International Cooking: Food from Kenya

It’s been a while since I’ve cooked African food for this challenge, and I was a little apprehensive as I often am. However, it turns out that food from Kenya is actually quite good!


Kenya is located in East Africa, with a coastline on the Indian Ocean. It’s a country that includes cold snow-capped mountains as well as vast forests and deserts.

East Africa, including Kenya, is thought to be one of the earliest regions to be inhabited by modern humans. These early people were hunter-gatherers.

In 1500 AD, the Portuguese Empire made the first European contact with Kenya. During the 19th century, the British Empire began to colonize the region and the Kenya Colony was soon formed. There were numerous disputes between the colony and the UK, and in 1963, Kenya declared independence though remained a member of the Commonwealth.

Kenya has the second largest economy in eastern and central Africa after Ethiopia and its capital city, Nairobi, is a major regional commercial hub. Agriculture is the largest sector, with tea and coffee being traditional cash crops and fresh flowers quickly growing as an export. The service industry and tourism are also important to the economy.

What Do People Eat in Kenya?

Kenyan cuisine is typically based on simple ingredients that are readily available, such as maize, sweet potatoes, yams, and beans. Meat such as beef is common, with fish more popular in the coastal areas.

I noticed a lot of Indian influences on Kenyan food compared to other African countries; I think this must be due to the city of Mombasa being an important city for trade throughout the centuries. These influences are mostly evident by the presence of spices such as turmeric, cumin, and curry powder.

Cheese doesn’t really appear in traditional Kenya cuisine–the only common dairy product is sour milk–but lately it’s becoming more popular.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Kenyan dishes I didn’t make!

Masala Chips (Fries with Chili Sauce)

Masala Chips (Fries with Chili Sauce)

Masala chips, or chips masala, is a simple dish consisting of French fries coated in a delicious chili sauce. It’s a popular fast food staple in Kenya.

I first put the fries in the oven, since I used frozen fries here. Then, I started making the sauce.

I sautéed some onion, then added garlic, ginger, and chili (I used a jalapeño). After another minute or so, I added turmeric, cayenne pepper, and ground coriander, followed by ketchup, tomato sauce, and chili sauce (I used Sriracha). I added a little salt and let the sauce cook until it thickened up a bit.

When my fries were ready, I seasoned them with salt, tossed them through the chili sauce, and garnished with cilantro leaves. I thought these were amazing! Definitely one of my favorite ways to enjoy French fries. I had some chili sauce left over and ate it with some eggs for breakfast the next day, which was also really good.

The recipe I used is from Mayuris Jikoni.

Githeri (Bean, Hominy, and Vegetable Stew)

Githeri (Bean, Hominy, and Vegetable Stew)

Githeri is a popular stew that most Kenyan Reddit users seemed to agree upon as a good representation of the country’s cuisine. It is made primarily of beans, hominy, and potatoes, with a tomato sauce flavored with garam masala. That’s the version I made, anyway, but I think there are many variations of this dish that may use slightly different seasonings.

I began by sautéing some onion, garlic, and ginger in oil. Then I added tomatoes, tomato paste, curry powder, cumin, salt, and turmeric, followed by potatoes, bell pepper, and chicken stock.

Once the potatoes were nearly cooked through, I added hominy and red kidney beans that I cooked earlier, as well as some garam masala. After a few more minutes I served the githeri with chopped cilantro.

I thought this tasted pretty good; the spices gave the stew great flavour. This was super healthy too!

The recipe I used here is from We Eat at Last.

Sukuma Wiki with Ugali (Braised Collard Greens with Cornmeal Porridge)

Sukuma Wiki with Ugali (Braised Collard Greens with Cornmeal Porridge)

This may be the most traditional Kenyan meal I cooked this week. Sukuma wiki consists mostly of braised collard beans and is often a vegetarian dish, though the recipe I used included beef. Ugali is a cornmeal porridge or mush which is probably the most common accompaniment to meals in Kenya.

Sukuma Wiki

To make the sukuma wiki, I started by cooking some onions and tomatoes. Then I added beef and let it cook until tender (I was using chuck so I added a bit of water to help it cook properly without burning or drying out). Finally, I added chopped collard greens. Once they were cooked, the dish was ready.

I enjoyed this a lot, though I’ll admit I may not have liked it as much without the beef.

The recipe I used for this is from Chef Lola’s Kitchen.

Ugali

The ugali is very simple to make. All you do is mix fine cornmeal (I used white) with a little salt and water, and let it cook for a bit. Then you start adding a bit more cornmeal until the mixture is near your desired consistency and cook a little longer. The photos I saw in the recipe and online show a nice smooth ball of ugali, but mine looks a little more rustic!

This was okay with the sukuma wiki but it’s definitely not something I’d want to eat on its own (and generally it isn’t eaten alone).

This was also a recipe from Chef Lola’s Kitchen.

Nyama with Irio/Mukimo (Beef Stew with Potato, Corn, and Pea Mash)

Nyama with Irio/Mukimo (Beef Stew with Potato, Corn, and Pea Mash)

I find it hard to resist a good beef stew so I knew I had to try the Kenyan version. I also really enjoy mashed potatoes so I added irio, also known as mukimo, which is essentially just mashed potatoes with other vegetables added. This version has peas and corn, but it’s common to add spinach which turns the whole mixture green!

Nyama

I started by seasoning chunks of beef chuck with salt, curry powder, turmeric, smoked paprika, and pepper. Then I let it sit in the fridge overnight.

To make the base for the stew, I finely diced onion, fresh tomato, red bell pepper, and tomato sauce in my food processor.

Next, I browned the beef in some oil. I added garlic, ginger, and tomato paste, and finally poured in the blended onion/tomato mixture. Then all I had to do was let the stew cook until the meat was tender.

I served this with the irio, garnished with cilantro. This had a great depth of flavor; I really enjoyed it!

This recipe is from We Eat at Last.

Irio/Mukimo

I followed the recipe for this pretty loosely. I boiled some chopped potatoes and added frozen peas and corn a few minutes before they were done cooking. Then I mashed the whole lot with butter and a little cream (the latter was not included in the recipe and probably is not traditional).

The recipe I used for reference is from Chef Lola’s Kitchen.

  • Nyama choma – usually, this is grilled goat meat, but beef or lamb may also be used.
  • Pilau – this is a rice dish popular in many countries in the region. In Kenya, it is typically made with either beef or chicken and a varying range of vegetables and spices.
  • Bajias – seasoned, battered, and fried potatoes, often served with chutney. To me, these are very reminiscent of Indian bajis.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I thought the food from Kenya was pretty good! My favorite dish was the masala chips, but if I had to choose something a little more traditional, I would probably go with the nyama and irio.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Kiribati.

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