South Africa’s treasure, often called the national dish, Bobotie has a perfect balance of spice and sweetness. South African Bobotie is a spiced and fruity minced lamb or beef dish baked in the oven with a creamy egg custard topping. We served it with a bowl of turmeric yellow rice and sambals as side dishes. Utterly delicious, this mildly spiced and unusually sweet meat dish is definitely a must-try!
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Why This South African Meatloaf Recipe is a Must-Try?
We have never been to South Africa (but it’s definitely on our list), but we’ve been cooking some of the most popular South African dishes for a while now. Our love for Bobotie specifically started with a spice subscription box, Simply Cook. Bobotie was by far my favourite dish. It sounded so out of the ordinary, that I was intrigued – apricots, mince and bread soaked in milk? That just didn’t seem like a combination I’ve ever heard of before. So we simply had to try it!
Since then, I’ve discovered that fruit is an integral part of South African cuisine and is mainly used in savoury dishes. As a lover of pineapple on my pizza, I’ve completely embraced this way of cooking, and can’t resist a good mildly spiced lamb bobotie, sweet with raisins and apricots. As for Seb, he didn’t even notice there was fruit on his plate, but the fact that he had 3 helpings last time I made it tells me everything I need to know.
What is Bobotie?
Simply put, Bobotie is a spiced minced meat dish with an egg custard topping. Normally made with dried fruit and garnished with sweet chutney and bananas, this is an unusually sweet meat dish for the Western pallet (unusual, but ridiculously delicious). The traditional bobotie recipe calls for either lamb or beef, but there are plenty of more modern versions today, using turkey or pork mince too!
Origin of Bobotie
Like many national dishes that had recipes passed down from generation to generation, the origin of Bobotie is unclear and disputed. The name bobotie allegedly comes from a Malayal boemboe, meaning curry. It is always claimed that the very first recipe for bobotie was found in a Dutch cookbook back in the 17th century. Bobotie was declared the national dish of South Africa by the United Nations Women’s Organisation in 1954.
Ingredients and Substitutes
Don’t be discouraged by the long list of Bobotie ingredients – most of them are spices or store cupboard ingredients that you likely have at home already.
- a large slice of bread: we used a slice of sourdough bread with the crust cut off, but everyday sliced bread (white or brown) will work just fine.
- brown onion: can be substituted with shallots, or white or red onion.
- garlic cloves: can be substituted with garlic paste.
- curry powder: we used medium curry powder, but feel free to use mild, if you don’t enjoy even mild heat in your food.
- bobotie spice mix: ½ tsp turmeric, ½ tsp coriander, ½ tsp cumin, ½ tsp ground ginger
- lemon juice: ideally from a lemon, not the bottle. Lime can be used here too if that’s what you have.
- mango chutney: although in a traditional bobotie recipe apricot jam is used, so feel free to experiment with which you prefer. Our vote goes to mango chutney.
- lamb mince: we used lean lamb mince (20% fat) which is still fatty enough to produce a perfectly moist and succulent South African Meatloaf. Any fattier and you’ll end up with greasy bobotie, but extra lean lamb mince (5-10% fat) will produce a drier, less tender meatloaf.
- dried apricots
- raisins or sultanas
- flaked almonds: added for texture. You may chop up some almonds, or simply skip the nuts altogether if you have allergies.
- large apple: sweet or tangy! We used Braeburns on this occasion.
- yoghurt: natural or Greek yoghurt.
- eggs: use medium eggs in the UK, or large if you are in the US.
- bay leaf.
You will also need some rice, turmeric, tomatoes, red onion and coriander for the South African Yellow Rice and Tomato & Onion Sambal.
Make Lamb Bobotie
Cut the crusts off your bread. Place it in a shallow bowl and pour the milk all over it. Leave the bread to soak for 20 minutes. Tear it into small pieces once soaked.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil on low heat in a large frying pan and add the onions and garlic. Sautee for 8-10 minutes until the onion has softened and just starting to brown.
Add the curry powder, turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander, ginger, mango chutney (or apricot jam) and lemon juice. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Then spoon the mixture out into a bowl.
Return the pan to the hob, add the lamb mince and cook until brown.
Add the onion mix back to the pan with the lamb alongside the bread, raisins and apricots. Cook for a couple of minutes. Taste and season.
Preheat the oven to 180°C Fan. Spoon half of the mixture into an ovenproof dish. Then cover the surface with apple slices. Sprinkle with almond flakes (if using) and top with the other half of the lamb mixture. Leave it to cool slightly, whilst you make the custard topping.
Make the Custard Topping
In a bowl, beat yoghurt and eggs with some salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the lamb bobotie and add a bay leaf on top.
