With 52 tribes in Kenya, extending from the coast to the Rift Valley lakes to the central highlands to the northern desert, the cuisines found in this country are many and varied. There is also a strong Indian influence as the spice traders started coming to Africa centuries ago and have remained to trade in various other goods since. Here I present three dishes commonly found around Nairobi. Two – the matoke and mukimo – are traditional Kikuyu dishes from the central highlands, and the chapatti is from the coast.
Ingredients (makes 15-20 chapattis):
½ litre cold water
1 kg flour
Mix water with flour, add a handful of salt, a bit of sugar and a bit of oil (the oil makes the chapatti turn golden when it cooks). Divide the mixture into balls the size of a child’s fist. Roll out each ball to a flat circle about the size of a dinner plate. Fry on a very hot, oiled chapatti pan (flat fry pan) for about 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown.
Plantains (these are green bananas that are starchy and not sweet)
Peel the plantains and potatoes and soak for about half an hour. Meanwhile fry onions, tomatoes, parsley, capsicum and salt. Add potatoes and plantains to the fried tomato mix. Cover with water and add salt to taste (the salt also helps soften the plantains quickly). Stew over medium heat until the plantains and potatoes are cooked through.
To cook minji (peas), maharagwe (beans, usually red kidney) and njahi (black beans) follow a similar recipe. Boil the peas or beans for several hours until soft. Fry up the tomato mix described above, add potatoes and water. Finally add the peas or beans and mix together over low heat.
Beans (red kidney beans usually)
Boil beans and maize (generally equal amounts of beans and maize) until soft, this usually takes a couple of hours. In another pot, cook onions, tomatoes and potatoes until soft. Then add the beans and maize. Now you have githeri another popular Kikuyu dish (my favourite!). However, to get to mukimo, cook the stew for another 30 minutes before mashing it all together. The maize is tough to mash so don’t worry about the kernels staying whole. The beans and potatoes will mash easily though.
Some versions of mukimo do not use beans; instead use a leafy green vegetable such as kale or spinach which mashes with the potato to make the mukimo green.
The quantities depend on your taste and how many you are cooking for. Generally for mukimo you want equal quantities of beans, maize and potatoes with the onion and tomato simply adding some taste. For matoke the plantains should be more than the potatoes, about a 2:3 ratio. Again the tomato fry mix is simply to add taste so you don’t need too much. For the chapattis the flour should be twice the amount of water with sugar and salt to taste.
I would love to hear about your experiences with Kenyan food – whether you have cooked it yourself or been cooked for. Please leave your comments below.