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Kuku paka or East African chicken curry

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

I was introduced to this dish in my cousin's home in Mumbai, a dish that was completely new to me. He explained that it comes from his in-law's side with roots in Mombasa. Of course, this intrigued me tremendously to dig more into this dish and its history.

Kuku, the chicken in Swahili, is the perfect amalgamation of flavours from India, Africa and the Arabic worlds all of which exist together in East Africa, from Zanzibar to Kenya. A version of this dish is found in every home and is considered to be one of the comfort dishes in the region.

The curry is a rich coconut-based curry loaded with spices that bring together African, Indian and Arabic flavours. The perfect balance of spices in a delicious sauce with tender fall-off-the-bone chicken is magic on your palate. Traditionally chicken drumsticks are used, but feel free to use any cut of your choice. In addition, some recipes call for potatoes, feel free to add them if you prefer. This dish will soon become a comfort food in my home too!

This is a new cookbook on my shelf, bought primarily for the Kuku Paka recipe, but it is also loaded with absolutely amazing recipes from around the world. The recipes are admittedly exotic but that also translates to being quite intense to make. But when the recipes turn out as well as this one, the effort is well deserved. I love the book, its flair, photography and recipes and will cook from here often.

For more recipes frok the fabulous cookbook, click here.


For the spice masala (enough for 3 portions):

2 tablespoons coriander seeds

2 tablespoons cumin seeds

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

2-3 dried red chillies

4-5 green cardamom pods

3-4 cloves

1 petal star anise

10-12 black peppercorns

1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon chilli powder, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

For the curry:

2 tablespoons ghee

1 large red onion, finely diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon ginger paste

2 green chillies, sliced into thin circles

2-3 tablespoons masala powder, from above

3-4 tomatoes, finely diced or blended for a smoother curry

6 chicken drumsticks, or a cut of your choice

1 can of coconut milk

Juice of 1 lime

Salt, to taste

Cilantro, to garnish

Lime wedges, to garnish

Dry roast all the whole spices on a frying pan till lightly toasted and aromatic. Cool, mix with the chilli powder and nutmeg and grind to a smooth powder. Set aside. The unused powder can be stored in an air-tight container.

Heat the ghee in a pot large enough for the curry and add the onions. Sauté on low heat till the onions are lightly golden. Add the garlic and sauté till the onions turn a dark brown and are well caramelized, about 4-5 minutes.

Add the ginger and green chillies and give a quick stir on low heat. Add the masala powder and give a quick stir to cook the spice blend without burning it. Add the tomatoes and salt and mix in well. Cook on medium-low heat till the tomatoes have broken down completely and formed a sauce, about 12-15 minutes.

Add the chicken drumsticks and toss well cooking them on low heat till the drumsticks no longer look raw and are sealed for about 5 more minutes. Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 40 minutes covered. Check to make sure the liquids are not drying out during this time, if so add a touch of water.

When cooked and the chicken is tender, the curry should have a thick texture and begin to cling to the chicken. Take off the heat. Squeeze in the lime juice and mix in well. Taste and adjust salt and chilli to your palate.

Serve hot garnished with cilantro and wedges of lime with plain rice or saffron rice.

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