Theatre Legend Al Debbo’s Stuffed Vine Leaves ….. a Vegetarian D’Lite!

A few weeks ago we lost another one of South Africa’s much loved theatre legends. I remember Al Debbo’s golf ball googly eyes rolling around in their sockets from my childhood; and he always made me laugh. Back in the days when television was in its’ infancy – the days when families and neighbours piled into the lounge at 6 o’clock – eyes riveted on that blasted test pattern in a fixed zombie-like stare waiting for the entertainment to begin.

I have foot lights and dance shoes in my blood and am no stranger to the stage myself. I was raised on a staple diet of Frank Sinatra & Judy Garland. I vividly recall the glamour of those screen sirens all decked out in their fishtail dresses, sparkles and spangles dripping from every pore virtually; and those hairdos!

I longed to have blond waves and spent many an afternoon with my friend Judy, belting out “Over the Rainbow” to her record on my little blue and white turntable in the privacy of my bedroom. I would have KILLED for a pair of Dorothy’s old shoes! It’s true that little girls are highly influenced by what they see on television screens and, in my case, the covers of mums 33 records… and diamonds and sequins really are this girl’s best friend.

You will recall the little treasure of a cook book, The Stage Door (click on this link to go and read up about the joys of this amazing treasure of a book) , which I unearthed at the Essenwood Craft & Food Market a while ago. This book is a treasurey of recipes from 127 well known names in the South African entertainment world. From Athol Fugard to Bill Faure the book is absolutely amazing. Pages 154 & 155 feature Al Debbo’s then favourite dish at the time that the

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book went to print which was 1979 … retro food here we come.

Robert Lang had this to say about the legend …..

Al Debbo is one funny-man who has never wanted to play ‘Hamlet’.

Not for him the soliloquies of the gloomy Dane, for the name Debbo has guaranteed comedy on stage, screen and radio throughout South Africa for many years.

Al was born in Bloemfontein and first attracted attention when he won a prize in a talent contest organised by African Consolidated Theatres. Later, he won another contest sponsored by A.C.T. and the South African Wool Board.

He toured extensively throughout the Republic and South-West Africa with great success; in England he played all the famous music-halls in variety, appeared on television and also toured Germany.

A popular radio and recording artist, Al has appeared in more than twenty films, and was among the first South Africans to have their records sell by the million. Remember “Hasie”, “The Rickshaw Boy”, “Ek Ry met die Trein” and “Bokkie”?

In later years “Baas Jack”, “Sonbrilletjies” and “Magiel” made the hit parade.

Al ventured successfully into the field of cabaret recently and with friend Nico Carstens, is still playing in variety and recording hits.

Al Debbo’s Stuffed Vine Leaves

For 6 people


2cups white long grain rice

1 sprig parsley

1/2 cup of oil

1 large onion chopped

450g chopped tomatoes

1 cup chick peas

Mint Leaves

1 cup lemon juice


2 cups vine leaves


Wash and drain rice, peel chick peas (which have been soaked overnight) and add to rice with

one teaspoon of salt. Add onion, tomatoes, chopped parsley and mint.

Mix together with oil and half the lemon juices. Dip vine leaves in hot water to make them

pliable and roll each leaf round a heaped teaspoonful of the rice mixture.

Place the rolls side by side in a pan and put a plate on top of them to hold them down.

Pour over them 4 ½ cups of boiling water and let them simmer for half an hour.

Remove the plate and continue to simmer until the rice is tender.

Remove from the stove; pour over the remainder of the lemon juice and let stand

covered for half an hour.

Serve cold with Oude Libertas Dry Steen.

I must admit that I tweaked the recipe to add a little more spice to the end flavour – I added 1tbs of finely chopped garlic to the onion and fried them until soft, I added1tsp of coriander powder, 1tsp of cumin powder and 1/2tsp of clove powder, 1 tsp of pepper and 1 tsp of hot paprika to the chickpea and rice mixture.

Mr Debbo must have either really enjoyed this dish or really

enjoyed cooking – or indeed both. This is quite a labour of love,

but the end result was absolutely smashing. One thing’s for sure and that’s that Al really enjoyed

good food and was prepared to make it himself.

I have often looked at Greek Dolmadis and made a mental note to give them a go one day,

and these are essentially a vegetarian Dolmada.

Smoked snoek has been on the shelves of my local super – perhaps I shall showcase

Francesco the clown’s Smoorvis recipe next…..

As always

Buon Appetito





Scorpio, RED WINE, Dalmatians, VINO, my men, Mamma Estraordinaria, massive pots of pasta, la famiglia, candle light, designer Handbags, Adult Survivor, Red Lipstick, writing, drumming, painting, red RED and Pasta .... lots of it!