Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Traditional Malawian Meal

I have previously acknowledged that my time living overseas, in one of the poorest and most disadvantaged nations, has influenced the way I think about food. Admittedly, these many years later, I no longer give this as much thought as I once did. However, I was asked to give a lecture on global issues for a colleague's class this week. I draw upon those experiences to illustrate the stark differences in how Americans live from most other people in the world. One significant difference is in diet.

Malawians, like people in most cultures, have a staple, starchy food: nsima. Nsima is simply boiled corn flour. There are two main styles based on the type of flour used. Nsima made with highly hand-processed flour, called ufa woyera, is bright white and contains almost no nutrients. Ufa ngaiwa is less processed and retains its food value, but results in nsima that is more roughly textured and brownish/yellowish in color. These characteristics make it less desirable for many Malawians.

The typical Malawian diet is comprised of nsima (or a thinner, porridge made from the same flour) and ndiwo. "Ndi" functions as "and" in Chichewa, the main language in Malawi. So, ndiwo could be thought to mean the food you have in addition to nsima. We might refer to it as "relish." Ndiwo can be made of many things: meat, vegetables, eggs, etc. Often it is boiled leaves or beans.

Here is a set of traditional, simple dishes that would appear across separate meals rather than in one sitting like we've done.

The Method (Nsima)

  • 1 C corn meal (this is a fine substitute, although your end result will be bright yellow or white, if you can find white meal)
  • 2-3 C water, lukewarm
  1. Use a non-stick pot and good wooden spoon
  2. Stir a small amount of the corn meal into the lukewarm water. Avoid lumps!
  3. Bring water to a boil and slowly add the remaining corn meal. Stir constantly.
  4. Continue stirring as the mixture thickens. 
  5. After 4-5 minutes, it will suddenly become very thick.
  6. Stop cooking when your spoon can stand upright in the nsima without falling.
  7. Cover and allow to cool slightly. (You're going to eat this with your bare fingers.)
The Method (Ndiwo: Greens)
Malawians eat many different types of leaves - some that are familiar to us here in the U.S. You can use any greens that you enjoy.
  • large bunch of greens, chopped (I used collards)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/4 C roasted, unsalted peanuts (ground; I used my coffee grinder)
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • oil
  • Salt
  1. Saute the onions in the oil over medium-high heat until they soften.
  2. Add the diced tomato and ground peanuts. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add the greens.
  4. Cook the greens until they are soft (15-20 minutes). You'll have to add some water, but you want the greens to remain fairly dry and sticky, not soupy.
  5. Season with salt.
The Method (Ndiwo: Beans)
Beans are also a staple food and a primary protein source. There are many varieties, too. Here I made use of canned kidney beans, just to keep things simple.

  • 1 can red kidney beans
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • oil (is this ingredient list familiar - the ubiquitous four items in Malawian cooking: oil, salt, tomato, and onion)
  • salt
  1. Saute onion in the oil over medium-high heat until they soften.
  2. Add the diced tomato and salt. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add the beans. 
  4. Cook until heated through.
The Results
This is an easy-to-prepare meal - and fairly healthy, too. We added pickled and scrambled eggs to the plate. 

You eat using one hand. Usually, your right. Pinch off a piece of nsima (hopefully, you haven't let it get cold). Then dimple it with your thumb to create a pocket to hold some of the ndiwo. Scoop it into your mouth. 

I ate many, many meals similar to this. But I'm thankful to have other options now. I hope you'll give it a try.

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Tejal said...

Hey Jim, Thanks for leaving such wonderful comment on my blog..

As for using the cream in the mushroom can use regular cream, or half and half..depending on how rich and sinful you want it..

Too much of good things inevitably go to the wrong places :)

Kudya Bwino Bwino (Eating Well) © 2009