South African Bobotie (Lamb) Burgers with Tomato-Onion Smoor

by Carol Sacks on July 16, 2012

Post image for South African Bobotie (Lamb) Burgers with Tomato-Onion Smoor

While some may see a photograph of an arresting plate of food and feel a tug to create it, I’m more often driven to the kitchen by the story behind it. One of those moments happened a few months ago while I drank my morning coffee in sleepy silence. Charlotte Druckman, a food writer and book author (Her new book, Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen, will be published in the fall.), wrote an evocative and personal story for the Wall Street Journal about Bobotie, a savory and spicy meat pie popular in South Africa.

More than just an introduction to a recipe from accomplished chef and Wine Country restauranteur Cindy Pawlcyn’s latest book, Cindy’s Supper Club: Meals from Around the World to Share with Family and Friends, Charlotte’s joyous writing took me back to southern Africa, and my own wondrous adventure there. She also invited me into her mother’s kitchen, where one Sunday afternoon to the varied melodies of Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and Carly Simon, Charlotte and her mother cooked the dish together. Reading about their easy camaraderie in the kitchen, and giddiness upon tasting their creation, was infectious and fun.

A few days later, with Charlotte’s story still on my mind, I cooked this exotic meat pie with its unexpected, creamy custard top. For such an impressive presentation, it came together in straightforward fashion: ground lamb is mixed together with an eclectic collection of ingredients, including green apple and carrots, plump golden raisins and toasted almonds. Sauteed onions and garlic that have been heated with a heady and colorful combination of curry and turmeric, are added to the meat mixture along with moistened pieces of bread and a couple of tablespoons of chutney, before the mixture is pushed gently into a pie plate. Dotted with a few bay leaves before it heads for the oven, the meat mixture cooks for about 30 minutes and then is topped with a cream-and-egg custard mixture before returning to the oven to finish cooking.

The aroma from the kitchen was so enticing, my small crew began hovering half-way through cooking. We three nearly polished off the pie in one sitting. Over our second helpings, I mused this one-dish meat pie might be re-purposed for an interesting burger. As I hoped, my favorite carnivores voiced full-throated support.

Fast forward to July 4th, when our national holiday calls for readings of the Declaration of Independence and burgers on the grill. I mixed the aromatic meat mixture together, The Bug formed plump patties and Matthew grilled them.

Our accompaniment? Tomato-Onion Smoor, a sweet and savory condiment often served with Bobotie, that looked as festive as it tasted. Since they are sweet and plentiful in our Farmers Market, I used red and orange cherry tomatoes and sweet onions. While I dialed down the amount of jalapeno, for a whisper of heat, you can turn the volume way up for a wonderful contrast with the sweet flavors of the onion and tomatoes, and a perfect counterpoint to the alluring, spicy flavors of the Bobotie burgers.

A huge thank you to Charlotte Druckman for sharing the Smoor recipe, which can be found in Cindy’s Supper Club: Meals from Around the World to Share with Family and Friends, published earlier this year from Ten Speed Press. Here again is the link to Charlotte’s memorable story about Bobotie and the recipe.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Tomato-Onion Smoor
Recipe type: condiment
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8
This sweet and spicy sauce -- at its best during summer -- complements Bobotie burgers perfectly.
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
  • 6 to 8 tomatoes, peeled and 
coarsely chopped
  • 1 small jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded 
if desired, and minced
  • Up to 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
  • 1 to 11/2 teaspoons sea salt
  1. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion, stir to coat with the oil, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the onion starts to turn golden. Decrease the heat to medium-low and continue to cook slowly for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onion is nicely browned on the edges. Stir more frequently as the onion begins to caramelize to prevent burning.
  2. Add the tomatoes, chile, and sugar, stir well, and cook over the lowest heat setting for 15 to 20 minutes, 
until well heated. Do not cook the mixture so long that you end up with a sauce. If you cannot set the heat low enough, use a heat diffuser. Season to taste with the salt, transfer to a bowl, and serve hot or warm.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

LiztheChef July 16, 2012 at 7:50 am

Carol, such a rich post – and the smoor recipe is printing right now. I can see myself going at a batch with a large spoon!


Carol Sacks July 16, 2012 at 8:18 am

Thanks so much, Liz! We loved the Smoor by the spoonful as well.


Elizabeth July 16, 2012 at 9:51 am

I have never heard of the word “smoor” before. Whatever it is, I want more. This is the kind of stuff I love to having around.


Carol Sacks July 16, 2012 at 9:56 am

Hi Elizabeth, I think “smoor” comes from Indonesia. Bobotie and the condiments are such a wonderful mix of cultures and cuisines. Hope you enjoy it!


Susie July 16, 2012 at 9:59 am

Wow! I love the story behind the dish and the recipe…the fact that it was traditionally served on Sunday, really made my day. Thanks Carol!


Carol Sacks July 16, 2012 at 10:00 am

Hi Susie, we so loved this dish. It’s a wonderful meal for Sunday. Thanks so much for reading!


Beth (OMG! Yummy) July 16, 2012 at 11:23 am

You’ve improved a caramelized onion – that’s a real feat! this looks terrific Carol. Love the story, love the transformation.


Carol Sacks July 16, 2012 at 11:29 am

Thanks so much, Beth! Was a fun post to write.


Winifred Lloyds Lender July 16, 2012 at 5:16 pm

I enjoyed the story behind this recipe and love the idea of using a smoor to brighten up the color and taste of a meat dish or a bobotie burger . I liked learning the new vocabulary too! Thank you!


Carol Sacks July 16, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Hi Winifred, thank you! I hope you try the Smoor; it’s lovely!


Deb July 17, 2012 at 5:30 pm

We grilled lambs burgers a few weeks ago but I stayed the course and served them with caramelized onions and blue cheese. Although they were very good, pairing the lamb with the bright and zippy Smoor is a tempting alternative. Another great pairing of flavors, thanks for sharing Carol!


Carol Sacks July 17, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Hi Deb, reading about your lamb burgers with caramelized onions and blue cheese just made my mouth water! Thanks so much for checking in.


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