To live, we must eat and one can easily say Ugandans live to eat with great relish. This relatively small East African nation of about 45 million people has more diversity in cuisine than can be found elsewhere, writes David Tumusiime.
From Central: Luwombo
If you must eat one dish in Uganda, Luwombo is probably it. It is not just a royal meal that was once served to the Buganda Kingdom royal family from 1887. It is also the dish for special guests.
Luwombo is the most cherished dish in central Uganda. You can prepare it with both red and white meats, vegetables, pulses, groundnuts and mushrooms.
The time and skills involved in making this dish makes it extra special as one needs to tie up the ingredients in a scorched banana leaf and steam it over matooke or any other foods.
Ingredients per portion
¼ chicken or meat /sauce of your choice.
1 medium-size carrot, sliced.
2 large, ripe tomatoes, shinned.
1 green pepper, chopped.
1 large onion, chopped.
1 table spoon of locally made ghee.
1 clove garlic, crushed.
1 table spoon of homemade tomato paste.
Preparing the banana leaves for Luwombo
The banana leaf used for Luwombo must be fresh, young and without a tear. Clean the leaf with a clean, damp cloth and by it on clean surface in the sun for about 25 minutes or more, so that it becomes limp. Next, carefully, smoke the leaf over dried banana leaves without allowing the leaf to dry out. Finally, remove the midrib being careful not to tear the leaf, so it can easily fold. Prepare two leaves in case one tears.
In a saucepan, brown the onions and garlic in ghee. Add the green pepper and carrot and cook stirring for 10 minutes.
Chop tomatoes roughly and mix with tomato paste and salt then simmer until tomatoes are cooked.
Add a little water to make a medium-thick sauce. Remove from heat.
Place prepared Luwombo (banana) leaf on a soup plate, making sure the centre of the leaf is in the middle of the plate. Put chicken in the centre of the leaf and carefully pour the sauce over it, keeping sauce around the chicken as possible. Cover the chicken with a small, clean piece of banana leaf.
Carefully gather the top and sides of the Luwombo leaf and tie them securely together with a piece of banana fibre well above the mixture. Neatly trim off the ends of the leaf above the knot with a sharp knife or pair of scissors.
Place Luwombo carefully, over the food to be steamed. Cover well with banana leaves and a large saucepan and steam steadily for three hours or more.
To serve: Put the knotted bundle of Luwombo in a small basket or soup plate, untie, remove the leaf covering sauce and neatly fold back leaf starting with the ends. Serve with vegetables, steamed matooke and/or other staples and fresh orange, mango or passion fruit juice.
A Luwombo dish from a Ganda family is a sign of the deep respect and love they have for you. It is the traditional dish served to in-laws at a marriage ceremony called Kwanjula.
From the West : Eshabwe
Eshabwe is a delicacy originally prepared by the cattle keeping Bahima of Ankole and now enjoyed all over Uganda, especially in the Western Region. It is basically a thick white sauce made from mature ghee and rock salt, and is normally served on important occasions as a treat.
Eshabwe is reputed to be one of the secrets to the beauty of the women from western Uganda. It is religiously consumed with smocked meat, millet and matooke.
250g clean, mature ghee.
150ml (10 tbsp) warm, previously boiled water.
5ml spoon (1 tsp) powdered rock salt.
½ tsp table salt.
To enrich Eshabwe
Add bite-sized pieces of smoked beef cooked in finely chopped onions and a little water until tender.
Or small pieces of beef boiled in salted water until tender then stir-fried with finely chopped onion.
Dissolve both the rock and table salt in 75ml (half) the warm water. The water should be warm and not hot.
Sieve the solution with two nylon sieves to trap any impurities in the salt.
Put the ghee in a small, clean bowl and stir it briskly with a small wooden masher in one direction, until smooth. If you do not have one, use a wooden spoon instead.
Add the salt solution, a tablespoonful at a time, stirring briskly after each addition.
