G21 AFRICA – “Black Mischief”

Africa has many culinary delights only now being discovered by the rest of the world. BINYAVANGA WAINAINA suggests a Kikuyu dish of m’kimo served with lamb, and a spicy mango salad from the Kenyan coast.

I HAD a memorable Kenyan meal at a friend’s place in Sandton three years ago. We ate a roast leg of goat, sukuma wiki (curly kales) and m’kimo with njah beans.

There was bottle after bottle of Tusker beer to wash it down. The fresh goat and the njah beans had been smuggled through Johannesburg airport by our enterprising hostess.

The beer came wrapped in a diplomatic pouch, and the curly kales were hijacked from the fish section at a nearby “Pick ‘n Pay” ( it uses the green vegetables to dress the display).

Mushy Pea M’kimoServes 8-10 people


1 tin of whole kernel mealies
250g split peas
6 large mashing potatoes, quartered
All-purpose seasoning
A pinch of curry powder
A pinch of black pepper
2 onions, chopped very small
2 bananas
1 clove of garlic, crushed.
A handful of pumpkin leaves (or spinach), cut fine
1 spoonful of ghee or butter

To prepare

Put potatoes, peas, salt and black pepper in a large pot and cover with water. Cook on medium-high until the peas are cooked but still crunchy. This should take about 30 minutes.

While they are cooking, brown the onions together with the curry powder in the ghee (or butter).

Mash the potato mixture thoroughly, making sure most of the peas get crushed.

Add the mealie kernels, the onions and the seasoning to the pot and mix them in with a wooden spoon.

Mash the banana, mix it with garlic and black pepper, and work it into the m’kimo as well.

Spoon two large spoonfuls of the m’kimo into a red cabbage leaf.

Shingo Ya Kondoo Na Maziwa Lala (Lamb neck medallions with mustard and amasi)

Serves 8-10


500ml amasi (sour milk)
8 medallions of lamb’s neck
3 teaspoons of English mustard
2 teaspoons of honey

To prepare

Rub the salt and the mustard into the meat and cover all of it with sour milk. Marinate overnight.

Brown the medallions in a hot pan. Cook for 10-15 minutes, depending on how you like your meat, making sure to baste it with the remaining marinade so the meat remains moist. .

I am told that “Pick ‘n Pay” cameras in Johannesburg have learnt to spot Kenyans as soon as they walk into the supermarket. “Warning to all fish market staff – you are about to be undressed!”

What had brought me all the way from Umtata for this meal, though, was the m’kimo made with njah beans. There is no bean in the world that tastes quite like njah.

There are some foods that love to play hard to get. I am not quite sure why. There is a legendary pineapple that sends tons of salivating Ghanaian expats home on holiday more often than they can afford because it does not grow anywhere else in the world.

Njah’ is like that. Apart from the fact that she does not seem to grow outside East Africa (where she can still be difficult to find,) she is also a very ***ist bean. In Kikuyu culture, she is supposed to be reserved only for pregnant or breast-feeding women.

This is a particular taboo I take much pleasure in ignoring. The possible punishments (growing breasts, maybe, or being made to suffer monthly periods for eternity after death) don’t bother me. The bean tastes that good.

Njah’ is grown in the highlands of Kenya, from where the Kikuyu people come. Legend has it that Gikuyu, the father of the Kikuyu people, settled near Mt Kenya with his wife, Mumbi. They had nine daughters, after whom the nine clans of the Kikuyu are named. I’ve always been curious about which nine men his nine daughters married. However, legends generally don’t explain such things.

The highlands from where the Kikuyu come are better known in South Africa as the White Highlands, where a lot of white mischief took place. Needless to say, the Kikuyu were pissed off about what was going on in their land.

In Kikuyu, the word used for food is irio. The most basic irio is githeri, which comprises whole mealie kernels with beans. When mashed potatoes and shredded pumpkin or sweet potato leaves are introduced into the dish it is called m’kimo, of which there are three main types.

Njug’ m’kimo is made from chickpeas, green mealies and mashed potatoes. This is probably the original m’kimo, as chickpeas are indigenous to Africa.

There is now a variety of m’kimo made from peas (the ones the English call “mushy peas”).

Traditionally, m’kimo is made with mealies that have been dried in a granary. This allows the dish to keep for longer but makes chewing difficult, especially since m’kimo hardens after a while.

Njah’ is a black bean that turns reddish when cooked. It has a long white crown that runs along its seam.

What makes it so special is its musky and bitter flavour, which combines well with mashed potatoes and ripe bananas. It is said to be loaded with nutrients. I suppose it is because it is both scarce and vitamin-laden that it is reserved for breast-feeding and pregnant women. It is mixed with mashed ripe bananas and a little maize.

Incidentally, bone marrow is also traditionally reserved for mothers-to-be.

M’kimo used to be a complete meal on its own, but these days it is often eaten with a stew or grilled meat.

BINYAVANGA WAINAINA – I am a free-lance writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. I was born and brought up in Kenya. I write a weekly Interview for the Weekend Argus in Cape Town called “Encounters.” I also write feature pieces about African cuisine, general food, leisure and travel stories of the Sunday Times “Lifestyle” magazine. (The Sunday Times is South Africa’s largest Newspaper.)

I have also written for the Mail and Guardian, Y magazine, SL magazine, Pforward magazine, and the Cape Times‘ weekend Supplement, “The Top Of the Times.”

I run a business in Cape Town (Amuka Investements cc)that specialises in African Cuisine. I have to date collected over 13,000 recipes, all from Africa. We are also caterers and food consultants. As a hobby I collect information about traditional and modern cuisines of Africa, and write extensively about them. It is my aim to start to find an afrocentric perceptual framework with which to commment about cuisines of the continent. I am widely regarded as the leading commentator on Africa Cuisine in South Africa. … But I would much rather describe myself as a dedicated Food Slut.

In his continuing series here at the G21 more African cuisine recipes will be featured.

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