WHEN IT’S cool and damp, we crave comfort foods. So living in Seattle, it’s important to have a large repertoire of them. Bobotie, a minced-meat casserole from South Africa, strikes a balance between nursery food and exotic dining in a way that will make just about everyone happy.
The Dutch East India Company first colonized Cape Town in 1652. The traders planted vegetable gardens and orchards and raised livestock, and established the town as a halfway station for their ships to restock with fresh food and water as they made their way around the Cape of Good Hope and on to Indonesia for spices. On their return they brought not only spices but also slaves from the Malay Peninsula to work in the gardens and kitchens. The Malays used spices liberally to create dishes that were complex and aromatic but rarely spicy. It is believed that the Dutch contributed the recipe for a plain minced-meat casserole with a baked-egg topping, and Malay cooks transformed it into the dish it is today.
Whenever I visit my family in Cape Town, I have to have bobotie. I love to try other people’s versions and come home and tweak my own. This recipe is a compilation many years in the making. Lots of recipes include raisins or dried apricots, but I like to serve bobotie with fluffy raisin-studded rice and a healthy dose of chutney; that’s plenty of fruit for me.
Bobotie reheats beautifully, so you can make it ahead and refrigerate it covered for a day or two. When you’re ready to serve, just reheat at 300 degrees.
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For the meat filling
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound ground lamb or beef
1 large or 2 small yellow onions, diced small
1 cup grated, peeled apple or carrot
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon herbes de Provence
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 slices bread, soaked in water, drained and mashed with a fork
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 bay leaves
For the topping
½ cup cream
½ cup plain yogurt
½ teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
1. To make the meat filling: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat the oil over medium-high heat, and cook the lamb until loose and crumbly. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the apple, garlic, spices and sugar. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Stir in the bread and vinegar.
2. To make the topping: Whisk together the cream, yogurt and eggs, and season with salt and a pinch of pepper.
3. To assemble: Pour the still-hot filling into an 8- by 8-inch baking dish and pat down firmly with the back of a fork. Pour the egg mixture over the meat and poke the bay leaves into the casserole. Bake uncovered until set and just beginning to turn golden at the edges, about 35 minutes. Remove the bay leaves before serving.
To serve alongside, cook a cup of rice with 2 teaspoons of turmeric. Rinse well when done. Transfer the rice to a colander, add ½ cup raisins and 2 cinnamon sticks, cover and place the colander in a large pot with about an inch of hot water. Steam for 10 minutes. Pour the rice into a bowl, stir in a drizzle of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, or your own favorite syrup, and a pat of butter.
Leora Y. Bloom is the author of “Washington Food Artisans: Farm Stories and Chef Recipes.” John Lok is a Seattle Times staff photographer.