A meal in Kenya, with ugali, chapati, a meat stew, and sukuma wiki.
"Sukuma wiki" is a Swahili phrase meaning, depending on how you translate it, "week-pusher," "push the week," or "stretch the week." When I was in Kenya two years ago, I saw kale and collard greens growing in the dusty soil of nearly every home. Green frilly leaves dotted any patch of land that had enough water nearby to irrigate. Hearty greens are a staple of even the most frugal diet in the rural communities of Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania, and other African nations. They are readily available, found in the most basic garden, and so they are used to "stretch the week," when other supplies have run out or meat is scarce.
Sukuma wiki can be found in many forms. Sometimes it is highly spiced, in the Indian-influenced cuisine of East Africa. Sometimes it is a very plain and basic dish of greens, with nothing but oil and a little onion to round it out. The version I ate most often in Kenya had onion, tomato, and a smattering of spices.
This may be plain family fare in Africa, even a subsistence food. It's what I like to think of as an "invisible food" both there and here, too plain to even mention. But for those of us who love greens and eat them regularly, this kind of basic, quotidian dish of simple greens is one of the building blocks of healthy weeknight meals. Make it any way you like — enjoy the taste and chew of robust greens. Here's how I make mine.
Sukuma Wiki (African Braised Kale with Tomatoes)4 servings
1 pound kale
2 medium tomatoes, about 1/2 pound
1 large white onion, about 1 pound
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, juiced, about 3 tablespoons
Chop the kale into rough 1-inch pieces, including the ribs. Roughly chop the tomatoes. (If desired, reserve about 1/4 cup fresh tomato pieces for garnish.) Peel and dice the onion.
Heat the oil in a large, deep pot, or a large wok. When it is hot, add the onion and cook for about 8 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. When the onion is getting soft, stir in the cumin, coriander, and turmeric. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes.
Add the greens one handful at a time, stirring constantly to coat them with the onions, oil, and spices. When they have all been added, sprinkle the salt and a generous amount of fresh pepper over them and stir.
Pour in 1 cup water. Cover the pot and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes, or until the greens are tender to your taste. (I like mine fairly toothsome, so I only cook them for about 10 minutes.)
Remove the lid, turn off the heat, and toss the greens with the lemon juice. Serve hot, garnished with extra tomato, if desired.
(Images: Faith Durand)