Like much of the continent of Africa, Tanzania has several distinct influences from outside cultures. Unlike most of Africa, and even though Tanzania was under British and German colonial rule, their cuisine influences comes primarily from the Middle East and India due to centuries-old trade routes. The spices of Tanzania are very reminiscent of flavors you will find on the streets of Mumbai, rich and warm with a focus on fruits, vegetables, and grains.
A meal in Tanzania is often a shared experience with friends and family eating from one large bowl with their hands, like sharing appetizers at a restaurant. Gathering for a meal is an intimate affair with everyone sitting on a mat on the ground around a bowl of ugali, a cornmeal dish that is an obvious relative to polenta. Everyone at the meal first washes his or her hands. Then guests take turn using their right hand to dip into the ugali bowl and take a portion to pair with the vegetables or stew that is being served with the meal.
Along with ugali and steamed vegetables, a hearty vegetable stew is quite common for meals. Meat is primarily saved for special occasions and holidays, which leaves beans to fill in the protein gap in a typical Tanzanian diet. The Bean and Coconut Soup is a quintessential traditional Tanzanian meal served with freshly simmered veggies and the earthy spices adopted from Indian cuisine. To get the full East African experience, pair your meal with a Chai Tea, served at nearly every meal, and you may as well be in Tanzania right this second.
Just remember, if you lick your plate clean, you can expect to have it refilled completely. Tanzanian hospitality dictates that an empty plate means a person is still hungry and needs more to eat. So be careful what you signal for!
Now that you’ve gotten your taste of Tanzania, the real question is, when are you going to experience the real thing?
Bean and Coconut Soup
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 bowls
· 1 tsp. vegetable oil
· ½ cup chopped onion
· 1 cup chopped tomatoes
· ½ cup chopped green bell pepper
· 1 tbsp. curry powder
· 3 tbsp. vegetable margarine
· Salt and freshly ground black pepper
· 2 cups canned kidney beans
· 2 cups coconut milk
· 1 cup cooked basmati or jasmine rice
· 4 tbsp. shredded coconut
· Heat the oil in a stockpot, add the onion, and sauté over medium heat for about 5-6 minutes, until softened.
· Add the tomatoes, bell peppers, curry powder, and margarine and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Simmer 3-4 minutes.
· Add the beans with their canning liquid along with the coconut milk. Simmer gently over low heat for 10 minutes.
· Stir in the rice and heat for about 2 minutes.
· Ladle the soup into bowls. Top each bowl with 1 tablespoon of fresh coconut and serve.
(This recipe found in Vegan: The Cookbook by Jean-Christian Jury.)