Swahili Pilau

Easy pizzy, lemon squuezy!!!

Now say it louder, but this time imagine you don’t have your two front teeth. Eathi pithi,lemon squegee!!

This is easier.

All you need is the following;

  1. 3 large onions
  2. A bulb of garlic
  3. Half a thumb size of ginger
  4. Salt
  5. A kilo of meat
  6. 3 cups rice – washed
  7. 1 teaspoon pilau masala aka dawa ya pilau

First, boil your meat. If it is beef. If chicken, no need. Just jump to the frying part.

Second, wash your rice. I place mine on a big strainer and washed it under running water for a few minutes.

Thinly slice onions.

Place your peeled ginger and garlic in a mortar and grind to a fine paste.

Once the meat is done, take a big saucepan (sufuria) and heat oil till it’s silent & near smoking.

Add onions with a pinch of salt. They’ll fry faster. A local would say, siri ya pilau in kitunguu kuungua. Direct translation is, the secret to a good pilau is burning the onions.

If you have to burn them, burn them like this.

Add ginger & garlic paste when the onions caramelise & continue frying for 2 to 4 minutes.

Add 1 teaspoon of pilau masala and let the aroma give you a kick in your nostrils as it wets your appetite. Fry for another 5 or so minutes and add the meat when the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan.

Stir and make sure every piece of meat gets a warm hug from the golden mixture sticking to the bottom of the saucepan. If too dry, add some water and let it simmer till it dries up.

Add the rice.


Add 3 cups of water, cover and reduce the heat.

Let it gently boil as the water reduces.

When the water has reduced completely, please avoid the annoying habit of mercilessly combing through the rice to check if the rice done.

Instead,lift lid, cover with a sheet of foil, replace cover and reduce heat to minimum. Let it be for 10 minutes or so. If using a jiko, you can add pieces of charred charcoal on top of the lid.

If you don’t have foil, a clean newspaper will do.

After 10 minutes, switch off the heat and let it rest for 15-30 minutes without opening the lid. This allows the rice to puff up and separate in the steam in a constant temperature.

That’s the science behind pilau.

As this is going on, prepare your accompaniment e.g. kachumbari, eggplants, ladyfingers, bananas, avocado etc.


Dawa ya pilau

If you have a supplier who can be getting you the fresh ingredients, then this is for you. If you can only get the supermarket stuff, this is a gamble.

Ensure you have the following;

  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Cardamom
  • Cloves
  • Black pepper
  • Cumin seeds

All shall be in equal ratio except for the cumin. It can be twice the ratio e.g. the ratio of black pepper to cumin can’t be the same, it’ll be too hot. Cloves, too bitter and cardamom or cinnamon, too bland.

Place a pan on high heat for 3 or so minutes. Add your pilau mix ingredients and toss them around the pan.

The cumin seeds will start crackling.

Stir some more, ensure it does not burn.

Remove the pan from the heat once the aroma is strong enough to invite your neighbors.

Let it cool.

Place in a grinder, and grind to powder.

A quarter kilo of the mixed whole spices at Kongowea goes for 100/- and it is A LOT!!!

Enjoy…….see you on Saturday hopefully.

Published by nafulalusimba

I love words written in beautiful prose. I am a woman who is in love with Jesus and loves to cook. I am a bride in boots.

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