Sunday 28 April 2013

Flavours of South Africa: Bobotie

Being part of a large blogging community has some interesting side effects. One of them being the greater awareness of what goes on around the world in terms of culinary arts, if you will.

You also get ideas about the mood of the month and what is fashionable or not. I am also a member of the Flavors of the World community on Google+. This is quite interesting from a historical perspective, as South African cuisine is a fusion of flavors from the Far East, East Africa and Europe.

This is a result of the closure of the overland silk and spice route through the Middle East and Constantinople (now Istanbul) around the early 1400's. This led to the opening of the spice and tea route around the southern tip of Africa and the eventual establishment of the victualing station at Cape Town. Which led to my being a white African, so to speak. But that is another story.

The resulting food is quite delicious and flavourful, known as the Cape Malay style of cooking. This style of cooking is kept alive by the very colourful Cape Malay people in and around Cape Town. And the rest of South Africa as well, especially for a dish like bobotie.

Pronounced boh-boo-ti. “Boh” as in “bottom,” “boo” as in “booty,” “ti” as in a short cuppa. Close enough phonetics, I think.

The dish originally was made using minced lamb, which is relatively scarce or unobtainable. Unless you mince your own leg of lamb, of course. Lean ground beef works as well. Bobotie is a baked dish, consisting of spiced minced meat, covered in an egg custard. The flavour is on the sweet side and may be made mild to quite spicy. It is usually served with yellow rice with raisins as a very traditional South African dish. It is quite easy to prepare and well worth the little effort for the exquisite result. It took me longer to do this write-up than to prepare the dish, bar the baking.

The dish will go well with a fruity dry white wine, perhaps even slightly off-dry, depending on the spiciness of your specific version of bobotie. I normally have a light red wine with meals like this, where the South African Pinotage variety is the wine of choice.

I used fresh masala paste instead of the garlic and chilli. There is also some chopped up dried apricots to add to the sweet and tangy taste. Don't fret if you don't have chutney, just use a little more apricot jam and chilli. Or just a little more chopped up dried fruit. The vinegar and other spices will do the trick just fine. Or add some raisins.

I only used the freshly toasted almonds and chopped dried apricots. The result was outstanding. Toasting the dry almonds strengthens their flavour by a large margin, so you can use less, lest the nutty flavour dominates the rest of the spices. The bay/ lemon leaves I substituted with dried curry leaves.

This recipe will be enough for about four to six servings, depending on who dishes up!


500 g lean ground beef
1 thick slice bread/ 2 normal slices
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped and minced
15 ml curry powder of choice
15 ml turmeric
15 ml apricot jam
15 ml chutney
5 ml of brown vinegar or lemon juice
5 ml Worcestershire sauce if you feel like more flavour.
50 ml almonds, preferably freshly roasted, then chopped/mashed finely.
50 ml seedless raisins. I substituted 50 ml dried apricots, chopped finely.
some salt to taste.
8-10 lemon leaves or bay leaves.


Chop the bread into small cubes/large crumbs and soak it in the milk. Toast the almonds whole in a dry pan. When they are brown, mash them into coarse crumbs. Squeeze the milk from the bread and keep the milk, add the soaked bread to the meat. Add the chopped apricots, the almond crumbs and all the wet ingredients, except the milk and eggs. Mix this thoroughly.

Rather use less of the vinegar, chutney and apricot jam than more, as these may dominate the other flavours.

Fry the chopped onions until they start to caramelise. Add the garlic and fry until the garlic is also done. Add the dry powder curry and the turmeric and fry for 10 seconds, then add the meat mix to the pan and fry until the meat is done. The meat will turn a nice brown if you used duck fat instead of cooking oil for the frying.

Whisk the two eggs into the milk. Add a little more milk if required. You need about 1 to 1½ cups of the egg mix. Spread the meat in a shallow oven proof dish and arrange the bay leaves/ curry leaves/ lemon leaves in the meat. Pour over the egg mix, then bake this at 180ºC / 350ºF for twenty minutes or until the egg custard has turned a nice light brown in spots.

Remove the dish from the oven and let it rest for another twenty minutes to develop flavour. Or switch off the oven and leave the dish inside for another fifteen minutes.

You can remove the leaves before serving, but it is rather nice to lick them off during the course of your meal...

Serve with yellow turmeric rice.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Adapted from this recipe.

Last updated on 2013-04-29

Saturday 20 April 2013

The Obiquitous Hot Dog

Not inimitable. Omnipresent, yes. Big words. Especially for an Afrikaans-speaking person. The glut of reading during this convalescence is beginning to show, I think.

I am still on convalescence after my operation, hobbling about and dragging my sore leg after me up the stairs. The knee complains by getting back at me for a whole day after one hour of standing in the kitchen, so cooking is out.

But I have friends. In the immortal words of one Joe Cocker, I can get by with a little help from my friends.

