Ethnic Explorations: Discovering Zimbabwean Cuisine

by Sandy Salle on August 29, 2011

I’m excited to share with you a special post on Zimbabwean cuisine and cooking from The Duo Dishes!

See below for this special post, written by The Duo Dishes team (**NOTE: All images throughout this post were provided by The Duo Dishes):

The reason we’re exploring Zimbabwean food is because a series of tweets from Sandy Salle with Hills of Africa snagged my attention one day as I was adding more countries to my ever expanding travel wish list. I clicked on one of the links and found myself soothed by the music, the imagery, and the ideal.

I made my way to the blog, and the first post was about celebrating Independence Day with South African Braai recipes. The post was short and sweet, but it opened my eyes to yet another way food is meant to connect people and bring them closer to the ideas of sharing, community, and nurturing. I was hooked on the idea of testing out another African dish, and for some reason, Zimbabwe came to mind. Luckily Amir was just fine with me choosing this month’s theme. We chatted with one of the Hills of Africa team members who was more than happy to give us a short education on the most well-known Zimbabwean foods and allow us the opportunity to share this month’s Ethnic Exploration with their readers, as well.

Our friends at Hills of Africa shared a lot of interesting information with us, in addition to the research we did on our own. The original name of the country was Rhodesia until the late 1970s when the country gained full independence and changed the name to the Republic of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe means “House of Stone,” which is an illustrious nod to the eight century old stone structures left behind by the Shona ancestors. Today, nearly eighty percent are descendents of Shona people, almost twenty percent are Ndebele, while the remaining population is comprised of descendents of colonizers, immigrants, and emigrants.

Zimbabwe’s tumultuous history, produced by British colonization, left lasting effects on the foods eaten in the country to this day. Spices, bread, sugar, and tea have become part of the food culture, in addition to the indigenous crops of yams, corn, pumpkins, squash, and papaya. Meats tend to be local game, crocodile, impala, kudu, goat, chicken, and beef.

Although it was an imported crop years ago, now one of the dietary staples is white cornmeal or maize. It’s also known as mealie meal. Similar to polenta or grits in preparation, the very finely ground cornmeal is mixed with boiling water to form a thick porridge, which is then called sadza in the Shona language. This is eaten with stewed vegetables and meats or dried fish. The sadza also serves as a ‘utensil’ of sorts. It is thick enough to shape with the hands, scoop up the stewed meats and vegetables, also known as relish, and pop into your mouth. Sadza is not reserved for just savory lunch or dinner. It may also be eaten for breakfast with the addition of milk, sugar, peanut butter, or jam. The word sadza may also refer to the entire meal itself, not just the thick cornmeal dish.

white cornmeal

An interesting influence on Zimbabwe food comes from Portugal. That was not a connection we made right off the bat, and it’s possible many people would not have known that either. Portuguese traders were the ones who began to bring peanut crops into the country and surrounding areas during the sixteenth century, and now peanuts are popular in many dishes. Dovi is a traditional peanut butter stew with meat or vegetables, and peanuts and peanut butter are commonly used for texture and flavor in other meals. As tempting as it was to heat up a batch of peanut butter stew, we had already done that with our Ghanaian exploration. We needed to branch out and find something new.

We knew right away that sadza would be served for dinner, but it took a bit of time to figure out what would serve as an accompaniment. After reviewing our options, a spicy chicken stew surfaced that seemed like just the thing. It was full of chili powder, cayenne pepper and black pepper, along with tomatoes and onions. Together, these ingredients seemed like they would add a hefty helping of flavor to match the sadza. Here was another recipe that utilized easy-to-find ingredients, which would eliminate the need to find another market. The recipe was very vague, so we took the liberty to devise our own estimates in order to share it with you. Cooking the dish was very simple. We had a lot of room to interpret measurements for the chicken stew, and of course, if you choose to replicate this dish, you should do the same. We added garlic, which is not in the original recipe, and we used fresh parsley instead of dried parsley. Finally, we added water to the stew as it simmered in order to keep everything moist.

Stirring up the sadza was easy. We had already made fufu—from scratch might I add—so we were familiar with the need for upper body strength when you are mixing the thick substance. Amir went to work on the fufu last time, so I used all of my might to smooth out the thick porridge. The process is the same as making polenta, but this was much thicker. Although it was very hot, we could easily pull off chunks and shape with our fingers. We piled up bowls of stew and ate it with the sadza, which continued to thicken slightly as it cooled. The stew was spicy and smokey from the combination of red and black peppers and chili powder. The ginger and garlic also gave it another kick. Each bite fell into natural synergy with the sadza. We were pleased and so were the friends who also had a taste.

