Rice and beans are a staple in many countries and something I think we could eat a lot more of in the states! Back in 2008, I had the opportunity to go on a 14 month adventure in Dodoma, Tanzania where I volunteered for a non-profit and got to eat my weight in rice and beans. I found, oddly, that I didn’t miss the variety of food we have in the states. It was comforting to eat this meal everyday and never have to wonder, “what’s for dinner?”
In the first week I arrived, a very sweet boy named Stephane presented me with a live chicken as a gift. Now, as an American, I was a bit startled by this gift. However, I later came to understand that a chicken is a very generous gift in Tanzania because not only are you giving a person a supply of eggs, but when the chicken is no longer producing eggs you can slaughter it and winner winner chicken dinner!
Meat is actually one of the most expensive foods, which is why most Tanzanian families eat wali na maharage or ugali na maharage (rice and bean or ugali and beans) on a daily basis. Meat is reserved for special occasions. Ugali is another Tanzanian staple that is very similar to polenta but you use it as your fork and spoon to scoop up beans with your right hand (never your left). I’m going to be sharing my rice and beans recipe because this was what I ate 90% of the time the 14 months I lived in Dodoma. You’ll understand why as I continue my story of the chicken who I named Stephanie in honor of Stephane.
One of my sweet co-workers, Rebecca, volunteered to care for Stephanie, mostly because it was clear I had no idea what to do with her and in payment she would use the eggs Stephanie produced. 6 months later I forgot I even had a chicken, but early one Monday morning my roommate Leisha and I heard a knock on the door. Keep in mind, Monday was our day off and we had planned on sleeping in, but at 8AM I heard a soft, but persistent knock and finally gave up on my lazy morning and answered the door.
There stood Rebecca’s son holding Stephanie the chicken and explaining rapidly to me in Swahili why he was there. Understand, my Swahili was only slightly above a 3rd grade level at this point, so he resorted to sign language and made a cutting motion across his throat pointing at Stephanie with a very wide grin on his face. I finally realized he was telling me it was time to slaughter and cook Stephanie. Nothing could have horrified me more, but it soon became apparent that there was no getting out of this. Stephanie would meet her maker that day.
The remainder of Leisha and my day was spent figuring out how the heck you kill and butcher a chicken. Thank God our watchman, Maduka, agreed to perform the deed of decapitating Stephanie, and then he explained that we needed to boil water to soak the chicken so that we could pluck her. I managed to pour half the boiling water on my stomach as I brought it outside to Leisha and she heroically took on the task of plucking Stephanie while I moaned in bed.
I recovered and then we set about butchering the chicken and finally cooking it for dinner. Guess what time it was when we finally ate our hard earned chicken dinner? 10pm. This is why no one is eating meat for dinner every night in Tanzania besides the wealthy who pay someone else to do their butchering. I’d also wager that if we had to do the same thing in the US every time we wanted chicken, we too would be eating a LOT of rice and beans. I know I would.
So without further ado, here is my version of the delicious and healthy Tanzanian staple, rice and beans. Consider serving with my Kachumbari recipe, delicious East African salsa.
Wali na Maharage (Tanzanian Rice & Beans)
1 cup of dried kidney beans
1.5-2 cups of long grain rice, cooked
4 small tomatoes, diced
10 baby carrots, diced
½ a large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1.5-2 cups of chicken broth (free range)
Cayenne pepper to taste
Salt to taste
½ can of full fat coconut milk
1 large plantain
1 avocado, diced
Oil for sauteing
- Soak kidney beans overnight in water if possible. If not possible, soak for at least 3-4 hours.
- Drain water off the beans and add new water to fully cover and salt to taste. Bring beans to a boil on high heat and then reduce to medium-low heat and cook until tender. Note: the beans do not need to be completely soft as you will cook them a second time in the sauce.
- Drain water off beans again, rinse and set aside.
- Place garlic and onion in a saute pan with oil and cook on medium heat until translucent.
- Add diced carrots and tomatoes to the pan and saute for another 5 minutes.
- Add the cooked beans to the pan and add chicken broth until the beans and veggies are covered. Feel free to substitute water if you run out of chicken broth.
- Add salt and cayenne pepper to taste.
- Cook for an additional 30-45 minutes until beans are soft and sauce thickens a bit. This can actually cook as long as you like, so is a good make ahead meal to heat up for later. Just add more water or chicken broth if it gets too thick.
- Next slice the plantain and fry in a pan with oil. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side and remove from pan.
- Now it’s time to assemble. Pour a generous portion of beans and sauce over rice. Drizzle coconut milk on top for creaminess and sprinkle diced avocado and fried plantains on top.
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