The national dish of Kenya is ugali, and probably the next most important dish would be Sukuma wiki. Like most traditional societies, Kenyans eat a whole foods, starch centered diet. The staple starch is ugali, which I believe is very similar to polenta. The only difference seems to be using a white corn meal instead of yellow, and that it is ground fairly fine, perhaps more like a Mexican masa harina. Since I just finished a week of masa used for home made tortillas, I decided to try my hand at polenta for a change. I hardly ever make polenta, even though I like it, so for my week of African runner inspired recipes, I will use polenta as my ugali. I’ve read somewhere that Kenyan runners are so serious about their ugali and its necessity for their success that they travel with it, not trusting local food when on the eve of major international races.
The other dish that could challenge Ugali as the national dish is Sukuma wiki, a basic braised greens dish that can accompany most anything. Literally translated it means to stretch the week, as in stretch the week’s food dollar. The super nutrition of leafy greens can stretch the value of the usual Kenyan starches of corn and beans. Any greens can be used, though collards are the most common. A little onion, tomato, and peppers add flavor and nutrition and stretch it all further.
Since it’s Sunday, I decided to “stretch the week” with polenta and greens. But it turned out to be a little more exotic than the frugal name suggests. Today was my neighborhood Farmer’s Market, and not only did I get some fantastic collards, but I found a variety of peppers for this and other Kenyan dishes this week. To stretch it a little further, I added kidney beans to the greens, rather than making a separate bean dish.
1 bunch kale or collards, chopped
1 onion chopped
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
peppers sweet, hot, or in between chopped
dash of soy sauce
salt and pepper
lemon wedges for serving
In the spirit of African improvisation, there are no rules for this dish. Here’s how I made it tonight.
Saute onion and peppers until soft. I used serrano and padron peppers to make it spicy. Add tomatoes. I used three left over romas, but any tomato, fresh or canned will do. Once the tomatoes started to break down, I added the collards and covered to cook. I stirred from time to time. About half way through, I added a can of kidney beans and a dash of soy sauce and cooked some more. When everything was as it should be, I topped my polenta and stretched my week.
I feel faster already!