This recipe is courtesy of Aminatha, a Congolese refugee who teaches cookery classes at the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre (NWC) in Kigali. We learnt several recipes in the class, but the one I want to share with you is fried cabbage. It may sound like a boring one, but the cabbage in this part of the world is goooood. It’s common in Uganda and Kenya and always surprisingly moreish, the steamed cabbage buttery and soft, with just the right amount of crunch. Like most of the dishes in this region it’s also simple, one-pot cooking. To jump straight to the recipe follow the link.
Aminatha came to Rwanda 1998 in when another wave of fighting broke out in the Congo as part of the ongoing ‘Africa World War’. She was 30 at the time and had a three-year-old son called Jean-Claude. Life before in the Congo had been difficult, her father died when she was two and Aminatha spent most of her childhood moving from friend’s house to friend’s house in search of a place to stay, she didn’t have her own home to go to and never went to school.
Despite not having an education, Aminatha loved cooking and earned money as a domestic worker first in the Congo and then in Rwanda. After 10 years working as a house-maid she joined the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre as a cleaner. Aminatha then learnt to read and write at the literacy classes NWC runs and soon afterwards started helping out as an assistant in the office, coordinating the community tours the women’s centre operates.
Ten years later, Aminatha is still involved with NWC, selling her own crafts, helping out in the office and also running their cookery courses. Life isn’t perfect, but thanks to the support of NWC she is able to earn a living and has even started saving a little money. Her dream is that one day she will be able to sell Congolese fabric in Kigali.
The Nyamirambo Women’s Centre was set up by a group of 18 girlfriends who wanted to help each other earn an income, learn skills and develop a community that had been devastated by the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis. To begin with they went to each other’s home to make crafts that they could sell. Slowly, the women’s group became more established and they were able to offer literacy classes for other women, then computer classes, and now they even have a library for the children in the community. The centre is a well-established hive of activity, the workshop full of women making their own crafts and colourful fabrics which are then sold in the shop next door. Community tours, cookery lessons and basket weaving lessons are also run through the centre and by people from the community – including Aminatha’s now grown-up son, Jean-Claude.
East African Cabbage mix
1 cabbage, shredded
3 onions, finely sliced
2 carrots, cut into small cubes
3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 stock cube
Wash and prepare the beans, cabbage, onions, carrots and tomatoes
In a big pot add the oil and beans and cook on high heat until they are soft
Add the cabbage, onions, carrots and tomatoes to the pot, stir and continue to cook for a short while. Add seasoning and the stock cube.
Turn the heat down a touch so that the vegetable don’t all burn, put the lid on and leave everything to cook together for 30 – 45 minutes. Check on the vegetables occasionally and stir every now and then.
Best eaten straight away, but perfectly good warmed up the next day too. In Rwanda they serve it alongside a couple of other vegetable dishes and usually rice, sweet potatoes, ‘irish’ potatoes, cassava or ugali.
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It may not seem like an obvious place for it, but the street food scene in Uganda is live and kicking. Town centres, bus stations and roadsides are full of people selling chapatis, grilled chicken, maize and a glorious bounty of fruit and vegetables – avocadoes bigger than your hand or seven different types of mango. Young men wander the streets with buckets of mendazi, sambusa and boiled eggs, and women sell sim-sim (as sesame biscuit), peanuts and fried maize by the bag.
If you need something heartier, behind every market is a treasure trove of very cheap, local restaurants. If you’re in Kampala then the Kamwokwa Market close to Fat Cat Backpackers is a good place to start. Women have several pots full of posho, matooke katogo, beans, meat stew or g-nuts with fish, all boiling away on charcoal stoves whilst workers sit at the communal table and benches eating their food. Wash it down with a glass of fresh cocktail juice and you will be very satisfied.
Here is a list of my favourite street eats from Uganda, and a rough cost for them. 1000 UGX is about 20p, or 27 cents.
