Tanzanian Cuisine — Ndizi na Nyama: Meat and Banana Stew

In Tanzania, bananas and plantains are king.  The nation grows almost four million tons of the fruits each year, and very little of that is exported.  The rest goes onto the tables of Tanzanian homes and restaurants in stews or fried into cakes and chips, or is brewed into beer or wine.

More Tanzanian dishes on The World Cup of Food:

Ndizi na nyama (recipe follows), Swahili for “bananas/plantains and meat,” is as the translation would suggest a dish with few rigid rules.  The greenest unripe, starchy bananas are used, which seemed both interesting and distinctly East African, making this dish an easy choice to feature.  We first took notice of ndizi na nyama (or, alternatively, ndizi na ya nyama or just ndizi-nyama) in Dorinda Hafner’s pan-African cookbook A Taste of Africa: Traditional & Modern African Cooking (Amazon affiliate link) which presented the dish in its most basic form, consisting of just green bananas, beef, coconut milk, tomatoes, onions, and peas.  Aside from the bananas and meat, coconut milk and tomatoes were common to every recipe we found.  Further, knowing the influence of Persian and Indian culture on Tanzanian cookery, we opted to be as inclusive as possible with adding spices, so our recipe contains a interesting variety culled together from the spices used in various sources.

Ndizi na Nyama

adapted from A Taste of Africa: Traditional & Modern African Cooking by Dorinda Hafner, the Green Bananas and Oxtail video from Taste of Tanzania, and The Congo Cookbook

Note: our inclination would be to use beef chuck for a braised or stewed beef dish such as this; however, East African beef is very lean compared to what is available in the United States and every source we found recommended a lean cut for this recipe.

  • 3/4 pound beef top sirloin, cut into small cubes. Any lean cut (not named London broil; never, ever feed London broil to any non-enemy) will do.
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed of the root end
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp yellow curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
  • The 2 greenest bananas available to us

The first step was to bring the beef, water, garlic, all the spices, some salt, and the bay leaf to a simmer over medium heat:

beefandspicesreadytosimmer

Once simmering, the pot was covered, the heat turned down to low, and the meat was gently cooked until tender, about twenty-five minutes:

beeftender

The pot was taken off the burner and re-covered, and in its place went one of our trusty cast-iron skillets set over medium-low heat.  Once the pan was hot the oil was added and we set off to soften our onions:

onionsinskillet

Once soft but not yet browned, about five minutes later:

onionssoftened

…the onions were scraped into the pot with the meat mixture along with the tomatoes and tomato paste:

tomatoesandonionaddedtomeat

…and stirred to combine.  The stew was gently simmered for about five minutes until the tomatoes were soft:

tomatoessoftened

While the tomatoes were cooking we were ready to deal with our green bananas:

greenbananas

We at first tried peeling them just like you would a ripe banana, but it was immediately clear that would not work, as only the outermost layer of peel was coming away cleanly:

failedpeelingattempt

It was clear we needed to use a knife.  First the ends were removed:

bananaendsremoved

Since the bananas have such a dramatic curvature from end to end, we figured that it would be difficult to follow along all the way, so each banana was cut in half:

bananashalved

…then cut closely along the edge to remove one strip of peel at a time:

bananafirstslicepeeled

Proceeding this way along the entire circumference of the banana, taking small strips away one at a time, we eventually had most of the peel off:

bananapeeled

Continuing with the remaining three banana halves and trimming any stubborn peel remnants, we had all four pieces peeled in no time:

allbananaspeeled

The bananas were cut roughly into pieces just a little bit bigger than our meat and were ready for the pot:

bananassliced

By this time our tomatoes from earlier in the recipe were cooked and the bananas were going to be immediately put into the stew.  If this has been done in advance, it would have been wise to put the banana pieces in cold water to prevent discoloring.

Back to the stew!  We were ready for the coconut milk and bananas now:

coconutmilkandbananasaddedtopot

Everything was stirred to combine, and the stew was brought to a simmer, uncovered:

stewcombined

After ten minutes of simmering, the bananas were tender but not mushy and the sauce had thickened a little, both from reduction of the liquid and from some of the ample starch from the unripe bananas dissipating into the broth:

bananastender

Our stew finished, we were ready to eat.  We served our ndizi na nyama in large bowls over generous scoops of white rice:

ndizananyamaoverrice

We didn’t know what to think about eating completely unripe bananas, but we were glad we gave this a try.  The bananas had a firm but tender texture with a flavor like a cross between plantains and parsnips.  The broth was spicy and tomato-heavy in flavor, and the tender beef took on all the flavors in each bite.  The dish was surprisingly easy on the prep work, with the bananas taking most of the time, and everything came together very smoothly.  All the ingredients for ndizi na nyama are pretty forgiving to over- or under-cooking, so it was a hard dish to mess up and one that we will make again.

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