Sunday, September 11, 2011

Malawi - Nshima and Tea


Malawi is one of the poorest countries in southern Africa. The economy is largely agricultural and the population rural. The major crops are corn, tea, sugarcane, and sorghum. It was colonized by the British in the late 1800s and was known as Nyasaland until it gained independence in the 1960s. The country is also where Stanley presumed to find Dr. Livingston
My search for books on Malawi led me to two books in the Schlesinger Library, the The Malawi Cookbook and Nyasaland Cookery Book and Household Guide. Both books were written for missionaries and other foreigners living in the country. The Malawi Cookbook gives mostly recipes, and the Nyasaland Cookery Book also provides information about how to preserve foods, hire household staff, and avoid dangerous local insects. Neither book provided must information about what is eaten when, but the World Cookbook for Students gave us context.
Nshima is a thick white cornmeal porridge that is a staple of the cuisine. For breakfast they eat a more dilute version of nshima flavored with peanuts and butter (we decided it needed a bit of sugar and imagine we are not the first to add some). I give a recipe for roasting your own peanuts below, since this is the primary flavor, the extra time is worth it.
Tea is a major export of Malawi, and single-estate Malawi teas can be purchased from Upton Tea Imports.  We bought a sample of Mboma Estate BOP.

Roasted Peanuts
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F
  2. Spread the peanuts over an edged cookie sheet.
  3. Roast the nuts for 15 to 20 minutes until they are of the desired darkness. The color change doesn't really start until 15 minutes in.
  4. Let the peanuts cool and set aside until use. They will last several weeks on the shelf after roasting.
  • 1 cup ufa (white cornmeal)
  • 3 cups water
  1. Heat the water in a large sauce pan until it is lukewarm.
  2. Add ¼ cup of ufa and mix in well using a whisk to avoid lumps.
  3. Bring the water to a boil and stir in the remaining ufa avoiding lumps.
  4. Mix in some of the chopped peanuts and butter to taste.
  5. Garnish with chopped nuts and add sugar as desired.

Results and Discussion
Use a larger pan than you think will be required for the nshima, as the mixture starts to foam as it boils. I would also maybe start with an additional cup of water to get a more dilute porridge. I think our result was stiffer than the usual breakfast meal. I started with too small a pot and I was not able to dilute to the desired thickness.
It is very important to use a whisk and remove lumps from the porridge as an uncooked lump is a bit unpalatable.
Again, most of the flavor comes from the roasted peanuts, so I would make sure to get a really nice dark roast on them. A little bit of sugar enhances the taste a bit.
The tea had a simple, homey, classic tea taste. Kitty thought it was rather like Lipton yellow-box tea, only much better.

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