Wedding bells and bobotie
The weeks before a wedding can be some of the busiest and also some of the best. Just two weeks before Judith's recent nuptials, I was lucky enough to receive an ivitation to an impromptu dinner party at her house with four other guests. Judith informed me that that her mother, who had recently arrived from New Zealand, would be preparing bobotie (pronounced ba-boo-eh-tee), a traditional dish from her native South Africa. Its exotic name and supposed spicy flavors had me counting down the days till I'd be able to try it.
When Wednesday rolled around, and the buffet of bobotie was unveiled, we all lined up and watched as Jennifer prepared some last minute toppings. As she sliced bananas into a bowl and tossed them with coconut flakes, she gave us some background information on bobotie, the pronunciation rolling off her tongue rather than clumsily stumbling as it did from mine.
Once it was time to serve ourselves, I opted for a hearty scoop of the spicy, meaty version and multiple spoons of some chopped tomatoes and red onions sweetened with cider vinegar and brown sugar, the banana and coconut mixture, turmeric touched yellow rice with sliced almonds, and a drizzle of a true South African chutney.
I first tried the lightly spiced minced meat that was blanketed by a soft, velvety custard. After a few bare bones bites, I combined it with the banana and coconut flake mixture which helped cut the spiciness as Jennifer explained it would. Its appearance and combination of flavors reminded me a bit of moussaka, one of my favorite Greek dishes, though the bobotie, even with its meaty filling and creamy custard seemed much lighter. It didn't take long to finish my entire serving, and after piling my plate with a second one, I snagged a seat next to Jennifer and bombarded her with questions about the delicious dish.
She explained to me that bobotie had been created by the Malays, slaves who worked on ships during the spice trading days. Growing up, her grandmother typically made it on Monday or Tuesday using leftover roast beef or pork from a weekend dinner, though these days ground beef is more commonly used.
As we sat talking blogs and bobotie, I glanced around the room and saw Judith lounging with Roxanne and Lucy, two of her bridesmaids while Tim, her soon-to-be husband, and Daniel were hunched over a map of Rio. Since we'd helped influence Tim and Judith's decision to spend their honeymoon in Brazil, Daniel was making sure to highlight the best parts of his beloved city, while also drawing skull and cross bones on areas that they should avoid.
The setting reminded me of the weeks leading up to our own wedding, almost five years ago, when many of our guests traveled great distances to be with us for not only the actual day, but the week leading up to it. One night, we hosted an impromptu dinner party with Tara, one of my maids of honor, Gisela, Daniel's childhood friend from Rio who had flown in from London, Daniel's sister Gisele who was in from Munich and his step-brother David, from Amsterdam. Together in an even tinier kitchen than the one we have now, we prepared pumpkin ravioli in a sage butter sauce, a recipe Daniel and I made more times than I care to admit the first year we were married. Spending that time with our loved ones, many of whom were meeting for the first time but would feel like old friends after camping out on our living room floor for multiple nights, made the days before our wedding that much more memorable.
As I was leaving Judith's apartment after her pre-wedding celebration, I told her to enjoy special gatherings such as these that would surely continue before and of course, on her big day. The wedding would be wonderful, there was no doubt about that, but it was these little impromptu get togethers that I was sure she, like I, would cherish most.
While Daniel and I drove the short distance back to our apartment, I thought of our 5-year anniversary which will be here in a little over a month. Our friends, who lovingly refer to our nuptials as wedding camp due to the rustic environs we chose for it, have always jokingly asked when we’ll have the second one, begging for it to be in Brazil. Full from bobotie and giddy with nostalgia, it suddenly didn't seem like such a crazy idea after all.
Jennifer told me that she found the bobotie recipe she used from inmamaskitchen.com. After finding the recipe, I found it interesting to see this quote at the top: "No self respecting South African housewife does not own (and treasure!) a favourite bobotie recipe. You'll be forgiven for not having heard of it, but not trying to make it? Unforgivable!"
Considering the Tim's carnivorous cravings, I think there will definitely be some more bobotie making in Judith's future!
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, peeled and sliced
2 1/4 pounds good quality lean ground beef
1 thickish slice of white bread
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon medium curry powder (or hot for the hale and brave)
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
freshly grated pepper (about a half teaspoon)
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 tablespoons malt vinegar
1/2 cup seedless raisins
2 tablespoons strong chutney
2 bay leaves (or fresh lemon leaves if available)
2 medium eggs
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Heat oil in medium saute pan. Stir in onions. Cook over medium heat until transparent. Add ground beef. Cook until lightly browned and crumbly.
Soak bread in half the milk, squeeze out excess milk and mash with a fork - DON'T TOSS SQUEEZED OUT MILK! Pour it straight back into remaining milk. Set milk aside.
Add curry, sugar, salt, pepper, turmeric, vinegar, raisins, chutney to the beef mixture. Spoon the mixture into a greased baking dish, and place bay leaves on top.
Bake for 50-60 minutes in preheated 350°F oven.
Beat egg with remaining milk and pour over mixture approximately 25 - 30 minutes before end of baking time.
Serve with steamed rice (traditionally yellow!) and extra chutney.