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Zanzibari coconut creamed spinach (Mchicha wa nazi)

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

Zanzibari cuisine is regarded as one of the best in Africa. The island of Zanzibar has stood as an important port for trade for centuries. It was occupied by the Persians, Omanis and the Yemeni sultanates before falling to Portuguese hands and then again being captured by the Omani kings. This history of conquest and trade influenced the cuisine, with the Arabs leaving rice (pilaf), mangoes and spices, while the Portuguese left manioc, pineapple and maize. The Indian influence travelled via Oman is also seen in the cuisine in the form of chutneys, samosas and curry. As a result, the cuisine is a mix of diverse ingredients and a burst of flavour that is seen nowhere else in Africa.

This rather simple dish belies the beauty of the cuisine. The dish is simple to make but the flavours are supreme. The lettuce is slow-cooked with a hint of spice from the green chillies and the coconut milk adds a beautiful creaminess to the dish. Light and elegant, this dish will shine as a side on your table.

Felicia Campbell is an award-winning, writer, editor and producer. Her cookbook is more of a historical memoir of the region, its food, its culture and its deep history. This could be one of those cookbooks that you can read as a novel, but I love to rush into my kitchen and cook the dishes knowing their deep history

For more recipes from this fabulous cookbook, click here.


2 tablespoons oil

2 medium onions, minced

2 plum tomatoes, minced

1 green chilli, serrano preferred, minced

3 large bunches of spinach, washed well, stemmed and chopped

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds

Salt, to taste

3/4 cup water

1/4 cup coconut milk

Green chillies for garnish

Heat the oil in a pot or shallow wok. Add the onions and fry on low heat till the onions are very soft and translucent about 4-5 minutes. Do not let the onions colour.

Add the tomatoes and chillies and fry till the tomatoes are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the spinach, cumin, and salt and stir to mix all the ingredients. Cook for 2 minutes till the spinach has wilted.

Add the water and stir in. Simmer gently covered for 15 minutes. Check after 10 minutes that the water has not dried out, add more water as needed.

Add the coconut milk, mix in and simmer on very low heat for another 5-7 minutes till the sauce has thickened and the spinach is quite thick. Taste and adjust the salt.

Serve hot garnished with green chillies.

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