Banana and Yam Stew

Two summers ago I had the amazing opportunity to go on a wildlife-viewing safari in Tanzania with my mom. Going to Africa to see the animals was one of her lifelong dreams, so it was a pretty unforgettable experience for her as well as for me. We saw some incredible things and I got the chance to take some great photos.

While we were there, we also had a great time talking to our guide during the long car rides between the Tanzanian national parks. He and all the other guides we met were so nice and always willing to tell us about everything we wanted to know, from Swahili words to Tanzanian history lessons to tidbits on Maasai culture.

While we were in the central Serengeti we spent a couple nights at a private camp where we could hear the wildlife moving about outside our tent. The last night at the camp, we asked the guides to cook us a traditional Tanzanian meal. They made a huge feast for us, but the thing I remember best was a coconut milk-based stew with yams and green bananas and all sorts of spices.

This recipe, from one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks, is really similar to that stew. I don't know if it's exactly the same, but it's really good and brings back great memories.

Banana and Yam Stew
From Linda McCartney on Tour
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil, divided
  • 2 pounds yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped roughly
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon each ground cloves, cumin, and turmeric
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups coconut milk
  • 1 quart vegetable stock, plus another cup of water if you prefer
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 green bananas, sliced
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the yams or sweet potatoes and cook until slightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove to a plate or bowl. In the same pot, heat the other tablespoon of oil over medium heat and add the jalapeno, cilantro, onion, tomato, carrot, garlic, and spices. Cook, stirring, about 3 minutes. Add the coconut milk and stock and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaves and lower the heat to a simmer. Stir in the cornstarch mixture. Add the bananas and yams/sweet potatoes. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

Serves 4-6.