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In many village homes in Zimbabwe and neighboring countries, sadza and the night’s side dish of beans, greens, or chicken stew (if it’s a really special day!) sit over a fire in front of the house in two communal bowls. The village women spend much of the day working to prepare sadza with just the right texture, best described as a thick porridge bordering on dough. Balance is critical: the sadza can’t be too mushy or too thick. When it’s ready, the family and others gather around the fire to scoop some of the sadza between their fingers, using it to grab bites of the other tasty dishes. It’s truly finger food!
Making sadza is a long and labor intensive artform. Beginning with corn still on the cob, the kernels must be removed and ground into cornmeal. In the modern day, much of this work is done in mills, either directly for farmers who grow their own crop or for sale in retail outlets. This flour-like substance is mixed with cold water to form the sadza’s base, which is then added to boiling water and mixed with more cornmeal to achieve the desired consistency, all the while being stirred and kneaded to rid the mix of lumps, a process that demands attention, time, and lots of practice!
Sadza is served with any number of other foods, from red meat and game to native spring greens and cabbage. A thinner version of sadza is eaten for breakfast, often paired with peanut butter to provide a protein complement to the important carbohydrates inherent in the sadza itself.
In addition to being one of the most important meals on the African continent, sadza provides a miniature history lesson about the region. Today most sadza is cornmeal based, although it can also be made with native cereal grains like finger millet or sorghum, as it was for centuries before European settlers arrived. Corn, or maize as it is known in Africa, is actually not native to the continent; it wasn’t even widely grown in Africa until the late 1800s when British colonials began migrating to the area and brought corn with them. The dish represents the blending of influences on the continent. Today, corn is a staple in Africa, especially favored for its ability to grow during drier periods.
For as large a swath of land as it covers, sadza is known by an equally large collection of names: originally derived from the Shona language (native to Zimbabwe), sadza is also know by “isitshwala” in Southern Ndebele (spoken in the Transvaal region), “pap,” “vuswa,” or “bogobe” in South Africa, “nsima” in Malawi, and “ugali” in Eastern Africa. Wherever you go in Southern and Eastern Africa, some version of sadza is sure to be cooking over the fire!
If you’d like to try to make sadza at home, try this recipe that uses Sorghum from the website Pepper and Stew:
Here is what you will need to make this dish:
About 400g ground sorghum
2 tbsp oil
1 large chopped onion
2 ripe chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp peanut butter
Salt and pepper
First take 150g of the sorghum meal and in a medium sized sauce pan, mix with about 150ml of the cold water to make a paste using a wooden spoon.
Add a litre of the boiling water to the paste. Put on the hob on medium heat and stir continuously until the mixture starts to thicken. If it’s too thick add a bit more of the hot water.
The mixture should look like porridge and if it’s the correct consistency should boil without spilling over. (If it’s still watery and spilling over then add a little more sorghum in a cup, about a 1/4 cup, add cold water to create a paste then stir this mixture to the pot, the mixture should start to thicken after stirring continuously)
Cover and leave to cook for about 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes lower the heat and leave covered for another 5 minutes.
Stir in the remaining sorghum flour gradually taking great care not to get burnt by the spatter.
Keep mixing briskly and to get rid of the lumps grind the mixture against the pot with the wooden spoon, the consistency of the sadza should be the same as mashed potatoes.
Leave on very low heat for another 15 minutes to cook through.
Peanut butter spinach
Heat oil in a pan and add the onions and fry until soft.
Add the chopped tomatoes , season with salt and pepper and cook until soft.
Now add the peanut butter and a little water and stir until the penut butter is mixed in.
Add the spinach and cook for another 10 minutes.
Check for seasoning and serve with hot sadza.
(To give this dish a twist you can add a little birds eye chilli and or bell peppers)