Sukuma wiki is the nickname of a green leafy vegetable eaten in Kenya. Because it is cheap but nutritious, sukuma wiki has become a lifeline for millions of people living in Kenya.
Sukuma wiki literally means ‘to push the week’ in Kenya’s national language, Kiswahili, which is spoken throughout Kenya. This refers to the cale vegetable’s rescue function as a foodstuff which keeps many families going especially when the wallet is thin.
A few leaves of the vegetable, washed and cut into thin strips and then fried in a little oil with some onion, and served with ugali – maize meal bread – is enough for a meal. One can vary this basic recipe by adding some egg to the vegetable, or adding tomatoes, or spices such as curry, or serving it with meat.
Sukuma wiki is practically unknown in neighbouring Uganda, but the few who do cook it may add raw groundnut powder for added nutritive value.
The vegetable grows well in the sandy soils of the rift valley. A vegetable garden which is watered every evening and enriched occasionally with organic fertilizer can produce fresh leaves every day for harvesting.
After a while, the plants grow too old, and then it is time to cut them down and plant new ones. The old plants are recognizable by the fact that they start to produce seed, while producing fewer and smaller leaves, which may have a slightly bitter after-taste.
But this happens after the plants have produced a more than satisfactory number of big, pale green leaves for several months.
The special thing about sukuma wiki is that a small amount can go a long way, which makes it a favourite option when there is little money to spend on food. Additionally, it does not have to be prepared with any other additives in order to provide a tasty meal. Just the vegetable fried in a minimum amount of cooking oil, and a little salt, is enough.
Moreover, the vegetable is easy to keep. It can grow on almost any small patch of land with minimum amounts of water and care.
Sukuma wiki does its fair share for the economy. It is the basis for a thriving market economy, providing a livelihood for many small farmers who own little more than a kitchen garden as well as middle traders such as market people.
There are probably many other foods in Kenya which enjoy more prestige than sukuma wiki, but this vegetable is sure of its life-saving role when it is once again called upon to push the week!