The Wild Vegetable Lunch

And regular plates began to be served of terere (amaranth), managu  (African nightshade), kanjera (African kale), pumpkin leaves and nderema (vine spinach).

The food fest – terere (amaranth), managu (African nightshade), kanjera (African kale), pumpkin leaves and nderema (vine spinach). Copyright Rupi Mangat

Many of them are growing in the compound sans the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides meaning they are 100% organic and healthy for me and the earth. That’s a huge big plus for me.

In the Covid-hit months, we decided a few days ago to have a lunch for all – 12 of us that was 99% indigenous. We had to have some tomatoes insisted Eunice Wanjiru my house help.

So – ok – tomatoes.

It was cultivated as early as 700 AD by the Aztecs and Incas of South America and believed to have arrived here with the Portuguese from the 16th century onwards. There are many other foreign foods that were introduced by the early sea-men in search of new lands to conquer. Foods like maize, sweet potatoes, peanuts, papaya, guavas, pineapples and tobacco. The common cabbage that we call kabeji hails from western Europe and planted on commercial scale in Kenya from the 1950s. Hard to digest that.

So Eunice put out the menu with her friends next door.

It was two stews – pumpkin and matoke (green cooking bananas), greens (mix of terere, managu , kanjera, pumpkin leaves and nderema. The nderema and pumpkin leaves were straight from the compound. There was no chappo (chappati) or the regular maize meal ugali but ugali of an indigenous mix of millet and sorghum with a bit of the non-indigenous cassava.

We broke another rule. Cassava was brought in by the Portuguese in the 16th century from Brazil and today the largest producer in the world is Nigeria. It is so common in most parts of Africa that it is the staple where nothing else grows.

Serving Banana stew, pumpkin stew, ugali of millet, sorghum and casava flour and the wild veggies. Copyright Rupi Mangat

In the epic but dangerous journey through the completely failed state of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tim Butcher author of ‘Blood River’ (2007) sails the course of the Congo (River) which no outsider had done since the time of the eccentric but hell-bent journalist-explorer in 1877 of Henry Morton Stanley. Butcher writes that the locals are so malnourished surviving mostly on cassava that even their skin has taken on a greyish texture.

African Indigenous Vegetables a force in the being

Reading through research papers, many traditional African vegetables are called ‘edible weeds’. But these so called weeds can suppress other non-edible weeds and attacks from pests when intercropped with commercial crops like maize. Indigenous veggies like amaranthus are also indicators of fertile soils.  

Wild vegetables are also richer in minerals like magnesium, potassium, phosphate and many more. The big plus is they are really high on fibre which makes you fuller faster and keeps the digestive system good.

In more terms of healthy, traditional vegetables help keep us healthier. Reports read of lower cholesterol and fat and hence good for the BP.

Nderema (vine spinach) Copyright Rupi Mangat.

AIVs on the Market

In 2016, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) released for the first time nine varieties of pure seeds of indigenous vegetables to the Kenyan market. They are managu, nderma, mrenda and sagaa (spider plant).

There’s need to invest more in traditional vegetables because the down-side is that they have a short shelf life and not marketed well.

But for now it’s time to celebrate and call for more indigenous foods on the platter.

Oh – and an added addition: Indigenous veggies are pocket-friendly. The lunch for 12 cost less than Ksh 500.

Scrolling the Net

Check out Mama Kienyeji for indigenous food fare and home deliveries.

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