My family immigrated to Australia from South Africa when I was 7.5 months old. So while I consider myself a fully-fledged Australian, I did have the great fortune of growing up in a household that continued to celebrate traditional South African cuisine. And traditional South African food Is.The.Bomb. Milk tart, malva pudding, peppermint crisp tart, boerwors, biltong and droewors, those tomato and onion toasted sandwiches you cook on the barbecue!?! – life is good as a South African born Australian!!
One traditional South African meal that my mum never made growing up was babotie (pronounced bah-boo-tee in case you were wondering!). I asked her about it and she said she never found herself a good recipe. This seemed like a challenge, and I set about finding the best babotie recipe I could get my hot little hands on. As is always the case with me, I never found one that I 100% liked – so my recipe is essentially a hybrid of all the bits and pieces I have seen and liked from other recipes.
Babotie is a fruity, curried mince dish, which delicately balances salty, sweet and curry based flavours. It is baked in the oven with a savoury egg mixture, usually decorated with bay leaves, on the top. While some people make babotie with more of a meat loaf consistency, I prefer to make a ‘saucier’ version of the dish, allowing it to mix beautifully with it’s traditional accompaniment, yellow rice. I also make a small dish of sambals (finely chopped salad of tomato, cucumber and onion) whenever I make babotie. It is entirely up to you whether you want to make this as well, I just find it acts as a fresh additional condiment to the dish.
One key ingredient in my babotie recipe is Mrs Balls chutney. For non South Africans unfamiliar with this most amazing condiment, Mrs Balls chutney is a fruity chutney that tastes good with absolutely everything. I’d put it on my Corn Flakes it tastes so good. Fortunately, Mrs Balls is widely available in Australia these days and you can get it with the chutneys in most supermarkets. If your supermarket does not stock it – complain loudly – then huff and puff all the way to your nearest South African provisions shop, they will definitely have it. I am usually all for substitutes for recipes, but this is one ingredient I think you simply must have – and not just for this dish.
So below is my recipe for babotie. It has passed the taste test of multiple South Africans and I am confident you will enjoy it! (Sheesh, thats a big call!!) For the real South Africans reading this (i.e. the ones who spent more than 8 months of their lives living in the country), if this recipe strays from some more authentic versions of the dish, I apologise! I still think you should give my version a go, I don’t think you will be disappointed.
A small disclaimer – this recipe is more on the easy side than the quick side, so perhaps better suited for a weekend rather than a mid week meal.
Here we go!
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely diced
1 apple, peeled and finely diced
500g beef mince
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tbsp Keens curry powder (adjust up or down according to your taste)
1/2 cup sultanas
1/3 cup slivered almonds
2/3 cup Mrs Balls chutney
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
Savoury egg topping
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon turmeric
3-4 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup long grain rice
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 cup sultanas
1 lebanese cucumber
1/2 punnet cherry tomatoes
splash of white vinegar
Preheat oven to 180C.
Heat oil and butter on medium heat in a large, heavy based saucepan. Add onions and sweat down until they begin to caramelise. Don’t be tempted to rush this step as burned onions ruin any dish! Keep the heat on medium and take your time – should take around 5 minutes.
Add the apple and sauté with the onion until it begins to soften (approx 3-5 minutes).
Add the curry powder and stir through until fragrant.
Turn the heat up a little bit, add the mince and cook through until browned.
Once the mince is browned I like to season with a little bit of salt and pepper.
Add the egg and breadcrumbs and stir through.
Add the almond slivers, sultanas and chutney and stir through to combine, allowing to cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
Ding! Ding! Mince is done. Put it into a baking dish and press down to flatten. Apologies, it is difficult to make this look pretty – that must be why they add the egg mixture over the top!
Cover the baking dish with foil and bake in the 180C oven for 30 minutes.
While the mince is baking in the oven, prepare your savoury egg mixture. In a separate bowl, combine: egg, milk, turmeric, and a small sprinkle of salt and pepper, then whisk to combine.
Once the mince has baked for 30 minutes, carefully remove from the oven and take off the foil. Pour the egg mixture over the mince and arrange bay leaves on top.
Pop the dish (uncovered) back into the oven until the egg mixture has set.
Note: the time it takes for the egg mixture to set will depend on the size of your dish and therefore how ‘deep’ the egg mixture is on top of the mince. For the dish pictured, the egg takes approx 10-15 minutes to set in a 180C oven, but please monitor yours so you can whip it out as soon as set. There’s ‘golden brown’ and there’s ‘burnt’ haha – and I have definitely been on the wrong side of the ‘brown’ spectrum more times than I care to admit.
Once your egg mixture is set your babotie is ready!
Serve immediately, with yellow rice, a big DOLLOP of Mrs Balls chutney and a sprinkling of sambals (if desired).
For rice and sambals recipes, refer below.
Add the rice, water, salt, sugar, cinnamon, turmeric and sultanas into a saucepan.
Bring to the boil.
Once the water is boiling, turn right down to the lowest simmer, pop the lid on the saucepan and allow to cook for approximately 12 minutes, or until all the water has absorbed.
Serve with an additional sprinkle of slivered almonds.
Finely chop the tomatoes, cucumber and onion.
Transfer to a small bowl with a splash of vinegar.
The sambals is intended to be used as an additional condiment, usually served alongside the rice and curry.