 5 reviews
Boereboontjies - South African beans with mashed potatoes
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This classic South African side dish of green beans and potatoes is easy to make and deliciously comforting.
Recipe type: Vegetable side
Cuisine: South African
Serves: 4 as a side
  • 500g green beans, topped & tailed and cut diagonally into 2.5 cm (1 inch) pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • water
  • 2 large floury potatoes
  • 20g butter
  • milk
  • salt & black pepper to taste
  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the onion and sautee until softening, then add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.
  2. Add the beans, stir well to mix with the onions and continue to sautee on medium heat. When the vegetable start to stick, add a little water (just enough to cover the base of the pan), turn down the heat and allow to simmer till the water has evaporated and the beans are cooked.
  3. In the meantime, boil or steam the potatoes until they can be pierced easily with a sharp knife (about 20 minutes).
  4. Peel the cooked potatoes and in a large bowl, mash them together with the butter. Add milk until the desired creamy consistency is reached.
  5. When the beans are done, add the beans to the potato and mix well. Use a potato masher to crush the beans into the potato a bit.
  6. Check for seasoning and add salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve as a side dish with stews or roasts.

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  1. says

    Another new South Africa dish for me to try… will have to see if it converts my family to green beans!
    Our old cat, Fluff, used to eat bananas as a kitten and continued to love cooked broccoli right into old age. We would always find bits left shredded around the kitchen in the morning if there were any leftovers. I’ve never had a cat eat raw green beans before though, maybe that’s how he survived out in the allotment.

    • Jeanne says

      Bananas?! Crazy! I am beginning to think Rocket is just a weirdo. Over the past week he has, during the night or when we are at work, stolen the following from the kitchen counters and beyond: savoiardi biscuits (one chewed and soggy); truffled nougat (ate through the plastic and nibbled on a few pieces); two washing up sponges (one shredded; one just retrieved sopping wet from the sink and brought to Nick’s feet so he could throw it for a game); half a box of Turkish Delight (didn’t eat but opened the box and scattered so much icing sugar it looked like it had snowed in our lounge); 2 tomatoes (dropped on the floor and partially eaten); and a packet of crisps (dragged the packet through the cat flap and nibbled a hole in it by his litter tray – don’t think he ate any but obvs can’t eat the remains now!!). Houston, we have a problem cat!

      • says

        Funny kitten! He may grow out of some of those weird tastes. Found our kitten, Bracken, licking rooibos teabags earlier… and he lets our puppy treat him like a squeaky toy without even whacking him on the nose. Cat therapy may be in his future!

        • Jeanne says

          Hah – Rocket once stole the used Rooibos teabag out of my empty mug – the first I knew of it was when I was thinking “aww cute, he;s found something to play with on the stairs, oh hang on, why is that something leaving marks on my cream woollen carpet…. noooooo!”. Re. cat therapy – do you think we can negotiate a group discount?!

  2. says

    I remember that tinned asparagus! When I was young it was always a classic canape at weddings, a spear of tinned asparagus rolled up in a little strip of brown bread so it looked like a mini roll of turf. Ah the things we ate in the ’70’s!

    • Jeanne says

      Oh those tinned asparagus were THE HEIGHT of sophistication! I never saw the rolled up turf thingies though – hilarious!

  3. says

    I had no idea this dish had South African origins as well. :-) I was taught to make it by an Irish man. :-) It is one of my favorite comfort foods as well.

    • Jeanne says

      Hahaha – how interesting! Given South Africa’s history I would not be surprised if this dish has its roots in Europe and was brought out by one of the waves of immigrants who came over. There were loads of Scots who came, so not unreasonable to think there were Irish too?

  4. Caroline says

    Hi. My name is Caroline. I love searching food blogs. I have a few favorites. My 5 kids (yes, 5) love what I find. I love two blogs, yours and another called “Cooking With Mr. C.” (on Facebook which also takes you to the blog) Between the two of you, I’m kept very busy. Keep up the wonderful work. It’s so appreciated.


    • Jeanne says

      Be warned – it’s a lot of work… You’d have to find a willing labourer to help (and Nick is already taken ;o) )