Stewed Meatballs (bebotok)

This was one of the family restaurant’s signature dishes based on his mother’s closely guarded recipe, according to Keasberry. Restaurant patrons couldn’t get enough of these meatballs; some would make a trip to the restaurant just for them. Keasberry recalls heading straight for the restaurant kitchen after school, getting some rice into a bowl, ladling warm tomato soup over the rice followed by a large chunk of bebotok, and topping it all off with Indonesian shrimp crackers, krupuk.   

Bebotok has its roots in the colonies in Batavia, the former Dutch East Indies, he says, but it’s also a specialty of Cape Malays, an ethnic community in South Africa and even the inspiration behind the South African dish bobotie*

* The first people that brought “Bobotie” to South Africa was the Dutchies, according to Keasberry. Cape Malays was under Dutch rule from 1652 to 1695 and from 1803 to 1806, and Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) was sent to the Cape to establish a halfway station to provide fresh water, vegetables, and meat for passing ships traveling to and from Asia, he explains. The first recorded recipe of this dish was in a Dutch cookbook in 1609. Afterwards, it was taken to South Africa and adopted by the Cape Malay community who named it bobotie.

Serves 4

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into small dice
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Indonesian chile sauce (sambal oelek)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon ground paprika
  • 1 1-inch piece galangal root, smashed with a granite pestle or a heavy cleaver just until it cracks
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed of the green top and bruised
  • 2 Indonesian bay leaves (salam) or regular bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon Indonesian shrimp paste (terasi) or any Southeast Asian shrimp paste, diluted with 2 tablespoons of hot water
  • 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules
  • 1 cup full-fat, unsweetened coconut milk
  • 4 cups cooked long grain rice, for serving

In a medium mixing bowl, mix the ground beef with the onion, garlic, 1/4 cup of sambal oelek, 1 tablespoon of ground turmeric, 1 1/2 tablespoons of ground coriander, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, eggs, salt, sugar, red pepper flakes, and ground paprika. Knead the mixture until well combined. Make three large, tightly formed meatballs; keep covered and chilled.

Meanwhile, fill a 2-quart saucepan half way with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the galangal, lemongrass, bay leaves, the remaining 2 tablespoons of the chile sauce, the remaining ground turmeric, the remaining ground coriander, the remaining ground cumin, diluted shrimp paste, and chicken bouillon granules. When the water boils again, stir in the coconut milk and gently lower the meatballs into the liquid. Simmer over medium-high heat until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce has reduced and its flavor intensified, about 30 minutes. 

Remove and discard all the hard herbs. Cut the meatballs into smaller pieces and serve along with the sauce over rice.

Adapted with permission from Indo Dutch Kitchen Secrets: Stories & Favorite Family Recipes from Stroopwafel to Rijsttafel by Jeff Keasberry, copyright © 2017. Published by Mascot Books.