Saturday, June 28, 2008

Back, with a Bean

I ended my last post with a wish that the flicker of hope I saw in the days after the 29 March election would reignite. I was wrong, however, to assume the flame had disappeared. It remained a smolder low to the ground, tended by brave people, despite the boots and sticks and metal rods trying to snuff it out.

Yes, blogging about food still seems trivial to me. But, it also seems like something I need to do to take a mental break from thinking about the situation here. So, after two months, with this post, I am back! I’ll be consciously avoiding any discussion about the political or humanitarian situation here (which you can read about
here, here and here), mostly for my own sanity. So today, I will tell you only one thing about Zimbabwe – a story about the country’s indigenous nyimo bean.

Nyimo bean is the local name for the Bambara groundnut, a legume considered an
underutilized, “lost crop of Africa,” because it is little known outside of the continent. Even in Africa, the Bambara groundnut is often thought of as a “poor person’s” crop and is eclipsed in popularity by its botanical cousin, the peanut, who arrived 400 years ago from Brazil and is now an important source of nutrition in more than 30 African countries, including Zimbabwe. Interestingly, both Bambara groundnuts and peanuts were brought to North America from Africa during the slave trade – there are references to both beans in the diaries of the colonialists. But, once again, the peanut outshone its kin. I bet, though, if you live in the U.S. state of Georgia, you might just be able to find someone still growing the Bambara groundnut. Let me know if you do!

Despite being repeatedly overshadowed, the humble nyimo bean still has its staunch admirers – those who respect its nutritional might (this bean is 20 percent protein!), its ability to thrive under harsh conditions, and its addictively earthy flavor. Zimbabwe itself gave birth to
BamNet,” the International Bambara Groundnut Network, in 1995.

Here, Tulimara cans nyimo beans for sale in some supermarkets. These work well in soups, or for making “African” hummus. Near the end of the rainy season, you can buy dried nyimo beans by the side of the road in rural areas, or from the vendors who ply busy downtown intersections. They are easy to mistake for peanuts, which have the same brown, fibrous shell. The main difference is that the nyimo bean’s shell is rounder – it was not blessed with the peanut’s hourglass curves.

You can prepare dried nyimo beans in several ways. What I do is boil them in their shell in heavily salted water under tender (about 30-40 minutes), drain, salt again, and serve. A bowl of beans with a nice cold pilsner are a perfect game-time snack. Just don’t get too scared when you crack open the shell – boiled nyimos do eerily resemble eyeballs! Like peanuts, nyimo beans will absorb flavor through their shell while boiling, so you could add soy sauce and star anise to the water, for example, if you want more complex tastes.

Boiled nyimo beans can also be roasted. And, they can be pounded into flour, either after boiling or after both boiling and roasting. This flour can be stirred into maize meal porridge. I’ve read that in Nigeria, women use the flour to make pancakes.

Now, I realize most of you readers are a long way away from the nearest Bambara groundnut! What learning about this little legume made me think about, however, are the many fruits and vegetables in our midst that might have been shoved aside by history – maybe because they didn’t keep as well during transport, looked ugly canned, had a unappealing name, or got a reputation as second-class food. They all might be worth a second look.


Kalyn said...

Hi Carolyn,
It's so nice to see a post pop up from you, but so sad to hear about the tragic things happening in your country. Our thoughts are with you.

Shelly said...


I have a question. How closely related to peanuts are they? I am allergic to peanuts and am constantly looking for substitutes.

I live in the US, so it's probably not realistic for me to pursue these beans, but I like information :)

Carolyn said...

Kalyn - thanks so much for your kind thoughts!

Shelly - Unfortunately I don't know enough about peanut allergies to help you out - sorry! All I can say is that the scientific name for the Bambara groundnut is Vigna subterranea, though I'm not sure if this info is any help. Thanks for writing!

Shelly said...

OH thank you. I will do some research on it. I am curious how closely both groundnuts are related. Very kind of you to write back. I love your blog.