Chapatis are eaten all over East Africa and Uganda is no exception. In every town and on every roadside you can find men rolling out and frying chapatis from the early hours. They are pretty filling and cost around 500 UGX. Best eaten fresh.
Whilst chapatis can be found all over the region, only Uganda has the unique ‘Rolex’ – an omelette (usually with tomato and cabbage) rolled up in a chapati and eaten like a wrap. The snack is such a symbol that the country even has its own annual Rolex Festival. Greasy, but fills a hole at the end of the night. Around 1500 UGX
All over Uganda there are local authority owned ‘service stations’ run by local men and women. Chicken legs are grilled over hot coals and sold by the hundreds every day. A more expensive snack at 2500 UGX, but if you want cheaper then they also sell chicken gizzards.
Also sold at the service stations are these ‘genjo’ bananas, which are grilled. You can also buy grilled cassava and tastes great with a bit of salt or piri piri powdered over it. 200-500 UGX
Pork joints are the place to go for a proper sit down meal (2kgs pork with sides cost 25000 UGX) but if you want something on the fly (and aren’t picky about which part of the pig you’re eating) then head to the road-side grillers for a skewer at about 600 UGX.
Maize, sold by women in towns, behind markets and along the roadside. They are much drier and less sweet than the corn of the cobs in the UK, but a relatively filling and healthy option. 500 UGX
EGGS! Young men carry around buckets full of boiled eggs for 100 UGX each. They helpfully wait whilst you peel your egg and add some salt or spicy pepper. You’re most likely to find them at bus and taxi stations or walking round the markets.
Sambusa – a version of the Indian ‘samosa’ and found in many parts of East Africa. The Ugandan sambusas mostly come in two varieties 1) mince meat and a bit of spice 2) cow peas and onions. Between 200 – 500 UGX.
Mendazi, again, found in most East African countries and are a deep-fried sweet dough ball. They’re commonly a morning snack and mostly sold around the markets and bus stations for between 200 – 500 UGX.
Lots of little chai shops are open only in the morning serving African tea – a sweet milky tea made with ginger and other spices. Most chai stands will also have boiled eggs, mendazi and sambusa for sale on the counter.
‘Cocktail juice’ is for sale in most local restaurants and cafes and is usually a mix of two of the following – passion fruit, orange or pineapple. If they’re making it fresh then (if you want) ask them not to add sugar. 1000 UGX
These don’t need much introduction, but well worth a mention as the pineapples in Uganda are the best pineapples I have ever tasted in my life. Men push bikes like these around the town all day, and are relatively easy to spot, but if not then head to the market. Range between 1000 and 2000 UGX depending on size.
Jack fruits are weird, smelly, sticky alien fruits that completely won me over (because of all the above). The fruit itself tastes astonishingly like candy. They are notoriously sticky so if you don’t want to deal with the fallout then you can buy pre-prepared bags of the fruit and eat it daintily with a cocktail stick. Not cheap though, about 1000 UGX for a small bag.
You can get hearty and cheap meals like this for 1000 – 2500 UGX in most local food places. Posho and beans (pictured), katogo, goat stew, g-nuts and fish usually frequent the menus.
If you want to get pissed on the cheap then head to a local bar for ‘bushera’ a home-brewed beer made from fermented sorghum. It’s also confusingly called porridge, which is essentially what it is. It’s also very filling, so if you want something lighter try the banana beer, made from matooke. Bushera is 500 UGX for 1 litre and Banana Beer more like 600 UGX. If you really like it, a drinks company has now started selling it in supermarkets.
A common breakfast in Uganda is sweetened maize porridge with ‘pancakes’ that are made from millet flour and bananas. The pancakes can be bought separately from markets.
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This blog is about how a chance encounter with a banana seller and some bold questioning led to an unforgettable week staying with a family of Ugandan farmers and a fish stew to die for. Read on for the story and recipe.
