Naomi Benaron’s Running the Rift takes place in Rwanda and a lot of the staple foods were unfamiliar to me, with the exception of a few vegetables. All of the food sounded delicious, and I took to the internet to look some of it up. Isombe is a stew made of cassava leaves, fresh vegetables, peanuts and peanut butter, and ugali seems closest to a grain like polenta or grits, albeit cooked and served in coarser texture.
The table was set up in the front room, covered wit the tablecloth resrved for holidays. There were plates of ugali and stews with bits of meat and fish to dip it in, bowls of isombe, green bananas and red beans, fried plaintains, boiled sweet potatoes and cassava. There were peas and haricots verts sauteed with tomatoes, bottles of Primus beer and Uncle Emmanuel’s home-brewed urwagwa. Angelique had not stopped cooking, bringing mam tea, wiping everyone’s eyes. The power was off. Candles flickered; lanterns tossed shadows at the wall. Jean-Patrick and Roger sat on the floor with Jacqueline, feeding Clemence bits of stew wrapped in sticky balls of ugali.
Ugali, pictured above, and below with beef and sauce. Photo source: Elimu Strive’s Blog & Wikimedia Commons.
Ugali is supposed to be an acquired taste for the American palate. Like I said, the closest equivalent I can think of would be grits, which can also be vey plain if not flavored with butter and salt, and eaten with (usually) eggs, bacon, sausage or fish. Shrimp and grits is also a favorite.
Here is a quick recipe that I found for ugali:
In a 2-quart saucepan:
Boil rapidly 1 quart water or chicken broth
Add 1 tsp. salt and 1 cup any fine white cereal.
Swirl the cereal into the boiling water and cook according to package directions to a thick heavy mush.
Keep warm over hot water (in a double boiler) until ready to serve.