Ugali na Mchicha na Maharague – Vegan, Low-Fat, Tanzanian

So I’ve mentioned that I grew up in Tanzania several times. But, I have never shared THE Tanzanian main dish with you, which is why I am so excited to be doing so today! A lot of mental preparation went into making this…first, I asked my mom to help me out, telling me how she makes it, and then, secondly, I stuck to her directions. There are just some things moms really do know better than us “kids” do. And this dish is one of them!

I therefore would have called this “Ugali na Chicha na Maharague à la Mama”, but that just seemed like to much internationality in one meal-description. What can I tell you about the meal? Well, for starters, it’s completely vegan, which I am sure may be surprising unless you know what the Swahili words mean. Secondly, almost no fat is needed for this meal, making it very low fat – you can get by with just one teaspoon of olive oil, or even less if you use coconut oil (I’m out, sadly, and haven’t gotten around to buying some more – it’s just so expensive!)! Great news, right?

You may worry that it therefore won’t satisfy you. But, and this is THE single greatest thing about this dish (making it so popular in Tanzania as well), it is very filling, and you really won’t need a huge portion to be satisfied. This, along with the fact that all of the ingredients are very cheap and “common”, makes it a huge hit in Tanzania.

Okay, I’ll lift the mystery: Ugali na Mchicha na Maharague describes a corn porridge (ugali), which sounds a lot grosser than it is in real life, along with a bowl of quick and easy nutmeg-enhanced spinach (chicha – this one’s fairly easy to translate once you know it), as well as kidney beans in a curry-tomato-sauce (maharague, obviously). If you are scared to keep reading after the “corn porridge” part – please, give it a try, it really is perfect for this dish, and will give you the whole “African experience”! If you are a scaredy-cat and don’t want to try anything new (which is fine by me – leaves more yummy stuff for me 🙂 ), you can simply serve this with rice or bread.

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The ugali (the yellow blob-thing) serves 3-4 people easily! It really is very filling. I have included a further preparation option (besides simply cooking it) below. The two smaller bowls display half of each of the overall yield.

Notice how the water glass is on the left? That’s totally on purpose – but more on that later.

Ugali na Mchicha na Maharague

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Ingredients:

for the ugali:

  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups of maize flour (there is white and yellow maize flour – I could only found yellow, so I used that. We used to have white flour in Tanzania)

for the mchicha:

  • 300g spinach (frozen and thawed, or fresh)
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 2 small red onions, diced
  • 100ml water/broth
  • salt, pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. olive oil (or 1/2 tsp. coconut oil)

for the maharague:

  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 200ml tomato purée
  • 125 ml apple juice (all-natural, non-sweetened) (=1 cup)
  • salt, to taste (start with 1 tsp.)
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. curry powder

Procedure:

1. Heat the water for the ugali. Add the salt, and, once it starts to boil, whisk in the maize flour. It will thicken up almost immediately. Keep whisking for about 1 minute, then turn down the heat and allow to thicken up completely. Stir occasionally, making sure it doesn’t burn!

2. Chop up the tomato and onion, and heat the oil in a pan. Sauté the diced onion until it turns glassy, then add the spinach and the tomato dices. If you are using frozen & thawed spinach, make sure to lightly press the water out before cooking it (otherwise it will be too watery). Add salt and nutmeg, then add the 100ml of water or broth. I actually rinsed my carton of tomato purrée, to enhance the slight tomato flavor.

3. Add more salt, and/or nutmeg, to taste! Once it starts boiling, turn down the heat, and cover with a lid while you prepare the maharague. After 5 minutes, turn off the hotplate.

4. For the maharague, first pour out the liquid of the kidney beans can. Then pour the kidney beans into a pot, and start heating.

5. When they start “sizzling”, pour in the apple juice, and lightly salt.

6. After 2 minutes, add the tomato purée and bring to a boil. Add some more salt, to taste, and the curry powder.

7. Let it simmer for 10 minutes, turning down the heat. It should thicken up a lot during this time! Taste one more time before serving, as the long cooking time may “swallow” some of the flavoring.

8. Serve the maharague and chicha in small bowls, and spread the ugali into a soup plate, then turn it over onto a larger plate, giving it a nice round shape.

Like I said, you could always just make the two “side” dishes and serve them with rice, if you feel like the Ugali is too exotic or you don’t want to bother. I really recommend you try it at least once, though!

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It’s very important that you allow everything to cool down a bit before serving, at least if you plan on eating it “African-style”. What do I mean, you ask? Well, cutlery is usually a luxury in Tanzania, meaning everybody just eats with their hands:

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Step 1: Take a small blob of ugali from the large blob.

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Step 2: Using only your right hand, roll the blob into a nice and smooth ball. (You should only use your right hand, and keep your left hand clean for your water glass – hence setting it on the left side!)

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Step 3: Using your thumb, press lightly into the middle of your ball-shaped blob, forming a sort of “spoon”.

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Step 4: Scoop some chicha (above) or maharague (below) into the ugali-ball-blob (I’m loving the word “blob” 🙂 ), and stick in your mouth! (This may take some practice, but don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it!)

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I’m so excited to hear your thoughts on this dish, so please comment whether you liked it or not!

As another option, if you have left-overs or a boyfriend who prefers roasted dishes, you could slice the ugali and roast in some chili oil in a pan, adding a nice crunch:

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Tastes awesome, too, and may remind you of roasted potato dumplings!

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