South African-Style Shepherd’s Pie
The World Cup madness of a few weeks ago had me reminiscing about South Africa. A year and a half ago I spent some time there and actually cooked with a Dutch couple in their home in Kalk Bay, an incredible experience.
I love South African food; it’s truly a multi-ethnic cuisine, a rich combination of all of the cultures that inhabit the country – Dutch, Malay, Indian, Arab, Portuguese, German and, of course, the indigenous Africans (Khoikhoi, Xhosa, Zulu). Gertie, the lady of the house, was incredibly knowledgeable about Cape Malay food. Cape Malay people are a community of Muslim, Malaysian heritage that arrived in South Africa from Java in the 1600’s. Their food has become synonymous with South African cuisine, bringing much of the spice, curries, and chilies.
We ate such a feast that night! South African rock lobster, rack of karroo lamb, old cape malva pudding (which I now HAVE to make. it’s beyond. look out for it soon), and the dish I am showing you today, bobotie. Before I discuss bobotie , I have to mention the wines we had with this meal. Gertie paired a Gewurtraminer with the bobotie because it’s both spicy and sweet, and the Gwertz complemented it wonderfully. But the most AMAZING wine was the 2007 Diemersfontein Pinotage. It literally tasted like chocolate and coffee, two of my personal favorites. The flavor of it stays with me until today. Unfortunately, to ship it home costed more than the wine, itself, so we didn’t. And now I can’t find it anywhere in the U.S….sad.
But, anyway, bobotie is an absolutely beautiful alternative to shepherd’s pie. It traditionally starts with either ground lamb or beef, spiced with curry powder and apricot preserves, and is layered on top with an egg custard. Amazing – spicy, sweet, with a creaminess from the egg custard. I actually use a combo of ground beef, veal, and pork, and, instead of apricot preserves, I use red currant jelly. It comes out richer and with a more robust flavor. Oh, and also, I don’t use curry powder….ever. Curry is a blend of spices, so, although the traditional recipe uses a pre-fab powder, I give a personal blend.
This makes a lovely casserole (all men cheer!), but I made it in individual portions here in soufflé ramekins – automatic portion control and it looks much prettier. Baking it in a water bath is also key to creating a luscious egg custard and not some sort of dried-out frittata layer. Enjoy!
Yields 4 10-ounce ramekins
1 slice white bread or brioche
2/3 cup milk
1 yellow onion (small)
2 ½ tbsps canola oil
1 or 2 green chilies, jalapeno or serrano
¼ tsp ginger, grated
1 ¼ lbs ground beef, pork, & veal (ask the butcher to do it thirds)
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
¼ tsp garam masala
½ tsp hot paprika
¼ tsp cayenne
½ tsp black pepper
3 garlic cloves
4 tbsps red currant jelly
2 tbsps malt vinegar
1 plum tomato, roughly chopped
¾ cup heavy cream
pinch of salt
chives, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Place bread in a bowl and cover with milk. Let sit until ready to use, turning if necessary to make sure entire piece of bread is soaked.
Heat pan over medium-low heat. Add oil and sauté onions and chillies for 1 minute. Add ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander, garam masala, hot paprika, cayenne, and black pepper and sauté another 4 to 5 minutes until onions are translucent. Add garlic and cook for under a minute or until it becomes fragrant.
Increase heat to medium-high. Add meat and brown for 3 to 4 minutes. Add red currant jelly, malt vinegar, and tomato, lower heat and simmer uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes.
Transfer mixture to a bowl using a slotted spoon and let cool briefly. Wring out excess milk from bread and add to meat mixture. Mix thoroughly. Fill 4 10-ounce ramekins ¾ full with meat mixture and place ramekins in a baking dish.
Combine eggs, heavy cream and pinch of salt and pour to fill ramekins. You want to bake these in a water bath, so fill baking dish with boiling water until it comes at least halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the custard is set. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.