I met this African dish in Germany.
I have no idea if it’s “authentic.”
“Ethnic” food here is often half-foreign, half-German.
But in this case, I didn’t care. Bobotie delivered a happy shock – what is this?? – and a curious euphoria for days afterwards.
Bobotie (pronounced ba-boor-tea, reports BBC) is an African casserole, made with ground beef or lamb and usually a thin layer of egg custard on top. It’s savory, rich comfort food, the kind that makes a monochromatic winter week feel almost cozy.
The version we tried in a charming Stuttgart restaurant was made with beef and peanuts, their luscious, savory note blazing through.
The bobotie recipes I found online leaned toward almonds and often used lamb with mango chutney and bread soaked in milk. Then I stumbled upon a version by Marcus Sammuelsson with peanuts. His memoir “Yes, Chef” follows how he was adopted from Ethiopia into a Swedish family and ended up cooking in America, all the way to a restaurant in Harlem called Red Rooster. “Yes, Chef” is a fun read, one I’d recommend if you are curious about African food and the ex-pat life.
Marcus’ bobotie also features cumin, coriander seeds, curry powder, red onion, tomatoes, and bread crumbs.
I combined his recipe with others, using my memory of our Stuttgart dinner as a guide.
I browned the beef and chopped onions, then added minced garlic, curry powder, ground cumin and ground coriander, and two tomatoes. Instead of bread crumbs, I added the bread slice soaked in milk that all the other recipes used, and a 1/4 smooth peanut butter. I mixed it well with mango chutney and raisins, then pressed it into a buttered dish and chilled it in the fridge.
The custard versions seemed all over the place. I couldn’t even discern the egg in the version we had in Stuttgart, so I didn’t want to make a veritable omelet on top. I dialed back to 2 eggs, 1 extra yolk, and 2/3 cup milk, hoping for a thin layer.
The egg-milk mixture gets poured on top before it goes into the oven. Marcus recommends a water bath, but I find it generally too fussy and unnecessary. (Meaning: I have not figured it out yet.)
After baking it covered in foil for 20-some minutes, and another 15-20 uncovered, the custard should turn a nice golden brown. Like brownies or cakes, bobotie is decidedly done when a knife or toothpick comes out clean.
It may not look like much, but it was heavenly.
This version is similar to the one we had in Stuttgart, but laced with sweetness from mango chutney and raisins.
A bit of African sunshine in a dark winter drawing, I hope, to a close.
Adapted from Marcus Samuelsson, BBC, and Epicurious
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 small white onions or 1 medium
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 small tomatoes chopped
- 1 bread slice, soaked in 2-3 tablespoons of milk
- 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sultanas (golden raisins)
- 2 tablespoons mango chutney
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- ground nutmeg (optional)
- Butter to grease the baking dish
Heat a large skillet or dutch oven, slicked with a bit of oil, to medium. Add the beef and onion. Stir to break up the beef. Cook until the beef is browned, but no longer.
Add the garlic, curry, cumin, coriander, and tomatoes. Let simmer on low for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, pour about 2-3 tablespoons of milk over a slice of bread. Let it soak for a few minutes, then mash with a fork. Here, you are creating binding, which could also be done with breadcrumbs instead.
If the beef mixture is very oily, drain off the oil now.
Stir in the peanut butter, bread mash with its milk, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook for 15 minutes or so. Stir in the mango chutney and raisins.
Butter a 2-quart baking dish. Pack the ground beef mixture into the baking dish. Chill in the fridge for 10-20 minutes; meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
Mix together 2/3 cup milk, 2 eggs, 1 egg yolk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a sprinkling of nutmeg (optional).
Take the beef mixture from the fridge and pour the egg mixture on top. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 20-25 minutes, then remove the foil lid. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the egg top is golden brown.