My take on Botswana's national dish Seswaa!
Well hello! How's everyone doing? I hope you all are in good health, mentally and physically. It's completely understandable not to be yourself due to what's going on in the world or if you are struggling with issues of your own. If last year taught me anything is to be kind. You never know what battles people are facing. Not everything is shown on social media. So I hope you are doing the best that you can and living your best life every day (besides being in lockdown or curfew).
Anyway, toward the end of last year, I gave myself time to make another culinary journey. As part of my "Travel Eats" series, I aim to create a national dish or a favourite dish of a country that I have never visited before as it's my way of "visiting the country" but through the comfort of my own home. I started my journey in Afghanistan – where I had made Qabuli Pilau (if you are interested, click here to read). This time around, I "traveled" my way through the African Continent and visited Botswana.
If most of you don't know, Botswana is a land lock country surrounded by Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Angola. It's considered "the Gem of Africa" for one, being a large producer of diamonds in the world and secondly it is a country known for its great Safari's. I discovered that about 80% of the Kalahari Desert covers the country, including the Okavango Delta, where wildlife is abundant. Just reading facts on Botswana and seeing photographs from specific Safari's, I can't wait to travel there (once it's safe to do). Either way, I choose Botswana as a friend of mine suggested making a famous dish called Seswaa.
First of all, I know it's weird, but the name already sounded appealing to me. At first, I thought it would be a dish that was quite saucy because I kept saying Seswaa twice because I had the tune/melody of Sexbomb by Tom Jones in my head (because I just listened to it, lol). Anyway, I was wrong; it's not saucy. Seswaa is Botswana's national dish and consists of three ingredients to make: beef, water, and salt. That's it. The trick of this dish is the time it's cooked. It's typically eaten on special occasions like weddings and other celebratory events. Seswaa is eaten with Pap (maize meal, similar to porridge consistency ) and some green vegetables. I was very excited to make this because it seemed so simple; from what I read from the multiple recipes and blog posts, each said you have to cover the beef with salted water and cook it on slow-medium flame for several hours to soften. Now what I needed to decide is what part of the beef I would cook. I like to eat meat, but tell me which is the animal's juiciest part; I have no clue haha. I went with the butcher's recommendation, and I decided to use Topside (as that is the animal's meatiest part), which is what we want.
Instead of cooking the meat on the stove for several hours, I did the next best thing: I slow cooked the beef in a slow cooker. I placed all the ingredients, the beef, water, salt, and I added bay leaves because it's a subtle yet flavourful herb; anyway, I put all the ingredients in the slow cooker and cooked it under medium heat for 7 hours. During those 7 hours, I made the Pap and the green vegetables that are supposed to go with the Seswaa. Now I realized that Pap is very similar to Ugali ( which is also maize meal and a staple food in Kenya), so this was my first time making Ugali, and I'm not going to lie that was the most challenging part of this whole meal haha. Man, do you need STRENGTH to make Ugali. I did have help in making the Ugali, but I pretty much did the leg work. I kid you not; it felt as if I was doing an ARM WORKOUT! The strength you need to keep stirring the maize meal with the water is to make sure it doesn't stick to the pan, which was a mission. It took roughly around 15 minutes, and I did flavour the Ugali with vegetable stock to the water because it is pretty bland by itself. I made some spinach for my side of green vegetables (as I forgot to shop for other green vegetables like cabbage, haha) with tomatoes and onions, which I sautéed for 10 minutes with salt and pepper.
When the 7 hours were finished, there was still a lot of water within the beef. I placed the meat in a pot and cooked it on the stove for another hour to reduce the water. I also added one teaspoon of paprika because I needed some sort of spice with the meat haha, salt wasn't enough. Once the water had reduced, the meat at this point was so tender that it just melted in your mouth.
This meal I can say, is a hearty, filling meal. I can understand why it's only made for celebratory events in Botswana because it takes time to make. It's a simple process to make, but the time in which the meat is cooked is crucial because the longer it cooks, the softer the meat will get, and that's the aim. The mixture of the Seswaa with the Ugali (Pap) and Spinach was good, but it's heavy. I could only eat one plate, but luckily I had some for dinner!!
I am really curious to travel physically to Botswana now. To see the wildlife, I want to try other types of dishes such as Vetkoek, Phaphatha, and Dikgobe. Maybe during some of my spare time I can try to find some recipes, but in all honestly would love to visit the country and taste it first hand.
Well, if you have read through this post, thank you for taking this culinary journey with me! I'm enjoying this series, even though it is taken me a while to write about this particular culinary adventure. Not only am I learning about a country, but my appetite is also extremely satisfied!
I hope I get my life a little bit organized to start a culinary journey with a country that begins with the letter C. At the moment, I can only think of South American countries like Colombia, Chile so I might "travel" there. If anyone has a recipe that they would like to share, please do! My palate would be very interested. Stay tuned for more on my series of travel eats, the posts may not be as frequent, but I will try.
Thanks for reading, have a great month ahead.