Explore East-African cuisine with this Swahili rice in coconut milk! Fragrant, fluffy, and absolutely delicious, this simple rice dish is a must-try!
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For those unfamiliar, Swahili coconut rice (also known as wali wa nazi) is a rice dish originating from East-African Swahili-speaking countries of Kenya and Tanzania, including the island of Zanzibar. Its name translates to rice cooked in coconut milk. In Kenya, it is especially popular and common in coastal towns and cities such as Mombasa.
The use of coconut milk in Swahili cuisine draws influence primarily from Arab, Persian, and Indian traders and settlers. Dishes such as kuku paka, vibibi, and samaki wa kupaka, which also use coconut milk, stem from these trade and migration activities.
Growing up, we used a coconut grater known as ''mbuzi'' which is Swahili for goat, to make coconut milk. Nowadays, many people opt for high speed blenders, or canned coconut milk, for simplicity.
Now that we know what it is, let us look at what you require to make it.
Swahili coconut rice is normally made plain (that is, simply using rice, water, salt, and coconut milk), or spiced, using saffran, turmeric, or whole spices, such as cinnamon, cardamon, cumin, or a combination of these spices. For this recipe, I used the following ingredients:-
- cooking oil.
- cleaned basmati rice - just like with the Kenyan pilau, long-grain basmati rice gives the best results.
- salt to taste.
- coconut milk - here, you want to make sure that you are using heavy coconut milk (also known as tui zito). Light coconut milk will not give the desired level of creaminess, which is not what we want. In case you are using canned milk, ensure that it is actually coconut milk and not coconut cream, which tends to be much heavier.
- a few cardamon pods - I used the cardamon pods for aroma, but these are optional.
serving suggestions, refrigeration and freezing instructions
When it comes to serving, coastal residents of towns like Mombasa and Lamu often pair their wali (rice) with maharage (beans) for breakfast. But don't limit yourself! You can enjoy it for lunch or dinner with delicacies such as:-
- Kenyan Beef Stew
- Nyama Choma - grilled meat; usually beef, lamb, goat, or pork.
- Sukuma wiki - Kenyan collard greens.
- Kuku Choma - grilled chicken marinated in a wonderful spice blend.
- Kachumbari - Swahili tomato and onion salad.
If you are anything like me, you probably do not like wasting food. So, let's talk about preserving our leftover rice. For storage, first ensure that the rice has cooled compeletely. Transfer it to a suitable airtight container, then keep in the fridge for 3-4 days, or in the freezer for upto 6 months. To reheat, from frozen, allow the rice to thaw overnight in the fridge then warm in the oven or on the stovetop, in a pot. You can read more about reheating cooked rice here.
more African dishes
Craving more tasty African dishes? Be sure to try our Peri peri mayonnaise, South African pancakes, and Githeri recipes! Other than that, we have loads of Kenyan recipes you will love. These include:-
- Chips Masala
- Chai ya tangawizi - ginger tea with milk.
- Chipsi Mayai
- Pili pili ya kukaanga
- Kenyan chapati
- Omena recipe
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Swahili Coconut Rice
- 2 tablespoon cooking oil
- 5-10 green cardamon pods
- 1½ cups full-fat coconut milk (approximately 14oz or 400ml)
- 1½ cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups basmati rice - properly cleaned to get rid of excess starch
- Heat cooking oil in a deep pot. Add the cardamon pods and fry for about 30 seconds to a minute, for aroma.
- Next, add coconut milk, water, and salt, then combine. Add the basmati rice then stir gently to combine.
- Cover the pot, lower the heat to medium-low, and let it simmer until much of the liquid has evaporated.
- Then, about five minutes before the end of the cooking time, lower the heat further to a low and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Serve it with maharage, beef stew, kuku paka, or, with your favorite dishes.
- Not only does cleaning your basmati rice remove excess starch, it also results in fluffier and single-grained rice.
- If you prefer, you can add about a quarter cup of grated or desiccated coconut.
- Make sure you are using thick coconut milk. If you feel you have to use coconut cream, then only go for half a can, and substitute the rest with water, as coconut cream can be overbearingly fatty.