South African Cuisine — Bobotie, A Kind of Meat Loafy-Pie Thing

South African food is the result of the influences of its indigenous cultures, like the Sotho and the Nguni, and of the many waves of colonization and immigration from Europe and Asia that have come in over the last few hundred years.  The Dutch, Germans, French, Indonesians, Malays, Indians, Afrikaaners, and British have all come to South Africa throughout its history and have all had significant impacts on the national table.  Many dishes, like Potjiekos (a meat and vegetable stew of Afrikaaner origin) or bunny chow (hollowed-out bread filled with curry of Indian origin) are mainly descended from a single influencing cuisine.  Others, like bobotie (recipe follows) borrow a little bit of everything.

South Africa quick facts:

  • Capitals: Pretoria (executive), Bloemfontein (judicial), Cape Town (legislative)
  • Population: 52,981,991 (2013 estimate)
  • Notable South Africans: Nelson Mandela, Charlize Theron, Steven Pienaar

Bobotie typically consists of spiced ground meat, tamarind, milk-soaked bread and chutney baked in a pie plate with an egg and milk topping.  It is difficult to classify.  Ground meat is spiced, formed, and baked, so it’s kind of a meat loaf.  It’s baked in a pie pan and has a topping, so it’s kind of a meat pie.  However you choose to classify bobotie, the meaty, spiced, slightly sweet dish with a custardy egg topping is a hit in South Africa.

While the exact origins of bobotie are unclear (Dutch colonists from what is now Indonesia might have brought a similar dish with them to Africa, but no one knows for sure), the influences of the many cultures that have come to populate South Africa can be seen clearly.  Meat pies are common in the British Isles, and the curry powder and spice combinations used hint at a Malay and Indian influence.  The result is a dish that is purely South African

Bobotie

(adapted from Reuben Riffel’s September 2012 Saveur recipe and The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent by Jessica B. Harris)

SERVES 6

  • 1 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 2 slices white bread
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 Tbs lemon zest
  • 2 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbs raisins
  • 2 Tbs tamarind paste dissolved in 2 Tbs water
  • 2 Tbs curry powder
  • 1 Tbs sugar
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 2 eggs

First, the oven was preheated to 375 degrees.  Then we tore the bread into small pieces:

breadpieces

…and covered the bread with one-quarter cup of the milk, tossing until the milk was evenly absorbed by the bread.  Next we prepared our onions:

onions

…which were diced:

onionsdiced

…and set aside.

Next we put a skillet over medium heat on the stove to heat up.  Meanwhile, we ground the meat (because home-ground is just better, don’t you think?):

meatground

Once the skillet was hot we added the meat, seasoned with a little salt and pepper:

meatinpan

…and cooked until it was fully browned and the excess moisture had evaporated, about fifteen minutes.  The meat was removed and the onions and garlic were added in its place:

onionsinpan

Once the onions and garlic were soft, about five minutes or so, the curry powder and sugar were introduced to the mix:

spicesinpan

…and stirred in over the heat until the kitchen really smelled like curry powder, about two minutes or so.  The onion mixture was put into a large bowl with the meat, tamarind, soaked bread, raisins, lemon zest, a little less than half the almonds, and one of the eggs, and was stirred until everything was fully incorporated.

We greased our pie plate with the butter, then the meat mixture was poured and pressed in and leveled off.  The pie was then topped with a sprinkling of the remaining almonds, and the bay leaves were pressed into the top:

addingbayleaf

The remaining milk and egg were whisked together, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, and poured over the top:

piereadyforoven

Our “pie” was ready for the oven.  After about thirty minutes of baking the top was golden brown and the pie was ready to come out:

piefinished

Cut into wedges, we served our bobotie with a side of long-grain white rice:

bobotieplated

Bobotie is a perfect combination of sweet, tart, and savory and made an excellent case for South African cuisine as a whole.  It is a complex dish, with different flavors (from different historical influences) hitting the tongue at different times, but somehow all complimenting each other.  It was not at all difficult to prepare and would make a fine weeknight meal suitable for a couple or for a large family.

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