A tale of South African cuisine and friendship
Tessa was a special lady.
She had class, talent and a huge heart. We met in blogland, where we discovered we shared the same deep love for South Africa, her homeland and my dream life destination.
After exchanging numerous comments and visits on our respective blogs, sending back and forth thousands of emails, and chatting online, we brought the friendship to the next level, and began exchanging packages, with the promise to one day finally sip Pimm’s in her Norfolk garden.
When the earthquake hit Aquila in April 2009, she delivered a painting of her favorite Abruzzo landscape. When England and illness made the distance from South Africa unbearable for her, I’d send over photographs, and chocolate. I have many paintings by Tessa in my home, and their light comforts me every time I glance at them. After a long and courageous battle against pulmonary fibrosis, Tessa passed away on the 27th of December 2010, surrounded by her family.
One more of her lovely gifts (which always arrived wrapped in personally crafted floral prints and gilded dragonflies) was also her Bobotie, a typical South African recipe of curried ground beef and egg custard.
I’m sharing this special dish for this edition of Cooking Around the World, in her words, as she told it with her musical elegance, and painted in her warm colors, just like her artwork.
“Although I’ve lived in many parts of Africa, Cape Town is where I was born and raised so it seems appropriate that I should take you there. Please, come with me to that beautiful city nestled in the curve of its famous mountain, and allow me to introduce you to the colourful Bo-Kaap area and to the Cape Malay people who live there.
The Cape Malay Quarter, or ‘Bo-Kaap’ as it is known locally, sprawls along the slopes of Signal Hill and presents a scenario of enduring historic and cultural significance. With their soft, caramel skins and wide smiles, the Cape Malay people are a prized and proud element of the South African culture.
Cape Malay cuisine is a delicious fusion of Asian, European and African food genres. From clove laden denningvleis lamb to naartjie (tangerine) zest infused tameletjie cookies, Cape Malay cooking is seasoned with history, infused with culture and full of fine flavours.
The Malay influence comes through in the curries, chilies and extensive use of spices such as ginger, cinnamon and turmeric. More Malay magic comes through the use of fruit cooked with meat, marrying sweet and savoury flavours, with hints of spice, curry and other seasonings. The food has a nuance of seductive spiciness, true testament to the culinary capabilities of Malay women worldwide.
Bobotie (pronounced ba-boor-tea) is exceptional served hot with geelrys (yellow rice), but just as good enjoyed cold, alongside a peppery green salad with a tart vinaigrette dressing.
Tessa’s Cape Malay Bobotie
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 30 gr (1 oz) butter
• 500 gr (1 lb) ground beef
• 3 large eggs
• 2 garlic cloves, crushed
• 1 inch fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
• 2 tsp Garam masala
• 1/2 tsp turmeric
• 1 tsp ground cumin
• 1 tsp ground coriander
• 2 cloves
• 3 allspice berries
• 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
• 50 gr (1/4 cup) dried apricots, chopped
• 50 gr (1/4 cup) sultanas
• 2 tbsp flaked almonds
• 3 tbsp chutney
• 4 tbsp chopped parsley
• 4 bay leaves, plus extra to garnish
• 250 ml (1 cup) whole milk
Preheat the oven to 180° C/gas mark 4 (356° F).
Heat the butter in a saucepan and cook the onions until translucent, and set aside. Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and brown the beef, without oil.
Remove from the heat and add the onions together with all the other ingredients except the milk and eggs. Mix well and put into four 10-oz ovenproof bowls, or a large ovenproof dish. Press the mixture down with the back of a spoon.
Beat the milk and eggs together lightly and pour over the mince mixture. Bake for 20–25 minutes for small boboties (and 30–40 minutes for a large one) or until the topping has set and is golden brown. Once the custard covering the beef begins to bake, it will keep the meat moist and absorb the fragrance of the curry and spices.”
Ngiyabonga, Tessa. I miss you.