Category Archives: Kenyan Kitchen

Humour in an Apron
My write-ups in Susan Kamau’s magazine Kenyan Kitchen.

Simple Christmas Cookies

Here’s a my recipe for very simple cookies that kids and I make for Santa (aka me) to be bribed with (this is Kenya after all) to leave some really lovely gifts under the tree. I’d rather a new pair of shoes instead of cookies but I haven’t managed to train the kids in that direction yet. Watch this space!

Sugar-Cookies.JPG (450×338)

SIMPLE CHRISTMAS COOKIES

You will need:

225g butter, softened

110g caster sugar

275 g plain flour

(Yup, that’s all you will need)

Method:

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.

Cream the butter in a large bowl until creamy. Ever since I got my food processor I just use that. None of that toiling over a bowl with a fancy hand whisk unless it’s for a photo shoot for a glossy magazine.

Add the sugar and mix until pale and fluffy. Stick finger into mixture while no one is watching for quick sugar fix.

Wash your hands because the next step needs you to use your hands.

Using your hands, roll the dough into walnut sized balls and place them slightly apart on a baking tray. I use the non-stick variety but with this recipe there is no need to grease the tray at all. Flatten them with a fork and bake for about 13-15 minutes or until they’re light golden brown on top.

Cool on a wire rack and ice as desired.

The kids and I have discovered amazing icing colours at our local supermarket which come in tubes and are ready to use. It’s like using crayons that spew colour so my little Michaelangelos do a great job decorating the cookies. You can add things like coloured angelica, silver balls, sprinkle chocolate or coloured strands or whatever tickles your fancy. After all, Santa’s bribe should be fit for any Santa, right….?

Freaky Hand Punch

Here’s a yummy Halloween punch you can make and impress your friends and family….

It’s dead easy to make… pun intended. 😉

Freaky Hand Punch:

  • 1 litre blackcurrant juice (Fizto, Vimto, Ribena, etc)
  • 1 litre orange squash
  • 2 litres cold Sprite
  • 16 pcs white jawbreakers***
  • Red and black liquid food colouring

Method:

Mix all the liquid ingredients in a large punch bowl.

With black and red liquid food colour and a fine paintbrush, fashion the white jawbreakers into eyeballs. If you lack in the artistic department, don’t fret. Just go wild and have fun. The less perfect your eyeballs the better.

Take a clean surgical/ plastic glove and wash the inside properly.

No need to let anyone know that it’s actually a glove from your home hair dye kit…

Fill with water and seal and freeze until hard.

When totally frozen remove just before serving punch from freezer.

Run under slightly tepid water to loosen ice from glove and slide frozen hand out and place in punch bowl for ghastly effect.

Make sure you don’t let my daughter near it. When she was 6 she took my nail varnish and tried to paint nails on the frozen hand…

Float the eyeballs and the hand into the bowl and enjoy the reactions to your Freaky Hand Punch.

****I buy my jawbreakers from the candy shop at the Sarit Centre but these days all these pick ‘n’ mix counters at most malls have lots of jawbreakers.

Hellooooo Halloween!


Ghoul season is here and it’s all good. You see, with Halloween you can unleash the riveting freak in you and actually get away with it if you neatly pull off your stunts when Halloween comes around.  Who says trick or treating is just for kids? I get my fancy goody sack out every year and terrorise the neighbourhood. Dressing up is the best part. I’m more enthusiastic about this aspect of Halloween than my kids because I’m a self-confessed chocaholic. Who cares about the Trick part? I’m more into the Treat… and woe betide anyone who decides to go the healthy way and give fruit…GRRR!!

Like any self respecting Mum who has to try very hard to keep up with who the kids deem as the Joneses, I have various boxes in storage that house paraphernalia for various occasions that occur over the year. I have a Diwali box which has clay reusable lamps and fancy candles, a Christmas box with the decorations and a tree and maybe last year’s fancy cards just in case we get forgotten or struck off lists this year then at least we have something to display, and not forgetting the Halloween box.

