The other evening at a dinner party, a few of us who have worked in different parts of sub-Saharan Africa stated reminiscing about our memories of different parts of the continent. My mind began wandering back to the years I spent there (notably in Uganda, Senegal, Malawi and Guinea with lots of trips to other places as well). It all seems faraway from the very different life that we now lead in Southeast Asia, but I miss Africa. I miss the people, the music, the laughter, the resourcefulness, the creative spirit. And more than anyplace else, it's this continent that defines the trajectory of my life so far...it's the reason I got into development work, the reason I met so many of my good friends to this day and it's the soil on which much of my beliefs about humanity and life in general were formed.
There's no such thing as "African" cuisine of course, the different parts of the continent having many differences in the food they eat. A meal of Ethiopian injera with spicy lentils and abesha gomen (Ethiopian style collard greens) has nothing in common with Senegalese yassa chicken (chicken in a lemon, onion and mustard sauce) or a South African bobotie (a type of curried shepherd's pie, a specialty of the Cape Malay community in the Western Cape). The continent's cuisine is rich and varied but generally unknown and under appreciated in the West (and certainly in the East!), though this is slowly changing.
While there are many differences in cuisine in different parts of Africa, one dish that I frequently encountered throughout the continent (though each country has its own version) is this dish of spinach in peanut sauce. In Malawi where I lived for almost a year, the dish is called masamba (masamba being the Chichewa word for spinach) and can be made with spinach or any variety of mfutso (dried leaves) such as pumpkin leaves and groundnut (peanut) floor or minced groundnuts. In Angola, it's called kizaka and is traditionally made with cassava (manioc) leaves and peanut butter. In Guinea and other parts of West Africa, it's known as sauce feuille in French (leaf sauce), cassava being the leaves of choice and fish and dried shrimp often added. My version is naturally totally vegetarian and can be made with spinach, kale, collard greens or whatever greens you like. Peanut butter keeps it simple, but feel free to grind roasted peanuts if you prefer. Perk it up with African piment (chili sauce) or piri piri sauce if you can (check out Luis's awesome "recipe" for piment here) or another spicy chili sauce of your choice...just make sure it has a kick!
Whichever variation you go for, I'm sure that you will love this dish as much as people around the African continent do. Luis for one pronounced this as the best spinach dish he's ever had and said that he would be happy if I made it every day *blush*. So try it out today...it's tasty, spicy, highly nutritious (lots of iron and protein), cheap and a snap to make. What's not to love!?
AFRICAN-STYLE SPINACH IN PEANUT SAUCE
300 grams (10 ounces) fresh spinach, kale or collard greens, roughly chopped (about 9 cups loosely packed) or 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, kale or collard greens
1 tablespoon sunflower or canola oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 spur chili or other mild chili, chopped (optional)
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 - 1/2 cup water (use the water that you used to steam the spinach)
1/2 teaspoon piment (African style chili sauce) or other chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt (or a bit less - to taste)
1 plum tomato, chopped
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place a colander or steamer rack on top and steam the spinach until it just begins to cook, which should be no more than 5 minutes. Set the spinach aside and reserve the water.
2. In a skillet, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for a couple of minutes, followed by the garlic, chili and ginger. Stir well and saute until the onions are translucent.
3. Add the spinach, peanut butter and water (gradually). Mix well and lower the heat just a tad.
4. When all the ingredients come together nicely, add your piment/chili sauce and salt. Be careful with the salt since your piment/chili sauce might already have some salt in it. Mix well and then add the tomato. Stir well and remove from heat and transfer to serving bowl.