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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Follow me on social media to tell me how you liked this recipe + get extra recipes!