On the African island of Madagascar, edible green leafy vegetables abound, lending themselves nicely to what is probably the country’s national dish: romazava (recipe follows). Available meat and poultry, like chicken or the locally prevalent cattle zebu, supplement the dish and create a one-course meal. Chilies and ginger give the dish some kick, and the spicy dish that results is a great foil to Madagascar’s tropical climate.
More Malagasy dishes on The World Cup of Food:
- Sakay, spicy table sauce
- Lasaray Voatabia, tomato and green onion salad
- Lasopy, puréed vegetable soup
- Varenga, crispy shredded beef (with Malagasy cuisine overview)
Our greatest challenge in creating our recipe for romazava, as we have experienced with some other dishes of African origin like Cameroonian ndolé or Trinidadian callaloo, has been finding greens in the United States that best imitate the flavors of the original ingredients. Most adaptations of African-based recipes with greens substitute spinach, which feels like a swap that is often made with little thought about the effect on the finished dish, and we wanted to avoid settling for such an easy substitution without good reason. The greens most often used in a Malagasy romazava are called, locally, anamalao (Acmella oleracea, sometimes called paracress), anantsonga (a cultivar of Brassica juncea, mustard greens), and anamamy (Solanum americanum, a nightshade species). The mustard greens are easy, available anywhere. Anamamy sometimes goes by the name “Malabar spinach” and has been described as very similar to spinach in taste, so that’s pretty easy also. Paracress was the trickiest to find a substitution for, by far. Another name for the herb, toothache plant, is in reference to an interesting property of paracress — it numbs the mouth completely like a local anasthetic. The flavor has been described as peppery, lying somewhere in the spectrum between the flavors of black pepper and that of hot chilies. After scouting what was available, we decided that arugula would have to suffice.
SERVES 6 TO 8
- 2 Tbs canola oil
- 2 lb beef chuck, cut into about 2 inch pieces
- 1 pork loin chop, cut into about inch-and-a-half pieces
- 1 chicken breast, cut into about inch-and-a-half pieces
- 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 2 cups chicken or beef stock
- 1/2 large yellow onion, sliced
- 5 cloves garlic, sliced
- one 2 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
- 3 serrano chilies, diced
- 1 bunch mustard greens, shredded
- 1 bunch arugula leaves
- 1 bunch spinach leaves
Our sources were divided, some adamantly insisting that the meat be browned, other adamantly insisting that the raw meat be placed in the simmering stock unbrowned. We decided to brown the meat, so we heated the oil in our Dutch oven, then added about half the beef:
Turning the pieces every few minutes, the beef was browned on all sides and set aside while we browned the other half of the beef:
Once all the beef was browned, we put it all in the pot with the tomatoes, stock, chilies, ginger, onions, and garlic and brought everything to a simmer:
We covered the pot, reduced the heat to low, and simmered the stew for about half an hour. Next we added the pork pieces, put the cover back on, and simmered our romazava another fifteen minutes or so until the pork was cooked through:
Our stew was then ready for the final addition of our tri-meat extravaganza, the chicken:
We put the lid back on, brought the romazava to a simmer another time, and after about ten minutes the chicken was white and opaque on the outside (slightly underdone perhaps, but we were sure it would finish as the stew continued to simmer) and we were ready for the final addition, the mixture of greens:
At first this looked like cartoonishly too large an amount of green leafy vegetables, but after only about three minutes of constantly stirring them into the simmering liquid, the greens had wilted considerably and fit nicely into the pot:
They were still not quite done, so we allowed our romazava to stew for another ten minutes until the greens were fully cooked (but not yet mushy) and they had started to lend some flavor and color to the broth:
Served with some steaming hot rice, our romazava made for a colorful, vitamin-packed, one-dish meal:
Romazava is called Madagascar’s national dish, but we thought it typical for a much broader region. The ginger, chilies, tomatoes, and greens combination has come to define African food for us. With the addition of peanuts a stew like this would be at home in Cameroon or Senegal. Add some coconut milk and the dish starts to resemble some of the Tanzanian offerings.
The peppery mustard greens, ginger, and chiles give this dish spiciness three ways, which all hit the mouth at different times and with different intensities. The flavors play together nicely, each waiting its turn in the spotlight. Romazava, with three kinds of both meat and greens, is a decadent stew, one that we are unlikely to make frequently, but for those rare occasions is well worth the effort.