September 3, 2018

Makai Paka & Maraghwe Bhajiya

Makai Paka & Maraghwe Bhajiya

My Makai Paka & Maraghwe Bhajiya is a Swahili-style dish of corn cooked in coconut milk with crispy, spicy kidney bean fritters on top. Makai Paka is the corn stew and Maraghwe Bhajiya are the bean fritters.

Maraghwe Bhajiya soak up some of the coconut milk like dumplings, yet still have a crispy, cragginess I adore. It’s rustic, warming and a beautiful vegan meal.

Corn vs. Maize

Make Makai Paka with either corn or maize. The latter takes longer to cook, is less sweet and more mealy than its’ counterpart. The choice is yours.

For the sake of time and availability, I use corn. Either fresh from the cob, tinned or even frozen will do.

British sweetcorn is abundant at this time of year so this is what I’ve used in my recipe. Having said this, please work with what you have and what you like the taste of.

What is Makai Paka?

Makai Paka is a Kenyan speciality, most popular amongst the South Asian community in East Africa. Other non-vegetarian varieties exist in the form of Kuku Paka (chicken) and Machli Paka (fish).

A corn variety of the popular dish has likely come about due to the abundance of the ingredients locally, and due to the Asian vegetarian population. The dish usually incorporates large pieces of corn on the cob.

Makai Paka & Maraghwe Bhajiya

My recipe for Makai Paka & Maraghwe Bhajiya

My recipe for Makai Paka is vegan and has the addition of kidney bean fritters (Maraghwe Bhajiya). This isn’t a common addition but one that echoes the addition of moong daal bhajiya to other Asian-African dishes like Channa Bateta and Zanzibar Mix.

I first grill the corn on the cob and then remove them from the cob. They then get the coconut milk treatment. A long and gentle simmer to coax out the juices and intensify the sweetness of the corn. It’s a beautiful contrast alongside the mild spices and citrus juices.

My version of Makai Paka doesn’t include corn on the cob because I wanted to create a version you need only a bowl and spoon to enjoy.

Simple spices: Makai Paka & Maraghwe Bhajiya

The spices in this dish are simple, as with all East African dishes. Traditionally, you should let the ingredients do the talking and use spices sparingly to enhance them.

The only rule is to balance sweet, salty, hot and sour, as is also the case with traditional Gujarati cooking. Indeed, if you like Gujarati-style Kidney Beans & Sweetcorn nu Shaak, you will love this dish.

Memories and meals

What are your favourite food smells? For me, you can’t get any better than veggies roasting over an open fire.

The flavours of corn, aubergines, peppers and okra and onions are all heightened when you introduce them to flames.

I have such precious memories of holidaying in Mombasa, melting away in the aroma of fire-roasted maize on the cob, mohogo (cassava) and sweet potatoes.

These, combined with the lingering smell of hot coals, gasoline and frying potatoes in the salty, coastal air transports me to a happy place. It’s almost as comforting as the welcoming warmth of my bed at home.

Makai Paka & Maraghwe Bhajiya

A trio of cultures

I’m lucky enough to have grown up with three cultures; British, Indian and Kenyan. I grew up in the 90s, lived in an all-white area and was forever told that my house/packed lunch/hair always “smells like curry” by my peers.

If that wasn’t odd enough, I was also the only vegetarian at school (remember this was before “plant-based” and “vegan” diets were mainstream and insta famous).

When my lunches weren’t cucumber sandwiches and crisps, they were eyeballed with a mixture of curiosity and fear. Ghee-cooked thepla, bateta nu shaak, dahi and samosas.

Those lunches were always the most delicious. By the time I got to 15, I stopped giving a toss about what others thought, cooked shaak-rotli in my home ec classes and often came home empty handed because my friends had eaten it all.

My parents were flabbergasted.

The self-conscious episodes of my youth have made me incredibly proud of my triple-cultured upbringing. Being a British Indian with East African roots is what’s made me who I am today.

We ate the best, most varied meals and connected over food in the most wonderful way. Each meal was a talking point; it had a story and there were facts, techniques and anecdotes behind it.

Even now, we talk about our favourite family dishes daily.

How to make Makai Paka & Maraghwe Bhajiya

Makai Paka & Maraghwe Bhajiya

Makai Paka & Maraghwe Bhajiya

Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: African, Indian
Keyword: african, beans, coconut, fritters, kidney beans, stew, sweetcorn
Servings: 4

Ingredients

For the Makai Paka (Corn in Coconut Milk):

  • 3 large sweetcorn on the cob
  • 1 medium potato cubed into 1cm pieces
  • 400 ml coconut milk
  • 2 green chillies chopped
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 300 ml water
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Fresh coriander

For the Maraghwe Bhajiya:

  • 1 x 400g tin cooked kidney beans drained and rinsed
  • 140 g chickpea flour (besan)
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 green chilli finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 2 tbsp coriander finely chopped
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • Oil for deep frying

Instructions

  • To make the Makai Paka, first roast the sweetcorn over a flame on your gas cooker. You can also place it under the grill or on a barbecue until it has black spots all over. Allow to cool.
  • Strip the kernels from the cob and set aside.
  • In a large pan, add the water, coconut milk, chillies, garlic, turmeric and salt. Bring to a boil and add the potatoes and corn. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice and coriander and remove from the heat.
  • To make the bhajiya, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, crushing some of the beans between your fingers and keeping some whole.
  • Heat a wok or deep pan with oil to 160ºC/320ºF. Use a teaspoon to pick up the batter and another teaspoon to carefully push the batter off, into the hot oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes, turning and moving frequently until golden and crispy.
  • Serve the Makai Paka in bowls and top with the hot and crispy Maraghwe Bhajiya.
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Makai Paka & Maharagwe Bhajiya (Sweetcorn in Coconut Milk Topped with Crispy Bean Fritters)

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