To Tanzania for lunch

George and I went to Tanzania for lunch today.

The fact that I’m writing this in my own living room is your tipoff that we didn’t board a plane to get there. Our ticket to this adventure was a Catholic Relief Services “rice bowl” that I found in the back of the church after Mass last week.

These rice bowls are, I think, a reincarnation of the old cardboard containers we Catholic Rice bowlschool kids once used to collect our pennies for the “pagan babies,” a term that’s politically incorrect now, I suppose. Back then, we knew what it meant, and it wasn’t disrespectful. Somewhere, across the globe, lived little kids who not only worshiped a god other than ours–maybe–but also lived lives devoid of the the basic necessities of life. They needed our help. All these years later they’re still there, and they still need help.

And so Catholic Relief Services still makes available these cardboard bowls with the slit on top for depositing spare change each day, or more generous portions of our grocery budget that remain when we choose to eat more simply for Lent. When we count up our largesse and send the money in after Easter, 75 percent will go to people in poor countries far away. Twenty-five percent remains in our own diocese to care for local needs.

All of which leads up to our Tanzanian trip. Included in the rice bowl is a calendar that says, “Lent is a journey. Where will it take you?” Besides the obvious spiritual places, this rice-bowl journey encourages solidarity with the poor of the world by including a recipe from a different country for each week of Lent. This week, it was Ugali and Bean Soup from Tanzania–along with the web address for a video about the country and how CRS helps there. (

“I think I’ll try this recipe on Friday,” I told George as we prepared our grocery list.

He raised one eyebrow.

“It might be good,” I cajoled.

“I suppose,” he said, always game for something new.

Twice after that he asked what we were doing for our Lenten, meatless meals on Friday.

“Oh yeah,” he quickly answered himself. “You’re doing that stuff.”

At the meat market, he found a nice piece of salmon in the cooler, and suggested it might make a good Friday meal. I hesitated.

“But you’re making that recipe,” he remembered. The salmon stayed on the shelf. Besides, it can’t be much of a penance to fix something that’s more expensive than the meatloaf I might ordinarily make. The money we didn’t spend on salmon will go in the rice bowl.

So here comes Friday, and out come the ingredients. Nothing fancy–except perhaps the coconut milk, which is the only ingredient that probably costs more for us than it does the people in Tanzania. But I wanted the authentic taste.

The ugali is just corn meal simmered in boiling water until the most of the water is absorbed, then formed into balls, placed in a bowl, and covered with the soup. It looked good, and it smelled good. All that remained was the taste test.Ugali with bean soup

George took the first spoonful. “Not bad,” he said.

I sampled mine, sure that a wad of corn dumpling was going to be less than impressive. But somehow, mixed with the coconut milk and the other ingredients, it developed a new flavor, and the more I ate, the better I liked it. George even had seconds. That’s when I really knew it had passed the test.

We cleaned our bowls, and I reached for the Lenten calendar. Next week, Gallo Pinto from Nicaragua. George’s eyebrow went up again, but I think we’re both approaching the next culinary trip with a little more confidence than this first time. Stay tuned.

If you want to try Ugali with Bean Soup for yourself, here’s the recipe that serves 4-6. You might also consider donating any money saved to a local food shelf, or to CRS itself.

4 cups water
2-1/2 cups cornmeal

Bean Soup:
1 small onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
4 T fair trade olive oil
1 t curry powder (I used the spicy kind)
1 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 tomato, chopped
2 16-oz. cans kidney beans, drained
3 cups unsweetened coconut milk

Directions for Ugali: Boil water in saucepan, then stir in cornmeal. Simmer until mixture is thick and water is absorbed. Stir often to prevent burning. Shape the mixture into round balls, one for each person.

Directions for Bean Soup: In a large pot, sauté onion and green pepper in oil until soft. Add curry powder, salt, black pepper and tomato. Simmer for 2 minutes, add beans and stir. Add coconut milk and simmer for 10 minutes on low heat. Serve over ugali.


About Monica Sawyn

I'm a retired newspaper reporter/columnist, and although I still freelance, I miss the weekly column I used to write. I still "see columns" in everyday life and need a place to put them after they're written--thus, this blog. I'm Catholic, have been a Benedictine oblate since 1977, and live with my husband and our beagle in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. When I'm not writing, I'm probably reading, sewing, taking photos or walking the dog.
This entry was posted in Food, Lent, recipes, soup and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to To Tanzania for lunch

  1. Kay Krause says:

    So, really now, was it good enough to make a second time?

  2. blb1 says:

    Our Boy Scouts just had their annual food drive but this sounds much more interesting. Though my husband seems allergic to coconut and I to peppers.

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