I’m on the hunt for a guesthouse in a small town outside of Jinja when two mamas selling bananas from bowls delicately balanced on their heads approach, “would you like to buy some bananas?” one of them asks. I’m immediately struck by how English she sounds. We already had bananas, so I tell her so, “Ah, you’re English!” the woman exclaims “whereabouts are you from?”, conversation ensues, and it turns out that the woman, Florence, lived in London for eight years. I feel reassured by her and before I know it the words “do you have a spare room?” are out my mouth. “I don’t, but let us go ask Mama”, so off we walk, back to the main street until we reach a large compound with gates.
Walking round to the back of the compound I see a man carving up a ginormous jack fruit and handing round pieces to the various people sitting around on plastic chairs or stretched out lazily on the grass. Gospel music is blaring out from a radio on an old man’s lap and there are several babies tottering around from adult to adult. Bushels of beans are spread out across the courtyard drying in the sun and pieces of cassava are scattered around waiting to be ground into flour later. In the middle is ‘Mama’, dressed in a colourful Ugandan dress with matching headpiece and sitting on a chair in the shade of an orange tree.
Cass and I sit down next to Mama Kaluya as Florence explains to her that we are volunteering in the area and looking for a place to stay. Evident by the amount of people Mama has already taken in to her home and the added fact that we are ‘mzungus’ (whites), which embarrassingly somehow gives us automatic royalty status, I’m feeling optimistic about our chances. Luckily, I’m right and Mama takes no time at all in agreeing to have us. It’s arranged that we will be back the following morning to drop off our bags on the way to work and will stay for the following week.
Turns out asking Florence if she had a spare room was one of the best moves of my trip so far. The Kaluyas are a wealthy farming family with several large patches of land spanning hundreds of kilometres and going back several generations; some of their 40 acres “gardens” as far as 80 kms away. Mr Kaluya started as an accountant, but by his early 50’s had given it up as he was “making more money from cows” than book-keeping. Now 92, Mr Kaluya spends his days listening to the radio and work is divided up between Mama and her six children, their days spent checking up on various pieces of land and supervising work being carried out. Everyone is actively involved, even “the pharmacist” son who lives in the UK phones every few days to check up on his goats and eucalyptus.
Each evening a fraction of the food produced on Kaluya land is brought back to the compound where it is either dried, ground, stored, eaten, killed, sold or cooked. The home is constantly busy, farm vehicles are being unloaded or repaired out the front, thrashing and drying in the back yard, and visitors coming and going. In the evening the conversation is about how well the soya is doing, or how to deal with a cow’s skin disease.
At the centre of it all is Mama, who when not out inspecting land is in her chair in the back garden overseeing the whole shooting match. Mama knows everything going on and one word from her absolutely must be obeyed. When we go to church on the Sunday, Mama is greeted by everyone and sits pride of place on the front pew, the 300 strong congregation behind. Spending time with Mama is a bit like being with some benevolent mafia matriarch.
For eight days Cass and I were welcomed into the Kaluya’s family home and for eight days we ate like Henry VIII, gorging ourselves on the plethora of home-cooked dishes and food that was constantly available and being served up. Oranges, avocadoes, jack-fruit and bananas were always available, great hunks of watermelon and pineapples would be carved up and shared round in the late afternoon, and mangoes would be delivered from the nearest farm by the bucket load. One day I ate five in a row. They soon realised I was into food and relished it, each day cooking a different Ugandan dish: ‘g-nut’ (peanuts) sauce, mzungu drink, fresh steamed milk with cinnamon, matooke, cassava, sweet potatoes, home-made chapati, cow pea stew, katogo, posho. On our last night we had a ‘Ugandan BBQ’ with the best pork I think I have ever eaten. The household was an absolute gold-mine for trying and learning about honest, home-cooked Ugandan food.
