[As I am currently on holiday, this is a re-posting of one of the first traditional South African recipes that I ever posted on this blog, over five years ago in 2004.]
Bobotie is a classic South African dish and if you visit a restaurant serving traditional South African foods you are almost sure to encounter it. It’s also one of those dishes that reflects the history of the country and the many cuisines that melded together to create what we now know as South African cuisine.
(Oh, and by the way, I now love bobotie – started liking it in my teens. And I have never figured out why I hated it so much when I was 5.)
When the Dutch settlers, led by Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company, arrived at the Cape in 1652 they found that to work the land they would need slaves, as the indigenous people were, unsurprisingly, none too interested in slaving for the colonists. The first Malay (the term “Malay” indicates Muslim belief and tradition, but not any particular place of origin) slaves arrived from Java and various Indonesian islands in 1658 and over the years their influence on Cape cuisine and the emerging Afrikaans language has been considerable (for example the word baie meaning very is unknown in Dutch as it is derived from the Malay word baiang). Being slaves, the Malays often ended up in the Dutch kitchens and their influence remains apparent in dishes such as bobotie. The origins of the name are not clear, but the curried spice, turmeric-yellow rice and the use of fruit in a meat dish are all indicative of this dish’s Malay roots.
Incidentally, descendants of these slaves still live in Cape Town in the historic Bokaap (say “boor-carp”, or Malay Quarter) on the slopes of Signal Hill in Cape Town, where they originally settled and it remains a tight-knit community who preserve their traditions and faith. And while we are having a history lesson, don’t make the mistake of confusing the Cape Malay population with the Indian population of KwaZulu-Natal on the east coast – these are descendants of the indentured labour force which the British government authorised to be brought from the Indian subcontinent in about 1860 to work on the Natal sugar cane fields. They constitute the largest Indian community in South Africa and have made their own rich contribution to the cuisine of South Africa, including such delights as bunny chows.
The dish itself is a gently-spiced mince dish full of raisins which is then oven-baked with a layer of savoury egg custard on top to form a crust and keep the meat moist. It is traditionally served with yellow rice and sambals. There are dozens of variations – this one is was posted by Sean Borman, who obtained it from the Kaapse Tafel restaurant in Cape Town. If you are in a hurry and can’t be bothered to source all the spices, there is an easy way too – simply buy a Nice ‘n Spicy bobotie spice pack which comes complete with instructions and all the spices you need! Ideal for the lazy gourmet… and you can buy off the Net!
BOBOTIE Serves 4 to 6 persons
1kg steak mince (or lamb mince)
1 large onion
1 tablespoon oil
1 thick slice stale bread without the crust (white)
1 cup milk (more or less)
1 tablespoon apricot jam
juice of half a lemon (you can add more if you like it less sweet)
10-12 dried apricots
2 tablespoons seedless raisins
3 Tbsp slivered almonds
1 teaspoon curry powder (more if you prefer it stronger, but the dish is meant to have a mild curried flavour)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger grated
3 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
6 lemon leaves (or 3 bay leaves as a poor substitute) -you could grate a bit of the rind of the lemon before you squeeze it for the juice and add it to the bay leaves but add carefully so as not to allow the lemon to dominate
Lightly fry chopped onion over medium heat in oil till golden. Add chopped garlic and grated ginger. Remove from heat.
Soak bread in half a cup of milk, then crumble with a fork. Add to the mince and mix well.
Return the pot to the stove on medium heat. Add a little oil if the onion has absorbed it all. Add the meat and all other ingredients except the rest of the milk, the lemon leaves and the eggs.
Mix well to avoid lumps of mince. Cook until soft and cooked through, to the stage when meat is getting brown and not pink.
Check for seasoning and add anything you think is missing. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat mixture to a baking dish with about 5cm high sides
Reduce any residual gravy left in the pot by gently cooking without a lid. When reduced sufficiently, add it to the baking dish – the meat should not be dry but there should not be any gravy pooling at the bottom of the dish.
Lightly beat the two eggs. Add 1 cup of milk plus what is left of the milk in which the bread was soaked. Total should not exceed one and a half cups. Mix well, add salt and pepper.
After beating well, pour the milk and egg mixture over the meat. Place lemon leaves (or bay leaves & a little grated lemon rind) on top.
Bake uncovered in moderate oven (350-375F / 180-190C) for 30 to 40 minutes until the egg mixture has set. Hot with turmeric rice and chopped tomato and onion salad.
Serve piping hot with the yellow rice – see recipe below.
YELLOW RICE Serves 4
2 cups long-grain rice
4 cups water
2 Tbs oil (approx)
1/4 tsp turmeric
sutanas – as many or few as you like
Heat oil a little. Add the rice and stir till coated. Add water, salt and rice. Add the powdered turmeric (a little at a time till the shade of yellow you like has been achieved) and sultanas.
Cook gently for 15-20 min, covered and simmering on low heat. When most of the water is absorbed, switch off stove & let the rice swell before serving.