Aminatha’s East African Cabbage

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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.

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Some of the other ingredients used on the day. Maggi stock cubes are used in absolutely everything in this part of the world. Aminatha put an average of 7 into most of the dishes we cooked (makes the food a bit too salty in my opinion)

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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.

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Inside the workshop at NWC
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NWC’s colourful shop

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

Serves 4

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The finished article

Ingredients

Oil

1 cabbage, shredded

3 onions, finely sliced

2 carrots, cut into small cubes

3 tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 stock cube

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Method

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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The final Rwandan spread. On the far left is the cabbage, clockwise from top we then have fried potatoes in tomato sauce, sweet potatoes, matooke katogo, green beans, rice, dodo with peanut sauce and beans.

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Flo’s recipe for Ugandan Matooke Katogo

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Matooke katogo with baby aubergines

Florence was responsible for hooking us up with our stay at the Kaluyas. Florence is a formidable woman and has had an extraordinary life of ups and downs, from being a Councillor in the Jinja sub-county, to living in a refugee camp in Sao Paulo. Each morning she would make us the most amazing traditional Ugandan breakfast of Matooke Katogo. Matooke is a green savoury banana that is eaten all over Uganda (peeling them is also somewhat of a challenge, but there’s plenty of help online). The word katogo literally means ‘mixed’, and each morning Flo would prepare us matooke katogo with different variations, baby aubergines, g-nut sauce, beans, carrots and tomatoes. She would always serve it with a fresh avocado picked that morning from her garden.

The eldest of the six Kaluya children, with two children of her own and six grandchildren, Florence is fast approaching something of matriarch figure like her own Mama. To use the cliché, she’s a big character, has a booming voice and a smile that starts from the eyes and lights up her whole face. Accustomed to a life with house-staff and five younger siblings, she has a bossiness that borders on scary. When a parking attendant tried to charge us $50 to enter because of the mzungus in the car, Flo angrily ripped into him letting him know she was a local councillor and there wouldn’t be a car park at all without her. She hadn’t in fact been a Councillor since the 90’s and had had nothing to do with the car park, but the attendant knew better than to argue and let us in for just $5, such was the respect she commanded in the community.

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Flo checking up on her maize

 

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Flo with the girls who help her harvest the maize and soya

Living in London from 2002 to 2005 Flo got her kids into school and started training as a social worker. Life was made easier by the large African population and the relative ease at which Ugandan food could be found in Lewisham and Catford markets. She came round to European food, some of which she still has a soft spot for. As a thank you for the hospitality we’d been shown Cass and I asked if we could cook supper one evening, to which Flo instinctively blurted out “lasagne!”. It was one of her fondest food memories from her time in England and Brazil, but as few Ugandan households have ovens, its not commonly seen on kitchen tables. Turns out making a decent béchamel sauce on a charcoal stove with margarine and UHT milk is a challenge, but a lasagne we made, and the whole family loved it especially Flo. Flo would probably still be in the UK now had she not suddenly received the news that her husband was still alive.

General William Kon Bior had been fighting for independence in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Their guerrilla tactics meant he spent long periods in hiding and Flo, having not heard from him for 15 years had assumed the worst. When news broke that the Civil War between Sudan and South Sudan was over, Flo contacted and old friend in the Ugandan Government to find what may have happened to her husband. Discovering he was indeed alive and living with his family Flo spoke to her husband on the phone for the first time in 15 years and made the decision to move to South Sudan so her children could properly get to know their father.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out in South Sudan; the General’s sisters were jealous and convinced that Flo was there to take their brother’s money, and thus set on making life very difficult for them. Flo tried to go back to the UK but “by then the whole system had changed” and she wasn’t allowed entry. Desperately in need of money for her son’s university tuition, when a close friend suggested Brazil as a place where they could earn it, she packed her bags again, and left for South America.

