My friend Rachel (who blogs through biographies of First Ladies; so interesting!) asked me what sorts of things we’re eating in Malawi. The boring answer is that we eat a lot of the same sorts of things we eat at home, sans cheese. (There’s no cheese to speak of here.) The better answer is that we sometimes get to enjoy nsima and ndiwo.
Nsima is the staple food of Malawi. People here will tell you that any meal that does not include nsima is merely a snack. Nsima is what satisfies hunger; what lets you know that you’ve had a meal. But like many starchy staples (bread, rice, potatoes, etc.), nsima needs company. And they call that company ndiwo, or relish, which is basically the sauce or stew you eat alongside your nsima.
If you’re not a big fan of chewy textures, you might not like nsima. Cooked well, it has the texture of Play-Dough and something like polenta, or perhaps grits.
Here’s how to make nsima. Don’t feel bad if yours doesn’t come out smooth. Mine doesn’t. But it’s still edible, even tasty.
- Use 1/2 cup white, finely ground cornmeal for each person you serve.
- Pour 1 and 1/4 cup water for each 1/2 cup cornmeal into a pot.
- Whisk in roughly half the total amount of cornmeal until smooth
- Over high heat, begin to bring to boil; reduce heat to medium for a few minutes, stir.
- Stir, stir, stir as you gradually sprinkle on the rest of the cornmeal until it is very thick, and difficult to stir.
- Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and allow to sit for 5 minutes.
You use it as a sort of spoon to scoop up ndiwo. Here’s one of our family’s favorite simple ndiwo:
- cut one large yellow onion into small dice
- heat a saucepan over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles, then add 1 tablespoon oil, then onion
- brown onion in the oil, stirring frequently
- add 1 cup of carrots cut into small dice and 1 cup of green beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, stir and brown slightly; add 1 cup of diced tomatoes (canned or fresh; remove seeds if fresh)
- add salt and 1/2 tsp. paprika and your choice of pepper (white, black, or chili) to taste
- simmer, covered, until flavors are well blended