This actually spills over into two boxes because there is just far too much stuff we have to deal with. I have wigs, black cloaks, a VERY SCARY mask that makes my heart skip a beat if my kids suddenly decide to arrange a minor heart attack for me, evil-looking pumpkin lanterns, a pointy witch hat and whole plethora of Halloween related stuff. I’m actually glad to have kids who insist on keeping up with all the holidays that come up because I feel I’d probably look pretty stupid walking around all dressed up like a witch on 31st October and being asked if I finally found myself…

Usually the kids and I end up at a popular mall every year that goes to great lengths to have a Halloween themed weekend out for the whole family. There are best-dressed competitions, fireworks and the food court area is always buzzing with specials of the day to go with the Halloween theme.

I remember when I lived in the UK I went to a Halloween party organised by the Students Union. This was back in the day where people made their costumes rather than spending a lot of money at a Halloween shop to buy a costume and accessories. My friends and I dressed up as trees and went as a forest, which I thought was proper ‘thinking out of the box’ costume. We did manage to spook a few people by tickling them with our branches and leaves and making them scream loud enough to wake the dead.

Speaking of waking the dead, when in UK I used to walk through a Church and past a small graveyard to get to my bus stop. In the winter months because it tends to get dark quickly I used to just speed through the shortcut with my head down and not look anywhere. Bad idea this proved to be one Halloween. My friends knew I was not very comfortable walking through a graveyard and being ‘the girl from Kenya who got driven everywhere’ it took time adjusting to becoming a student who had to walk everywhere or catch a bus. Anyway, one evening the silly gits hid near the wall of the graveyard and in black clothes and balaclavas stood near the huge tree and started following me just like those ghouls in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. My heart started beating real fast as they kept coming towards me and when I ran they ran right behind me. I screamed my head off (and if you know me, you know what sort of lungs I have been blessed with). I think they couldn’t control their laughter anymore after I started screaming and running and revealed it was just them but I’ll have you know Burcott Close in Aylesbury was never the same again after my loud screaming that Halloween. I guess you had to be there but I nearly did pee my pants that night!

Happy Halloween and do save your treats for me. Keep the tricks for others!

Fancy Cooking – The Easy Way Out!


Oo-er! Very posh!

I can’t really claim to be a fabulous Susan Kamau type cook. I could probably be deemed to be her kitchen helper if push came to shove, which basically means that I can just about get by without killing anyone with my cooking skills. What I like to do is to learn techniques and then adapt them into my own recipes so that I can show off and get some accolades for my efforts.

I suppose this stems from the fact that I didn’t learn how to cook well until my 20s and up until then I had typical student cooking skills which entailed eating mouldy bread with beans and if I was going down the gourmet route then I might as well slap on a slice of extra fat, extra processed gooey cheese on top and then if I’m going all out then I’ll just bung that under the grill and VOILA! A hot meal…! Good old student days.

As I grew older (and wiser, if I may) I got a grip with reality and started investing in non stick pans and experimenting with ingredients which formerly I thought went only into exotic shampoos. Kiwi fruit became a topping on an eggless cheesecake and I found out that mint could be grown at home and it was used in other things besides toothpaste and mouth fresheners.  Eventually I started enjoying cooking and shocked the aprons off everyone the day I announced and served up a carrot and coriander soup made from scratch i.e. I didn’t cheat with a packet mix or a can of soup.  I was proud of my efforts and the compliments I got were fabulous so I decided to perhaps spend more time cultivating my culinary skills.

Then I discovered the wonderful art of barbequing. The only effort required on your part was to marinade the meat at least a day earlier, and then just slap it on a coal fire and everything’s sorted. Ok it’s not as easy as I make it sound but it’s not that difficult either. BBQ’s are actually the best way to entertain especially if you have an informal gathering and you’re supposed to cook. My advice from experience is that do prepare everything the day before and on D-Day all you have to do is toss a salad and everything is sorted.

Indian BBQs are actually sumptuous if you can get the flavouring right. There are no hard or fast rules to prepare but like with any good BBQ marinade you need at least 6 hours for the flavours to seep right into the meats. My all time favourite has got to be chicken tikka. Soft and succulent chicken that has been marinated just right and grilled to perfection, served up with a hot buttery naan and a huge serving of a side salad with a drizzling of spicy tamarind sauce and mint and yoghurt sauce on top. The mouth drools every time I think of that!

