West African Bobotie (Lamb or Beef Baked in Curry-Custard)

bobotie

Discover the health benefits of turmeric, while delighting in this national West African dish bobotie-made with turmeric.

How Turmeric Grows

Turmeric comes from a herbaceous tropical plant in the ginger family, Curcuma longa.  Our herb is its dried underground stem, or rhizome-the horizontal, underground stem of this ginger “root”.  This special underground stem structure has been developed for nonsexual reproduction.  In other words, a rhizome can “clone” itself by forming a storage organ that can produce its own roots and stem and become an independent-but genetically identical-plant; this is seen in sunchokes and all ginger “roots” in the ginger family, of which turmeric is one.  In potatoes and yams, these swollen underground stem tips are called tubers.  1

Turmeric’s Preservation Process

Turmeric rhizomes are steamed or boiled in slightly alkaline water, in the making of this spice; this sets the color and precooks the abundant starch; then, these stems are sun-dried.  Though turmeric is usually sold pre-ground, some ethnic and whole foods markets may carry it fresh or as dried rhizomes.  2

Whole Turmeric Likely Provides Different Benefits

This whole turmeric, as found in certain health and ethnic grocers, may provide different health benefits.  Studies of its pre-ground form focus mostly on its constituent curcumin, which is just one of its curcuminoids (the other two being bisdemethoxycurcumin and demethyoxycurcumin).  Turmeric also contains volatile oils, or aromatic terpines, such as tumerone, athlantone, and zingiberene.  All these different substances are associated with unique health benefits.  3

The Flavor Components of Turmeric

Turmeric’s aromatic terpenes of turmerone and zingiberene give this herb a woody, dry earth aroma; it also has a slight bitterness and pungency.  (For detailed information on flavor components found in herbs, see Sage Turkey Delight.  4

The Origins of Turmeric

Turmeric appears to have been domesticated long ago in India, probably for its leading characteristic of deep yellow pigment; the word curcuma comes from the Sanskrit for “yellow”.  (For another reference of words for food, taken from Sanskrit, see Laban Bil Bayd.)  In the U.S., turmeric has been primarily used to color mustards and provide their nonpungent filler; in addition, it also has been used in prepared curry powders, where it makes up 25-50% by weight of these blends.  5

Its Present Popularity Is Based on Its Health Benefits

In whfoods.org, George Mateljan observes that despite the past wide use of turmeric in cooking over several thousand years, now researchers are continually surprised by its wide-ranging health benefits, as a supplement.  He lists some of these as: anti-inflammatory benefits, decreased cancer risk, support of detoxification, improved cognitive function, blood sugar balance, and improved kidney function.  He goes on to claim that it may also lessen the degree of severity in certain forms of arthritis, as well as certain digestive disorders.  6

Some of its strengths as a spice are: turmeric helps retain beta-carotene in certain foods such as carrots and pumpkin, in the cooking process.  Studies also show that turmeric may greatly help prevent the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which have been found to be so damaging, in the grilling of meat.  7

Curcumin Is Best Taken as a Supplement

Today, health experts focus mostly on curcumin, one of the curcuminoids found in turmeric.  It is best to take curcumin as a supplement, rather than to try to absorb its benefits through cooking with it in spice-form.  Consuming curcumin with black pepper enhances its absorption by 2000%, because of the piperine in pepper.  Be sure to check your supplements to insure they contain piperine.  Curcumin is also fat-soluble, so it is advised to take it with a fatty meal.  8

My Past with the Recipe Bobotie

When I was studying food in Peru in 1985, I met a couple from West Africa.  Upon learning about my work, they were anxious to share their personal receipt for their national dish bobotie, but I declined it, saying I already had this in my repertoire back home.  How often I have regretted my quick retort!

Applying Lessons in the Kitchen to Life

As we were exploring in my last entry on nkyemire, everything is about “keeping our kitchens clean”.  We tidy all up, as we go along in the cooking process, as well as in our lives; this way we don’t end up with an overwhelming mess at the end, in either our environments or our beings.

