Boeber is as ‘Cape Town’ as Cape brandy tart, the Cape Doctor, over-priced fancy-schmancy restaurants and claims that ‘it has never rained like this/blown like this/been so hot at this time of the year before’.
This time of the year is Ramadaan for a great percentage of the city’s residents, and I decided to have a go at making boeber, which can also be a dessert, and which is served on the 15th night of Ramadaan and also in the days and weeks to follow. It is kind of moreish.
Anyone who reads these columns regularly will know by now that I occasionally bang on about how our own local cuisines are too often sidelined in the mad quest to emulate what every other cuisine on the planet is doing and to stay ahead of the pack. So I designed a three-course dinner to celebrate some of the essence of Cape Malay food, without in any way being slavish to any recipe other than the boeber recipe to follow at the end of this columm. And even that I tweaked in the presentation.
My main course was to be a subtly spiced lamb curry, so the starter needed to be light. A Cape Malay-style butternut soup tempted, but I felt it would be too heavy, so made a tomato soup instead, starting by braising in ghee (clarified butter, Daisy – remember?) 1 piece of cassia bark (stick cinnamon), 8 cardamom seeds, 8 coriander seeds and 4 cloves (not garlic, Daisy – cloves) for a minute. Add 1 onion and 3 cloves garlic (yes, Daisy, garlic) and 1 inch each of peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger and turmeric, chopped, and simmer, stirring for 3 minutes. (If you don’t have fresh turmeric, use 1t dried, but only add it with the tomatoes.) And 8 ripe medium tomatoes, chopped, and 500g chopped Italian tomatoes (they tend to be full-flavoured), 1 or 2 red chillies, finely sliced, and 200ml cold water, bring to a boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes, covered. If too runny, adjust water. Blend, stir in 3 or 4 large tablespoons plain yoghurt, season with salt and white pepper to taste, and serve with a swirl of yoghurt and chopped dhania.
The lamb curry: use 1 shank per person, with one extra shank so as not to be stingy, all sliced into pieces by your butcher. Melt ghee and gently braise your spices – a spinkling each of black mustard seeds and jeera seeds, 6 cardamom, a sprinkling of kulunji (onion seeds), 6 cloves and 3 star anise, just until the small seeds start to crackle, then add a tin of chopped tomatoes, a chopped red chilli, a small handful of fresh or dried curry leaves, 2 or 3 bay leaves, 3 crushed garlic cloves, an inch each of finely chopped fresh turmeric (or 2t dried) and ginger, 2 or 3 chopped red chillies and 2T (heaped) of a good marsala mix. Add 200ml cold water, stir, bring to a gentle simmer, add all the meat, stir to coat, bring back to a simmer, cover and let it gently cook for three to four hours. Even five, Daisy, but check along the way that it is still moist as this is a good, wet curry.
I served it with saffron basmati rice (make rice in your usual way but add a few strands of saffron), cucumber raita (diced with seeds removed, chopped dhania leaves, plain yoghurt, a squeeze of lemon juice, white pepper and a little salt), poppadoms (buy and follow packet instructions), and my homemade turmeric and raisin chutney. To make this, melt ghee and braise jeera and mustard seeds, 4 bay leaves, 1 cinnamon stick, and when the seeds crackle add 3T palm sugar, stir to melt, and add a tin of chopped tomatoes, 3 inches of peeled and finely chopped fersh turmeric, 1 chopped red chilli and 100g raisins, and simmer very gently for 30 minutes, covered. Leave to cool. (No, don’t bother with this one if you can’t find fresh turmeric, Daisy, use ginger instead. Scout around the local fresh produce markets and you should find turmeric.)
And finally, the boeber. This can be served as a drink (use less sago) or much thicker as a dessert (that would be more sago, Daisy). Soak 150ml sago in cold water for 15 minutes. Then back to the old spice braising process, this time using 100g butter (more flavour than ghee) and just stick cinnamon and cardamom as your spices. Traditional recipes call for 3 cinnamon sticks and 5 whole cardamom, but I used 8 cardamom seeds. Now add 250mg vermicilli, broken into small pieces, and let this foam away in the butter until it starts to turn golden, stir and add 2litres full-cream milk and then the drained pre-soaked sago. Now you need to keep this on a slow simmer for half an hour, stirring almost constantly to prevent it sticking. If it seems too thick and gloopy, add a little hot milk more at a time until it has a consistency that you like.
Finally stir in 100 to 150ml white sugar and 3T rosewater, and stir while the sugar dissolves, giving the boeber a lovely sheen. Add a handful of blanched or toasted almonds (I toasted unpeeled ones in a dry pan) and 50g sultanas.
I ventured away from the traditional with my presentation: I made an orange zest syrup (simmer thin slices of zest in a water-sugar syrup until it almost boils away). Spoon the boeber into glass bowls, arrange 3 or 4 pieces of zest on top, pour the remaining orange syrup over, scatter with toasted almonds and garnish with rose petals.
If this all seems like far too much hard work, Daisy, you can buy a premixed boeber product at your local supermarket. If you must.
First published in Weekend Argus 2011