The ghee should begin to thicken and turn white.
Continue adding a little of the salt solution and stirring briskly until the ghee increases in volume, is smooth, thick and pure white.
If the ghee curdles (looks like spoilt milk), add a little more salt solution with some of the lukewarm water. All this should be done gradually, a little at a time.
When the Eshabwe has doubled in volume, is very thick, creamy and pure white, taste a little and add a pinch of table salt if necessary. You may dilute the sauce a little with the remaining lukewarm water but this should be done a tablespoonful at a time, stirring well after each addition. If it is still too thick, dilute further with previously boiled, tepid water, but the final product should be a sauce that is thick and not runny.
Sieve with a fine sieve into a clean bowl and serve as a side dish with steaming hot matooke, kalo, cassava, sweet potatoes, a sauce of your choice and greens.
From West Nile: Sombe
For centuries, Uganda has been one of the most welcoming cultures. Little surprise then, that thousands of people who seek refuge and find a new home in Uganda influence their hosts with their own culinary favourites. Sombe is one that was gradually adopted in West Nile in Uganda.
Sombe is made from young, green leaves of the cassava plant, that are pounded (with mortar and pestle) and cooked for hours so that they lose their bitter taste. It is apparently a traditional dish in Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, parts of central and west Africa and some parts of Uganda. Sombe is extremely nutritious; high in vitamin-A, vitamin-C, iron, potassium, magnesium, protein and calcium.
1 kilo of cassava leaves.
1 pound goat or beef, cut into 1-inch cubes .
2 onions, chopped.
1 teaspoon salt.
A quarter kilo of creamy peanut butter .
Some palm oil .
Combine the cassava leaves with three quarts of water in a large pot and bring to boil. Cook until the leaves are soft, for 1 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, combine the meat, onions and salt in a separate pot and simmer until soft, for about 45 minutes. Combine the cassava with the meat mixture and stir in peanut butter and palm oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. Serve hot.
From the East: Malewa
Half a kilo of bamboo shoots.
Peanut sauce or paste.
Malewa originates from Eastern Uganda in the Bugisu sub-region. Bugisu refers to the areas of Mbale, Manafwa, Bududa, Sironko, and Bulambuli. It started out as a basic food before being elevated to a rich sauce when mixed with ground simsim.
Malewa enriches the menu at ceremonies in Bugisu, for example embalu (circumcision) and traditional weddings.
Malewa is prepared using bamboo shoots. The shoots are air-dried and smoked to create a distinct flavour. It is then mixed with salt and groundnut sauce to get a tasty sauce which can be enjoyed with plantains, sweet potatoes or cassava.
It is boiled in water to clean it and then the joints of the shoots are cut off leaving the middle parts which are cut into smaller pieces. Rock salt is added to the boiled Malewa to make it more tender. Finally peanut paste and salt are added and the sauce is simmered to acquire taste. The Malewa sauce is served with either matooke, cassava, sweet potatoes, rice or posho.
Dry your bamboo shoots over the fire for three days.
Soak them overnight to make the outer layer soft. Peel off the outer layers and boil for 30 minutes over medium heat.
Drain all the water and cut off the hard joints of the bamboo leaving behind the soft middle part.
Reduce the soft part into small pieces. Wash the pieces thoroughly until clean water comes off.
In a cooking pot, add water and Magadi or rock salt until it dissolves. Add your pieces inside and boil them for 30 minutes.
Pour groundnut sauce over the mixture. Simmer it for 20 minutes then turn the heat off.
Serve with cassavas, sweet potatoes, or plantains.
Some health benefits in the Malewa dish.
Bamboo shoots have anti-cancer properties.
Rich in phenolic acid which protects against heart complications.
High in dietary fiber which helps boost digestion and aid in weight loss.
When crushed and taken as juice, bamboo shoots can cure ulcers and stomach complications.