Humility is key to accomplishing the above, as is balance.  In the final analyses, we must admit that of ourselves we are without the power to effect lasting change.  Balance, however, is required, for without our fervent participation, God also is unable to effect permanent change within us.  We can-must-ask for humbleness of mind and stability in our beings, for he loves to help those who seek him.

References:

  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 263.
  2. Ibid., p. 430.
  3. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78
  4. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 430.
  5. Ibid.
  6. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78
  7. Ibid.
  8. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-turmeric#section1

finished product

Bobotie  (African Lamb or Beef Curry-Custard Dish)  Yields: 8-10 servings.  Total prep time: 2 hr/  active prep time: 40 min/  baking time: 80 min.

2 tbsp butter

2 med onions, chopped

2 lbs ground lamb or beef  (Organic ground beef is $5.95/lb at Trader Joe’s, and our local Grocery Outlet usually carries ground lamb for $6.49/lb.)

2 lg eggs

1/4 c milk

2 slices bread, broken in small pieces

1/4 c dried apricots, chopped small

1/4 c raisins

1/4 c blanched, slivered almonds, chopped

2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp curry powder

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)

5 lg bay leaves  (It’s preferable to get these in bulk at your favorite grocery store, so you can choose large bay leaves, if possible.)

Topping

1 egg

3/4 c milk

1/4 tsp turmeric

  1. sweating onions

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. In a large sauté pan, sweat (cook until translucent) onion slices, in hot butter; see photo.  Add lamb or beef, salt and pepper generously, as salting meat heavily while cooking adds greatly to flavor; cook until browned.  Remove from heat.
  3. In a large bowl, combine egg, 1/4 c milk, and bread crumbs; mash bread with a fork.
  4. bay leaves pressed into meat

    Add apricots, raisins, almonds, sugar, curry, lemon, and salt.  Blend well.

  5. Using a slotted spoon, remove cooked meat to the fruit/almond mixture. Mix well and place in a 2-quart casserole.  With hand, spread out evenly and press down firmly.
  6. Gently press in bay leaves, using a finger to make a hole in meat, prior to placing in the bay leaf (see photo above).
  7. custard topping poured over meat mixture

    Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.

  8. Meanwhile make topping in a small bowl, by beating egg, milk and turmeric lightly; set aside.
  9. After 20 minutes, pour topping over mixture in casserole (see photo).
  10. Bake 40 more minutes; at which point, take out bay leaves.
  11. Continue baking until custard is completely set, about 20 additional minutes; see photo at top of recipe.  Serve with rice and chutney and experience heaven!

Munazalla (a Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato dish)

Here is the heritage of the Syrian dish munazalla and its great recipe, along with the background and health benefits of cilantro.

This prized dish came to me in the early 1980’s, during my initial catering days in Billings, Montana; there I taught this recipe-the first in this series-in one of my cooking classes, as part of a complete Middle Eastern dinner.  It still graces my table today, especially when I am trying to impress guests, as it is par excellence.

Syria and its Background

Its origin is Syrian; thus recently, I was excited about serving it to company with an Assyrian heritage, not understanding that these are two very different cultures. Research proved their distinct differences: Syria, officially known as the Syrian Arab Republic, is a nation in southwestern Asia, on the eastern Mediterranean coast, with the capital of Damascus.  This delicious dish is from that republic, birthed in 1946, which was originally part of an ancient country, by that name, of western Asia that also included Lebanon and the Palestinian region.

Ancient Assyria

On the other hand, Semitic Assyria was an ancient empire, which was by far larger than the early country of Syria.  This was considered to be the greatest of the Mesopotamian empires, which had its start at the beginning of creation, as accounted for in the second chapter of Genesis.

Cilantro/the Leaf and Coriander/the Seed

This Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato recipe, calls for well-known cilantro, which is the leaf of the plant Coriandrum sativum, while the spice coriander is its seed.  Cilantro, sometimes botanically referred to as coriander, is said to be the most widely consumed fresh herb worldwide. As a native to the Middle East, its seed, which we refer to as coriander, was found in the tomb of King Tut.  (I got to see the tour of these ancient Egyptian remains in Seattle in the mid 1970’s.)

