Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Plateful of Tanzania

You would think that by now after having cooked breakfast from every country on earth and supper from quite a few I would not be quite such a chicken. I mean, if tens or hundreds of thousands of people eat a dish on a daily basis, how bad can it be? I tell myself this for every meal that I prepare, and then I am always happily surprised with a whole new world of flavors that get introduced to my mouth.

My life of pasta and broccoli for every meal will never be the same again.

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Tonight's adventure took me to Tanzania. My family sponsors a little girl in Tanzania through Compassion, so I was excited to get a glimpse of her culture. One neat fact that I learned was that Tanzania was called United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar after it was first formed. That's a mouthful, isn't it?

Tanzania is well known for being the home of Mount Kilimanjaro and the northern part of the Serengeti. What more could you ask for? Huge mountains, amazing wildlife, and some delicious food. Book the next plane ticket to Dodoma (the capital) for me!

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My Tanzanian meal consisted of ugali, the national dish and staple; maharagwe, a bean stew; and this creamy spinach dish called mchicha. I was a little leery about all the spinach (I'm normally not much of a fan.), but I scarfed this stuff down. The coconut milk makes the dish thick and creamy. and the peanuts give it a nice crunch. A kick of hot pepper spices it up, a nice addition in my opinion.


Mchicha
serves 4
1-12 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
½ onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp hot chili pepper, finely chopped
dash of cayenne pepper powder
¼ cup peanuts, chopped
1 tbsp butter or oil
½ cup coconut milk
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion, chili pepper, and peanuts. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and seasonings, cooking for another 3 minutes. Stir often. Finally, pour in the coconut milk. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for another 3 minutes.

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The bean stew was a beautiful contrast of yellow from the turmeric and red from the kidney beans. It's a little spicy, be warned, but the coconut milk helps to calm it down. I chose to make mine a little dry, but feel free to leave yours a little soupier by not cooking it quite so long.

Maharagwe
serves 3-4
1-15 ounce can red kidney beans
1 ½ cups coconut milk
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1-2 hot chili peppers, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp oil or butter
1 tsp ground turmeric
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion, chili pepper, and garlic. Cook until the onion and chili peppers are golden, about 8 minutes. Stir in the seasonings, coconut milk, and beans. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for another 15 minutes until the stew has reached your desired consistency.


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Last of all comes the only part of the meal that I thought I would enjoy. (Thankfully I was very wrong.) Ugali is Tanzania's national dish and an important staple food. It is basically grits formed into a ball and pinched off to eat with stews and soups. If you think the maharagwe is a bit spicy, a pinch of ugali does a good job to cut the heat.
 
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Ugali
serves 4
1 ½ cups white cornmeal
3 cups water
dash of salt

Bring the water to a boil in a small pot. Quickly whisk in the cornmeal until there are no more lumps. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the ugali has a thick consistency and pulls away from the sides of the pot, form it into a ball with wet hands to serve.

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Overall, I loved everything about the Tanzanian meal. I had made ugali before and thought it would be my favorite part of the meal. I was taken by surprise when the ugali was good, but actually my least favorite component. Tonight was a clean plate night!

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