Note: Bamboo shoots may contain some harmful elements although in small quantities. Treating and/or boiling the tender part should be not be skipped. It’s highly important to carry out the recommended prep time to help degrade the toxicity of any harmful elements.
From the North: Malakwang
Originally conceived in Northern Uganda, Malakwang is a meal that no Luo home feels complete without. It is a dish woven into the very identity of a Luo family so much so that all girls are taught how to prepare Malakwang as part of their domestic training.
Malakwang is served not just at weddings, graduations and other significant moments, but also uniquely serves as a peace offering. When a woman Luo serves this meal to their husband, it is taken as a peace offering after a domestic quarrel.
This popular dish is made from swollen red calyces of the Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa). It is called Malakwang in Northern Uganda, Muwumuza in Buganda and Kerekedde in Southern Sudan.
3 handfuls Malakwang.
200g groundnut paste.
200g simsim paste.
1 teaspoon salt.
1 litre water.
Pluck the leaves from the stem, wash well and place in a pan.
Add ½ the water and boil covered for seven minutes.
Drain the water and add simsim and groundnut paste.
Add rest of water and cook for 5-10 minutes.
Add salt to taste and serve.
Apart from being a treasured, traditional delicacy, Malakwang is prized for its medicinal qualities. Young leaves are taken as vegetables, while the mature ones are dried, pounded and added to the sauce. The pulp wastes act as feeds for livestock.
Apart from being brewed as wine and juice (Roselle sweet red wine is made from it), it can boost your health. Local residents in Kayunga and Luweero Districts take muwumuza as a medicinal herb for high blood pressure, kidney problems, constipation, liver disorders, colds, sore throats, coughing, fever, blocked nose, astringent and acne.
It can also be used to increase haemoglobin in anaemic people and stimulates appetite. HIV/AIDS patients use it to get iron. Cooked stems are very good for people living with HIV/AIDS. It is rich in vitamin B.
Researchers have suggested that the hibiscus extract could be useful in the prevention and possibly treatment of a number of cardiovascular (heart) diseases in which cholesterol plays a major role.
For the young and restless: Rolex
A Rolex in Uganda does not, for most, refer to the famous Swiss chronometer brand. A Rolex is a grab-on-the-run filling meal that has been popular for nearly a decade now.
Born out of University students’ need for a quick filling tasty and cheap fast food, the Rolex has become one of Uganda’s biggest fast foods. There’s now a Rolex Festival. Strictly speaking, the Ugandan Rolex should be considered a snack. However, it is a meal Ugandans agree is relatively cheap, tasty and convenient. You can live on it and need not eat again for the rest of the day.
Rolex has emerged Uganda’s favourite fast food. It is available in most restaurants and in the market, at street vendors, pre-prepared and ready to eat. Rolex is basically a chapatti rolled up with seasoned scrambled eggs, or shredded cabbage and tomatoes – sometimes all three together.
1 large or two small chicken eggs.
1 large thinly-rolled chapati (for a recipe for making chapattis,
1/3 cup shredded cabbage.
1/4 cup diced tomato.
Salt, to taste.
Method: Making a Rolex
Break egg(s) into a shallow cup, add pinch of salt, and mix with a fork.
Pour the eggs onto a large (preferably iron) saucepan into a thin 8″ circle.
Use a large spoon to rotate the eggs for even cooking. Flip once. Keep on fire until the eggs are cooked through.
Lift eggs with a spoon and place the chapati underneath the eggs and warm together for 10-20 seconds, rotating if cooking surface has uneven temperature.
Remove egg-covered chapati from heat.
Along the center of the chapati (but to the right side) sprinkle a stripe of cabbage, and slightly overlapped tomatoes.
Sprinkle another pinch of salt over toppings.
Now roll the chapati up. Bring one side over far enough to tuck in the toppings, then fold the other side up and over to seal.
If you are going to eat your Ugandan Rolex on the go, wrap it in some plastic wrap, open at one end, to avoid dripping on you.