So for a good BBQ you will need a jiko to start off with. Make sure you have enough coals before your guests arrive because you really don’t want to be driving up and down looking for your local coalman who will sense your desperation at wanting a bag of coal and then hike the prices. I speak from experience. Skewers and tongs are also helpful and so does a netting that fits neatly over your jiko.

I was watching one of those fancy cooking shows on TV and the mpishi said that the secret in the perfectly barbequed meat was that you don’t keep turning it over and over. Just make sure your heat levels are not too high and you can control the way you want the meat cooked. Try grilling at least 8 minutes on one side and the same on the other and make use of basting to avoid charring. I experimented with these tips and found they work really well and that also avoids you standing too long in front of your jiko and have your make up melt just because a bloke didn’t volunteer to take over the nyama choma section.

Assuming that you’re having a BBQ in the hot season (like one usually does!) make sure you have chilled your drinks the day before and prepared the sauces as well. The only last minute thing you might have to do is toss up a salad or cut a Kenyan classic kachumbari that goes well with anything and everything. Ice cream for dessert is well appreciated after a BBQ or if you’re really going to go all out then a refrigerated dessert like panacotta or any fresh cream pudding goes well with the palate.

Check out my basic chicken tikka recipe and do feel free to adapt it to taste because that is the best way to experiment. Enjoy your BBQ and stay back a safe distance if you are going to experiment with lighter fluid over and open fire. Once again, that’s experience speaking… Enough said!

Looks yummy.... Chicken Tikka

Ingredients for Chicken Tikka

Directions

  1. Cut the chicken breasts in long strips or cubes.
  2. In a medium bowl combine the yogurt, garlic, ginger, onion, chili powder, coriander, tomato paste and salt.
  3. Add the chicken to the marinade mix well.
  4. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 6 hours but overnight is better.
  5. Skewer the chicken and cook under a hot grill, or even nicer cook them on the barbeque, 4 to 5 minutes on each side basting them with butter.
  6. Serve on the skewers (or remove the chicken from the skewers if you prefer).

What a pickle!


First of all let me clarify something. I’m a muhindi and it’s expected of me to be eating pickles and chutneys with every meal including my cornflakes. I am supposed to be able to eat chillies at an alarmingly high rate and not even wince when biting into those small bullet peppers.

‘Supposed’ being the operative words here! There was a time I could eat no food without dollops of hot sauce on it, or some sort of chilli condiment with it but as I grow older i realise I have what us Kenyans term as a ‘mzungu palette’. I can’t bear the heat in my mouth or the havoc that gets wreaked on my insides. I have a mzungu friend and he tries really hard to fit in with my mum’s cooking. Mum has a bit of a heavy hand where pili pili is concerned so he’s usually politely red-faced until he leaves the house and runs for an ice cream parlour.

My dad’s younger brother has a habit of eating a special chutney with every meal of his. He makes it himself and it is, in fact very simple to make and tastes divine too. Basically it’s a yoghurt based garlic chutney.

You will need:

6 tablespoons homemade yogurt (but even the shop stuff will do)

1teaspoon crushed garlic

1teaspoon crushed coriander leaves

Crushed green chillies (to taste)

Salt (to taste)

Just mix everything together and this chutney goes with just about anything – except your cornflakes of course. Try it with samosas and chicken tikka, sandwiches, drizzle it over irio (my favourite), in fact just about everything.

Now just in case you’re wondering what do I mean by pickle and what do I mean by chutney, it’s quite simple…

You can pickle a lot of things, including many vegetables and fish, in a solution of brine and vinegar. The terms chutney and relish are often used interchangeably, but a chutney is usually considered to be an Indian-style relish made of fruits, such as mango, and certain spices, plus vinegar and sugar. Other relishes can include a variety of ingredients, not simply cucumber. Not all things pickled are chutneys. Generally, chutneys are not whole or simply sliced (like a cucumber pickle), but are diced and more spices are added to chutneys. The difference  between them is mango pickle is a pickled version of mango(Achaar) and the chutney is a blend of spiced with mango added in it.

No self respecting chicken tikka joint can go without an array of chutneys to accompany the yummy food you get served. A tamarind chutney is usually standard fare at such restaurants.

