Kenya: Menus & Recipes from Africa




Kenya is perhaps the best-known country in Africa to Europeans and Americans through literature, such as the books of Robert Ruark, and through films. Nairobi has long been the center for those setting out on safari-not only hunters but wild-life lovers who take cameras in lieu of guns. Many facilities are available for this sport, such as Tree Tops where one can spend the night watching the bush animals as they make their way to salt licks and watering places.

Our safari, of course, was for recipes and menus, and we were frequently told that we had come to the wrong place. "You couldn't have come to Kenya for the food!" was a common reaction.

We found to our dismay that there were no restaurants serving dishes native to Kenya. Nor were there cookbooks to which we could refer. We finally found one cookbook called Kenya Kitchen, but in the main the recipes were of English and American dishes. We did find one recipe, which we have included here, for Samosas, the little three-cornered pastries filled with meats.

We discovered that the really delicious cooking of Kenya is being done by the Kikuyu, the Abaluhya, and the Luo tribes. We visited with them and were delighted with their wonderful dishes. The most important dish of the Kikuyu is Irio, a seasoned puree of peas, corn, and potatoes. The M'chuzi wa kuku and the M'baazi are wonderful dishes. Kariokor is a delicious way to barbecue meat.

How a Dinner is Served in Kenya

Two separate menus represent the foods of the Kenyan African. In one, Irio is the mainstay, and in the other it is Ugali.

The hostess opens the door dressed in a bright floor-length skirt and a striking bandanna wound loosely about her head. She stands there, hands outstretched, to bid you welcome. It is a touching gesture of hospitality. It is early for luncheon, so she brings in a pot of rather weak tea which she serves in small cups with tiny bananas to take the edge off your hunger. Amazingly, it does not spoil your appetite, as one might suppose, and just about holds you until luncheon is ready.

Our hostess returns to the kitchen to pound the groundnuts (peanuts) for the Groundnut Soup. She brings the thick wooden pestle down into the wooden bowl rhythmically until the peanuts are thoroughly pulverized. (Lucky are we who merely open a jar of peanut butter.) She makes the soup by adding 2 cups of water to 2 cups of groundnuts (use peanut butter) and 1/2 tsp. salt, and simmers it until it becomes very thick. She then thins it back to a soup consistency with milk. She serves this excellent soup in little bowls.

After the soup, all the remaining dishes are placed on the table at one time, each in a decorated calabash (African bowl).

In the homes of the Abaluhya the important course is Ugali. For breakfast, the same cornmeal cooked to a thin gruel-like consistency is called Uji. There is a light Ugali made from cornmeal and a dark Ugali made from millet flour. Also served are dishes like M'baazi (pea beans), which is sometimes an appetizer as well as a main dish, M'chuzi Wa Kuku (chicken in coconut) or Samaki Na Nazi (fish and coconut). A stunning dish is Ndizi, bananas cooked in banana leaves see page 189).

In the home of the Kikuyu-the mainstay is Irio (see page 52), followed by dishes like Giteke, bananas and yams, Karanga, beef and potato stew, Mataha, beans and corn.

Dessert is generally not served, but fruit like papaya-golden orange, juicy, and succulent-is available. The after-dinner beverage is Maziwa Ya Kuganda or sour skimmed milk!

How You Can Present a Kenyan Dinner

There are two suggested menus from which you may choose. In either case, use a bright striped or flowered tablecloth with matching napkins, and tropical decor with flowers and leaves strewn on the table, and some carved artifacts, to suggest the safari and the bush, if you have them. Try to buy calabashes for use as bowls (they can be used in serving most of the African dinners).

The first is the dinner featuring Irio (which follows). This should be a sit-down dinner. Each course is dished out in the kitchen and served directly to each person. The Oysters Mombasa, should be presented piping hot on dinner plates, or if you can get rock salt (you'll need about 2 Ibs.), heat it in a metal dish in the oven and make a bed of the hot rock salt in large soup plates, setting the oysters on top. These plates will require underliners.

Steak and Irio-the green mounds filled with steak fingers in sauce- makes a dramatic entree. Sauce dishes of salad relish, and Pilli-pilli (page 128) accompany the Irio.

The dessert, Coupe Mt. Kenya in wine glasses, plus tea or coffee served in the usual manner, makes this a dinner people will talk about for a long time.

The second is the Abaluhya menu, which should be a buffet. All the food is served in calabash bowls placed on the exciting tablecloth decorated with leaves and artifacts. Use Mrs. Habwe's menu on page 55. Each dish is a gem. If you decide (or serve Maziwa Ya Kuganda, purchase skimmed milk and let it stand out of the refrigerator overnight. Once it has soured, chill it. Be sure it is cold when served. It will not clabber, as it would if there were cream in it. Try it. You may like it more than you think. However, have tea or coffee available as well.

Menu from Kenya








    Shopping List for Eight

    Meat, fish, etc.

    3 Ibs. filet mignon or lean steak
    3 dozen oysters (smallest available)


    1 Ib. butter
    1/2 pint heavy cream
    1 Ib. margarine


    1 bottle Chablis
    1 bottle white rum

    Fruits and Vegetables

    1 bunch parsley
    6 lemons
    2 oz. fresh garlic
    1 small cabbage
    1 Ib. Bermuda onions
    1/2 Ib. green pepper
    1 bunch carrots
    4 or 5 mangos
    1 fresh pineapple


    1 16-oz. can peas
    1 16-oz. can kernel corn
    1 package instant potatoes (large)
    1 package onion-soup mix
    1 can condensed milk
    1 16-oz. can pineapple juice
    1 packet pistachio nuts



    Nowhere are oysters more delicious than on the east coast of Africa (except for the tiny Olympia oysters you get at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco or in New Orleans).

