Wait, so what's this Youngstown born, Irish American gal doing making a Kenyan feast and getting all misty eyed over the dishes? Isn't Kenyan cuisine thin on the ground in NE Ohio and in Ireland? It is, but I was blessed to be able to fall in love with these flavors in Nairobi, Kenya. To make a very long, and very awesome story short...there was a man from Nairobi named Mo Amin, who was one of the most influential photojournalists of the 70s, 80s and early 90s (remember the NBC Nightly News segment in 1984 on the Ethiopian famine that spawned USA For Africa, We Are The World, Live Aid and Band Aid -- that was Mo's footage). There was another man named John from Youngstown, OH, who was one of the pioneers in upper limb prosthetic technology. John also had a curious, adventurous, ginger-haired little girl named Tara. The three of them met due to an ammunitions depot explosion and a stray missile in Ethiopia. Thanks to John's expertise, Mo was able to go back to work doing what he did best, and thanks to Mo, John and his family had their lives changed forever, especially little Tara. Finally in 1995, they got to visit Mo in Nairobi and thus 13 year old Tara's love affair with the flavors of Kenya was born.
There is way more awesomeness to the story, and even more tears because in '96 I lost my friend and mentor when the Ethiopian Airways flight he was on was hijacked and crashed off the Seychelles. Maybe it's solely due to Mo, but despite only spending about a month in Kenya, it has remained a place I will get legitimately homesick for. But there is something magical about that country, and while Mo was hands down the most incredible person I've ever met, I know he's not the sole reason why there are times my heart just aches to be back there. And until I finally sat down to do some serious research on some of my most beloved dishes from my time there, my stomach has been aching for nearly 20 years for those foods! But oh thanks to the magic of some collards, white corn meal, corn, beans, and then a delicious curried beef stew, I got to transport myself and the Mister to Kenya for an evening. And yes, I cried with the very first bite. I'm a total foodie sap.
So since collards have made their way into this week's Crop Share, I give you two of my favorite dishes...sukuma wiki and ugali. There's a reason why "sukuma wiki" is Swahili for "stretch the week" because you will have a mountain of greens...dare I say a Mount Kilimanjaro of greens!
Stewed Collard Greens, Kenyan Style: Sukuma Wiki
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 bundle collard greens, rough chopped
2 cups diced tomatoes
1-2 cups water, chicken or vegetable stock
Salt & pepper to taste
Heat oil over medium high heat in a large saute pan. Add in onions and saute until translucent. Toss in greens, and you'll likely have to do this in stages to allow them to wilt down and make room for the rest. Once greens have wilted down to make enough room, stir in tomatoes and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Add in water or stock, and simmer on low for about an hour. Season with salt & pepper to taste before serving.
To really keep it traditional, serve with ugali (big ball of awesome in the center of the photo below).
The ugali, which is just cooked white corn meal, is the vehicle you use to sop up and scoop up all the loveliness on your plate. Just bring 4 cups of water and 2 teaspoons of salt to a boil, then stir in 2 cups of finely ground white corn meal (if you have trouble finding it, check the Hispanic food section of your grocery or head to a Hispanic market, as white while corn meal/masa for arepas is exactly what you'll need). Reduce heat right away lest you want to be pelted with bubbling corn meal. Then stir off and on for about 10 minutes until the ugali pulls from the sides of the pan and begins to form a ball in the pan. You'll think its done much earlier, but trust me, you need 10 minutes, as you want to get a bit of a crisp on the outside. Not a burn, just a light crisp. Remove from heat and allow to slightly cool. Then wet your hands with water, pull out a hunk of the ugali and roll into a ball the size of your palm to place on each dish. It actually does reheat well, so if you're only cooking for 1 or 2, you'll be able to stash the rest away and eat it as you go through the week.