Location: East Africa
Population: 49.1 million
Geography: A mix of savannah, desert, and fertile highland
Language: Swahili, English
Signature flavours: Corn, ginger, leafy greens, beans, chicken, potato
When Eric got his Kenya assignment, he wondered how similar he would find it to Zimbabwe, another East African country from which he cooked a while back. While he ended up making one similar fish dish, he found that Kenya does more stews, in the vein of Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine, and that furthermore, its dishes have quite a bit of Indian influence due to immigration from the Subcontinent in the late 1800s. Eric was able to build a colourful menu that explored the variety of the Kenyan culinary repertoire.
Irio: A mash of potato, white kidney beans, corn, and spinach. (Eric chose to include this for a starchy side, rather than a cornmeal porridge, since we’ve sampled a few varieties of pap/nshima/sadza in our journey so far and he wanted to try something new.)
Prep and cooking time: 90 min
Samaki Choma: Two-day marinated tilapia that is baked then fried for a spicy, crispy delicacy.
Prep and cooking time: 45 min (plus two days marination time)
Sukuma Wiki: Collared greens fried up with onion and tomato, seasoned with mchuzi — a spice mix that includes garlic, cumin, coriander, fennel, paprika, and turmeric.
Prep and cooking time: 45 min
Mombasa Spiced Tea: From Jessica B. Harris’ The Africa Cookbook, this “tea” is actually tea-leaf-less. Rather, it is a steeped mix of caramelized fragrant spices and jaggery.
Prep and cooking time: 30 min
The Shopping List
Bulk Barn was key for this spice-heavy meal. Eric found everything else he needed at our local supermarket.
The first thing I noticed about the Kenyan plate that Eric prepared for us both was the colour: bright green sakuma wiki with splashes of red, golden brown fish, creamy white irio. We tried the irio first, and it has all the makings of a true comfort food — savoury, smooth, earthy, and starchy. It had a subtle flavour that made it a great accompaniment for the other dishes.
The collared greens were understated in flavour, but were cooked to perfection, with a bit of crunch left in them. We have found collared greens in recipes from all over Africa. This recipe was a very nice representation of how a simple, leafy green can pull a meal together.
We couldn’t wait much longer to try that crispy fish, and it didn’t disappoint. Eric’s two-day marination paid off with fish that was bursting with flavour. The baking-then-frying method left the fish flaky and juicy on the inside, but gave it a crispy texture on the outside that locked in the spicy marinade.
We finished with the sweet Mombasa tea. I found it somewhat overly sugary, but the sweet and peppery spice was incredible. The clove, ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon came out one after another in each sip. Eric had to grate rock-hard jaggery sugar for this recipe, making it one of the more labour intensive things on the table.
We loved our Kenyan meal, and what made it especially memorable was how everything came together. Now that WSW has had its first showcase dinner, Eric and I often ask each other what dish, if any, of the given assignment is “showcase worthy.” For Kenya, the whole experience was worthy of celebrating.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.