    In Kenya, the oysters are opened and each one goes on its own tiny china ramekin or tiny container which looks like a miniature coaster. Twelve of these little dishes are placed on a large platter with a bowl of dark, dark-red cocktail sauce and slices of lemon. Mombasa, that lovely city on the coast of Kenya, boasts the very best of these small oysters.

    Open 32 SMALL OYSTERS (Bluepoints or Olympias if possible).

    Leave them on the half shell and place on baking sheets.

    Wine Garlic Sauce:

    Combine: 1/2 cup MELTED BUTTER

    4 cloves GARLIC very finely minced
    1 cup CHABLIS
    1 tsp. SALT
    few drops TABASCO

    Ladle half of above sauce (1 tsp. per oyster) on each one.

    Bake at 350'F. for 6 to 8 minutes.

    Ladle the remaining sauce uniformly over the oysters again.

    Serve immediately, four per person, with LEMON WEDGES on a 9 inch plate (or on hot rock salt if available).


    The Irio:

    Drain 1 16-oz. can PEAS and measure the liquid.

    Put the peas through a vegetable mill or sieve to make a puree.

    Drain 1 16-oz. can KERNEL CORN and add the liquid to that of the peas.

    In a 2-quart saucepan:

    Prepare 4 cups INSTANT MASHED POTATOES following package directions and using the vegetable liquors as part of the required liquid.

    Add: 3 Tbs. BUTTER

    1 tsp. SALT
    1/4 tsp. PEPPER.

    Blend the puree of peas into the mashed potatoes until a smooth green color results.

    Fold in the drained kernel corn.

    The consistency should be that of firm mashed potatoes.

    The Steak:

    In a large skillet:

    Cut 3 Ibs. FILET MIGNON (or any steak) in a 2 x 1/2 x 1/2-inch strips.

    Saute in 4 oz. MARGARINE OR OIL, until lightly browned.

    Remove the steak from the skillet.

    Blend in 6 Tbs. FLOUR to make a roux.

    Add 2 cups ONION SOUP made from a packaged mix and cook to medium-sauce consistency.

    Correct the Seasoning with salt, pepper, and a little Tabasco.

    Return the steak to the sauce.

    Make a large mound (about 1 cup) of Irio in center of dinner plate.

    Form a hole in the center about 2 inches in diameter.

    Fill the hole with 1/2 cup of the sauteed steak and gravy.

    Smooth around edges of the Irio so it looks like a volcano.


    This salad relish is added to and mixed with the hot spicy food by the guest a little at a time to "cool" the spiciness of the dish and change its texture. If the hostess feels that her dinner is not "hot" enough, a small hot chili pepper is added to the relish.

    She may also serve individually or in a bowl additional pilli-pilli or hot red pepper dissolved in lemon or tomato sauce. See page 128 for Pilli-pilli Sauce and its variations. For your Kenyan dinner you might have a cruet of a white French dressing on the table for those who might want to add it to their salad.

    In a 1-quart bowl:

    Combine: 2 cups CABBAGE, finely shredded

    1/2 cup CARROTS in very, very thin slices
    1/2 cup SWEET ONIONS (Bermuda or Spanish or scallions)
    1/4 cup GREEN PEPPER in fine strips.

    Fluff the mixture up.

    That's it. There is no dressing or seasoning.

    Fill small sauce dishes, allowing about 1/3 cup per person.


    Any fruit ice cream will serve for the Coupe Mount Kenya, especially peach ice cream. Fruit sherbet may also be used. Canned pineapple may be substituted for the fresh, but it does not have the same zing.

    Mash 4 or 5 RIPE MANGOS, peeled and pitted. There should be 2 cups.

    Whip: 1 cup HEAVY CREAM with

    1/2 cup SUGAR until stiff.

    In a 2-quart bowl:

    Combine: 2 cups MASHED MANGOS

    2 Tbs. LEMON PEEL cut in tiny ribbons
    1/2 cup CONDENSED MILK
    1/2 tsp. SALT.

    Fold in the whipped cream.

    Pour into freezer trays or a 6-cup mold and freeze.


    In a 1-quart sauce pan:

    Simmer: 1 cup PINEAPPLE JUICE (canned) and

    1 cup SUGAR until it dissolves and a syrup is formed.

    Add 1/2 cup WHITE RUM. Cool.

    In a 2-quart bowl:

    Cut 3 cups FRESH PINEAPPLE in 1/2-inch dice.

    Pour the Pineapple Rum Sauce over the pineapple.

    Marinate for several hours.

    Place 1 scoop MANGO ICE CREAM in a 6-oz. wine glass.

    Top with 3 to 4 oz. PINEAPPLE RUM MIXTURE

    Garnish with 1 Tbs. PISTACHIO NUTS, coarsely chopped.

    The following Abaluhya luncheon was our treat at the home of Mrs. Ruth Habwe in Nairobi. Each dish was so outstanding that all the recipes are included in this book. You will find them in the recipe section. In Swahili it reads:







    Extracts from: Bea Sandler. The African Cookbook. Diane & Leo Dillon (Illust.). New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1993.

    To order a copy of The African Cookbook, please contact:

    The Carol Publishing Group
    600 Madison Avenue
    New York, NY 10022

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