Monday, May 24, 2010

Mtuza wa Samaki: Kenyan Curried Fish, for World Africa Day

It's all about the hot peppers ...

... and of course, the fish

When Casey of  Eating,  Gardening, and Living in Bulgaria challenged food bloggers to cook an African dish to highlight the incredible culinary diversity of the continent in honor of World Africa Day, I was eager to participate.  After all, African cuisine - particularly the hot and spicy variety - is one of my very favorite things in the world. (I have the sweat-inducing and curiously addicting West African pepper soup at Sumah's carryout in Washington, DC to thank for it. )

Of course, saying "African cuisine" is a gross oversimplification.  Each region and country has its own signature ingredients, spices, and cooking techniques.  Ethiopian, Senegalese, Tunisian, Ghanaian, Kenyan, South African - these cuisines, and many more I didn't list,  are as different from one another as French is  from Viennese.  I hope that more and more people begin to discover the depth and breadth of flavors this continent has to offer.
I chose to make mtuza wa samaki, a curried Kenyan fish dish that was one of the first African recipes I ever tried at home. I found it on Celt Net, an incredible recipe source. I  urge you to also check out the Congo Cookbook, another site I have consulted frequently.

What I love about Kenyan food is that you can often see both African and South Asian influences at work in the same dish. Black eyed peas may swim in coconut milk, as in m'baazi, or, as with maharagwe,  turmeric, red beans, hot peppers, and coconut milk all coexist harmoniously in the same bowl.

The broth in mtuza wa samaki has hot peppers, loads of onion, tomatoes, white vinegar - and cumin and coriander, the South Asian touch.  The fish essentially poaches in a hot peppery broth, emerging perfectly moist with an enduring, pleasant heat. I added a West African element, in that I used a combination of palm and peanut oils to fry the onion, which added yet another layer of flavor.

Mtuza Wa Samaki, for World Africa Day
adapted from Celt Net

 1 pound of firm white fish - I used MSC certified sustainable halibut. 
2 tbsp red palm oil
2 tbsp peanut oil
3 large onions, sliced (2 were sufficient)
2-3 habanero or Scotch bonnet peppers, pounded to a paste (I removed the seeds, if you leave them in you will increase the heat dramatically)
3 garlic cloves
4 medium fresh tomatoes, or 6 canned plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
120 ml white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt

Fry the onions in the oils until just transparent:
That yellow color is from the palm oil. Chop the hot peppers (bye, bye seeds!):
 Pound the hot peppers:
Combine the rest of the ingredients, including the peppers,  (not the fish!) and pulverize. I used the immersion blender Poppa Trix got me. Love it!
 Lay your fish in an oven-safe skillet, cover with the onions, pour the sauce over everything, cover, and bake in a 355 degree F oven for about 40 minutes - the time really depends on how thick the fish is. It  turns into a beautiful, saucy, spicy, onion-y sauce that imparts incredible flavor to the fish, without overwhelming it.

 To accompany my fish, I went a little crazy and prepared a bit of a feast. First I made a mountain of moyin-moyin, West African black-eyed pea cakes. (Leftover sauce from the fish tastes really good on this!) You can find the recipe at the Congo Cookbook:

I also made kelewele, a spicy Ghanaian fried plantain. I didn't get a good shot - we were too hungry - but I've made it before, so here's a photo from  a previous post:
I realize I was mixing East and West African foods in the same meal, but believe me - it worked.

If you haven't already, I hope this has inspired you to go discover African cuisine for yourself!


  1. Beautiful fish plate and amazing fish recipe. I agree that it's all about the peppers. Happy Africa Day!

  2. my flight leaves in 5 minutes is the table set and ready? I need a bottle of cabernet oops never mind I will bring white....cant wait to eat this and drink the wine with you.....then I woke up gorgeous plate of fish amazing recipe you did a great job!

  3. Trix
    You are amazing, unstoppable! Is there a corner of the earth you are not going to explore?
    I know 0 about African cuisine and this recipe has fascinated me; since I find fish boring, I love it when it is spiced and boy, is it ever here! I am going to give it a shot soon.
    I would love for you to explore mongolian and tibetan cuisine: would you?

  4. Love the heat! And amazing flavours. I have learnt much from this event as well. YUM!!! Will link up :)

  5. ooooooh!! I love the heat too and I know those are some hot peppers. The dish looks great and you are so right about the similarity to South Asian food. I'll have to try this fish dish.And the thing about being too hungry for perfect photos I totally get!

  6. Trix, this just sounds beautiful, a harmony of flavors all coming together and it looks beautiful too - love the color of the onions and I know the fish has just the right balance of heat with the spices - just a great job - wish I could sample a tast of it

  7. It's fun learning more about food in other nations. I ike to use spices and chilies in my cooking too. Love all the dishes.

  8. I have been afraid of African Cuisine since an unfortunate incident years ago with a raw meat dish... whoa was I sick!!!! This is a great (cooked!) recipe to test the African waters again... love the combinations... and I am crazy about hot peppers!

  9. Wonderful fish dish! I would never imagine African food could be that flavorful!

  10. Whoa!!! Three Scotch bonnets?!? YOWWW!! I'm in! I saw your dish in Casey's line up and it really struck me! I didn't know it was yours at first - the picture just jumped out at me. This is gorgeous and reading the ingredients list just tells me this will taste incredible!!

  11. A terrific feast here! The fish is just gorgeous and the flavors sound fantastic!

  12. I love all the ingredients for your fish, it sounds delicious!

  13. Just great recipes, maybe a bit hot for me even if I like hot, but love how you are introducing us to a cuisine we often forget about exploring!

  14. Wow, absolutely amazing flavours. always wondered about African cuisine! So going to check all the recipes out and so drooling over these flavours!

  15. I just bought an African cookbook but I've not cooked fromit yet but the flavors in this fish dish is so tempting...

  16. Wow, this fish looks so tasty...and the little peppers are so cute :-) Love the pictures as well.

  17. Great post! Besides a few random dishes I have made in the past, I'm afraid I don't know much about African cooking. This dish looks like a fabulous place to start.

  18. Great tribute recipe! The flavors in this dish sound like just the thing to make you feel good.

  19. Trix,

    Not only are you a fabulous cook, but I applaud your use of sustainable halibut. As a person who's written about the need to support sustainable fish, I am glad to see that responsible people like yourself are getting involved. Amazing dish.


  20. Great lesson on Kenyan cuisine (which I am not too familiar with)! That fish seems so flavorful and fragrant! I think I would decrease the chili since I cannot take that much. Lovely dish!

  21. wow, amazing recipe! i almost think i like your dishes more than the recipes sometimes...i've probably said that before, too. now you have me drooling...

  22. Yay! African food! :D I plan on doing a few more African dishes- When I make it I'm being healthy without even realising it! It's so full of flavour!

  23. Such a wonderful recipe. I love fish and am always looking for new recipes for fish dishes. Thanks for posting.

  24. This sounds and looks delicious! Great for all that heat with it. Yum!