One Sunday after church the whole family gathered in the back garden for a particularly delicious meal of spiced fish and rice with a side of aubergine and peanuts. As we sat around in the garden, eating the food from our laps and sipping on a cold beer, I had one of those ‘life is amazing’ moments and made a pact with myself to talk to strangers more, as the saying goes ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’.
The fish used in the dish was ‘yellow fish’ which as far as I can tell is only found in Africa. But fear not! This dish would work well with cod, huss or any other fish robust enough to not fall apart after 45 minutes of stewing.
Whilst we were with the Kaluya’s we helped them create a profile on Home Stay so they can take in more visitors. So if you’re in or thinking about travelling to Uganda, why not go and stay with them too?!
Spiced fish stew with aubergine and peanut sauce
50 ml vegetable oil
2 large sticks of cinnamon
6 large tomatoes
7 garlic cloves
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp cloves
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 stock cube
2 kg fish cut into 12 pieces
1 kg baby aubergines
1 tbsp curry powder
1.5 litres water
This is all cooked on a high heat and requires constant stirring at the beginning, so get ahead of the game and start by preparing your veggies.
Peel and crush the garlic cloves using the end of a rolling pin or a pestle and mortar, don’t use a garlic crusher. Peel, half and thinly slice the onions and roughly dice the tomatoes.
Place a large heavy bottomed saucepan or casserole dish on high heat and add the oil. Once the oil begins to steam add the cinnamon sticks and stir for 1 minute or until the cinnamon has released its flavour and you can smell the lovely aroma.
Next add the onions to the cinnamon oil and continue to cook on a high heat until the onions are a deep golden brown. Don’t be afraid if they are cooking faster than usual, they’re meant to have some crisp (see photo below). Add the bashed garlic cloves and tomatoes and cook everything together for a further minute, still stirring.
Add cloves, cumin seeds and crumbled stock cube to the saucepan. Stir a little more then using the end of a rolling pin or the back of a spoon, smoosh everything in the pan so it becomes more like a paste. Continue to stir everything together for another couple of minutes.
Place your pieces of fish into the saucepan, include any bones and other bits as this will improve the flavour. Add just enough water to cover the fish then add the ground cinnamon and some salt. Give everything one final, gentle stir.
Keeping the heat high, bring the whole pot to the boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cover. Leave to simmer away gently on the heat for about 45 mins to 1 hour, or until the fish is cooked. Take care not to disturb the fish whilst it’s cooking and break up the pieces.
Whilst the fish is gently bubbling away make the sauce. Chop the aubergine up into small pieces and place into a pan of briskly boiling unsalted water. Cook until they are soft then drain the pan, putting the cooking liquid to one side.
Blitz the peanuts in a blender until a smooth paste. Transfer the peanuts into a bowl then using some of the aubergine water work the peanuts into a looser mixture.
Add the peanut mixture, more aubergine water and curry powder to the aubergines and bring the while mixture to a gentle simmer. Depending on how thick you want the sauce you can do two things now: add more water and/or mash down the aubergine pieces into the sauce. It’s completely up to you how thick or saucy you want this to be and whether you would rather your aubergines in there or have them disguised amongst the peanuts. Taste the sauce and season as necessary
Serve the fish stew with some steamed rice. The Kaluyas had the peanut sauce dolloped on top of the fish stew, but you could also serve it as a side dish.
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At Kibebe Primary School and almost every other primary school in Uganda, ‘posho and beans’ is the lunchtime meal, eaten by everyone, every day of the week, for as long as anyone can remember. Posho is a Ugandan staple, made by ‘mingling’ maize flour with water until it becomes something that resembles a solid lump of mashed potato. It may not sound appealing, but when eaten with a delicious dish of spiced, stewed beans it becomes something else.
