The essential element of traditional Zambian cuisine is nshima, a dough made with maize flour. The flour, very fine, is stirred with boiled water for a long time until forming a thick dough. Nshima can be consumed slightly sweet with milk in the form of a porridge, for breakfast. For other meals, it is served as an accompaniment, like bread, and is eaten with the fingers.
Nshima is the staple food consumed not only by the Zambians and Malawians but also many other African neighbors who call it with other names, such as ugali in Kenya, depending on the language or dialect.
In Zambian culture, only nshima constitutes a full meal. All other foods consumed between two meals are considered either snacks or substitutes but are not considered a meal. If you encounter a Zambian and ask him if he ate, he will answer “no” if he hasn’t had nshima that day yet, even if he ate a big plate of vegetables or peanuts. For Zambians, cooking nshima is an emotional commitment with countless rituals, songs and customs.
The second recipe I chose to prepare is one of the most consumed foods in Zambia and of course, it is eaten with nshima: ifisashi.
Beside nshima, ifisashi is often accompanied by cereals such as millet, sorghum, rice, cassava or yam. Mike had also served his Gabonese chicken nyembwe with pounded yam.
Vegetables are the greatest curiosity of Zambian cuisine. If it is easy to recognize spinach, tomatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, okra, pumpkins, peanuts, or cassava, other plant species are more unusual, like pumpkin or sweet potato leaves. I just couldn’t find those in Paris. And God knows I tried as I ran to the most unusual places and called several African supermarkets. So I prepared my recipe with both vegetables but not with their foliage. That said, it is not uncommon for Zambians to cook ifisashi with pumpkin and sweet potato.
Ifisashi could almost have a second name: “nothing gets lost, everything should be consumed”. This is a dish that you can cook with any vegetable you find but also and especially with their foliage. The dominant of this dish should still be spinach and peanut.
- 1 lb peanuts , roasted
- 1 onion , chopped
- 2 tomatoes , diced
- ½ lb pumpkin , diced
- 1 lb spinach leaves
- 5 leaves green cabbage , finely chopped
- 1 sweet potato , diced
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 1 cup water
- 4 cups maize flour (or millet flour)
- 8 cups water
- Sauté onion for a few minutes over medium heat.
- Add tomatoes and peanuts.
- After a few minutes, add all the vegetables and the water.
- Cook for 10 minutes over high heat.
- Lower to medium / low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring regularly until liquid is reduced.
- Boil water and salt in a large pot.
- Reduce heat to medium / high and gradually pour in the flour into the simmering water, avoiding lumps. If necessary, use a hand mixer.
- Stir constantly until thickened.
Continue cooking over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes by continuing to stir the dough until it reaches the consistency of a thick, smooth and slightly elastic dough.
- Form ball or torpedo-shaped rolls.