Honestly, I deliberated what to call this dish for a long time. The recipe combines two dishes: one for cornmeal porridge and one for kale simmered in coconut milk and spices. The problem is that “curried coconut kale and grits” makes this sound like a Southern dish. It’s not. In truth, it’s from Mozambique where the two dishes are called mbowa and xima.
On the other hand, I heavily adapted this recipe, and I am not from Mozambique. I don’t speak Portuguese, and I don’t intend to speak for the creator of the recipe I adapted. So I decided, in the end, to call this dish something about “kale” and “grits.”
The cookbook: In Bibi’s Kitchen
I adapted this recipe from Ma Maria’s recipe from In Bibi’s Kitchen. Created, compiled, and written by Hawa Hassan and Julia Turshen, this book features recipes and interviews with bibis, or grandmothers, from across east Africa. Their goal here is about more than just food:
[In Bibi’s Kitchen is] about sustaining a cultural legacy and seeing how food and recipes keep cultures intact, whether those cultures stay in the same place or are displaced. By celebrating bibis and their cooking, we aim to use food as a way to honor the matriarchs of numerous families and countries. … It’s a collection of stories about war, loss, migration, refuge, and sanctuary. It’s a book about families and their connections to home.(Hassan and Turshen, page 2)
I love that! Ma Maria, from Maputo, Mozambique, shared these recipes with the authors of In Bibi’s Kitchen, including her recipe for mbowa, or greens in coconut sauce, because it “represents the local taste, the Mozambican taste.” Xima, or smooth cornmeal porridge, is likewise common across Mozambique.
I’ve just begun making my way through this book. By reading interviews with bibis, recipes, and brief histories of the countries and regions, I’ve already begun countering my own knowledge gaps. I find myself wanting to learn more about each person and each region. While I may not come out with a full picture of Mozambique, I do emerge with valuable snapshots and an understanding that there’s still so much to learn.
Food is powerful. Grandmas are powerful. Somehow I’m not surprised that a book filled with both can have this effect.
Recipe for curried coconut kale and grits
I cooked the grits more or less the same way as the recipe. True, it isn’t traditional grits but rather a cornmeal pudding. I did make a few changes to the greens. For starters, I used kale rather than the half spinach, half kale or collards it called for. (It mentioned that Ma Maria uses pumpkin leaves). In addition to chickpeas for protein, I added spices to create a masala out of the onions and tomatoes. I liked the result. It retained the richness of the coconut milk, the earthiness of the greens, and the spices added some extra flavor.
So try this recipe, and check out the book to learn about the bibi who made it!Print
Kale, simmered in coconut milk and spices, served atop a bed of salty grits.
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely grated, or 1 teaspoon garlic paste
- 1 teaspoon finely grated ginger or ginger paste
- 1 tomato, finely diced
- 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
- 3/4 cups water
- 1 1/2 pounds kale greens, chopped (stems are okay)
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas
- 5 cups water
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup cornmeal (NOT grits or polenta)
For the Kale
- Heat a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium. Add the coconut oil. When the coconut oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and fry until they release a roasted smell (about 30 seconds to 1 minute).
- Add the onion and cook until golden. (You may need to turn the heat down to medium low if your pan, like mine, traps a lot of heat.)
- Right before the onion is done cooking, add the garlic and ginger pastes and fry for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
- Stir in the diced tomato and then add the turmeric, cumin powder, and coriander powder. Keep stirring occasionally until the raw smell from the tomato disappears and the oil starts to separate from the tomato.
- Add the coconut milk and the water and bring to a boil. Add the kale and pinch of salt with each handful. Add the chickpeas.
- Turn the heat to low and cook covered for 15 minutes. Then remove the lid and cook uncovered for another 10 minutes or until the stems are tender and most liquid has evaporated.
For the Grits*
- Add 5 cups of water and 2 teaspoons kosher salt to a medium saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil.
- Slowly whisk in the cornmeal until only small clumps remain.
- Cook on low, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until the cornmeal drips off the spoon in something between a ribbon and a plop.
- Fill a plate or shallow bowl with a cup of grits. Top with 3/4 cup greens. Enjoy!
Adapted from Ma Maria’s recipe from In Bibi’s Kitchen.
*Okay, okay. This isn’t “grits.” This is cornmeal pudding. Grits are more coarsely ground and often made from hominy, which is processed with lime. However, grits and cornmeal pudding taste similar and both are good.
Keywords: Mozambican, vegetarian, vegan, stew, grits, cornmeal porridge, healthy, coconut, spices, African food