I was looking through the photos of this week’s country, South Africa, and for the first time noticed an unplanned theme. Everything is yellow! I’m usually very picky when it comes to planning a menu. All dishes must contain contrasting colors so that everything looks balanced and more aesthetically pleasing. But I guess this was a happy mistake, I can just say to guests that we are having a “Yellow Menu” and everyone will think I’m a creative genius!
Speaking about mistakes, I also made a mistake with today’s dish, the South African Bobotie. I accidentally grabbed the 2 lb package of ground beef instead of the 1 lb one in the supermarket. Thinking my meat proportion was right I went ahead and cooked the whole thing. It looked odd to me from the beginning in comparison to the Bobotie’s recipes I’ve seen, but I thought I should just go forward and keep on cooking and see what happens.
The result was this beautiful dish that didn’t resemble any of the references I was using. Its top was supposed to be completely covered with the egg mixture, garnished with some bay leaves. Instead mine was mostly meat, with some pretty yellow custard near the rim of the baking dish. It’d look nice tho eyes who’ve never seen a Bobotie before, but it wasn’t true to the real thing.
It was then when I went back to check my small pad where I write all measurements used for each dish and the labels of empty packages that I noticed my error. When I tasted the Bobotie of course it was kind of bland, something to be expected knowing that the meat, and nothing else, was doubled in the recipe. But some taste was there, enough to notice the wonderful potential of this dish and the reason why it is so loved in South Africa.
A Bobotie is a simple preparation that resembles somehow a classic Irish Shepherd’s Pie, or a Puerto Rican Pastelón. With the Shepherd’s Pie it shares the looks and concept of ground lamb or beef with a “shell” of sorts to cover the top. But the Bobotie top doesn’t have the mashed potatoes goodness of the famous Irish dish, instead it has an egg and milk cover that is equally delicious and beautiful. In that sense it is similar to my country’s Pastelón, that uses eggs to bind the ingredients together and add flavour to it.
With the Pastelón it also shares the sweet flavor profile. Where we use sweet fried plantains, they use fruits, either fresh, in jam, dried or in chutney to flavour the meat; but in a proportion of a lot more meat than fruit than our Pastelón. The result is a mildly sweet and spicy ground meat, topped with a comfortingly creamy egg mixture. A quick look at the recipe list gives you a clear sense of how this is another example of the beautiful multicultural influences dancing together in a single South African dish.
P.S. Don’t worry, the recipe below is the correct recipe, with the right measurements.
- 2 slices of whole wheat bread
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 medium carrot, chopped
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp curry powder
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 large fresh ripe mango, chopped
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- 1 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup milk
- 4 eggs
- 6 bay leaves
- Coarsely chop the bread slices and place in a bowl. Add 1/4 cup of milk, mix and let stand for at least 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the butter and oil in a big skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots, cook stirring occasionally for about 12 minutes until the onions start to get golden. Add the garlic and spices, stir and cook for 2 more minutes.
- Add the mango, stir and cook for about 4 more minutes to create a sort of fresh chutney.
- Add the ground beef, spread and mix evenly with a spatula. Season with salt and pepper, cook stirring once in a while for 12 - 15 minutes until there are no more running liquids in the meat.
- Squeeze the milk out of the bread and discard the milk.
- Incorporate the bread and almonds into the meat, stirring well. Taste and correct the salt and pepper if necessary.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Place the meat into a deep baking dish. Use the back of a big spoon to firmly press the meat into the dish so that it is very compact.
- In a bowl, whisk the eggs along with the milk. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Pour the egg mixture over the packed meat. Stick the bay leaves on the meat so the don't float around the milk and egg mixture.
- Bake the Bobotie for 35 minutes. Serve immediately.