Food, Wine and other Beverages

Cooking Around the World: Cape Malay Bobotie

A tale of South African cuisine and friendship

Tessa was a special lady.

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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.

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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.

More Cooking Around the World Fridays

American-born and Roman-bred Eleonora Baldwin is an active writer, blogger, journalist, gourmet vacation entrepreneur and photographer living in the Eternal City. Her writing appears regularly in several online food and travel columns that focus on Italian lifestyle, culinary customs and recipes, as well as her soon-to-be released cookbook-memoir, due for publication in 2016. Her blogs illustrate dishes, restaurant reviews, and useful tools for parents travelling with kids in Rome. On Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino, her most popular blog, Eleonora shared her insider knowledge about the depth of Italian cuisine. She can be spotted in and around the Eternal City guiding epicure travelers to secret food and wine locations, interviewing celebrity chefs, and capturing with her camera the essence, beauty and life that surrounds her.

This article has 14 comments

  1. Abby

    If only I could cook… That dish looks amazing! I’ve always wanted to go to South Africa. Someday!

  2. Katy

    What a touching story – it sounds like a recipe full of love 🙂 I’m definitely going to try this one out, thank you for sharing the recipe and story.

  3. Eleonora

    Thank YOU ladies for stopping by attracted by the spicy and sensual aroma of this “friendship dish” and for leaving your kind comments. Ciao

  4. admin

    E., I think this is a delicious sounding recipe and an even more lovely story. Thank you so much for sharing it with us! I’ll probably have to order the Garam masala and I’ve always been curious about sultanas… are they simply white raisins? Or are they special?

  5. Krista

    I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of such a dear lady and friend, Eleonora. Thank you for sharing this delicious recipe and for introducing us to such an inspiring woman. 🙂

  6. Eleonora

    Sultanas are small, light brown, seedless raisins, usually more plump that regular raisins, and commonly used in desserts.
    Something I forgot to mention is Tessa’s blog AN AERIAL ARMADILLO, where many of her gorgeous paintings can be seen.

    Thank you for allowing me to honor her memory here.

  7. Eleonora

    Thank you, Krista for your lovely words. Ciao!

  8. Sheila

    What a beautiful tribute. Even more meaningful as tonight I am at my mother’s home in Cape Town, rather than my own home in Lunigiana, Italy or in the UK. Hugs xx

  9. Margo Millure

    You are welcome! You know we love this kind of piece here, and YOU. 🙂

  10. Merisi

    Such a loving tribute, Eleonora!

    (What a pleasant surprise, to see a picture of Fallingwater down below!)

  11. Margo Millure

    I was just at Fallingwater yesterday! FABULOUS 😉

  12. Claudia

    A sweet look at what to me is the main benefit of blogging. Astonishing new friendships. The post sings sweetly, the paintings draw me in and the dish will be made. The spices demand it.

  13. Amanda

    what a beautiful tribute to tessa, dear lola – i know she is greatly missed by many in the blog world. i’ve not heard of this dish but it seems like a happy mixture of all things exotic, warm and comforting…one more reason i hope to travel to south africa someday myself.

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