The Food Desert Project: Tanzanian Coconut Beans

The Food Desert Project: Tanzanian Coconut Beans

This recipe is a repost with a bit of a back story; allow me to explain.  Those of you who follow me on Facebook will know that I’ve become very passionate about the case of Kiera Wilmot, a high school student expelled and threatened with felony charges for conducting a science experiment on her school campus.  I first learned of this story through science blogger DN Lee , blogging as the Urban Scientist from her field work studying African Giant Pouched Rats in Tanzania.  Dr. Lee was kind enough to tweet about the letter I wrote to the Polk County school district , so in her honor, I am posting my sole attempt at Tanzanian cuisine!  I encourage all of you to follow the Kiera Wilmot story, see the Twitter hashtags #KieraWilmot and #Solidarity4Wilmot.

Most often, when surfing the web for ideas, I suddenly find myself in an entirely different hemisphere.  So many cultures depend on preserved foods! I’m not sure exactly how I stumbled across this charming website, but I can’t wait to introduce you to Kulmansam.  At his site you can learn about Tanzanian culture and food as well as a bit of kiSwahili. The following recipe is my food-desert version of his recipe for Maharage ya Nazi, or Tanzanian Coconut Beans.

I can attest to the fact that this is a really easy recipe. No – I mean REALLY easy. The reason I can attest to this is that I managed to get this dish on the table despite fingers with 2nd-degree burns, an infestation of pantry moths, a mouse who left a wake of devastation in my kitchen last night culminating in the destruction of my pressure cooker, a last-minute, with-food-on-the-stove missing ingredient requiring a run to the store, and an understandably concerned and exasperated husband who had not planned to use his paramedic skills at home. Despite all of those things (none caused by the dish itself, mind you,) Penye niya, pana njiya, and we ate dinner as planned. The dish came out beautifully – I was amazed at how such simple flavors and textures work together like notes in a chord. So, if you’re looking for an easy side dish – or a vegan main course – this is the one, baby! (Just make sure you actually have coconut milk, as opposed to thinking you have it.)

1 15-oz can dark red kidney beans
1 tbsp dried onion flakes
1 10-oz can of diced tomato with green chili
1 5.6 oz can of coconut milk or 3/4 cup (do NOT use coconut cream or sweetened coconut milk)
Salt to taste

Cooked rice

001Drain and rinse the beans well, and then put them in a pot and just cover them with water. Add the onion flakes and bring to a boil.





After about 5 minutes, add the can of tomatoes and continue boiling until the liquid is mostly gone and the beans are creamy, about 10 minutes.  Add the coconut milk and boil until reduced by half and the juices form a thick, rich sauce, about 10 minutes more.

Season to taste and serve over cooked rice. Nzuri!



Other recipes for this dish indicate that it can be served as a soup, in which case I would add the tomatoes and coconut milk at the beginning, simmer just until the onions are rehydrated, and add water to thin as needed.

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