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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.