Before I started writing this post, I’ve never actually thought about the origin of this wonderfully warming dish. I always thought that it was just a traditional dish that is served on Sunday (but made on Saturday so the flavours can develop). As a child I thought we only have Bobotie when we have guests on a Sunday so it might be a difficult dish to make – I was so wrong. Now that I am making this myself, I can see why it is being made for guests! It is super easy, can be made at least a day in advance, it freezes so well and, bonus, you can make it for a crowd!
Back in 1652 Dutch colonialists came to South Africa in a bid to develop the land. With them they brought enslaved Javanese people with them to the Cape of Good Hope on the Southern tip of Africa. In those times the Dutch had colonised much of the East Indian countries (including modern-day Indonesia). These wonderful people, called Cape Malay, brought with them some delicious dishes, many of which is now considered as traditional South African cuisine. It is little wonder that there are so many Indonesian words that are pronounced exactly the same as in Afrikaans. In this Youtube clip two people (one Indonesian-speaking and the other Afrikaans-speaking) compares some words in the two languages – I was astonished at the similarities!
There are some uncertainty as to where the word Bobotie originates from or what it means, however, it is generally accepted that it is derived from the Indonesian word boemboe, meaning curry spices.
Traditional Bobotie is made from shredded left-over lamb, however, over the years, as we become more health-conscious for one, we’ve been using mince. This could either be beef mince or lamb mince or a combination of the two to give more depth of flavour.
Subtle spices such as cinnamon, turmeric and bay is added along with a dollop of chutney to bring out the sweetness of the meat. It is then covered in an egg custard before baking in the oven.
Some recipes state that if you still have custard on top of the dish after baking, you didn’t do it right. Traditionally the egg custard will sink into the meat, binding it. Personally I do like a nice eggy layer on top as it brings different textures in one bite.
Bobotie is traditionally served with yellow rice (geelrys in Afrikaans), banana salad (Piesang slaai) and sambal (a subtly spiced tomato and onion salad).
We are not created equally. If we were life would’ve been very boring! It is for this reason that I include some variations and substitutions on the traditional Bobotie recipe – especially for those with allergies and intolerances.
Get everything ready. Measure out the ingredients, chop the onion and bread and turn on the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Also take out your oven-proof dish and have it ready on the side. Take out a large saucepan for the meat and a smaller one for the rice.
Place the bread in a pudding bowl and pour over half of the milk. Let this soak.
Put the swig of oil in the bigger saucepan and place on a high heat. Add the onions and sweat until it is translucent in colour, but not browned. Add the mince and stir gently until it is browned.
Add the minced garlic, turmeric, curry powder, peach chutney and lemon juice to the bread and milk mixture. Give it a good stir before adding to the mince. Lower the heat to medium-high and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the sultanas (if using) to the mince mixture and cook for a further 5 minutes before seasoning the meat with salt and pepper.
Transfer the mince into your ovenproof dish and place into the oven. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Now beat the eggs together and combine with the remaining milk.
After 20 minutes, carefully take the Bobotie out of the oven and pour the eggy milk over the top. Decorate with bay leaves, lemon leaves or almonds. Lower the oven temperature to 180 degrees Celsius and bake for another 40 minutes until the egg is set and the top is golden brown.
To make yellow rice using Basmati rice you will need to use a ration of 1 measure of raw rice to 2 measures of water. To make rice for two people, I use ½ raw rice to 1 cup of water.
Pour 2 measures of water into your smaller saucepan and let it come to a boil. Add salt.
Add in turmeric, sultanas, cinnamon stick and mustard seeds and one measure of rice before lowering the heat to the lowest setting and placing a lid on top.
Once the water has almost completely evaporated switch the stove off and leave the rice to steam for at least 10 minutes.
Just before serving fluff the rice with a fork, remove the cinnamon stick and serve with the Bobotie and Banana Salad.