Not that long ago — at least so it seems to aging me — any recipe that wasn’t “haole” was “exotic.” African was exotic. Indian was exotic. South American was exotic.
Last week, when I was in Anchorage, I bought a cookbook that recalled those days: “Alaska’s Cooking” by the Anchorage Women’s Club, first published in 1959. It was full of the predictable recipes, but a few of those “exotics,” too. When I got home, I spent an evening paging through the book, looking for recipes that interested me. One was Bobotie. A light bulb went off. I remembered Bobotie from many long years ago in my culinary life: A curried meatloaf recipe. This one was from a lady named Ellen Sassaro.
I’ve never had much luck with meatloaf. The sort my mother made, with a tomato sauce, always came out greasy and not very interesting. It wasn’t until I learned to make Italian-style polpette — meatbealls made with milk-soaked bread and Parmesan cheese with just a hint of nutmeg — that I produced a meatloaf of which I was proud.
Bobotie makes use of milk-soaked bread but also curry powder, nuts, apricot jam, chopped almonds, raisins and spices. I was proud of this, too, when I prepared it the other night. It is a creation of South Africa by way of Malaysia: Spices and techniques from the latter made their way to the former during colonial times.
I knew it would be delicious years ago when I made it in my bachelorette apartment in Seattle when I was in college and I knew it would still be delicious today. And it was.
We’ve been eating away on it: Meatloaf hot with rice, meattoaf cold in sandwiches, crumbled meatloaf with eggs for breakfast. Note the use of sugar and vinegar to balance the heat and the spice. Use a good curry mixture; I like Sun Brand Madras Curry Powder, which comes in both mild and spicy. I keep it in the freezer.
This recipe calls for a rather odd finish: a milk and egg mixture poured over the baked meatloaf. I didn’t do this. I put the egg in the meatloaf. Nor did I serve it with all the curry accompaniments, though I’m sure they would be delish: chutney, bananas, coconut. The authentic way is to make a custard of the milk and egg and pour it over toward the end of baking to add richness.
1 tablespoon butter
2 pounds ground beef (I used 90 percent lowfat)
2 slices white bread (I used a grainy country loaf)
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teapoon pepper
1/2 teaspoons turmeric
2 tablespoons vinegar or juice of 1 lemon
6 almond, cut in quarters
1/2 cup raisins
4 bay leaves
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Chop onions finely and brown in butter. Soak bread in milk. Mash and squeeze out milk; discard milk. Mix all ingredients except bay leaves. Pack into greased loaf pan. Stick bay leaves in top. Bake at 350 dgrees for 1.5 hours. Serve with hot rice and curry accompaniments: sliced bananas, fresh-grated coconut, chutney.
Makes 6 servings.