Ugali is a staple food in Kenyan and it’s mostly made using maize meal although there are other versions that are made using cassava and millet flours. Ugali is normally accompanied with leafy vegetables and a protein.
Ugali is a very simple meal, which in its basic form has only two ingredients, water and flour of your choice. But the possibilities are far and wide on how you can easily mess up this dish. It takes some bit of practice and perseverance to perfect the art of ugali making.
So let us look at some of the questions that are always floating around about the cooking of the “perfect” ugali;
How do I know when my ugali is fully cooked?
There are several ways;
- The smell; raw and cooked ugali are worlds apart when it comes to how they smell. Cooked ugali almost smells like roasted maize, but, not quite like it. The smell is very unique. Experience here is the best teacher, the more you cook ugali the better you’ll become at identifying when it’s just cooked but not burnt. Never burnt!
- When ugali is fully cooked it pulls away from the sides of the sufuria. The ugali that sticks to the sides of the sufuria becomes papery thin. The bottom turns dark, but, here’s the thing, do not let it burn. If you ask me, burnt ugali is the worst! You know the kind that smells through out the entire neighbourhood. Some people equate the burnt smell to fully cooked ugali. PERISH THE THOUGHT!!!
- Fully cooked ugali does not stick to the sides of the mwiko as much as raw ugali. When starting out you will find that while the ugali is still in its porridge like consistency that it will tend to stick to the mwiko too much. But, the longer you cook it the less it will tend to stick.
- Finally, there’s a theory that floats around that if you throw fully cooked ugali against a wall it should not stick to it. I will leave that to you to decide, personally, I have never had any success with it, although, there are people who swear by this theory. So, be my guests and test it out for yourselves.
How much water should I measure out for my ugali?
This all depends on the people you are feeding. That is to say their appetites and age. An adult will definitely consume more food than a child. But, as a rule of thumb, a glass of about 300 ml of water is enough to feed one adult. From here, play around with their individual needs.
How do I prevent flour balls from forming in my ugali?
I think dry flour ball in your ugali are an absolute disaster! They are 100% off putting and people might even boycott your ugali because of this reason. Ugali full of flour surprise in every bite is a total turn off and you should avoid putting yourself in a situation where they’re likely to form like the plague!
There are people who start off by mixing a little bit of flour in cold water and then adding it to the boiling ugali water. The exact same way that you’d make uji or porridge. This method is very effective.
My personal favourite is adding the maize flour directly to the boiling water and stirring it vigorously to break any flour balls that might form. But, there is a trick or formula to succeeding with this strategy. If you start by adding very little flour then, in my experience, the probability of the flour balls forming is very high. This is because you will spend your time chasing after the floating balls in the water. Add just enough flour to make a thick porridge consistency. Much easier this way. Watch the video below to get a picture of what it is I mean exactly.
How do I avoid serving raw ugali?
Many people, especially beginners, struggle with this fact. Despite their best efforts, their ugali always comes out raw. This can be very frustrating.
- First of all, ensure that your water comes to a total boil, not a gentle simmer, a FULL boil. It’s what in kenya we can, “maji yameiva”. Literal translation; “cooked water” So, it follows that if you start off with cooked water then you are off to a good start.
- Secondly, and this is from my personal experience because for some people it is different, your heat should be on high as you are starting off your cooking. This helps the ugali come together quickly as opposed to cooking it over low heat.
- Thirdly, once the ugali comes together in one cohesive ball, you may reduce the heat to medium and keep stirring vigorously and continuously for about five to ten minutes, pausing in between to allow the heat to get inside the ugali.
- Fourthly, reduce the heat to low, cover and leave the ugali to “bake” gently for a minimum of five minutes for it to cook completely. Do not under any circumstances bake your ugali over medium or high heat because it will burn and acquire a very smokey flavour. Not palatable at all.
With the above pointers, chances of serving raw ugali are very slim, all you need is practice.
You can watch the video below to get a more comprehensive understanding because I have taken the time to demonstrate some of the points I’ve spoken of above.
Ugali is a staple food in Kenyan and it's mostly made using maize meal although there are other versions that are made using cassava and millet flours. Ugali is normally accompanied with leafy vegetables and a protein.
- 2.5 cups Maize flour - Size of cup used is the 250 Ml capacity
- 1 Ltr Water
Let the water come up to a complete boil then start adding the flour in small portions.
Using a wooden mwiko, or ladle, stir the mixture vigorously to break up all the flour balls.
Keep adding flour in small portions until the ugali comes together to a consistency that is suitable for you.
After about five to seven minutes of stirring the ugali, reduce the heat to low, cover and leave to bake for ten minutes for it to cook completely.
Before serving the ugali on the platter, mold it again for about a minute and shape it while still in the sufuria if required.
Ugali is normally accompanied with a protein of your choice and vegetables. Mostly sukuma wiki (kale / collard greens) but other vegetables like the traditional ones or cabbages are eaten with ugali as well.
- The ingredient measurements that I've given will yield ugali that is of medium consistency but leaning more towards the softer side. If you need it softer, reduce on the amount of maize flour and vise versa.
- In Kenya, ugali is traditionally cooked without salt but if you would prefer, you can add a bit to yours.