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Swahili Chicken Curry with Coconut Rice

This recipe has been tested by staff at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in an American kitchen. The cooks who participated in the Kenya program of the Festival, who can be heard on the accompanying podcast were cooking in the outdoor kitchen at the event, and their recipes are designed for Kenyan climates and kitchens. Thus, cook with discretion. Good luck!

Swahili Chicken Curry with Coconut Rice
“When the food is cooked, there is no need to wait before eating it.” —Kikuyu proverb

This recipe is generally cooked for lunch, which tends to be the biggest meal of the day in Kenya. The cooks say that since Kenyan chickens have a much fresher taste compared to frozen American chickens, they add flavor by marinating for a longer period of time when using American chickens.


Chicken Marinade

  • 1 whole chicken, cut up (or pre-cut pieces such as thighs, drumsticks, and wings)
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 3 heads of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper

Curry Sauce

  • 4 whole ripe tomatoes, chopped into large pieces
  • 2 large ginger roots, peeled and chopped (enough for approximately 1 ½ cups when pureed)
  • 1 red onion, sliced into thin strips
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 to 4 heads of garlic, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped into one-inch cubes
Swahili Chicken Curry with Coconut Rice

Coconut Rice

  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 ½ cups water


Chicken Marinade

  • If using a whole chicken, chop into rough pieces, leaving bones in and skin on.
  • Combine lime juice with the chopped garlic, salt, and pepper in a large plastic bag or bowl.
  • Add chicken and toss.
  • Let marinate for two hours or more in the refrigerator. (The cooks recommended ten to fifteen minutes before frying, but the longer it marinates the stronger the flavors.)

Curry Sauce

  • Puree tomatoes until smooth, then pour into bowl and set aside.
  • Puree ginger in blender or food processor.
  • Heat ¾ cup vegetable oil in a wok over medium heat and add onions. Simmer for ten minutes until deep brown and crispy but not burned.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large deep pan or Dutch oven with a lid, and sauté the garlic and ginger. Add the bell pepper and cook until soft. Add the tomato puree and tomato paste.
  • Let simmer, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes and add the cinnamon and cilantro.
  • In a separate large frying pan or wok, sear chicken so that skin is crispy and brown, but the interior remains pink.
  • Add chicken and potatoes to tomato sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover pan and let simmer for thirty to forty minutes.
  • While the curry is cooking, make coconut rice.

Coconut Rice

  • Wash the rice thoroughly in a bowl and allow it to soak for ten to fifteen minutes. Rinse rice after soaking and set aside.
  • Bring coconut milk, water, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add rice and stir once.
  • After about seven minutes, reduce the heat to low, cover, and let simmer for fifteen minutes. Rice is finished when it is fluffy and has soaked up all the water and coconut milk.
  • Serve curry over rice. Garnish with fried onions.
Swahili Chicken Curry with Coconut Rice

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