Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ugali & Sukuma (Kenyan Style Grits and Greens)

I owe this post to my sister who brought back this recipe from her stay in Kenya, where it is a staple for many. Pure simplicity melds together to make a steaming bowl of comfort--especially welcomed after days of gorging oneself on candy, sweets or other rich foods! Any kind of greens can be used here; I prefer a mix of braising greens, particularly chard or collards, but spinach, kale, mustard greens and others will work as well. Traditionally, the grits are cooked to a very stiff consistency and sliced into wedges to serve. This is the best way to serve the dish if you have quite a bit of pot liquor from cooking the greens. If you prefer the grits cooked softer, as my children do, it's better to cook or strain off some of the liquid. I also really enjoy this dish served with a poached or fried egg and a basic "salsa cruda" on top.

Traditionally for the Ugali (Grits) , regular-grind WHITE cornmeal is used, but you can also use coarser hominy grits. The dish is definitely not the same with yellow cornmeal or polenta, but you can use it if that's all you have. It's hard to explain just how much cornmeal to water to use, as it depends on your preference; I suggest 2 cups water to 1 cup cornmeal for a stiffer mixture, and 3 cups water to 1 cup cornmeal for a softer mixture, but you will have to be the judge. For the stiff version, it is important to stir the cornmeal into the boiling, salted water completely so no lumps form. As it stiffens, form it into a dome in the pan, cover and cook on very low heat for 20-30 minutes. When it is done, cut the dome into wedges for serving.

Meanwhile, wash and coarsely chop your greens. You will need about 6 cups uncooked greens for the portion of Ugali listed above. Chop 1 large tomato and about 1/4 cup diced onion. Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a heavy skillet or wide-bottomed pan. Add onion, tomato and greens and saute 5-10 minutes over high heat, until vegetables have turned bright green and onions are cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

For the "salsa cruda" (which is traditional, it's just not called "salsa"), dice another tomato and another 1/4 cup onion, toss with salt, pepper, and crushed red chile flakes to taste.

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