Bobotie, pronounced something like bwo-bwo-tee, is one of South Africa's best loved dishes, brought over by Dutch settlers, though the name is thought to be Malay- or Indonesian in origin. It's often described outside its homeland as a South African moussaka, and indeed there are similarities – just like that Greek specialty bobotie is an aromatic bake of minced lamb or beef topped with a layer of custard. But the spicing is more complex than moussaka, with modern recipes generally calling for curry powder, black pepper and lemon leaves (bay are an acceptable substitute), as well as a scattering of dried fruit and nuts, while the custard on top is thinner and less creamy.
Traditionally, like our own shepherd's or cottage pies, bobotie was a Monday dish, designed to use up the leftovers from the Sunday roast, and indeed, if you happen to have cold meat, feel free to use that instead, or to substitute beef, pork or even vegetarian mince for the lamb – endless variations exist in South Africa itself. It is almost always served with "yellow rice" however; long-grain cooked with turmeric and often raisins, though it would also be nice, I think, with mashed sweet potato or roasted squash, and a glass of robust red like a local cabernet sauvignon, whose smoky fruit pairs well with the sweet gaminess of the lamb.
Felicity Cloake's South African Bobotie
Serves 4 with a side dish
- 2 tbsp oil
- 2 onions, finely sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tbsp medium curry powder
- Generous grind of black pepper
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 tsp dark brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 500g minced lamb, not too lean
- 1 slice of bread
- 250ml whole milk
- 1 tbsp wine vinegar or lemon juice
- 2 tbsp mango chutney
- 50g sultanas or raisins
- 25g flaked almonds
- 4 eggs
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and fry the onions until soft and translucent, then stir in the garlic, curry powder, pepper and three bay leaves. Fry for another couple of minutes, then add the sugar and salt. Spoon into a large bowl.
Put the pan back on the heat and turn it up to medium high. Fry the mince, stirring to break it up, until well browned, draining off excess fat if necessary. Meanwhile, soak the bread in the milk and heat the oven to 180C/160C fan.
Turn the heat down and add the vinegar, chutney, sultanas and almonds to the meat with the onion mixture then squeeze the milk out of the bread back into the bowl and crumble the bread into the pan. Spoon the meat into an ovenproof dish, beat one of the eggs and stir in until it's all well mixed.
Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then beat together the remaining eggs and the milk and season well. Pour on top, add a bay leaf in the middle and bake until just set, about 25-30 minutes. Place briefly under a hot grill to brown the top if you like, then allow to cool slightly before serving.
Head to the Cape for reds with voluptuous fruit and hints of black pepper to pair with the beautifully integrated spices of the dish.
Find more of Felicity's recipes here