Place South African Bobotie in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes. You may want to cover the dish with a large sheet of foil midway through if the bobotie is browning too quickly.
What to Serve with Bobotie?
We personally like to keep things traditional yet simple! The best side dishes for bobotie, in our opinion, are easy Turmeric Yellow Rice and Tomato Sambal (recipes below). We also like a good dollop of caramelised onion chutney with it all!
Make Tomato Sambal
Half the tomatoes and place them in a small bowl. Finely chop a small amount of the red onion as well as coriander (including stalks) and mix them in with the tomatoes. Add the sugar and vinegar and leave the tomato sambal in the fridge for 30 minutes, whilst the bobotie cooks.
Make South African Yellow Rice
Boil your rice following packet instructions, but add a teaspoon of turmeric and salt to the water too. It’s that simple. The turmeric will give the rice that lovely blight yellow colour as well as a subtle hint of turmeric flavour.
Other African Food Recipes
For other African continent inspired recipes, have a look at:
South African Bobotie with Yellow Rice and Sambal
For the Bobotie:
- 1 large slice of bread
- 60 ml milk
- 1 brown onion finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 2 teaspoon curry powder medium
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tbsp apricot jam or mango chutney
- 500 g lamb mince lean
- 25 g dried apricots roughly chopped
- 25 g raisins or sultanas
- 25 g flaked almonds
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 large apple thinly sliced
- 200 ml yoghurt
- 2 eggs medium
For the Yellow Rice:
- 240 g long-grain or basmati rice
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 200 g cherry tomatoes halved
- ⅛ red onion finely chopped
- 5 g fresh coriander roughly chopped
- ½ tsp caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vinegar white wine or apple cider
To Make Bobotie:
- Cut the crust off your bread. Place it in a shallow bowl and pour the milk all over it. Leave it to soak for 20 minutes. Tear it into small pieces once soaked.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil on low heat in a large frying pan and add the onions and garlic. Sautee for 8-10 minutes until the onion has softened and just starting to brown.
- Add the curry powder, turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander, ginger, apricot jam (or mango chutney) and lemon juice. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Then spoon the mixture out into a bowl.
- Return the pan to the hob, add the lamb mince and cook until brown.
- Add the onion mix back to the pan with the lamb alongside the bread, raisins and apricots. Cook for a couple of minutes. Taste and season to taste.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C Fan. Spoon half of the mixture into an ovenproof dish. Then cover the surface with apple slices. Sprinkle with almond flakes and top with the other half of the lamb mixture. Leave it to cool slightly, whilst you make the topping.
- In a bowl, beat yogurt and eggs with some salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the meat and add a bay leaf on top.
- Place in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes. You may want to cover the dish with a large sheet of foil midway through if the bobotie is browning too much.
Make Tomato Sambal:
- Mix all the ingredients together and leave for 30 minutes in the fridge, whilst the bobotie cooks.
Make Yellow Rice:
- Boil your rice following packet instructions, but add a teaspoon of turmeric and salt to the water too.
- Serve your bobotie, yellow rice and tomato sambal with some red onion or chakalaka chutney!
I have always wanted to try this. The flavours in it sound absolutely incredible.
It’s definitely an unconventional flavour combination but we think it tastes amazing! Hope you get to make it soon! 🙂
My husband has been raving about South African cuisine since he went on school trip there and I cannot wait to cook this up for us at home! This Bobotie looks amazing and I love the addition of sambal – so tasty!
Wow, what a wonderful school trip! We are huge fans of South African cuisine too 🙂
I’ve never heard of this before but it sounds very interesting, sounds fun to make over the weekend.
Thanks, Genevieve! Lots of fun to make and to eat! And definitely easy enough feed the crowd 🙂
In the recipe it doesn’t mention when to add the milk soaked bread??
After soaking the bread, tear it into small pieces and add it after the lamb is cooked, together with the onions and dried fruit. Hope you like it! 🙂
Hi Chris, add the bread alongside the apricots and raisins 🙂
So many awesome ingredients! I can’t wait to try this out!
Hope you love it as much as we do! 🙂
I love lamb, chutney, and apricots- I cannot wait to make this recipe! The combinations of flavors just sound so unique, like a whole new cultural experience.
Let me tell you… bobotie is definitely the dish I have never tried in my life. Excited to give it a try!
Love trying new dishes and this did not disappoint! Great flavours and thank you for the easy to follow instructions.
This was so flavorful! We made it with cilantro rice and it tastes incredible! Will be doing more turmeric next time!
So glad you liked it, Julia! 🙂