In my family, when we travel, we all have assignments. Subjects to learn about, information to share with the group. Yes, homework for vacation. Laugh all you want, but it has made for some really interesting trips. I am generally given the topic of food. I search out restaurants, food customs, typical local fare and markets. And the training of my family vacations has never worn off. I generally do quite a bit of research before I travel, and always research the food I should be on the lookout for.
Before I traveled to South Africa some years ago, I read about bobotie, a traditional dish with Cape Malay origins. The Cape Malay have East Asian ancestry, so the spices and curries of their heritage have translated into the broader realm of South African cooking. When I first arrived, I started asking, and the friend I was visiting and new friends I met told me that bobotie was really the sort of thing people cooked at home, and they weren’t sure I’d see it on a menu anywhere. But they gave me a general description of the dish, with a lot of “well, my mom always makes it….” I of course, took copious notes. I did eventually have bobotie, as a lunch with a green salad at a game lodge, and served in a charming little ramekin at an elegant country inn in the Cape Winelands. I picked up a couple of cookbooks that had bobotie recipes as well. All this proved to me why bobotie is a favorite dish. I recently spent a wonderful week with a group of South African friends, and when asked what they considered a true South African dish, they all said bobotie. It reminded me how delicious this dish is, and how easy it is to make a flavorful, exotic meal that’s a departure from our standard fare. I bet you’ll want to add it into regular meal rotation.
I have combined my preferred features from my bobotie research for my recipe, and adapted it a little to what’s readily available to me. Some recipes I gathered use only lamb, or only beef, but I like the depth of a combined version. South Africa offers a wide and varied selection of chutneys, and I have been admonished that a good bobotie is all about a good chutney. I find the easily accessible Major Grey type chutney a perfect choice.
Bobotie (South African Curried Beef and Lamb Casserole)
If you have a large oven-to-table casserole dish, you can make this in one pan.
2 small onions, finely diced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground beef
2 Tablespoons curry powder
3 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into cubes
1¼ cup buttermilk
1 cup seedless golden raisins
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon apricot jam
2 Tablespoons mango chutney (such as Major Grey)
3 large eggs
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft and pale golden. Stir in one Tablespoon curry powder and stir to combine. Add lamb and beef and cook until just browned, breaking up the meat with a sturdy spatula. Remove from heat to cool a little.
In a small bowl, place bread cubes and buttermilk. Leave to soak for 5 minutes. Using your clean hands, squeeze the bread to remove as much buttermilk as possible. Reserve the remaining buttermilk.
Add the soaked bread, raisins, lemon juice, jam, chutney and the remaining Tablespoon of curry powder to the meat and onion mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir to mix completely. Transfer the meat mixture to an 5 quart inch casserole dish, spreading it out evenly.
Beat the eggs into the reserved buttermilk with a dash of salt and pepper. Pour over the meat mixture in the casserole. Stuff a few bay leaves into the meat. If using fresh leaves, roll them up like cigars, dried ones can just be stuffed down into the mixture. Bake the bobotie for 30 minutes until the top is golden brown and set.
Serve warm, with additional mango chutney as an accompaniment.