Kenyan Ramadan recipes: kaimati, mahamri & chicken biryani

Kenya’s ethnic diversity means that it hosts a wide variety of culinary delights. It would be hard to pick a national dish, as the cuisine tends to showcase food from the many ethnic communities that make up the population. From Maasai stews to Indian curries and traditional sweets, all have been enthusiastically adopted by Kenyans, and many are popular during Ramadan. 

Street food is popular too, especially outside Mosques during Holy month, and for snacks after prayers. Try these recipes for deep-fried treats, and for a showstopping curry that is often eaten during Eid.


Kaimati sweet Kenyan dumplings / Shutterstock


These crunchy dumplings in a sugar syrup – similar to donut bites – are hugely popular all over Kenya. They make a delicious snack at any time of day, and are often eaten after fast has been broken during Ramadan, or even as part of the Iftar table. 


Makes approx 30 dumplings

For the sugar syrup
– 200g sugar
– 125ml water
– ½ tsp ground cardamom
– Shreds of lemon peel or saffron threads (to taste)

For the dumpling dough
125g all-purpose flour
– 125g yogurt plus a little water
– 1 tbsp butter
– 1 level tsp instant yeast
– Oil for deep frying (canola or sunflower)


1.  Bring syrup ingredients to the boil and cool completely.

2. Mix the flour with the yogurt, butter and yeast and beat thoroughly. It should be thick enough to handle and not be runny, but not so thick that it’s a dough.

3. Cover and let it rise for about half an hour. Knock back and mix again.

4. Heat enough oil to deep fry. Drop small portions in the hot oil, then immediately lower the heat and fry on very low heat, stirring continuously so the kaimatis color on all sides and are crunchy on the outside.

5. Drain with a slatted spoon and immediately roll in the cooled syrup.


Kenyan woman making mahamri / Shutterstock


Similar to kaimati, these breakfast donuts from the coastal region are a tasty treat at almost any time of day. They can be rolled in cinnamon sugar after frying, but also go beautifully eaten plain as a bread to accompany a curry.


Makes 16

– 1 tbsp cardamom pods
– 1 tbsp dried yeast
– 50ml warm water
– 250g all-purpose flour
– 100g sugar
– 125ml coconut milk
– Oil for deep frying (canola or sunflower)
– Cinnamon or icing sugar (optional)


1. Crush the cardamom pods, extract the seeds and pound them in a pestle and mortar until smooth, or use about 1tsp ground cardamom.

2. Add the yeast to the warm water and leave for 10 minutes.

3. Add yeast mix to flour, then add the cardamom and sugar and mix well.

4. Add the coconut milk little by little and knead until the dough is smooth.

5. Leave to rise until doubled in size.

6. Knock back, and divide the dough into quarters.

7. Roll out each quarter into a circle 4-6in in diameter, and cut each into four quarters, so there are 16 triangles in total.

8 .Heat oil to medium heat for deep frying and drop in the triangles 3 to 4 at a time.

If the oil is hot enough they should puff up immediately and float to the top. When each triangle is brown on the underside, flip it and fry the other side. Remove with a slatted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. 

9. Roll in cinnamon sugar or icing sugar to taste.


Chicken biryani / Shutterstock

Chicken biryani

Restaurateur Sanjay Anand’s grandfather Bishan Das Anand started a catering business in Nairobi in 1935, then later the Brilliant Hotel in 1957. Grandsons Sanjay and Sanjeev started a restaurant in the UK in 1980, when they were just 17 and 16, under the auspices of their mother, Krishna Kumari Anand, and now the award-winning Madhu’s of Southall in London is hugely popular, with satellite concessions in Harrods, Harvey Nichols and at Heathrow airport.

This recipe for biryani, which is often prepared for Eid, comes from their expert team. It looks like a long list of ingredients but it’s a stunning dish for a special occasion and the results are certainly worth it.


Serves 6

For the marinade:
– 1 medium-size chicken
– 120g of strained yogurt
– 1 dessert tsp of garlic and ginger paste
– ½ dessert tsp spoon of chili paste
– ½ tsp turmeric
– 1tsp chili powder
– 1½ tsp salt

For the rice:
– 600g of rice, washed and soaked for about 10 mins
– 5 cloves
– 6 green cardamom pods
– 2 bay leaves
– 2 X 3in cinnamon sticks

For the chicken sauce
– 100g of butter
– 200g of onion paste
– 1 tbsp of garlic and ginger paste
– 400g blended tomatoes
– 2 tsp of chili paste
– 1 tsp of turmeric
– ½ tsp of red chili
– 2 tsp of salt for masala
– 2 tsp of garam masala
– Chopped coriander

For the layers:
– 80ml of milk
– 4 eggs, boiled
– 1tbsp of oil
– 1 white onion, sliced
– Two good pinches of saffron

To serve:
– 60g of additional butter
– Small piece of charcoal (optional)
– Handful of mint
– Chopped coriander


Selection of spices / Shutterstock


For the marinade:

1. Place strained yogurt in a bowl and add garlic, ginger and chili paste.

2. Add turmeric, chili powder, and salt and mix marinade, then add jointed, skinned chicken (keep joints on the bone and cut slits in the flesh), giving everything a good stir.

3. Set aside to marinate for 1-2 hours or for best results leave overnight in the fridge.

For the rice:

1. In water, add rice, cloves, green cardamom, bay leaves, cinnamon, and  2 tsp of salt.  Cook the rice until it has a slight bite. Do not cook through. Drain and set aside. 

For the chicken sauce:

1. In a pan, heat heat butter and add onion paste.

2. Brown the onion paste and add ginger and garlic paste to onion paste and cook until mixture is dark brown. Add blended tomatoes.

3. Add 2tsp of chili paste to the mixture, then turmeric, and red chili.

4. Wait until oil has separated from paste. Stir constantly so the mixture doesn’t burn.

5. Add marinated chicken and stir, and add salt.

6. Add garam masala, stir and keep cooking until the chicken is cooked throughout.  Add some chopped coriander.

For the layers:

1. In a separate saucepan heat the 80ml of milk. Once boiled, add the saffron and when the milk has developed an amber colour, set aside. 

2. Cut the boiled eggs in half and set aside.

3. Fry the onion slices until golden brown and set aside. 

4. In a separate pan, heat the butter and on a separate burner heat a small piece of charcoal directly on the flame (for smoking).

5. In a large pot or deep casserole dish start layering with rice first, then chicken, then a layer of the halved eggs, add fried onions, chopped mint and coriander. Repeat this same step, finishing with rice as your last layer, and add more chopped coriander, mint and fried onions.

6. Pour the saffron milk over the last layer of rice.


1. Heat the 60g of butter in a saucepan.

2. Put hot charcoal in a serrated metal spoon, pour the butter over the coal so that it drips all over the top layer of the biryani to give a smoky flavour. Discard the charcoal.

3. Cover the dish with foil first and then put the lid on the pot. Leave either in oven on a slow 120C heat for 12-15 mins or on the lowest hob setting for 10 minutes. 

4. Open cover and foil and serve hot with raita (yogurt). 


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