Local Greens Guide
This guide to cooking with local greens takes the guess work out of textures, preparation, and cook times so you can incorporate more of these super foods into your meals.
Cooking with greens can be a bit intimidating in any locale because there are so many varieties and they can vary considerably in their texture, cook times, and flavors. This guide provides information about three fairly common greens in Uganda: spinach, sukuma wiki, and doodo. Each section provides an introduction to the greens, how to clean and prepare them, recipe suggestions, and cook times.
Each of the bunches are sold for 1,000 shillings. As I write, it is toward the end of the rainy season so greens are readily available and gorgeous. Certain times of the year, like the end of dry season and beginning of rainy season, greens are harder to find and don’t look as good.
I haven’t tried any of these greens raw in salads or smoothies, so please share information if you have something to add.
Spinach is fairly common in Kampala markets and it is perhaps the easiest of these three greens to work with. Americans of a certain age may not recognize this variety of spinach, but it used to be quite common before baby spinach stole our hearts. Mature spinach is what comes in frozen packages or cans like Popeye used to eat. Mature spinach is actually preferable to baby spinach for cooking because it maintains a better texture.
To prepare spinach, I like to de-rib each leaf with a knife and then clean all the leaves. Removing the ribs makes the spinach leaves easier to work with and makes the texture more uniform when cooked. Once the leaves have been cleaned, you can chop them up for recipes like lentils or keep them whole for a dish like swimming rama.
To cook a bunch of spinach, dice half a Kampala onion and pre-cook onions in oil over low heat until tender. Add chopped spinach and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Alternatively, chopped spinach can be added to stews and sauces. Chopped spinach takes about 2 minutes to wilt in soup and 15 minutes to cook until it is so tender there is very little texture left and it fades into the background of the dish. This is a great way to sneak more iron and other nutrients into your diet.
Apparently, sukuma wiki means to “stretch the week” by adding a bit more volume to the sauce. Sukuma wiki is a common green in Kenya and in the U.S. we call this leaf collard greens. It is sometimes referred to as kale, and it's true that kale and sukuma have a similar chewy texture, but sukuma isn’t kale. It’s collard greens. If you like your greens to be chewy, this is your best bet.
Prepare and clean sukuma wiki similarly to spinach, by de-ribbing and cleaning the leaves and then cutting them according to your recipe.
To cook a bunch of sukuma wiki, dice half a Kampala onion and combine with chopped sukuma wiki and cooking oil over low heat. Because of its chewy texture, sukuma wiki takes longer to cook than spinach or doodo so there is no need to pre-cook the onions. The texture of sukuma can also cause the leaves to crisp rather than soften, so I prefer low heat and I often cover the pan for at least part of the cooking time. I find it works well to cook the greens in oil for about 5 minutes and then add a lid to steam them for 2-3 minutes to finish them off. Cooking sukuma wiki in this way is my family's preferred side dish of greens because we like them to be a bit crispy and chewy but still tender at the same time.
If you are adding chopped sukuma wiki to a stew or sauce, it takes about 25 minutes to soften and I don’t even think it is possible to cook them so long that they are unnoticeable. Add sukuma wiki to your stew or beans if you want to add texture, in the same way that some recipes call for cooked kale.
Doodo is a tender green like spinach but it takes more work to clean and remove the stalks. This local green is a relative of amaranth, which is a high protein grain. Doodo grows wild in many parts of Uganda, though the variety of doodo sold in markets is different than its wild relative. You may also see red doodo in the market place, which is purplish in color.
To prepare doodo, cut off the stalks of the bunch as shown below.
Then, taking each stalk individually, remove the leaves and place them in a bowl. Discard all the stalks and clean the leaves according to your usual method for cleaning vegetables.
To cook doodo, pre-cook half a Kampala onion in oil over medium heat. Chop the doodo, add to the onions, and saute doodo and onions over low heat for about 5 minutes.
To include doodo in sauces and soups, add chopped doodo to the hot soup and cook about 8 minutes until the doodo leaves are tender.