If you know a thing or two about Ugandan food then you’ve probably heard about Luwombo. It’s a popular and special dish in Buganda, one that my mom only prepared on special days like Christmas and Easter.
I know what you’re thinking though. “Ground Beef Luwombo? There’s no such thing as minced/ground beef Luwombo!” Well guess what, now there is. Why, you ask? Because why the hell not? See, just because it’s always been whole meat pieces doesn’t mean it can’t be minced meat.
On this particular day, I wanted to do a Luwombo, but I didn’t want to buy more beef when I had ground beef in the fridge. So I thought, why not make a thick gnut Luwombo paste flavored with beef and mushrooms? Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to those tinny organic mushrooms locally known as obutik’obubaala which I would highly recommend for any Luwombo because of their potent heavenly scent.
Unverified Internet rumours suggest that Luwombo dates back to 1887 when the cuisine was introduced by Kabaka Mwanga’s chief cook, Kawunta. The allure of the Luwombo, as I know it, is in the peculiar aroma the smocked banana leaf lends to the food. In my observation, Luwombo is simply a steamed sauce with a distinctive banana leaf flavored zing to it, and the curing process for these leaves is probably the most important and cumbersome stage in the preparation process.
Growing up, I remember my mom’s preparations for cooking Luwombo always started a day before, when she would go to the banana plantation to look for Mpombo (plural for Luwombo) leaves.
These were never like the ordinary banana leaves she used for cooking Matooke, it was always from a special type of banana plant for the small sweet bananas locally known as ndiizi (I am yet to find out why ndiizi). Because these leaves were meant to be water proofed, it was imperative that they don’t have a single slit and handled delicately to keep it that way. This also meant that these would have to be freshly sprouted baby leaves, which could explain the grieving look on her face while harvesting them because it probably felt like mutilating the banana plant. If you did this consistently to a small banana plantation you may not have a plantation in a couple of months.
The leaves would have to be wilted under the sun for a couple of hours to make them supple before surgically reducing the fibres from the central rib of each leaf. The leaves would then cured by lightly heating them on a charcoal stove before carefully folding and concealing them away to a safe place where children would not reach them until tomorrow.
Because you can now buy already cured Luwombo leaves in most big markets around Kampala like Nakawa, Nakasero, even Ntinda market; it has become much easier to cook Luwombo for people who don’t have backyard banana plantations from which to harvest these leaves.
And now, to the Luwombo recipe of the day;
Ground Beef-Gnut-Mushrooms Luwombo
Total Time Involved 1:45Min
Preparation Time 15min
Cooking Time 1:30min
- 300gm Ground beef
- 200gm Minced G-nuts
- 100gm Mushrooms
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and Black pepper to taste
- 2 beef stock cubes
- 1 small carrot, diced
- Bell pepper, diced
- 1 tbsp. Powdered ginger
- 1 tsp. Paprika
- 2 medium sized onions, diced
- 1 Cured Luwombo leaf with its fastening rope
- Boil the g-nuts with the beef stock with 1/3 of the onions and salt for 10-15 minutes. Ensure you’ve put enough water they’ll need to get ready, bearing in mind that you won’t add any at any moment. Also remember the thicker the better.
- Meanwhile, season the minced meat with salt and pepper before searing in a mildly oiled wok with garlic, ginger and another 1/3 of the onions. 5-10 minutes.
- Carefully place the Luwombo leaf in a big bowl or saucepan and empty the g-nuts into it, add the beef and the remaining ingredients.
- Delicately wrap the leaf, ensuring that there is no leakage before tying it up with the banana fiber strap.
- Place in the prepared steaming saucepan and cover for maximum steam retention like you would if you were steaming matooke and cook for 1-2 hours before serving.
- Enjoy your Luwombo with matooke, rice, or whatever dry food you want to feast on.