Comfort Food Inspiration:
A meal for one or many
A Cultural Symbol of Nutrition
Her given name means "peace." Meet Shalom from Zambia, an African country well-known for its diverse wildlife. Zambia is a landlocked country in Africa's southern hemisphere. With over seventy-two tribes and ten provinces, one would expect a diverse range of foods. However, this is not the case. The cuisine is centered on the same food throughout the country.
Nshima is one of Zambia's most popular foods.
The staple food of the country is a thick porridge made from mealie meal, a relatively coarse flour made from maize or mealies. Because it does not have much flavor on its own, it is always served with a variety of delight, which could be chicken, beef, fish, vegetables, or anything else that is available. Nshima is eaten with one's hands. It is one of the simplest foods to prepare; all you need is mealie meal and water.
Shalom – a graduate student at IU – has two younger siblings, a twenty-year-old male and an eighteen-year-old female. Their feelings for Nshima are as intense as Shalom's. Her mother primarily prepares Nshima for the household. However, because she is the eldest, Shalom prepares the food at home most of the time when their mother is busy with work or has traveled. One interesting fact is that her two siblings cook the food when Shalom is unavailable, implying that if Nshima is on the menu that day, nothing – I'm tempted to say nothing physical or spiritual – can stop them from eating it!
"if Nshima is on the menu that day, nothing – I'm tempted to say nothing physical or spiritual – can stop them from eating it!"
During our conversation, Shalom mentioned that she began cooking Nshima when she was only eleven years old. Her many years of experience have given her the skills and ability to prepare a finger-licking version of what she learned from her mother – a little extra strength to vigorously stir the food makes all the difference.
A typical African home would serve the children's meal together, but this was not Shalom's family tradition. To begin with, Nshima as a delicacy is not made in a single pot. It comes with a variety of condiments in separate pots that improve not only the appearance but also the taste of the food combination. Shalom's mother would serve the Nshima and its various relishes in separate containers, and then each person in the house would serve themselves in their own plates. In Zambia, each child eats on their own plate, according to Shalom, unless the family's income is below the national average. Such low-income households may not find it practical to put each child's plate on his or her own. These plates are now less expensive and more widely available, making them more accessible to a wider range of people.
Shalom mentioned why her family adores Nshima.
She claims that Nshima is unique because it is an indigenous delicacy that can be served with any side dish or condiment, including cassava leaves, okra, chicken, and beef.
Aside from that, Nshima is a cultural symbol of nutrition. A complete set of Nshima would typically include carbohydrate, protein, vitamin, and fat and oil. Shalom pointed out that the green on the Zambian flag represents vegetation, which supports the importance of green herbs in Nshima cuisine.
Shalom prepares the food once a week in Bloomington. She would have liked to cook more often, but it is difficult to find a fish without a bone in Walmart and Kroger, and she does not like fish fillets as a substitute. Because of her limited space, Shalom has yet to invite anyone to eat the food. The food reminds Shalom of her home country, where she could eat Nshima about three times a week. The food also reminds her of the taste of fresh cassava leaves from Zambia, which she misses.
How to prepare Nshima
Ingredients (can serve many people depending on how much corn meal is used)
Mealie meal/ Corn meal
Instructions (approximately 20 – 25 minutes)
Heat some water in a pot or kettle until it boils
Make a paste by adding one cup of mealie meal or corn meal and 2 cups of water
Fill two thirds of hot water in a pot and the paste
Stir and reduce heat to medium
Cover the pot only halfway and let it cook for 15-20 minutes
After it cooks, start adding mealie meal bit by bit, stirring vigorously (known in local language as “kutyakula” or “ukunaya”) and continuously adding the mealie meal until it thickens a bit. (Do not make it too thick)
Cover the pot for about 3 minutes
Stir vigorously again and let it stand for a few minutes
The Nshima is ready to serve