The edible journey: Zambia

Dinner was simmering on the stove, and George and I were both getting hungry.

“I think, for the first time, we’re REALLY going to feel like we’re eating in solidarity with the poor,” I warned him.

He hesitated for just a moment, and then replied worriedly, “Well that sounds encouraging.”

Our rice bowl journey took us to Zambia this week, where we would be dining on Ifisashi, or peanut stew over polenta. (Click here to learn what the rice bowl project is all about, and get the first recipe in the series.) We both love peanuts–as a snack, over ice cream for tin roof sundaes, even fed in the shell to our neighborhood squirrels and crows. But in a stew?

However, we had committed ourselves to this journey, so this four-ingredient stew, even with peanuts, wasn’t going to derail our travels.

As I sliced onions and tomatoes to add to the water and Zambiachopped the peanuts and spinach, I thought how little this recipe resembled any of the highly seasoned, often fat-laden dishes we Americans are so fond of. This seemed–well, sparse. No cheese, no eggs, no meat. No appeal?

And yet, as I read in the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) brochure that comes with the rice bowl, this meal is a vast improvement over what generations of Zambians have been eating as a staple: a corn flour porridge called “nshima.”

“Growing up, I’d eat porridge in the morning, at lunchtime and again in the evening,” said Evelina, a Zambian woman quoted in the brochure. Not a particularly nourishing meal, and the malnutrition of the people was proof of that.

CRS has been teaching women like Evelina how to grow new, vitamin-rich crops, prepare healthier meals, and then share that new knowledge with their community, meals like Ifisashi.

I confess I’m not a polenta fan, so I chose the rice option to go with this peanut stew–basmati brown rice, my favorite, as you know if you’ve been reading these recipes. And I used the peanuts I had on hand, which happened to be salted, thus eliminating the need to add more salt.

So, here’s the recipe.

• 2 cups water
• 2 cup peanuts, chopped
• 1 onion, sliced
• 2 medium tomatoes, sliced
• 2 bunches spinach or collard greens, washed and chopped
• salt to taste

Bring water to a boil in a medium pot. Add the peanuts, tomatoes and onion. After a few minutes, add the chopped greens. Stir occasionally and continue cooking until peanuts are soft and mixture has become a thick, buttery sauce–about 15 minutes. Serve hot over polenta or rice.

Evelina said she and her friends “sing and dance during the cooking lessons” because they’re happy to be learning how to cook different kinds of food. I wouldn’t say George and I felt like singing and dancing, but this was actually a good tasting meal–even the peanuts. Simple, yes. Inexpensive, definitely. But healthy, too. George sprinkled a bit of Cajun seasoning on his, I ate mine as-is. And I enjoyed each mouthful.

I suppose a person could grate a little cheese on top, or drizzle in some beaten egg to make it a slightly richer meal. Maybe next time. This time we were out for solidarity with those who don’t have or can’t afford the vast food choices we Americans enjoy. And the money we saved will go into the rice bowl that sits on our table.

If you want to watch a video about Evelina, visit and click on “stories of hope/around the world.”

Next stop: El Salvador.


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 Catholic, cooking, CRS Rice Bowl, Food, healthy eating, Lenten food, Lenten meals, meatless meal, nutrition, recipes, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The edible journey: Zambia

  1. blb1 says:

    I would not have guessed cooking peanuts.

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