Do you love African vegetarian meals? In Kenya, the Luhya and the Kikuyu are the most populous ethnic tribes of the Bantus. Both tribes are big on African vegetarian meals, their diets from agricultural produce. Luhya traditional meals and Kikuyu cultural foods represent very interesting food traditions of the African lifestyle. In this article, we will take you through a cuisine experience like no other. Involving a medley of Luhya and Kikuyu cultural foods. That’s right, whet your appetite with authentic native African vegetarian meals. This includes various leafy vegetables, mahenjera, mukimu, githeri, and irio. Discover their interesting African food traditions which follows native food preparation methods, with a touch of modernity.
Table of contents
Medley of Luhya and Kikuyu cultural foods
Luhyas and Kikuyus are big on tubers. Among the Luhyas, these include mapwoni (sweet potatoes), and tsinduma (arrow roots). Also, emioko (cassava), maarakwe (beans), tsinjuku (groundnuts), and tsimbande (Bambara nuts).
Further, the Kikuyus use starchy roots and tubers to make gitoero or stew. The most common ingredients include green bananas (marigu), and Irish potatoes (waru). Likewise, sweet potatoes, cassava, yam, and arrowroot. Legumes are also common Kikuyu cultural foods. Including ordinary pea, cowpea, pigeon pea, and groundnuts. Beans include kidney beans, the Bonavist bean, lima bean, soya bean, and mung bean,
With such similar ingredients, it is common to find some similarities in their foods. Let’s explore this further:
Mahenjera OR Githeri (corn+ legumes)
Surely, this beloved African vegetarian meal defines the African lifestyle of the Luhya and the Kikuyu people. The Luhya call it mahenjera, and the Kikuyu call it githeri. Indeed, it is a healthy way for families to have a dish that leaves everyone feeling full for longer. A traditional combination of boiled fresh white corn and kidney beans, mahenjera is an all-day healthy meal for breakfast, lunch, and supper.
In some instances, the Luhya often enrich this dish with healthy add-ons as Bambara nuts or kales. For instance, a Luhya cook can fry mahenjera with onions, and tomatoes, and add some chilies to add more spice to it. However, Luhyas commonly take it along with tea or porridge. This is because mahenjera and tea make a great combo for a strong healthy meal to keep one full for longer.
Similarly, like in most African lifestyles, maize/corn is a staple food for the Kikuyu people. In this regard, a favorite staple healthy meal is a mixture of boiled kidney beans and whole maize to form the famous githeri. As one of the more interesting African food traditions of the Kikuyu, like the Luhya, githeri is often the designated meal for breakfast, lunch, and supper. As an additional touch of spice, Kikuyu women expertly accompany githeri with leafy vegetables, sweet or Irish potatoes, green bananas, and seasonings.
Understandably, mahenjera/githeri is a mainstay among the Kikuyu and Luhya traditional meals. This is because, it is a cheap healthy meal perfect for large families and often low-income.
This underscores the large footprint of cereals and legumes in the African lifestyle. By and large, a mixture of corn and legumes is thus not only a go-to traditional dish in most Kenyan homes but also in schools and cultural ceremonies such as funerals to feed large crowds.
Omushenye vs Mukimo
Perhaps, one of the most interesting African food traditions of the Luhya relates to omushenye. A native delicacy, a blend of boiled sweet potatoes and kidney beans or Bambara nuts is truly a nutritious African vegetarian meal. Understandably, omushenye is a signature dish of the Luhya traditional meals due to its nutritional value, providing proteins, vitamins, carbohydrates, and calcium. Evidently, exotic sweet potatoes are common suspects for most African vegetarian meals. Consequently, this authentic African lifestyle of eating from the farm makes the Luhya men and women relatively well-built. In fact, the Luhya share much of the customs and cuisine of Western Uganda due to geographical proximity and cultural interchange.
On the other hand, Mukimo is the signature dish among Kikuyu cultural foods, involving a mixture of potatoes, legumes, cereals, and herbs. In fact, this dish has great similarity to the Luhya Mushenye, with a standout difference of pumpkin leaves in Mukimo responsible for the unmistakable green color of the meal. In addition, the Kikuyus add kernels of fresh maize and coarsely mash together all the contents. As a result, Mukimo is a mainstay dish of the Kikuyu African lifestyle, being the main dish at weddings, thanksgiving, and funerals. We’ll discuss this in detail as we go along.
Now let’s consider the specific diets of these two communities.
Luhya traditional meals
Famous as the “food nation” of multi-ethnic Kenya, the Luhya are known for their primarily vegetarian eating lifestyle. The community occupies the largely fertile soils of western Kenya. For sustenance, its people often practice small-scale farming for subsistence and agribusiness. Like many on the continent, the Luhya significantly still lead the traditional African lifestyle that involves interesting food traditions and recipes. As such, the Luhya traditional meals consist of over 20 different types of leafy vegetables that come together through meticulous sourcing, preparation, and serving rituals.
Enjoy the charm of these Luhya traditional vegetables in the slideshow below. Remember to subscribe to our newsletter to get detailed recipes.
Examples of Luhya leafy greens
In Western Kenya, you come in touch with the true representation of African vegetarian meals that leaves you feeling full and healthy. Without refute, the Luhya claim the honors of delicious traditional leafy vegetables responsible for renowned interesting Kenya food traditions are in great supply during the rainy season.
As a rule of thumb, the Luhya people pair all these leafy vegetables with the beloved ugali, stiff-cooked maize/corn flour dough. In fact, ugali is synonymous with the Luhya tribe in Kenya, often featured as a staple healthy meal for lunch and supper. Yet still, other members of the community consume ugali with legumes in the early morning. In this way, therefore, they pack themselves with enough carbs, vitamins, and proteins prior to setting out for demanding, long farm work.
Leafy vegetable preparation the Luhya way
Generally, the Luhya have interesting Kenyan food traditions pertaining to ways to prepare leafy vegetables. Luhya women use traditional lye, mushelekha, as a tenderizer for coarse leafy vegetables including cowpea leaves, sunn hemp, black nightshade, and amaranthus. As a bitter-tasting filtrate, it has rich potassium salt content that softens the leafy vegetables. Craftly, Luhya women make this filtrate from ashes of burnt banana peelings, dry maize cobs, bean pods, or sorghum husks. In comparison, mushelekha is an equivalent of potash that serves as a quick tenderizer for Liberian country beans. See below the simple equipment needed to make this traditional African food softener.
Furthermore, Mushelekha preserves the greenness of the leafy vegetables and improves the taste of African vegetarian meals. For instance, mushelekha is a preferred cooking ingredient that boosts the slimy texture and flavor of murere (Jude mallow). However, Luhya women take great care not to use too much mushelekha to prepare their leafy vegetables because it can make food too tender. In addition, the filtrate will cause a burning sensation in an eater’s mouth when it is over the top.
Mixing leafy vegetables like the Luhya
Typically, African vegetarian meals often consist of a mixture of various food types to boost the nutritional value. In this respect, the Luhya women are experts at pairing their native leafy vegetables, thanks to the wisdom passed down from grandmothers. Therefore, the mixing abides by interesting food traditions that establish the specific vegetables suitable for mixing with each other. By the same token, it is an established Luhya custom to add a tenderizer to certain leafy vegetables and not to others.
Similar to Kikuyu cultural food tendencies, Luhya women mix their leafy vegetables to boost the quantity of the meal, and enhance the overall taste. True to the African lifestyle, the Luhya also mash up the native leafy vegetables to modify the cooked vegetable texture.
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