This dish is a basic easy to make but oh so tasty lentil pilau. It is also known as mujadara in some parts of the world.
It is a vegetarian and gluten free meal that works well for an quick evening meal and kid’s lunch box the next day. It is so simple to put together, tasty and inexpensive, perfect for a weeknight meal and since it is one pot, not much cleaning up after. Yay!
3 large onions, sliced.
2 tbsp of birista. These are fried onions like the ones we use for biriani. I usually make a lot then freeze and use in various dishes or as a snack.
1 cup basmati rice.
2 cups parboiled brown lentils (masoor dal).
salt and pepper to taste.
1 tbsp cooking oil.
1 small bunch of coriander.
Sort then boil your lentils until ready but still firm.
Next, slice your onions and heat your oil in a large saucepan that will be big enough for your dish.
I use basmati rice and use a 1:2 ratio at all times; 1 cup of rice will require 2 cups of water, cover and let simmer till all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender but not mushy.
Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and 1 tbsp of the birista and fold carefully before serving.
You can now serve it as it is on its own, or with a yogurt sauce on the side, or with a salad or any other accompaniment you wish.
However you serve it, do not forget to garnish with the rest of the fried onions. The crunch goes so well with the sweetness of the caramelised onions and the lentils and rice will have absorbed the flavours too.
I love the differences in flavour of the onions that are nothing you would expect. The caramelized onions are sweet having released their sugars, and soft. And the fried ones are crispy with a deeper flavour, nothing like the tanginess we associate with red onion.
This is a simple but very tasty meal that is filling and healthy too. It is one of my favorite rice dishes to make and the kids love it too.
The Kazinga Channel, located in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda is a must visit when here.
It is a vast channel of water, just over 30 km wide, that is a joining of two lakes, Lake Edward and Lake George. The channel is quite big and is said to have one of the highest concentration of hippos and Nile crocodiles in the world.
There are many boat tours that have knowledgeable guides who will take you on the channel for an hours (2-3 hours) long boat ride that will have you come as close to the hippos and Nile crocodiles than you ever thought possible. The boats are safe and sturdy, and life jackets are a must. So you can be assured you are in safe hands. The guides are from the surrounding community, and are well versed in the animals’ behaviour.
There is plenty of wildlife to be spotted when on the channel. From numerous schools of hippos, Nile crocodiles basking lazily in the sun, vervet monkeys, Cape buffaloes, Nile Monitor lizards, and a wide range of birdlife. So it is advisable to carry out binoculars too. We spotted many beautiful birds, from the African Fish Eagle, black crake with its bright red feet, grey herons, Egyptian geese, hammerkop, pied and malachite kingfishers to the colourful Madagascar bee eater, among many others. If you are lucky you may spot some elephants on the edge headed for a drink.
The boat cruise has to be booked in advance and the surrounding hotels and tours to the area include the boat ride as one of the activities to be done. You cannot afford to pass this up when you are at the Queen Elizabeth National Park. The kids were so excited to see the animals up close and time passes fast you will not realise an hour or two are up when on the water.
We had a wonderful guide Martin, who answered all our questions, gave us interesting facts about the area and the wildlife, and was patient enough to let us take as many photos as we could. You can carry some water or snacks to munch on the ride, as well as a hat and sunglasses and sunscreen of course. The boats are shaded though so the hot glare of the sun will not get to you.
I was so amazed at how close we got to the animals, especially the hippos and crocodiles, but the guide assured us of our safety and maintained on the importance of staying calm and not making loud noises. The hippos seem used to the human presence, as there are many fishermen in the water in the mornings and there is a thriving fish market on the beach at the same time. Safety however is paramount and we have to remember to be respectful of the animals as we are the ones in their natural habitat.
Here are some fun facts we got to learn from our guide:-
The word “hippo” is greek for “river horse”, perhaps due to how graceful they are when moving in the water.
A group go hippos is called ‘ a school’ and is comprised of 15- 30 members headed by a dominant male. This is the wild, and younger males are perceived as threats by the head, so they leave or hide among the rest.
Hippos are very territorial, and their “yawning”, grunts and snorts are to warn you off.
When evading attack in water, dive/ swim deeper, hippos can’t swim, go deep in the water or hold their breath for too long underwater.
It was fun spotting various birds and animals that were hidden in the marshes. We spotted monitor lizards high above the trees, probably trying to catch some sun rays, female hippos with their calves away from the rest of the school to keep their little males safe from the dominant male hippo that can kill them at an instant. Lone Cape buffaloes that had been driven out of their herds and doomed to live alone, referred to by the locals as “the losers”, pied kingfisher birds swooping down on the water to get some fish, baby crocodiles chilling on the banks as a majestic African fish eagle looks on and numerous “holes” in the high banks that serve as nest tunnels for the kingfisher birds. It was fascinating to experience all this up close.
