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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Ugandan fried pork with all the trimmings

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The pork joint in Kabale

Pork is a big deal in Uganda. Every trading centre and town has at least one ‘pork joint’, a place to go with friends for beers, fried pork and all the sides and it’s not uncommon to see whole ears, snouts or just the face of a pig being roasted and sold by street vendors on the side of the road. One town we stayed in you could hear the chilling squeals of pigs being slaughtered at the same time every day. The pork joints look vibrant, sociable, smoky and delicious, so when Boaz, a guy we had met via two Auzzie girls in Kampala, offers to take us to his favourite local pork joint I jump at the chance. I’ve only a week left in Uganda and don’t want to leave before eating at one of these bad boys.

The place we head to is the ‘Kekube International Pork Centre’, ran by a woman called Caroline with the help of her five children. It’s Boaz’ favourite because “the spice mix is better than other joints in town and the pork is fresh”. Pleasing my Western sensibilities, it also comes with a large array of vegetables – salads, cooked cabbage, and potatoes and matooke which are cooked in pork fat. Once again, I go behind the scenes to the kitchen and find out the recipe. This is a rib-sticker of a feast best enjoyed with plenty of friends and cold beers.

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Boaz getting excited about the porky feast!
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Some of Caroline’s children who helped out at the pork joint

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Eating meat out is a new thing for Boaz and something reserved for when he’s working in Kabale town. Growing up, in the village outside of town, his family only ate meat about three times a year – always at Christmas and when his father or someone else in the village slaughtered an animal and the whole community would join in the feasting. Meat days were special and a good opportunity for his parents to make them work harder in anticipation of the meal at the end of it, “no meat until you collect the firewood”, the African version of “no telly until you’ve finished your supper”, I suppose.

There is one day from Boaz’ childhood he remembers particularly well, the day his sister’s boyfriend came over to ask for her hand in marriage and negotiate the bridal price. In Ugandan culture dowries are still a thing, once the amount has been agreed between the bride’s parents and husband-to-be a date is set for when the goods will be delivered, this is known as the ‘Introduction’; only after the Introduction can the marriage take place. Often, the bridal price is so large that it takes the man a long time to save enough money. One man I spoke to bought his wife for 24 crates of beer, 24 crates of soda, four cows and eight sacks of maize flour, it took him so long to acquire that they already had two children by the time he married his wife. Similarly, Boaz’s sister was also already pregnant and she and her boyfriend were keen to be married soon.

As tradition dictates, it is down to the woman’s family to lay on a feast for the husband-to-be and the ensuing negotiations. Boaz, only 14 at the time, remembers the excitement and sense of occasion in his home at the time: animals had been slaughtered and were roasting, frying and stewing in various pots and fires in the kitchen and backyard; jerrycans of ‘Bushera’ – a beer made from sorghum – had been brewed; posho, matooke, sweet potato, irish potatoes and beans, were being boiled, mashed and mingled; and special, rare dishes of vegetables and fruit were also being prepared. Boaz had never been exposed to such a cornucopia of food and drink, “all around me there was every type of food” he remembers “I had to eat and drink it all, not one bit managed to leave the kitchen without me trying it first”. The excitement and alcohol were so great for 14 year old Boaz that by the time his father asked him to go herd the cattle that afternoon, he took himself off to the neighbours loo beforehand, but fell asleep in it! Boaz was M.I.A for hours and it fell to his neighbour to bring in the cattle.

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Cass and I stayed with Boaz’ family in his village on the hills overlooking Lake Bunyonyi
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His mother (left) prepared a delicious Sunday lunch for us, which we enjoyed with his brothers
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His sister has a 22 year old son and another baby girl (pictured), but never married
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Boaz’ gradnfather

Despite Boaz’ “shameful” behaviour, a bridal price was agreed and a date set for three months hence when the boyfriend would bring over the booty. Tragically, the wedding never took place, the boyfriend caught a kidney infection only two months afterwards and died that Christmas. Boaz’ sister gave birth to a boy who never got to meet his father and now, more than 22 years’ later his sister is still unmarried.

Now grown up, and only slightly more able to handle his drink, Boaz eats meat much more regularly. Living with his brother in town, they and friends will often go to the pork joint on a Friday night then out to Mist Bar for a boogie. Sometimes they go after beers – “no more than three though”.

The recipe below is the pork we had at ‘International Pork Joint’. I’ve also added another type of pork we had at the Kaluya’s, you can choose which, or all three method you want to do.

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Recipe for fried pork with all the sides

Serves 6

Ingredients

4kg pork ribs

8 tomatoes

2 onions

Stock cube

Skewers

1 garlic bulb

Palm sized chunk of root ginger

5 chillies

For the sides:

1 green cabbage

2 tomatoes

2 red onions

4 medium potatoes

4 matooke

Lots of pork fat or other cooking oil

Method

Firstly, make sure the pork ribs are cut into bite-size and skewerable-size pieces. Ask the butcher to do this.

For the deep-fried pork: pulverise the garlic, ginger and chillies together in a pestle and mortar, or using the end of a rolling pin. Add salt and a little oil then using your hands rub the mixture into the pork making sure the meat is also covered with the marinade. Cover and leave to marinade for at least 3 hours. Fill a medium-sized saucepan with cooking oil and heat. Once it is sizzling add the pork in batches and fry until very dark brown and crispy.

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Fried pork

For the fried pork: Place a large saucepan over high heat and add a little oil. Once sizzling add the pork and fry for a couple of minutes. Add roughly chopped tomatoes, onions, stock cube and salt and fry together for a further 10 minutes. Use a spatula to encourage the tomatoes to break up and create a paste in the pan.

For the roasted pork: Season the pork pieces and put onto skewers. Cook over hot coals, BBQ or in the oven.

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For the sides: Using the same oil used to deep-fry the pork, place the potatoes and matooke (whole and unpeeled) into the pan and allow them to cook on a high heat  until cooked. The potatoes will take about 10 minutes but the matooke will need a little longer. To encourage the matooke to cook, split the skin of the banana from end to end.

Shred the cabbage and finely slice the tomatoes and onions. Mix together with a little salt and some lemon.

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Matooke cooks in the fat until soft
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Shredded cabbage

(Authentic) serving suggestion: Place the pork, potatoes, matooke and cabbage on a large sharing platter and eat communally with your hands. Drinking a nice cold beer at the same time is a must, if you can get your hands on ‘Club’, ‘Nile Special’ or ‘Bell’ beers then even better.

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