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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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.
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.
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.
Recipe for fried pork with all the sides
4kg pork ribs
1 garlic bulb
Palm sized chunk of root ginger
For the sides:
1 green cabbage
2 red onions
4 medium potatoes
Lots of pork fat or other cooking oil
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.
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.
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.
(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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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 matookekatogo 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.
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.
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.
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.
Flo’s Matooke Katogo
24 matooke bananas
15 – 20 baby aubergines
2 medium onions
3 medium tomatoes
1 stock cube
(optional) 2 avocados
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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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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