If you are ever in Uganda, be sure to visit the Queen Elizabeth national park and book a boat tour of the Kazinga channel, the experience is worth it.
A simple definition is what we consume to provide us with the nutrients we need to sustain our bodies. What we choose to eat is influenced by so many things. Our environment, our culture, availability, personal preference and so many more.
Food makes us happy. Reminds us of good or bad times, by the scent, the taste and even how it looks. Preparing and sharing a meal with loved ones is a pleasure, where we can share our thoughts in a relaxed atmosphere.
I currently live in a country that is very fertile and food is relatively cheap and easy to come by, that is, fresh fruit and vegetables. Processed food here is more expensive. When I first visited the United States, despite what I had watched and read before, I was still taken aback by how cheap processed and junk food was in comparison to fresh produce. I was also appalled at the wastage. And the irony is in both countries, there are people who are struggling to put a meal on the table.
Food is political. Yes it is. Think about it. In the past, food was just for sustenance. Our ancestors ate what they came across, what was around them at the time and their lives and dishes reflected that. These days though food has become a hot political take. What we eat, where it comes from, how it has been produced, how accessible it is to those who are lacking… it is no longer just about survival, but a reflection of what is going on with the world today.
Food can also be a fiery topic. There are certain foods some do not eat for religious, or health reasons, that are traditional staples in other communities. How do we deal with this? Do we bash those who do not eat what we eat or look down on them?
Many of us are now living in multicultural communities where our food has been influenced by other cultures.
Maize which is a staple in the community I come from, was brought by the Portuguese in the 1400s thereabouts. Potatoes which we love too, were introduced by the British in the 1800s. We did have other staples, milk and meat were accompanied by indigenous tubers, grains and cereals before that were wiped out by the introduction and spread of these new crops. Enslaved Africans crossed with cowpeas, okra and watermelon to name a few which are now part and parcel of American cuisine.
Railroad workers brought in from the Indian Subcontinent by British colonialists came with their food and spices that have had a tremendous effect on East African cuisine. Long time trade on the East African coast with Arabs and Chinese has seen influences from their cuisine here too. Our scented pilau and biriani dishes, chapati, samosas, Maru bhajias, masala tea, curries are just a few of the dishes that indicate this.
I remember this time I got gifted a bunch of green bananas ( green figs aka matooke), and I shared them with someone who declined as that specific type of banana was only eaten in times of starvation as a last resort where she came from. The banana she was rejecting is what we grow and eat back home as a staple.. what a difference! I was too shocked to be offended but it really opened my eyes to how we all relate differently with food depending on where we come from.
What we eat also changes with the times. There are many people opting not to eat certain foods as they are not produced in the right way, or overly processed. There is a shift to more traditional foods and older methods of cooking and food preservations that we had discarded over time.
Food is a very important part of our cultures, no matter what part of the world we come from. What we eat, how we prepare it, present and consume it speaks a lot on who we are as a people. It is an essential part of our lives we cannot do without. I like reading, collecting and trying recipes from different parts of the world as it is a way I can try to experience a small part of a different culture. We live in a time where information is so easily available we can interact with other cultures and traditions without having to move there physically. And food is one of the ways we can do that. Cooking different dishes with the kids makes them curious and want to know more about that culture we are making the food from, and I believe this makes them open minded and appreciative of different cultures too. Food, a meal, a recipe will always have a story to tell.
We have however abused the role of food in recent times. Food has become something some of us take pleasure in wasting, hating and using to highlight our ignorance of other cultures. Numerous videos online show people playing pranks with food, overeating as entertainment and even trying challenges of food from other cultures and competing on how gross they find them. This is appalling and disgusting to say the least. Whatever happened to basic decency and respect of other cultures?
Despite the fact that we are living in times where information on anything is a thumb click away, people are priding themselves in showing off their ignorance and arrogance. We have moved from times where we preferred to ignore or fear what we did not know and understand, to ridiculing what is different from us. And these recent food challenges are a perfect indicator of that.
Food is IDENTITY. What we eat tells us about where we come from, what is available there, what grows there and our creativity at making something palatable from it. It connects us and makes us understand one another as we share a meal. When we go ahead and mock food that comes from a different culture… What exactly are we saying about that culture? What are we communicating about ourselves?
It is crucial for us to acknowledge the important role food plays in our lives. Food is central to what we value, how we understand our environment, understand each other and how we express who we are. It is not just about filling our bellies, it tells much more than that to us as human beings. We cannot claim to respect others’ cultures, and at the same time disrespect their food (which is an integral part of any culture). We can do better and be better.