The date was 30th August 2008 and my super dad, whom we all call Papa, was giving the father-of-the-bride speech for his eldest daughter who happens to be me – so yes – I was the blushing bride. He is not a man of many words; he chooses to sing them instead. And so after singing a song he had especially composed for me –Kuolewa ni kitu kizuri (Marriage is a Beautiful thing) – the very few words he spoke told of how his princess (MeJ) loves green vegetables. And right he was.
If I did not love my Kenyan grass-fed beef so much, I would probably have been a vegetarian. But I left that for my sister Gish, who would wake up from her death bed if shown a plate of vegetables. And one of the vegetable dishes that I love to the moon and back is Mkunde leaves in Peanut Sauce. (Mkunde is Swahili for Cow Peas). The very soft ones make the best dish.
The ones that are literally uprooted form the ground as opposed to just plucking the leaves. My mother would make me ‘space’ them in the garden by uprooting them while still young to give the ones that remained abundant space to fruit bountifully. Being a first born girl comes with its joys and sorrows. I would be ‘lectured’ emphatically on how I ought to be a great example to Gish, Cathy and Joyce – my 3 baby sisters. On the other hand, when the 3 did not reach the folk’s expectations, they would be ‘lectured’ on how they should try and be like me – much to my glee.
Anyway - So here goes the recipe for my favourite less-than-4-dollar meal.
§ 6 bunches of soft Mkunde leaves – plucked, washed and roughly chopped
§ 1 bunch spring onions - chopped
§ 2 red onions finely chopped
§ 3 tomatoes – peeled and finely chopped
§ 1 cup roasted peanuts – milled or crushed in a kinu (pestle and mortar)
§ Corn Oil
§ Black Pepper and salt
§ 1 cup Hot Water
§ Place the mkunde leaves in a pot without adding any more water and steam gently on low heat. ( make sure it is washed then chopped; not the other way round)
§ Once the water diminishes completely, set the leaves aside.
§ On the same pot, put about 2 table spoons of Corn oil.
§ Add the black pepper and let it cook for a while, and then add the spring onions. (I always like to add my spices to the hot oil and let them cook for a while. It really brings out the flavours – plus – the aroma, the neighbours will come knocking!)
§ Be careful that the spring onions do not burn, add the peeled and chopped tomatoes.
§ Stir and let it cook on low heat for a while till it’s cooked through to a thick paste. Add about a half of the hot water and then add the crushed or milled peanuts.
§ Cook for about 5 minutes stirring continuously then eventually add the steamed Mkunde leaves.
§ You can add some more hot water depending on how you would like the consistency to be.
I always serve this with Sima (maize flour porridge cooked and thickened to a solid state) although my eccentric sister Cathy prefers this with white bread. Well, I guess at the end of the day it depends on someone’s palate!
They say that helping someone who doesn’t have much does not mean that you have much yourself; but you know what it feels like not having much.
Growing up we never had much materially, but we were overwhelmed with love and happiness and hearty guffaws would often be heard from our humble 2 roomed house in Nairobi’s sprawling Umoja estate. This would be after the staple, almost always daily, meal of Sima (maize flour porridge thickened to a solid state) and Sukuma (leafy green kales). When our eldest brother started working, he would supplement my father’s meagre income and with that came a slight change in our diet. And that is when my love affair with Mr. Culinary was awoken!
24th of every month would come and hooray! Payday for the home (my elder brother’s pay day). He would call me through the neighbours’s cell phone because that was the only cellphone in the neighbourhood and instruct me on how much he could spare for a ‘special supper’. Off I would hop into a matatu (public minivan) and head to the central business district where he worked to pick the ‘allowance’ for special supper. On a good day it would be Ksh. 100 (almost $2at the time) and on a great day it would be Ksh. 200!
Mike, the local green grocer, would the obvious first stop. And for a much welcome change from the usual daily green kales, I would dash for the white cabbage. Some carrots and spring onions for colour and a handful of potatoes plus tomatoes and mixed spices from the local shop and I would be good to go. On the days when the ‘special supper allowance’ would be more, I would get half a kg of lean beef from Kinyua, the ever smiling butcher, with instructions to chop it into the tiniest pieces he could.
And the fun would begin!
With my immediate younger sister, Gish, away in boarding school, Cathy, our last born sister, would be the ‘mtu wa mkono’ ( kitchen help). I would realize that there was barely 10 ml of oil in the kitchen and so would make sure that I seal the ‘tiny winy’ pieces of meat before simmering to save on the oil.
Cathy would marinate the beef for half an hour with salt and garlic and a bit of pepper because my youngest bro Jimmy would sulk the week away if any meal was anything hotter than slightly mild.
Cathy would then place the beef on the cement floor in a clay container in the coolest part of the house that she could find because we did not (indeed could not even imagine) have a refrigerator. In the meantime, we would do the mise en place and peel and chop the potatoes, finely chop the coriander, tomatoes and spring onions (in Kenya, spring onions are cheaper)
With the beef marinated, we would proceed to prepare a tongue scalding meal of beef, potato and white cabbage stew dotted with spring onions and coriander and to-die-for chapatis. Indeed as my eldest brother Hanns would say, the best part would be just before we indulged!
And thus began my love affair with Mr. Culinary. This affair was honed and polished at Utalii College where I later spent four years studying Hotel Management. My husband is fully aware of this affair and he celebrates it every day whenever I place a sizzling meal before him after a hard day’s work.