Cilantro Spreads throughout the World

Early on, this plant was taken to China, India, and Southeast Asia, and later to Latin America, being highly favored in all these regions.  In the New World, cilantro replaced culantro (Eryngium) its relative with a similar taste which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The latter has larger, thicker, tougher leaves, than those of the cilantro plant, with its rounded, notched, tender greenery; nevertheless, the flavor in both is almost the same.  Culantro, or saw-leaf herb, is still used in the Caribbean, but is most commonly found in Asian cuisine, especially that of Vietnam.

Cilantro Displeasing to Some Palates

Coriander leaf, cilantro, is sometimes described as having a soapy aroma; for this reason, it is not very popular in traditional European cooking.  The main component of the aroma is a fatty alehyde, decenal, which is very reactive; thus, this herb quickly looses this sense-element when heated.  As a result, it is used most predominantly in uncooked preparations, or as a garnish.

Health Benefits of Cilantro

This low-cholesterol herb, which is a good source of dietary fiber, has a practically non-existent caloric value, and it is high in minerals (including potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium) and vitamins (such as A, C, K, E, and B vitamins).  Its health benefits are highly acclaimed by experts.  Among many health-promoting characteristics, it is said to: rid the body of heavy metals, lower bad-while increasing good-cholesterol, help reduce swelling caused by arthritis and rheumatic diseases, lower blood sugar levels, and provide antioxidant, antiseptic, disinfectant, and antibacterial properties.

Option of Coriander in this Recipe Below

As with traditional Europeans, this leaf’s pungency is offensive to me; thus, for flavoring in our munazalla, I give the option of substituting ground coriander seed, with its simultaneous flowery and lemony tastes.  Who knows?  This superb receipt may even excel more with fresh cilantro, for those who love it.

References:

The Holy Bible, KJV, Genesis 2:14.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984,2004), pp. 390, 407, 408.

https://draxe.com/cilantro-benefits/

https://articles.mercola.com/herbs-spices/cilantro.aspx

Munazzala (a Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato dish)  Yields: 5-6 servings.  Total prep time: 2 1/3 hr/  active prep time: 1 hour/  inactive cooking time: 1 1/3 hr.

10 large minced garlic cloves, or the equivalent

1 lb ground lamb  (Our local Grocer Outlet generally has a great deal on lamb.)

1/4 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 1/4 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

2 tbsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 lg onion, chopped

2 lb eggplant

4 med tomatoes

1/3 c cilantro, chopped  (May substitute 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander, or to taste.)

  1. forming meatballs

    Spray vegetables with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3 % hydrogen peroxide).  Leave spray on for 3 minutes; then, rinse well.

  2. Mince garlic cloves by hand, or in a food processor; set aside.
  3. Using your hand, combine: lamb, 1/4 of minced garlic, allspice, pepper, and 3/4 tsp salt in a bowl; form meatballs the size of cherry tomatoes (see above photo).
  4. Over medium heat, fry meatballs in 1 tbsp hot oil, stirring with spatula until they stiffen.  Add chopped onion and cook until golden brown; drain fat and set aside (see photo).  Deglaze pan with small amount of water, scraping fond, or

    cooked meatballs and onions

    cooked-on juices, off bottom of hot pan with a spatula.  Set aside.

  5. Chop eggplant in small cubes (see photo below).  Heat remaining tbsp of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  When a small piece of eggplant sizzles in oil, mix in remaining eggplant; add 1/4 c water, cover, and cook until pieces begin to soften, stirring occasionally.  Be sure to cover pan.
  6. Cut tomatoes in small chunks, chop cilantro-dried coriander may be substituted.
  7. chopping eggplant

    Mix meat, remaining garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, and 1/2 tsp salt into partially cooked eggplant.  Cover, reduce heat to med/low, and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  (After cooking for 1 hour, if preparing for company, you may wish to set this mixture aside, before the final 15-20 minutes of cooking).

  8. Raise heat to medium, adjust seasonings, and cook uncovered for 15-20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently.  (See photo of finished product at top of recipe.)
  9. Serve with pleasure!