I’m here at the school helping a group to build a water-tank, made using a special interlocking brick that is more sustainable than the ordinary kiln-fired ones. The builders I’m working with have gone through a special training programme thanks to Haileybury Youth Trust (HYT) – young men are trained up to use this sustainable construction method and once graduated are employed to carry out community projects, it’s a win-win-win situation. HYT won an Ashden Award last year, which is how I came to hear about them, and how I eventually wind up on site in a hard hat and high vis, mixing cement, eating posho and beans with my hands and trying in every way possible not to stick out like a white woman on a construction site in Uganda.
There are eight guys in total building the water tank, all aged between 19 and 25 and all very kind and polite (I’ve asked them several times to stop calling me ‘Madam Chloe’). Dennis 1 is the trainer, then there is Erisa who according to Dennis 2 is “the real boss, because he’s built the most water-tanks”. Emma 1 is the quietest, Eric and Ernest are brothers, Mbalak is the only Muslim and finally there’s Emma 2, who thinks I’m a devil worshipper because I told him I don’t believe in God.
The guys live on site whilst they carry out the project then when it’s done move onto the next. They’ve been together now for five and a half months and the group have bonded, evident by the amount of in-jokes, constant ribbing of Emma 2, who “hates cooking”, when it’s his turn to cook, or Mbalak for his speech impediment. The monotony of the days are starting to wear them down and all of the men complain to me about how bored they are. This school “is the worst”, says Erisa because “it’s miles away from the nearest town and has no electricity”; once work is finished there is nothing to do apart from play football. Sometimes they go back to their families on the weekend, 19 year-old Ernest has a three month old baby at home, but most of them just stay on site.
They’re not completely alone though as some teachers also live on site during term-time. Betty teaches P3 (8-11 years old) and lives in a little room at the school along with three of her five children. Up until four years’ ago she was living in Entebbe, an attractive city outside of Kampala, but her husband left them all for another woman so she was forced to leave and find somewhere else to live. I spend one lunch-break sitting with Betty and looking through photos of her past life in Entebbe – Betty freshly coiffured and colourfully dressed at various parties or family portraits on days out. The photos seem like a lifetime away.
Cooking at Kibebe is done on an open fire in a small hut next to where the water tank is being built. The guys take it in turns to cook and throughout the day various teachers also take a break from class to prepare themselves some food. Astonishingly to me, children also use the hut to cook food for themselves or the teachers. There is no official school cook, so when it comes to lunch the children have to fend for themselves. Everyone is cooking posho and beans, occasionally maize is toasted on open fires by the younger children.
The recipe below uses dried beans, but canned beans would work just as well. The beans most widely used in Ugandan cooking are the ‘common beans’ (google image it), but again, other types of beans would be just as nice.
Recipe for Posho and Beans
For the beans:
400 grams dried ‘common’ beans
1 large onion
1 large tomato
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon dried ginger
½ teaspoon cumin powder
For the posho:
1.2 litres water
1kg maize flour
For the beans:
Place the beans in a pan and cover with cold water, leave to soak overnight or for at least six hours.
Drain the beans, then add just enough clean water to cover the beans. Put the beans on a hob and leave to boil for 1 and ½ hours.
Whilst the beans are cooking, chop your tomato and onion. Once beans are done remove from the hob and leave to one side
In a new saucepan add a good glug of oil. Add the onions and cook on high heat until beginning to brown. Next add the tomatoes and spices and continue to cook for two minutes
Add the entire contents of the bean saucepan to the onions and tomatoes and stir everything together. Check the seasoning. Let the mixture cook for 10 minutes on a lower heat. Keep stirring to make sure the beans don’t stick.
For the posho:
Heat the water in a pan until it’s just beginning to boil. Gradually pour in the maize, ‘mingling’ (mixing) all the time.
Keep stirring the mixture, adding more maize flour in until the mixture is thicker than mashed potato. It will be hard work to mingle the mixture but keep going! Squash lumps that form with the back of your wooden spoon to ensure an even mixture at the end.
Cook for 5 minutes, whilst still stirring.
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