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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Shadi’s Tahini salad

Shadi in her kitchen

 

This dish comes from a woman called Shadi, who I met during a whistle stop tour of Sudan. Shadi called the dish a salad, but I feel some clarification is needed so that people aren’t misled into thinking this is healthy. In my books, this salad leapfrogs ‘bad salad’ status (when the treat to leaf ratio is 1:1 or greater) and can only really be described as a filthy salad, partly because of the vast quantity of yoghurt and tahini and partly because there’s absolutely no greens involved. Like the so-call Russian salad. I ate this with a bread roll, which is essentially the Sudanese replacement for cutlery. It would work well as a sandwich filler, dip, or dolloped on top of a load of little gem and other crunchy green lettuce.
Bread – the Sudanese answer to cutlery
Travelling to Sudan was never on the agenda; naïvely I had relegated it into the ‘not-safe-to-visit’ list, alongside a handful of other African countries. How wrong I was, turns out Sudan is one of the safest countries in the whole world and the hospitality from the people is unmatched. The more Cass and I spoke to others who had been – about the deserted pyramids, the souks in Khartoum and the friendly locals, the more intrigued we were. As we had time to kill before our volunteering started in Ethiopia, we decided to visit.
Friendly shopkeepers around the gold market in Khartoum

 

Three generations working in the family falafel and shawarma shop, Khartoum

 

A ‘jabana’ (Sudanese coffee) stall in Kassala, near the Eritrean border
My encounter with Shadi is an example of just how welcoming the Sudanese were. After spending a few days in Khartoum it was time to head north where we heard you can camp in the desert close to some Nubian pyramids. All you had to do was find a bus going to the town of Altbara and ask the driver to drop you off halfway as they drive straight past the pyramids. Finding this bus was harder to find in reality and as Cass and I are waiting around trying to flag down the right bus, a woman comes over and starts talking to me. It soon becomes clear she wants me to come to her apartment and have some food and coffee.
The Nubian Pyramids, where we camped for a night

 

Kassala
The woman turns out to be Shadi. Shadi is 43, very short, has a huge smile and judging by the amount of times she was on the phone laughing and gossiping away, evidently has lots of friends. Shadi works for the Government’s National Audit Office, which she is very proud of and her teenage daughter is hoping to become a doctor, which she is even more proud of. They both live on the fourth floor of a two-bed apartment along with her son, husband and sister’s family.
On my first visit I was told that her sister’s family were visiting for holidays, but left wondering how much truth there was in that, they had already been staying for a few months and I saw no sign of her sister. It wasn’t until my second visit when Shadi was henna-ing my hands, that she opened up, telling me her family were originally from the Southern Darfour region in Sudan. They moved to Khartoum one year ago after her mother and sister were both shot by the military. Sadly, her sister’s children living in the second bedroom made a lot more sense.
Shadi’s niece and daughter
It was Shadi’s daughter and niece, under her watchful supervision, who prepared the tahini salad for me, along with a cup of the sweetest coffee I have ever drunk. Another female friend was also up in the living room having some lunch and the small apartment was buzzing with chatter, cooking and laughter. Having spent the previous few days wandering around the vastly male dominated streets of Khartoum, sitting up in the apartment with Sudanese women was a rare privilege and soul soothing. The recipe below is Shadi’s version, but I think this would be nicer if you kept the carrots raw and even chucked in a chopped spring onion or two.
Shadi’s Tahini Salad
Serves 4
Ingredients
3 large potatoes
3 large carrots, grated
350g tahini
350g yoghurt
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
Keeping the skin on, boil the potatoes in a pan of salty water. Halfway through cooking add the carrots to the pan. Once cooked through, drain the water and leave them on the side to cool.
Once cooled, remove the skin from the potatoes and roughly mash them up in a large bowl. Grate the cooled carrots into the same bowl.
Add the tahini, yoghurt, vinegar and salt to the bowl and mix everything together. Season, check the taste and add more of anything else that’s needed.