Each time we do an Ethnic Exploration, it is a reminder that there are too many unknown cultures and foods that we have never experienced. As people who love to learn about the world around us, each new discovery is yet another eye opening experience. Every dish we create is a snapshot of life from around the world. If we could snap our fingers and be in Zimbabwe tomorrow, I think we would hop on the opportunity. No second thoughts about it. While we wait for the next opportunity, we will scoop up chicken stew with sadza and click through Hills of Africas pages, thinking about a possible trip to an entirely new continent. Enjoy our adaptation of this traditional Zimbabwe dish!

Sadza ne Nyama ye Huku

(Zimbabwean Porridge with Chicken Stew) – Serves 4 (Adapted from Zambuko.com)

HOW TO COOK THE STEW:

2 yellow onions, diced, divided

2 tablespoons fresh minced ginger, divided

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 pounds vine tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus 1/4 teaspoon to season the chicken

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder, plus 1/4 teaspoon to season the chicken

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon to season the chicken

2 pounds chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, cut into 1″ pieces

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 bunch scallions, chopped

Vegetable oil

1. Coat a large, shallow pan with about two tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add two-thirds of the garlic to the pan and cook for about one minute. Toss in three-quarters of the onions and two-thirds of the ginger, cooking until the onions turn translucent, approximately 3-5 minutes.

2. Turn the heat up to a high flame and stir in the cayenne, black pepper, chili powder and salt. Cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for 10-15 minutes, mashing them down every once in a while. Reduce the heat to low and simmer another 10-15 minutes, continuing the mash the tomatoes.

Zimbabwe recipes

Africa recipes

Stewed Tomatoes

3. While the tomatoes cook down, pull out a separate, heavy pot. Coat the bottom with another two tablespoons of oil. Once hot, toss in the remaining onions, ginger and garlic and cook until the onions have turned translucent, approximately 2-3 minutes. As the onions and seasonings cook, season the chicken with the extra black pepper, chili powder and salt. Add the chicken to the pan and brown for approximately 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Africa cuisine

Browning Chicken

4. After the tomatoes have stewed, carefully scrape them into the cooked chicken. Add one cup of water, turn the heat to low and cover. Simmer for 20-25 minutes. Stir in the parsley and scallions and cook another 5 minutes. Serve over the sadza (recipe below).

HOW TO COOK THE SADZA:

4 cups water

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 1/2 cups white cornmeal

1. Pour three cups water and the salt into a large pot and bring to a boil. Combine 1 1/2 cups of cornmeal with the water, stir well and set aside.

Zimbabwe cuisine

2. Reduce heat of boiling water to medium low and add the cornmeal and water mixture, stirring constantly. Cook for approximately two to three minutes.

3. Slowly shake in the remaining cornmeal, mixing all the while. Stir constantly as the mixture begins to thicken and pull away from the pot, approximately one minute. Immediately transfer to a separate bowl and use a wooden spoon to shape it into a round shape. Allow the sadza to cool slightly, then carefully use your hands (wet them if necessary) to pull off bits of the sadza, shape if desired, and serve with the stew.

THE FINAL RESULT!

Loved these recipes and want to find more? Click HERE for printable recipes.

And for even more international recipes, view some of The Duo Dishes’ past Ethnic Explorations posts.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Evelyne@CheapEthnicEatz September 1, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Never tried food from Zimbabwe but this stew looks for flavorful and zesty. I actually like a good fufu (hated in a restaurant but loved it when I made it) so this SADZA sounds really interesting. great job!

Sandy Salle September 2, 2011 at 9:07 am

I am yet to try this recipe, but it looks amazing!! Sadza is a great base for spicy stews–it’s one of my favorites. Let us know if you end up trying this recipe. We’d love to hear how it turned out!

Chris September 4, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Hmmmm so are Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs now Zimbabwe Ridgebacks? ha ha

I wouldn’t have guessed the Portuguese connection or influence either, that was interesting. This reminds me of Zimbabwean “chicken & dumplings” with the Sadza.

Great post DuoDishes!

