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The Best Plant-Based Bobotie
South Africa is a gastronomical melting pot unlike any other in the world, thanks to a fusion of cultures and a deeply rooted history. The food here has been influenced by the French, Dutch, Malaysian and Indian, to name a few. Bobotie ( baah-booeh-tee) falls into the Cape Malay influence, distinct for its sweet, savoury, tangy and fragrant flavours.
It can also be referred to as a fruity curry, although the sweetness should never outweigh the flavour of the spices.
The history behind bobotie
Bobotie is happily recognised as South Africa’s national dish. However, it is a recipe which holds a sad past. It is said that it was brought over from Indonesia as early as the 17th century and shaped into what it is today by the Cape Malay community of Cape Town. The Cape Malay’s ancestors were first brought to South Africa about 4000 years ago as slaves during Dutch colonist rule.
The Spice Route was first discovered by the Portugese and connected Asia, Africa and Europe. It allowed all these countries to trade spices, coffee and sugar with one another. The Dutch later started The Dutch East India Company, which dominated the Spice Route. This was the wealthiest company of its time, which acted much like a supply chain.
The journey from the east to the west was long, so the Dutch set up a resting point in the middle, which was in the Southern-most part of the Cape, also known as The Cape of Good Hope. With them, of course, were the ancestors of the Cape Malay. Spices from modern-day Indonesia and Malaysia were the most profitable during this time. In fact, spices were so expensive back then that it wasn’t rare to be paid in cloves!
Today, traditional bobotie is made with minced meat and an egg topping, fragrantly infused with all of its historical flavours. Fortunately for the plant-eaters, though, there are also plenty of easy vegan recipes South Africans can enjoy, bobotie included - yum! In this recipe, lentils make a great meat substitute, whereas tofu acts as an egg-like topping.
“Mince-style” lentil filling:
- 2 cups of dried brown lentils (soak them overnight and rinse them before using)
- 2 slices of bread, soaked in water (your classic white or brown works best)
- 1 tbsp sunflower or olive oil
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire or soy sauce
- 3 1/2 cups of water
- ½ cup veggie stock
- 2 onions, finely diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2 carrots, grated
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped or ½ tsp dried
- 1 tbsp curry powder (mild, medium or hot)
- 160ml Mr.s Balls fruit chutney or any other fruit chutney of your choice
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- ½ tsp salt, or more to taste
- Pepper to taste
- *Optional: ½-1/3 cup loosely packed raisins
- *Optional: 1 tsp brown sugar to sweeten
“Egg-style” topping mixture:
- 480g of tofu, silken is best
- 1/3 cup plant milk of choice (soy works well)
- 1/3 cup chickpea flour
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (this gives vegan dishes a cheesy umami flavour)
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 4-6 bay leaves for on top
- 1/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)
- *Optional for an extra egg-like taste: use black Indian salt instead of regular salt
- First, take your two slices of bread and soak them in some water. After 5 minutes, squeeze the water out and set it aside.
- While your bread soaks, add oil to a deep pan and set it to medium heat. Then, add your garlic, ginger, carrots, herbs, salt, pepper and spices and saute until everything is slightly browned and your onions are transparent in colour.
- Add your soaked bread, raisins and sugar to your pan, as well as your lemon juice, chutney, water, stock, Worcestershire sauce and lentils. Bring everything to a boil and stir gently.
- Once boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for a further 15-20 minutes, continuing to stir every 2-3 minutes until your lentils are cooked, and the liquid has cooked away.
- Empty the pan mixture into an ovenproof dish and flatten the top of it with a spoon to make a good base for the topping layer. Set aside whilst you focus on the topping.
- Preheat your oven to 190ºC.
- In a blender, blend the milk, nutritional yeast, salt, chickpea flour, turmeric and tofu together until it reaches a creamy consistency.
- Pour the topping mixture over the bobotie mixture. Top with your bay leaves for an extra flavour punch and added wow factor.
- Bake in the oven for between 40-45 minutes, or alternatively, until the topping is a beautiful golden brown.
- Serve with some yellow rice. For an even more authentic experience, serve the bobotie and yellow rice with extra sides of sliced bananas, pickles and fruit chutney. Enjoy!
Tell us your food story
Have you tried a vegan twist on an old favourite? Which one was your favourite and why? Let us know in the comments down below or contact us to have your recipe featured on our site.
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