Lilly Higgins: My kids love this mild curried lamb dish

I came across this dish as a child in South Africa. It’s like the Afrikaans’ twist on shepherd’s pie

Lamb and lentil bobotie

Lamb and lentil bobotie

 

I first came across bobotie as a child in South Africa. It’s like the Afrikaans’ twist on shepherd’s pie. It is a comforting yet complex mix of mildly curried minced meat with a savoury custard-like topping. Often claimed as one of South Africa’s national dishes, it perfectly represents a whole host of food cultural influences from ancient Rome to Indonesia.  

At this time of year, when you might have big groups of family and friends to feed, it is an interesting dish that can be easily scaled up, and the dried fruits and spices suit this pre-Christmas season so well.

The dried fruits such as apricots, raisins or sultanas are usually added to offset the spices. My kids pick out any raisins they find dappling the mix, so I use mango chutney instead to provide that fruitiness.

Nuts such as chopped walnuts, almonds or pine nuts can also be added. They do give a really great texture, and I sometimes scatter the top with toasted flaked almonds before serving.

In keeping with the bright yolk-yellow of the savoury custard topping, this dish is usually served with yellow rice, which is simply rice that has had turmeric added to the cooking water.

In an effort to include more vegetables I always add a few grated carrots to the mix and this version also contains Puy lentils.

Bobotie usually contains breadcrumbs but I’ve left them out as the lentils are a perfect binding carbohydrate to thicken the mix and provide satiety. Worcester sauce is often used to provide that distinctive piquancy, but I use a little vinegar instead. This often reminds me of lamb keema in that it has warming spices and a great mild curry flavour that kids just love. 

This is one of the few dishes that I make that needs turmeric. It’s used in the filling, the topping and it can also be used in the rice to serve alongside. Ground turmeric provides a beautiful vibrant colour, more than welcome in the kitchen on dark December nights. It has a peppery taste and should always be served with black pepper in order to aid absorption.

We always hear about the health benefits of turmeric. Curcumin, the key compound in turmeric, is a strong antioxidant, and has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties. However it’s not easily absorbed in the body. The key compound in black pepper, piperine, boosts the absorption of curcumin by up to 2,000 per cent, so they should always be used together. 

This mix can be prepared ahead of time and the egg topping added just before cooking. I’ve also made little individual boboties with great success. They need less cooking time and you’ll know they’re cooked once the egg topping is set and puffed up. 

LAMB AND LENTIL BOBOTIE

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil 

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

450g minced lamb

200g carrot, peeled and roughly grated

2 tsp curry powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp dried dill

400g tin cooked Puy lentils (240g drained weight)

2 tbsp mango chutney

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

2 tbsp water

4 bay leaves 

Salt and black pepper

Topping:

100ml natural yogurt

150ml milk

2 eggs

2 tsp turmeric

Salt 

 Method

1. Preheat an oven to 180 degrees Celsius or equivalent. Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat.

2. Cook the onions until soft, add the garlic and cook for another few minutes before adding the minced lamb. Cook for two minutes, stirring well to combine.

3. Add the carrot, spices, dill, chutney, and seasoning; stir well again. Cook for five minutes, stirring every minute or so to combine. Add the lentils, vinegar and water. Mix gently until everything is combined. Taste for seasoning.

4. Spoon the meat mixture into a shallow ovenproof dish and smooth the surface.

5. Whisk the topping ingredients together until smooth. Pour the topping over the meat, lay a few bay leaves on top and bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until the topping is golden and set.

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