Given that I’m a somewhat recent transplant to MSP, I’m still amused by the peculiarities indigenous to the state of Minnesota. As I see it, the main differences between Wisconsin (my home state) and Minnesota have to do with handguns and booze. Classy, right? When I first saw the signs in MSP that read HANDGUNS BANNED ON THESE PREMISES, I was more than a little freaked out. I lived in both Chicago and a not-so-lovely corner of Brooklyn called Bedford-Stuyvesant, and no one talked about handguns there!
We’re forthright about our handguns, but we’re more than a little weird about our booze, with three-two beer (which even my lifelong MSP friends don’t understand entirely), grocery stores that can’t sell liquor, and a ban on liquor sales on the most spirited day of the week. I’m from working-class Milwaukee, where there is a bar on every residential street, we take brewery tours just to guzzle down free beer afterward, and the in-store liquor selection at Pick ‘n Save is just as vast as the produce section.
Of course, as we all know, once you cross the border from Wisco into Minneso-ota, another peculiar thing happens. Casserole turns into hotdish. I’m no stranger to casserole. The dish I remember most from my mom’s homey collection of recipes is something called Super Supper: a bubbling, baked collection of whipped potatoes with sour cream, beef seasoned with pre-packaged BBQ spices, corn, and pre-shredded cheddar cheese. This is straightforward if not also rib-sticking delicious, even though half the time she didn’t even put the corn in because my brother wouldn’t eat it. It shows you just how exotic we were.
Last weekend, when I made bobotie for Lisa’s South African-themed dinner party, I couldn’t help but be charmed by all the unique ingredients that go into this meal. This is a traditional South African recipe with 1,001 permutations that reveals just how much our food says about who we are. Compare South African traditions (bright, spicy, exotic) and Midwestern traditions (creamy, packaged, and hold those spices and the wild fruits!). Bobotie is your Midwestern grandmother’s hotdish hallucination.
I followed this recipe I found at Gastronomy Domine, which I highly recommend. It contains the following.
Beef and white bread. (I used half beef, half veal for variety.)
Milk and eggs.
Lemon juice, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, bay leaves, curry, AND garam masala.
Dried apricots, sultanas, and chutney. (I substituted pineapple for chutney, which works nicely.)
This is all pressed into a baking dish and topped with an egg/milk combination that forms a savory tent of custard on the top when baked. Whew!
To accompany it, I made yellow rice a la Emeril, which I have made another two times this week. I stock the leftover rice and love using it to make my own renditions of fried rice with whatever fresh stuff I have on hand.
For dessert, Lisa made soetkoekies, which are traditional South African sweet cookies. Given her wild crush on desserts, she didn’t love the subtle flavors. Lucky for me, because I did, and she sent me home with plenty of cookies, which I ate not-so-judiciously with coffee the next day.
In fact, I write this with a stiff cup of coffee and a soetkoekie this morning, a little taste of the exotic here in the homey Midwest.