My sailor friends at the Gordon's Bay Yacht Club asked me to focus more on hand-held food, as most of their sailing is of relatively short duration and one does not want to waste time standing at a bouncing galley when there is much exciting sailing outside to be enjoyed. The sailing is typically overnight trips to Cape Town or Dassen Island, where food will stay fresh in a cooler box. So fast food is in order.

Now, fast food is one of my pet hates. But food prepared properly, even though it may be fast food, is OK. Especially on board small sailing yachts. Just don't rush it and neglect the attention it deserves.

I was casting around for ideas, when a dear food blogger friend posted an article on hot dogs. I contacted her and after a brief discussion, I was in business, feeling like Joe Cocker; getting by with a little help from my friends.

Zirkie Schroeder is another well-known name in the food blogging world in South Africa. She publishes a blog under the nom de guerre of Pink Polkadot Food.

Being a wife and a mother of children, albeit now somewhat grown-up, she understands the vagaries of feeding hungry mouths. She was also a finalist in the recent Dinner Diva cooking competition for food bloggers on South Africa's SABC2 TV channel. The contestants were required to post their recipes on their blogs too.

So here we have a wonderful recipe from a real pro when it comes to fast food made with love and passion.

This one is for hot dogs, which can be very bland. However, the Pink Polka Dot version is sure to tickle your taste buds!

I shall be back soon with more culinary adventures for your next sailing trip.

In the meantime, Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-04-18

This blog post compiled for the GBYC newsletter.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Forget your low GI diet: Sourdough Babka alla Ziets

I recently had another chance at pondering life and my experiences in general, having had a knee replaced. The time in hospital, drifting in and out of a pain killer induced daze, is quite useful for this sort of pondering. I pondered about my cooking and my lifestyle. And then some more. I thought that it was time for some baking again.

The operation went super well, everything just fine. The problem is now that I need to take things slowly, lest I damage the new joint in its settling period. So I have to slow down, take it easy. Lots of rest.

This had me reminisce about my hunting and fly-fishing days. I realised, after a number of unsuccessful outings, that you don't see anything until you slow down to the rhythm of the veld. Then suddenly, life explodes before you and you are swamped with images of movement and happenings.

Like seeing a fish jump out the water and take an insect from the air. Or, once on a memorable occasion, a bass taking a malachite kingfisher in flight. But that is a different story.

Getting back to cooking and baking, I thought that there must be a similar golden rule in preparing food. And then it jumped at me:


I realised that fast food is just what the name says, not really prepared with love and care. Quite noticeable in the food served to you in some restaurants. Or cooking things fast instead of simmering. Or using a pressure cooker. I may be on thin ice here. Another argument discussion for tomorrow.

So this is exactly what I did in my next affray into the wonderful artful world of baking with sourdough. I slowed things down.

I wanted to bake something different for a change. And I had the notion of having a celebration. Seeing that it was close to Easter, I thought babka may be in order. Something people make after a time of fasting. Something to eat in celebration.

So babka it was. Slowed down. I used a cheesy babka recipe from Comfy Cuisine.  I imagined the cheese part would blend in extremely well with the sourness of the yeast. And then there is the vanilla, of course. I tried to stick slavishly to the recipe, but had to compromise on the yeast, of course, as well as the vanilla.
I used the real thing, scraping the seeds from a pod and using those neat in the cheese filling. We don't get farmer's cheese here, so I substituted cottage cheese. And I used brown sugar, because that is what I have.

In addition, I made a mix of one cup of cake flour to three cups of white bread flour. Partly because I had run out of white bread flour and partly because I reasoned that babka should be rather more like a cake than a bread. Therefore I would need some refined flour in there to make the whole thing a bit smoother. And lighter, but that is where the slowing down bit comes to bear.

I made up a starter using a cup of white bread flour in my sourdough. This I let ferment at room temperature for 12 hours. Then I made the main dough mix, leaving out the raisins. Having had my doubts on the vitality of my home-captured yeast, I let this lot rise for a full 20 hours.

Wonderful idea. The dough almost tripled in volume. The raisins were added and the dough kneaded back to the original volume. I kept the dough on the soft side, in accordance with the recipe. I also reasoned that a softer dough will give a lighter crumb in the end.

The dough was rested only for the time it took to make the cheese filling. I rolled out the dough as per the instructions on the recipe and added the cheese filling as per instruction.

The cheese filling came out a bit too runny for my taste, so I added some cake flour to get it to the required consistency.

The loaves were prepared as per the recipe, then I left this lot to rise (second rise) for two and a half hours. The yeast performed like a champion and the loaves almost doubled in volume, looking for all the world like crocodile torsos.

The oven was heated up and the loaves popped in for the requisite period of 35 minutes. I went overboard with the egg-white wash, so the loaves came out quite brown. A very nice thin crust and a beautiful airy crumb.

Chalk one up for slowing down!

Voila! Your very high GI babka alla Ziets. To be consumed in small quantities, this one is very rich. And the sourness of the various components blended very well too. I shall keep this one for special occasions. It is very much worth the effort.

This blog post also linked to Yeastspotting!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-04-06