There are so many culinary secrets in African cuisine that have remained largely undiscovered by the general world population. Indeed, African cuisine is probably the last frontier remaining for world cuisine.
What is Irio?
It is the Kikuyu work for food. Irio has such a central place in Kikuyu cuisine, that it defines the word food. Irio is also referred to as mukimo – mashed food.
The Kikuyu are the largest tribe in Kenya. They are Bantus, which implies they traditionally depended on agriculture.
The Kikuyus grew sweet potatoes, vegetables, beans, and more recently maize and Irish potatoes. Although many of the Kikuyu are now involved in various professions, businesses and industry, agriculture is still a favourite occupation.
Irio, or mukimo, is what you prepare for special occasions. You start by boiling maize and beans – usually red kidney beans – together till they are ready. Shortly after the harvest, or during the rainy season, fresh maize and beans are plentiful. Later, dried maize and beans, which obviously take longer to cook, will have to do.
Irish potatoes are then added to the maize and beans. Shortly before the potatoes are ready, one may add fresh pumpkin leaves. Then mash everything together. The result is a tasty, nutritious green mash which can be served with meat stew.
That, is Irio.
For occasions such as weddings, a goat may be slaughtered for the goat meat stew to accompany the irio.
An older type of mukimo is prepared with sweet potatoes, which was already a staple before the introduction of Irish potatoes. Irio prepared without pumpkin leaves and beans has a rich yellow colour. Sometimes fresh green peas substitute for the beans.
A very special irio served at weddings is prepared with ripe bananas and black white-eye beans rather than with potatoes and kidney beans.
Sometimes for a wedding, neighbours and relatives bring different types of irio as their gift or contribution.
Irio is the luxury version of an everyday Kikuyu dish, githeri. Githeri is simply maize and beans cooked together. A variation of githeri is fresh maize and green peas.
In times of plenty, githeri is cooked with fresh maize and beans or peas harvested just that day. The githeri can be fried with onions, carrots, strips of cabbage and bits of meat – a nutritious meal all in one plate.
During hard times, githeri is plain dried maize and beans boiled together, a meal which fulfills the basic nutritional needs, till better times arrive.
When one can make irio.
Irio, another of the well-kept culinary secrets in African cuisine.