Anonymous said...

Carolyn - Great to have you back in fine form. I've missed my mini food holiday with Field to Feast.

Also, Shelly: My mouth gets really irritated (canker sores) when I eat peanuts -- so I don't. But I had Carolyn's boiled nyimo without incident. NOTE: I am NOT highly allergic to peanuts so don't use this as a go ahead if this may be life/death for you.


Anonymous said...

nice to have you back Carolyn. I've been thinking about you and hoping you were well.

Anonymous said...

So great to have you posting again! I grew up in Zimbabwe near Mutare and recall thses beans well. Am now blogging from Wales on very different dishes and miss the robust flavours of Africa.


Zimbobaby said...

Hi Carolyn

So good to see you back! you are right, each of us, in whatever way, needs to retain something positive in our lives, especially when all around very little is making sense.

Nyimo's are yummy and perfect for our own version of hummous - I've also used sugar beans successfully, with macadamia paste or peanut butter instead of tahini - as you say, it's rather robust, and very filling.

Stay well, safe and strong and don't feel guilty about retaining your sanity in any way that feels right to you. For example, I spent the run-off weekend tending to my Bonsai's - can't believe I was doing something so longterm on that particular weekend ;o)

Alan said...

Welcome back Carolyn and bean!

Do you like soft pretzels? I found a recipe yesterday that I thought might cheer you up! Hugs, Alan

Soft Pretzels
1 tsp active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/3 cup warm water
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp canola oil
3 tbsp baking soda
1 cup hot water (as hot as your tap can get)
Sea salt
Dissolve yeast into water with a pinch of sugar, let stand 10 minutes, until the mixture is creamy colored. Mix the yeast mixture with flour, sugar, salt and canola oil, and knead until combined (a few minutes, not even 5). Let the dough rise in a greased bowl until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. When the dough has risen, pinch off a handful and roll it out into a long strand. Set aside. Repeat with the rest of the dough, about 6 times. Once all the strands are rolled out, pick up the first one and stretch it out again (the gluten will have relaxed and it should stretch further now). Twist it into a pretzel shape and place it on a baking sheet lined with silipat or cooking spray. Repeat with the rest of the strands.
Dissolve baking soda into hot water and stir until dissolved. Quickly dip each rolled pretzel into the mixture and place it back on the baking sheet. Sprinkle all the pretzels with sea salt, to your preference. Bake for about 8 minutes, until pretzels have browned.
Makes six medium-sized pretzels, but please double or triple this recipe, because they disappear quickly!

Jeanne said...

Hi Carolyn

Thrilled to see you are back. I've been following events in Zim with great trepidation and thinking of you often. I hope people read my little Zimwatch blogroll and that I can at least keep people thinkng and talking about the terrible situation there.

I salute your decision to talk abotu food rather than the political situation - it must be absolutely relentless having to face the daily obstacles that you face and this blog is a great escape. It's also so easy to view countries undergoing terrible upheaval as consisting of nothign more than terrible news events, when in reality there are still people going abotu their daily business as best they can. Thanks for reminding us of the pockets of normality in the life of ordinary Zimbabweans.

Amanda said...

So glad you're back--I love your blog. Be well.

Anonymous said...

I am interested in buying nyimo fresh and dried from Zim or other markets can you please provide more infor if you have thanks if you give your email add I will write from my email

Anonymous said...

I very much enjoyed your "Muddy sadza, smelly fish" article. I am a Zimbabwean living overseas since the 80s and miss home dearly. This was a nice touch and reminder of the good food we have back home....lucky you. I grew up in the Harare city, but often went to the rural area where grandma/grandpa lived and enjoyed all the authentic meals. My kids were born in the diaspora, but love the food whenever we go to visit. I was home last year in July and had a great time mixed with bad times...(tires stolen from rental car)... long story. Nevertheless, things were improving slowly. I did experience all about the electricity and water issues. Are things a little bit better now? Hope so. Praying for you all. God bless you. Thanks for sharing.