Jenny (VintageSugarcube) September 5, 2011 at 10:12 pm

I absolutely LOVE this story and recipe. One of my first college professors was from Zimbabwe and she is the one I have the fondest memories. She opened by eyes to so much. I had no idea a recipe from Zimbabwe could be so easy. Will definitely give it a try. :)

Sandy Salle September 8, 2011 at 4:49 pm

So glad you liked the recipe, Jenny! Zimbabwe is not only home to delicious cuisines, but also to amazing people!

Sandy Salle September 8, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Haha! Thanks for the laugh, Chris. Glad you liked the post!

John Vhakachi February 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Reminds me how much i miss home

Sandy Salle February 23, 2012 at 11:02 am

I know John, thank you!!

Jo Gumbo May 30, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Thank you for this article, ESP the info about the Portuguese influence, tho I am aZimbo I never realised. Am now going to read the rest of yo blog

Heather August 31, 2012 at 2:57 pm

My boyfriend is from Zimbabwe, and he taught me how to make Sadza (a little different then the way you did it) I’m just a white girl from Canada and I am always looking for different recipes to make for him, so he keeps that connection to home. Came across this one today, and I am quite excited to make it for him!! I will post again as soon as we have tried it!!

Sandy Salle September 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Hi Heather,

So glad to hear you enjoyed the recipe spotlight! Let us know how it was when you make it! We also post traditional African recipes to our Facebook page. If you ever want to check those out you can visit our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/hillsofafrica

-Sandy

ezkay November 24, 2012 at 10:59 pm

this is so awsome! its going to make a perfect recipe for my history class this year :D africa is one of the most amazeing places in the world and i someday want to go there

Sandy Salle November 26, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Let us know how it turns out! I know you’ll enjoy it :)

kunta December 13, 2012 at 10:17 am

Sadza reMhunga; served with Guru and Matumbu and vegetables are Muboora Now you talking traditional Zimbabwe food Lots of combinations or

Rice rine Dovi served with Chicken – Road Runner and vegetables are Munyemba une Dovi

kunta December 17, 2012 at 5:18 am

Guys try the website /blog http://www.zimbokitchen.com It has a wide range of traditional and other zimbabwean food.

Sandy Salle December 17, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Thanks, Kunta!

Lee January 25, 2013 at 1:08 am

Delicious! I made this dish tonight for an exchange student visiting Boston from South Africa. It was divine! It did require a fair amount if prep work (chopping, dicing), but the result was well worth it. The student loved it, as did my whole family.

Sandy Salle January 29, 2013 at 10:33 am

That’s awesome, Lee!! So glad you enjoyed the recipe. We’re actually coming out with a cookbook soon of traditional African dishes, that you must check out if you liked this dish!

Bobbie April 16, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I wish that there were some dessert recipies on here. Otherwise, it was so cool seeing a different culture and lifestyle along with the food.

Sandy Salle April 17, 2013 at 11:08 am

Hi Bobbie! Yes, Zimbabwe desserts are wonderful, actually! You can find some southern and eastern African recipes in our new cookbook, “A Taste of Africa,” which features over 60 different authentic recipes (some desserts) from various 5-star properties in Africa! Here’s the link to purchase the book, if you so wish, http://atasteofafrica.hillsofafrica.com/

Thanks!

Sandy

Red November 16, 2013 at 10:22 pm

I have a wondeful cookbook from Rhodesia that was published in 1965 right after UDI called Rhodesian Home Cooking. It has a number of Rhodesian family recipies handed down from generation to generation. Some outstanding pork. bacon, beef, fish, milk and cheese, and of course dessert recipies. Oh how Rhodies loved to bake!

Sandy Salle November 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Oh how lovely! I absolutely love recipes from my childhood, growing up in Zimbabwe. I bet there are many in your book that I grew up with! We actually just published a recipe book not too long ago that features recipes from southern and eastern Africa. You can find it here: http://atasteofafrica.hillsofafrica.com/

-Sandy Salle

Helen Duggan July 23, 2014 at 12:31 am

For John Vhakachi : My husband asked me to make sadza tonight for the first time in years–we have been in the U.S. from Rhodesia for about 30 yrs now. Like you, it STILL seems like home and we miss it. Best wishes to you.

Sandy Salle July 23, 2014 at 8:55 am

Hi Helen, I’m from Zimbabwe, as well, and miss it everyday! I get a little taste of it, though, whenever I make Zimbabwe dishes for my family. The aromas, flavors, and the actual cooking process, just brings me back home :)

Best,

Sandy

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