This is a humble, verdant dish with so much love, goodness and sweet memories of family. I learned to cook braised greens from my mum when my grandma Theresa had diabetes and lived with us until she gently passed away. Although she was kept on a strict diet and told to avoid starchy foods, my sweet grandma adored plantains, just like my mother and I, and she simply could not give them up. So, we were advised to feed her boiled unripe (low-sugar) green plantains with her favourite stewed greens.
I love them with sweet peppers, puréed and sliced for a little texture, and with a smoky flavour from the paprika. Braised greens in various guises are emblematic across Africa: the spicy efo tete in Nigeria – amaranth cooked in a stew of red peppers and chillies, with an assortment of meat and fish; Ethiopian gomen – collard greens cooked in aromatics and spices; Ghanaian palaver sauce with taro leaves; and stews made with West African sorrel, or ‘bush okra’.
Braised greens with sweet red peppers
1 large brown onion, peeled and halved
3 red Romano peppers,stemmed and deseeded
½–1 scotch bonnet, or 2–4 red chillies, stemmed, deseeded (optional) and finely diced or pierced and left whole
200ml chicken or vegetable stock
90ml rapeseed or vegetable oil
500g greens (e.g. Swiss chard, amaranth, wild spinach, kale or collard greens), tough stalks removed and thin stalks and leaves thinly sliced
2 tsp smoked paprika
Place half the onion, one of the Romano peppers and the scotch bonnet or chillies, if not keeping whole, in a food processor with 60ml of the stock and blend to a puree.
Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Thinly slice the remaining half onion and, once the oil is shimmering, add to the pan with a generous pinch of fine sea salt. Sauté for 10 minutes, stirring often, until softened and golden.
Slice the remaining Romano peppers in half lengthways and then crossways into strips. Add to the pan with the sliced green stalks and chillies, if keeping whole. Sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, then pour in the onion and pepper puree. Cover with the lid slightly ajar and simmer gently for 10 minutes, until the peppers and stalks soften and the puree thickens. Stir occasionally, adding a few tablespoons of stock, if needed, to stop the sauce from drying out.
Add the smoked paprika and a generous pinch of fine sea salt and cook for 1 minute before adding the leaves of the greens. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender.
The greens may release a lot of moisture, creating their own stock. If not, add some stock, a little splash at a time, to keep it moist but not drenched. After 5 minutes, taste your greens to check for doneness and seasoning.
If you are happy with the texture, remove from the heat and serve – if you want them more tender, cook for another 5–10 minutes, as needed. Don’t forget to fish out the scotch bonnet if kept whole!
Africana: Treasured recipes and stories from across the continent by Lerato Umah-Shaylor (£22, HarperCollins) is out now.
This recipe was originally published in the Autumn 2022 print edition of Wicked Leeks. You can read the full issue online now.