Monday, June 18, 2012

Out of Africa: Two Marcus Samuelsson recipes: Bobotie with Mango Sambal

The Cape of Good Hope,
the very tip of Africa
         In my past life I was fortunate to travel to six continents for work.  And of all the places I’ve been, South Africa is at the top of my list for sheer physical beauty.  Being a lifelong geography fanatic, I cannot describe how exciting it was to stand at the Cape of Good Hope, the very tip of the African continent, the Atlantic on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other.  Capetown, where we were based, is a magnificent ocean front city topped off by the ever present Table Mountain. The food was not terribly memorable mostly because we were taken to restaurants that cater to European palates.  The only dish I will never forget is the national dish of South Africa, Bobotie. This wonderful aromatic mix of ground meat and tomatoes topped with a rich, creamy custard has no season.  It keeps forever in the fridge and as exotic as it sounds, you likely have every spice you need in your spice rack right now.  Add this recipe from one of the world's most fascinating cooks to your summer menu and tell everyone you're taking them to Africa for dinner. 

          I came across this recipe for Bobotie in Marcus Samuelsson’s “Discovery of a Continent” (John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 2007).   Because Chef Samuelsson is a favorite of mine, I obeyed his call to serve this one dish wonder with Mango Sambal, a delicious sweet salad to which Chef Samuelsson has added a spicy note. 
            Marcus Samuelsson is New York food royalty.  His latest restaurant, Red Rooster (310 Lenox Avenue, between 125 and 126th St. Tel (212) 792-9001), is a destination in itself.   It’s part of the great Harlem Renaissance – almost a club for its devotees who pack the place night after night.   Marcus’ background is as fascinating as his food.  Born Kassahun Tsegie in Ethiopia, his mother died when he was three years old.  He and his eldest sister, Fantaye, were then adopted by Ann Marie and Lennart Samuelsson, who lived in Gothenburg,Sweden. They changed the children’s names to Marcus and Linda Samuelsson. Samuelsson's biological father, Tsegie, still lives in the village where Linda and Marcus were born and where he is a priest and father of eight of the chef's half-siblings.
         Marcus became interested in cooking through his Swedish grandmother.  He went to Culinary school in Gothenberg and then apprenticed in Switzerland and Austria.  He came to the United States twenty one years as an apprentice at Restaurant Aquavit, a high end Swedish restaurant (65 East 55th St.Tel: 212-307-7311)   At 24, Marcus was named their executive chef and soon after became the youngest ever to receive a three-star restaurant review from The New York Times. In 2003 he was named "Best Chef: New York City" by the James Beard Foundation. That same year he started a second New York restaurant, Riingo (205 East 45th St. Tel: 212-867-4200), serving  Japanese-influenced American food.  His cooking combines international influences which he marries to traditional cuisine from Sweden to Japan and Africa.
         According to Marcus, Bobotie is found on dinner tables throughout South Africa whether the family is of Afrikans, Cape Malay or Black descent.  The recipe changes from family to family.  Malays add almonds or raisins where as the Afrikaner version is simpler and akin to good old British Shepherd’s pie.  The version Marcus shared with his readers is Malay style with its raisins and nuts.  It’s a very mild curry and there’s no heat here.  The creamy custard topping is a perfect foil for the rich beef filling.  It’s very easy to make, comes together in no time and perfumes the kitchen with curry and coriander. 
         Mango Sambal was Chef Samuelsson’s suggested accompaniment.   Here he merges the Swedish fondness for serving sweet accompaniments with game  and poultry.  But instead of just sticking to the sweet, the Chef’s Mango Sambal adds some spice with chilies and  some coolness with mint.  I loved the contrast too between the crisp mango and the crunchy peanuts.  It really an exotic salad and one that works beautifully, as Chef Samuelsson promised, with Bobotie.  You can make this after you’ve put the Bobotie in the oven. Here are the recipes:
Recipes for Bobotie and Mango Sambal courtesy of Marcus Samuelsson.
For the Bobotie:
Serves 4

1 1/4 lbs ground beef
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp crushed coriander seeds
2 tomatoes, chopped, or 1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup crushed peanuts or smooth peanut butter, preferably unsweetened
2 tsp salt, divided
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks
Pinch of ground nutmeg

1. Heat a dutch oven or other large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the beef and onion and cook, stirring to break up any lumps, until the beef is well browned,a bout 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, masala, cumin, coriander, and tomatoes, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
2. Stir in the bread crumbs, peanuts, 1 1/2 tsp of the salt, and 1/2 cup water and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the beef mixture from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate for 20 minutes

3. Preheat the oven to 350. Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish. Spread the beef mixture in the bottom of the pan and press down to pack well. Whisk together the milk, eggs, egg yolks, nutmeg, and the remaining 1/2 tsp salt and pour over the beef mixture

4. Set the baking dish in a larger baking pan and add enough hot water to come 1 inch up the sides of the baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes, until the custard topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

5. Cut into squares/wedges and serve with Mango Sambal and some buttered snap peas. 

For the Mango Sambal:
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 red onion, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup peanuts
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
1–2 bird’s-eye or serrano chiles, seeds and ribs removed, chopped to taste
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
2 mangoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 mint sprigs, chopped
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Heat the peanut oil in a medium nonstick sauté pan, add the onion and garlic, and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the peanuts, ginger, chiles, and chile powder to the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peanuts are golden brown, about 10 minutes more. Remove from heat and cool.

Transfer to a bowl, and fold in the mangoes, sesame seeds, mint, and sesame oil before serving.


  1. Wow! I love this exotic culinary journey I'm on this a.m! When I first saw the name, I was going in with trepidation that it would be very difficult, much too spicy for Edward and a "tried it once" recipe. Thanks for pointing out that it is the same groove as Shepherd pie. So doable! What a treat, thank you Monte!

  2. Dear Ana, this dish has a lot in common with moussaka, shepherd's pie and you can certainly lower the spice content for Edward. But really, just as written here, it's not so much spicy as aromatic. But it gives you yet another easy dish that is just different enough to be exciting. And do try the sambal--the wonderful mango finds another use!