Sukuma Wiki is a traditional dish eaten within East Africa, particularly in Kenya and largely consists of Leafy greens and Tomatoes. The term comes from Swahili meaning “week-pusher” as this dish is often used bulk out other main meals to make them last the week. It is often served alongside Ugali or Chapatti and a form of meat stew. This dish although not the most important aspect of a meal can be seen in a sense as an “invisible” food, as it adds more substance to a meal cheaply and easily.
Particularly in East Africa there is greater access to African Indigenous Vegetables or AIVs, which form the main component of this dish. AIVs, are mainly vegetables that fall under the category of “leafy” or “hearty” greens thus they consist of: Kale, Collard Greens and similar vegetables according to Musotsi. AIVs have been a part of meals in East Africa for centuries and are often served with other foods especially starches at lunch. There is an evident meal culture around AIVs and consequently Sukuma Wiki. A “meal culture” refers to the idea that there is a clear event surrounding the thought, preparation, and eating of a meal. With regards to Sukuma Wiki in rural regions where AIVs make up the majority of weekly meals as revealed by Lee-Smiths study, a meal culture has developed in which the consumption of Sukuma Wiki now forms part of people’s daily lives as shown by Lee-Smiths study in Kenya.
The high levels of availability and their durability under the changing environmental conditions, has meant that AIVs have become more common amongst populations daily diets in the east Africa. This is particularly true for those who may be unable to afford meat products. This positively affects the region as AIVs have contributed significantly to food security as noted by Musotsi. This is because particularly in regions where there is rising food insecurity as the dish is used to spread out other meals it means that Sukuma Wiki can ensure that there is sufficient food for a family or community, which ultimately means they will face less issues related to malnutrition or lack of nutrition. Arguably the consumption of this dish is likely to increase in consumption over the coming years because of this fact that it provides food and nutritional security to a community in the sense that it is easy to access monetarily and physically, therefore reducing the likelihood a family or community may have to go without food when other products get too expensive due to decreased availability.
This dish is very common in Kenya, however throughout the country there are variations to the recipe depending on the ethnic group and outside influences present. An important factor as noted in Musotsi’s article is that the consumption of these leafy vegetables is based on perception. In particular, how well the greens are cooked is dependent on preference with regards to the color and texture of the dish. This clearly links back to the idea of a meal culture because the perceptions of the dish and how it is consumed is arguably dependent on the culture surround it mainly: whether it would be used in feasts as Fleischer notes or as a way to consume more vitamins. The latter due to resource scarcity is unfortunately on the rise, which has clearly affected the meal culture surrounding the dish which will arguably mean it cooking of such a dish will be quicker in order to retain the vitamins.
In addition the dish is also affected by the country it is made in as shown by Durand 2012. In South Sudan where there has been a greater Indian influence in the region this has led to a higher concentration and diverse usage of spices in the dish. Thus, what can be assumed from this is that the dish is both affected from region as mentioned above but also outside factors. But as a rule of thumb the most common additions are turmeric and coriander.
Lastly, when considering the meal culture behind this dish, it is essential to draw attention to the way in which it is prepared. From research the preparation of this dish has been gendered. From the famous poem written by Neem Ngwatilo Mawiyoo, the addition of Sukuma Wiki in the account of a woman’s daily life bares significance for our purpose of looking at this specific dish, as the discussion of the dish clearly shows that it has become part of modern life particularly for women in the working community owing to the ease of preparation as described by Mawiyoo:
“working women walking to build a nation, this morning mainly concerned with tonight’s meal of Ugali and Sukuma Wiki”
This, I argue suggests a gendered aspect to the meal culture as preparation of the dish is still dependent on women. It is their conscious decisions with regards to food consumption that affect the way that Sukuma wiki is eaten because as Browns et al. noted it is women who are responsible for this aspect of domestic life, thus food security arguably falls under their jurisdiction. Due to the fact that the dish is made AIVs a decision to cook a “week pusher”, clearly increases the food security of a family and therefore perhaps the remaining economic spending power to go on other food products. This dish highlights the domestic power that women hold with regards to human security because of their ability to provide food security, a crucial component of the notion of human security, however it clearly also draws attention to the lack of men in domestic household decisions, therefore showing a gendered relationship.
My discussion of the main ingredient of this dish has drawn attention specifically to Kenya because the studies that focuses on AIV have centered around Kenya, thus for the purposes of this context, the recipe I have drawn from is from coastal Kenya. There are of course other options with additional spices as noted above. These recipes, indicate the differing effects geographically of Islamic trading influences with regards to the importing of new spices which Fleisher points out have been included in East African Culture since the 1400 AD following Islamic expansionism through the trade of goods.
Crucially the continued consumption of this dish highlights the continual importance of the Islamic influence due to the continued use of imported spices such as Turmeric and Cumin. Taking in the historic culture behind this dish as a “week pusher”, I suggest that it will become increasingly important in this region as East Africa continues to be effected by famine and reduced resource availability.
- 1 bunch of collard Greens or Kale, chopped
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 medium onion diced
- 2-3 medium tomatoes roughly chopped
- 1-2 teaspoons garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- salt (taste)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 cup water/stock
- In a medium to large pan, heat the olive oil and cook the onions over a medium heat until they just begin to soften. Add the minced garlic and sautee for about 1 minute.
- Add the ground cumin, ground coriander, and ground turmeric, and allow to gently fry for about 20 seconds until you get the aroma of spices, then promptly add tomatoes and blend well into the mixture, making sure the spices don’t burn at the bottom of the pan. (Tip: add a tablespoon of water, if necessary, to scrape off any spices that may stick.)
- Once the tomatoes soften, add the ground beef or chicken and cook until all pinkness is gone from the meat. Add salt.
- Add the collard greens or kale a handful at a time, stirring until all the greens are well coated with the mixture.
- Add the water/stock, reduce the heat to medium, and cover. Cook until the greens reach desired tenderness (ideally about 10 minutes).
- Remove from the heat and add a bit of lemon juice to taste.
The ease and simplicity of the recipe means that it can be made multiple times throughout the week to spread out the usage of more expensive foods such as meat and also enable greater freedom for women as shown by the poem owing to the quickness with which it can be made.