I remember my Granny (cucu) used to make a fabulous mango achaar (pickle) with mangoes handpicked from her garden. The process was amazing. Firstly you pick the mangoes and wash and dry them really well, then cut them into small, long slices with the skin on – and at this point it is important to note that the mangoes are not the sweet orange fleshed ones. These are usually hard. Once washed and dried they are rubbed with salt and then laid out in the sun to dry completely. Granny used to use Granddad’s voile turban material but one can also use newspapers to lay the fruit out on to dry out in the sun. Once totally dehydrated, Granny would cook these dried mangoes in oil and i must say it’s not just a tablespoon or three of oil. She’s use litres of it! To this she would add cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds and lots of red chilli powder and of course green chillies and a whole host of other things that i seriously can’t remember at this point. The result was an amazing mango pickle that would taste divine with pronthas (shallow fried chapattis) and hot masala chai.

Did you also know that marmalade is considered a sweet pickle? We love to put it on our hot buttered toast. I Portugal the fruit called quince would be used to make a kind of a sweet pickle which came to be known as marmalade and the ladies would make this marmalade and give to a man as a token of her love. Basically if you were in love with a man and wanted him to know that, you’d make him some marmalade and present it to him and in some parts of Europe this tradition still continues.

To this day, this fruit called ‘quince’, as it falls off a tree, a man may pick it up and hand it to a lady to indirectly say ‘Would you make me some marmalade’ so I guess the man, too, can reciprocate his feelings or make them known to a woman he loves with this gesture.

What a pickle eh?!

Vegetarianism – It’s not for the wimps!


I didn’t fight my way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian was a bumper sticker I used to have on my car as a student. You’d think that living in the UK as a student would make it easier for me to stick to a cheaper and wholesome diet but no. I used to absolutely love eating meat every single day! Walking into a fast food place was a thrill – eating southern fried chicken by the bucket was Friday night’s menu and walking through the place known as the Golden Arches for a burger fix or hot apple pie was almost a daily occurrence.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, states that vegetarianism is the practice of following a diet that excludes meat, including game and slaughter by-products; fish and other sea animals; and poultry. There are several variants of the diet, some of which also exclude eggs and/ or some products produced from animal labour such as dairy products and honey.

My worst vegetable used to be karela (bitter gourd) and I hated the taste with passion. Luckily Mum never forced me or my siblings to eat this food whenever it was cooked but there mere smell of it cooking in the house would ensure a hunger strike for the day. If we knew beforehand that it would be cooking at home the same evening, we’d stock up on junk food from the school tuck shop to make sure we didn’t die of hunger.

Then suddenly I grew up somewhere along the way and had kids of my own and I realised the importance of vegetables in our general diet. My daughter is actually a very finicky eater but my son eats anything and everything you put in front of him. He loves to experiment with food while my daughter picks out onions, coriander leaves, tomatoes and anything else and piles it on the side of her plate. In the dramatics department she takes after me, I must say. If she is forced to eat something she doesn’t like she will make retching sounds and heave as though I’ve just poured a litre of arsenic down her throat with some rat poison for good measure. Surprisingly she likes cauliflower, which I didn’t like while I was growing up so I do try and vary recipes so that she ingests at least one green!

Being a vegetarian or having a diet that leans more towards vegetarianism is great for health and it doesn’t take rocket science to figure it out. The fresher the vegetables, the more beneficial they are to your well being. The equation is the simplest one I know off head.

I would suggest trying to experiment with herbs and spices to flavour the foods. A sprinkling of sesame seeds on tofu with a drizzle of soya sauce and a quick pan fry method, served up with sautéed vegetables is actually very delicious. Oregano is an herb I really love using. Who says it’s just for pizza? I even use it in basic Indian recipes that I make at home for that slight oomph in the taste, and that’s not the only herb you can experiment with for flavour. Just let your creative juices flow and you know there is so much you can do and enjoy your veggies.

So including a lot more vegetables in your diet isn’t really a scary thing. You might end up liking it more and more instead of eating far too much meat which ideally your body doesn’t require. The key is to enjoy the taste and various flavours and if you’re stuck with not knowing what to do, just let Susan walk you through it. She’s a dab hand in the kitchen if you know what I mean!!