Matoke with Peanut Sauce: A hearty Ugandan staple

Edible Cleveland photo editor Laura Watilo Blake is spending the COVID-19 lockdown revisiting global destinations through recipes she’s picked up on her travels. In this post, she recreates a Ugandan staple that she ate everyday for six weeks while living in a rural village to help document Drink Local. Drink Tap. Inc.‘s efforts to bring safe drinking water to a local boarding school. The Cleveland-based nonprofit is currently fundraising to provide soap for the country’s vulnerable population. Click here to donate.

Bananas are not created equally. There are many kinds that grow in Uganda, but one is an important form of sustenance — not to mention a cultural symbol of the Buganda tribe, which dominates the central part of the country. Bitooke.

Peeled bitooke in a pot

Bitooke is peeled and placed in a pot. Photo by Laura Watilo Blake

Most often, it’s mashed and steamed inside of banana leaves to make matoke, the national staple dish. In years gone by, it may have been the only food to eat, but for families who can afford it, it is accompanied by rice and either beans or peanut sauce.

Matoke is the lifeblood of Uganda and it gives comfort to the sick and hungry. I once met a woman in a rural medical clinic who had waited all night long to be seen by the nurse. Someone brought the ailing woman matoke. Speaking through a translator, the woman said: “Matoke can’t cure what ails me,” she said, “but it is satisfying.”

A woman eats matoke at a health clinic in Mulajje, Uganda

A woman eats matoke at a health clinic in Mulajje, Uganda.

The dish can be eaten for any meal…and Ugandas often serve it for every meal.

Matoke for breakfast.

Matoke for lunch.

Matoke for dinner.

You might think one would tire of having the same thing to eat all the time, but think again. “That’s one of the things I miss most when I am in the U.S.,” says Teddy Mwonyonyi, a Ugandan native now living in Cleveland. “We don’t have the right bananas to make it here.”

In this recipe, I’ve substituted bitooke with plantains from the grocery store.

The traditional way to make matoke is to steam them in banana leaves, but this version is better suited for the Western kitchen. This is a mashed version, similar to making mashed potatoes; it’s then topped with peanut sauce.

Serves 8

Matoke ingredients:

  • 8-10 plantains, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cups of water to boil
  • Salt, to taste
  • Optional: 1/2 cup milk and 1 tablespoon of butter
  1. Put peeled plantains in a pot, add water and salt, then bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer until tender (approximately 20 minutes).
  3. Drain, add optional ingredients, then mash the plantains.

Peanut sauce ingredients:

  • 1 cup finely chopped roasted peanuts or creamy peanut butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Optional: 1 red chile, 1 tablespoon of butter and chopped cilantro for garnish
  1. Sauté onion and garlic in pan for a couple of minutes.
  2. Add spices, pepper and option red chile for 1-2 minutes more.
  3. Add vegetable broth and the finely chopped peanuts or peanut butter.
  4. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stir frequently for 5 minutes or so.
  5. Serve over mashed plantains (matoke). Add optional cilantro for garnish.
While the bitooke steams in layers of banana leaves, the peanut sauce is prepared. Photo by Laura Watilo Blake

While the bitooke steams in layers of banana leaves, the peanut sauce is prepared. Photo by Laura Watilo Blake