Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in the D.C. area & beyond

Tag: raisins


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.


Homemade bobotie, with a side of rice

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.

winter in Germany

Even the prettiest German towns, like Baden-Baden, feel a bit grim in the winter.

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.

tomatoes and onions

It’s hard to go wrong with garlic and tomatoes.

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.

Pack ground beef in dish for bobotie

I started pouring the custard on top, and then remembered the camera!

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.

Bobotie, baked

Bobotie, baked

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.



Bobotie recipe

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.


My Couscous Playground


Couscous with chicken, zucchini, fennel seeds – and whatever else was around.

Food blogs, cookbooks, recipe comments are all rich ground for a curious cook. But sometimes, I want to strike out on my own. It feels a little unsettling, a little daring, a little uncalled for – I mean, there are a zillion recipes for whatever is in my cupboard, along with tricks and tips and shortcuts and replacements. Why venture out without a guide? Do I really think I can throw things together and come up with anything new?

What if the outcome is terrible? What if it’s inedible? What if I combine tuna and mint and pear and discover it’s downright awful?

Well. Messing up is risk. But it’s low risk, high potential return. I figure (1) there’s always the pizza place around the corner (2) how else does one really learn?

And to begin? I recommend couscous as an awesome playground.

Ingredients for couscous

The question my ingredients ask: Can we play together?

Couscous is quick to make (5 minutes), and it serves as a blank canvas for any leftovers or weird flavor combinations you want to try. It’s happy with meat, veggies or simply spices. Once you find a combination you like, you can go on to more expensive and complex canvases.

golden raisins

A bag of golden raisins aching to be used.

Today, I happened to have bits of leftovers around at lunchtime: a baked chicken breast and 2 random cremini mushrooms (they must have escaped a previous recipe). In the fridge: zucchini. In the pantry: pretty golden raisins. I wondered: Could it all go together? Maybe even with Indian spices, my current obsession?

fennel seeds

I’m starting to really like a sweet hint of fennel.

Basic couscous recipe

Put 1/2 cup of water per person in a pot (a small pot, if it’s just you) and turn the burner on high. Let the water come to a boil. Pour in 1/3 cup couscous per person, remove from heat, stir once so it settles down, cover the lid, and wait 5 minutes. Voila, cooked couscous, ready for flavor additions!

Note: You can also do this by boiling water in the microwave, pouring in the couscous and then covering the container.


Couscous, cooked up with golden raisins. Fluffing comes next!

Here’s the route I took today, which turned out to be yummy. But the whole point is that you can use whatever you have around, whatever spices are whispering your name. Basil? Cumin? Or maybe Old Bay?

I do like to add a brightness of acid at the end – like vinegar or lemon – but that might not be your thing.

How do you like to make couscous? What are some of your favorite flavor combinations these days?

Couscous with Golden Raisins, Zucchini, Chicken and Fennel
Serves 1

  • water
  • 1/3 cup couscous
  • 2-4 small mushrooms, diced
  • half a zucchini, diced
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of golden raisins
  • 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
  • sprinkle of ground coriander, cumin, red chili flakes, to taste
  • 1/2 chicken breast, chopped
  • 1 lemon slice
  • olive oil

Bring a little more than a 1/2 cup of water and the golden raisins to boil in a small pot. (The raisins will soak up some of the water.) Once it boils, add the couscous, turn off the heat, stir once, and cover. It needs to sit for at least 5 minutes.

To a skillet, add a swirl of olive oil and the shallots. Turn to medium and wait until the pan is sizzling. Add the fennel seeds, zucchini and mushrooms. Stir, and let them cook for a few minutes, to your liking. Sprinkle with ground coriander, ground cumin. Add a tiny bit of red chili flakes, or more if you want it spicy. (Skip the chili flakes if you don’t want it hot at all.) Stir, and let it cook a minute more.

Fluff the couscous with a fork, then add it to the skillet. Stir the couscous in. Add a squirt or two of lemon. If the couscous seems too dry, add a drizzle of water until it reaches the moisture you like.


Couscous, made any way you like.