Brazil “was very hard” from the start, living in a Sao Paulo refugee camp run by a group of racist nuns, experiencing hatred from black Brazilians who accused her African forefathers of selling native Brazilians as slaves, and receiving further racist abuse from the Latino Brazilians. However, life there regained its purpose when working as an office cleaner, she was able to save enough money to move into rented accommodation, and finally start sending money back for her son’s university fees.

Complications from a war wound lead to the death of her husband but Flo managed to return to South Sudan for a second time to spend the last few months with him and his family, who had mellowed considerably towards her by then. After his death Flo stayed with his family for another 6 months but soon realised they were starting to rely on her too much. A life of servitude to her late husband’s family flashed before her eyes and whilst there was still time to get out, she left.

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One of her four pigs
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Picking avocadoes in her garden

Now back in her home town for what appears to be the final time Flo has rebuilt her life again. Five minutes’ walk from her parents’ house, Flo lives in a small cottage on a 5-acre plot where she keeps pigs and farms banana, beans, maize, courgettes, sugarcane and everything in between. Plans are afoot for launching a broiler hen hatchery, and she hopes one day she will have enough money to finish the extension to the house.

Sitting in her garden sipping homemade hibiscus wine, munching homegrown peanuts and listening to her life story I realise how much of a survivor she is. The amount of times she’s picked herself back up and changed her situation for herself is inspiring.

 

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Sharing her love for Ugandan cooking

Matooke Katogo is traditionally a breakfast but it’s savoury and delicious and could definitely be eaten for lunch or supper back in the UK. A word of warning! This is Flo’s recipe, so the quantities are Ugandan style (i.e – large!!), you can also check out A Kitchen In Uganda’s recipe for classic matooke katogo.

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Another variation of Katogo, with g-nut sauce and carrots

Flo’s Matooke Katogo

Serves 4

Ingredients

24 matooke bananas

15 – 20 baby aubergines

2 medium onions

3 medium tomatoes

1 stock cube

(optional) 2 avocados

Method

Peel the bananas, remove stalks from the aubergines and slice in half. Place aubergines and banana in a large pot and add enough water to cover. Bring the water to a boil then simmer with lid on for 15 minutes

While that is simmering away roughly chop the tomatoes and finely chop the onions. Add tomatoes, onions and stock to the pot and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes. Try not to stir the dish too much as this will break up the bananas and aubergines.

Add salt then leave to simmer for another 5 minutes. When the banana is soft and a knife easily passes through you know the dish is ready.

Take off the heat and serve immediately with drizzle of olive oil over the top and sliced avocados on the side.

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Recipe for Ugandan spiced fish stew with peanut and aubergine sauce

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The Kaluyah’s – Back row (l-r): Florence, Mr Kaluyah, Bosco,                                                                      Middle row: Matilda, Anette, Florence, Nina, Mama                                Sitting: Angela, Patrick, Keira

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.

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Mama holding court and watching over proceedings in the constant hive of activity that was the compound yard.

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.

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Mr Kaluyah – always wearing a smile and never far from his radio.

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.

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The incredible wood fired stove that alongside several smaller portable charcoal stoves, is used to create delicious Ugandan fare.

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

Serves 12

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Ingredients

50 ml vegetable oil

2 large sticks of cinnamon

3 onions

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

Water

1 kg baby aubergines

500g peanuts

1 tbsp curry powder

1.5 litres water

 

Method

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.

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The onions cooking on high heat
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smooshing everything down to form a paste

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.

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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.

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Aubergine and ground peanuts

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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Posho and Beans

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Eric, Emma 2, Erisa, Ernest and Dennis 2 enjoying a well deserved break

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.

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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.

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Me, trying to fit in.

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.

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Erisa, “the real boss”
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The HYT team at work

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.

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Betty, with her photos

DSC_0016 (2)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.

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Recipe for Posho and Beans

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the beans:

Water

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

Method

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.

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Mbalak serving up lunch

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.

Serve immediately.

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