Last Wednesday, The New York Times published an excellent article about Zimbabwe, written by Michael Wines. If you read this blog and wonder about the deteriorating economic and political situation in the country where I live, this balanced, perceptive and accurate article is a great place to gain an overview.
In contrast to Wines’ report, many articles written about
The foreign media (which faces restrictions) and the independent national press (which faces persecution) has a more laudable raison d’etre – to expose the true causes of Zimbabwe’s economic and political crises and highlight the real suffering of people. But their work is also prone to an occasional bout of hyperbole. Two months ago the Institute for War and Peace Reporting published a story that said Zimbabweans had resorted to eating pet food because they could no longer afford to buy meat fit for human consumption. While I don’t doubt that some people have faced this predicament, the article portrayed pet-food eating as a widespread, national phenomenon, which it is not.
Articles that are heavy on shock value and light on analysis and perspective do a disservice to the Zimbabwean people by portraying them as hopelessly desperate rather than as people trying to live happy, peaceful lives enriched by friends and family. How much more useful would it be for an article to look at the reasons why meat and other foods have become so unaffordable, the variety of coping mechanisms people are using to deal with poverty and hunger, and the resulting implications for people’s health and nutrition? These coping mechanisms are much more diverse that simply eating pet food, and their impact can be much more tragic. Recently, for example, five family members from a
Despite the recent tragedy, and although most Zimbabweans favor meat, eating mushrooms as a meat substitute is common, especially during the rainy season when wild mushrooms are relatively plentiful. There are several types of wild mushrooms that can be safety eaten. One type, called chihombiro, is a particularly substantial, chewy mushroom. Chihombiro are are most commonly sold by women and children along the road to and from Nyanga – a mountainous district that abuts
Mark and I don’t eat red meat, so we use mushrooms in place of meat as a personal choice rather than as a less preferable alterative. Last night, I used chihombiro as a substitute for meat in an Ethiopian-inspired recipe for Stir-Fried Beef Stew from Marcus Samuelsson’s The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa. This dish is Samuelsson’s version of the traditional Ethiopian dish, tibs w’et, a spicy stew made from beef or lamb. He notes that calling this dish a “stew” is a bit of a misnomer. I agree. Not only is it quick-cooking, but it contains little liquid and couldn’t possibly be eaten by the bowlful – it needs a grain-based accompaniment to temper its dark, rich flavors.
Tibs w’et is quite spicy – so be wary if you are spice-averse and be sure to reduce the amount of berbere and green chili. You can substitute chili powder for the berbere if you wish, or refer to my previous recipe for Ethiopian Lentil Stew to make your own. Traditionally, this dish is made with nir’ir quibe, or spiced clarified butter. I simply used clarified butter (a.k.a. ghee), and you could also substitute unsalted butter. In
Make sure to use a meaty sort of mushroom as your beef/lamb substitute, such as porcini, shitake or crimini. If you would like to make Samuelsson’s beef version of this recipe, exchange 1½ pounds beef tenderloin, cut into ½-inch cubes, for the mushrooms. I suspect your dish might yield more servings this way.
Ethiopian-inspired Wild Mushroom Stir-Fry
Adapted from “Stir-fried Beef Stew” in The Soul of a New Cuisine
60 milliliters / 4 tablespoons ghee, or unsalted butter
75 grams / ¾ cup red onions, thinly sliced
300 grams / 3 cups “meaty” mushrooms, chopped
5 milliliters / 1 teaspoon salt
15 milliliters / 1 tablespoon berbere, or chili powder
2½ milliliters / ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
2½ milliliters /½ teaspoon ground ginger
1¼ milliliters / ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch ground cloves
1¼ milliliters / ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 400-gram / 14-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
2 green chilies, seeds and ribs removed, thinly sliced
125 milliliters / ½ dry red wine
Melt the ghee in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown around the edges – about two minutes. Add the mushrooms and salt, and fry, stirring occasionally, for 6-7 minutes until the mushrooms are cooked. Stir in the berbere and all the ground spices. Add the tomatoes, chilies and wine, and stir. Simmer for one minute. Serve immediately.