Try Something New for Christmas Dinner
With These Delicious Kenyan Dishes

By Donna Atola, Kenya Field Communications Specialist   |  Photos by Donna Atola and Hope Center staff

Want to try a different take on Christmas dinner? Dive into some of Kenya’s favorite holiday foods by making Kenyan chapati, a flaky flatbread, and Swahili pilau, a spicy rice served with meat or vegetables. Both of these tasty dishes are often served at Hope Centers at Christmas.

A cook chops up vegetables to make pilau.

Ever heard of Kenyan chapati? How about Swahili pilau, commonly known as pilau in Kenya?

Kenyan chapati is a soft, flaky flatbread made of all-purpose wheat flour that is a staple of celebratory meals, like Christmas dinner, in Kenya. It is often served with curries and stews.

Swahili pilau is a spiced rice that can be made with meats or vegetables. It is also a staple of celebratory meals in most Kenyan families.

Significance of the Meals

Growing up, my family had a tradition of having chapatis prepared on Sunday afternoons. We called them “Chapati Sundays” to mark how special those days were.

For us, Sundays were the only days that my mother had time to prepare enough chapatis for the entire family.


We only had pilau when my Aunt Ruth, who lived in the coastal town of Mombasa, visited us. Pilau is best when made by people who’ve grown up on the coast. So we mostly had it during Christmas.

Even though these meals’ ingredients are easily available for most people throughout the year, they still hold a special place in our hearts during celebrations like Christmas.

Just like most Kenyan families, Hope Centers also have these meals during celebrations.

Preparations for Christmas celebrations at the Hope Centers begin a month or two before December. Leaders at the centers meet with the kids and parents to get their opinion on what meals they would like to have and the kinds of gifts they can get for the kids.

As the gifts are bought, ingredients for the meals that are to be made are also purchased, except for items with short shelf lives. It is important for the centers to make the purchases early enough before the festive seasons because the prices of these food items go up during the holidays.

Enjoy making the following two recipes!

Kenyan Chapati

Rolling out the dough.


3 cups all-purpose wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1½ cups water, plus more as needed

1 quart vegetable oil


  1. In a bowl, add the sugar, salt, 2 tablespoons of the oil, and 1½ cups of water and mix together.
  2. Add the flour and mix well.
  3. Once the mixture is blended, begin kneading it in the bowl, adding water if it’s too dry. If the mixture becomes too sticky, add a little flour as you knead. Knead until the dough is soft and stretchy. This is a crucial stage that defines how soft the chapatis will be. Good, soft chapatis call for good kneading.
  4. To help get a firm yet soft and stretchy dough, you can remove the dough from the bowl or container and continue kneading it on a flat surface, until it is soft and stretchy.
  5. Cover the dough with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let it rest from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  6. After resting, knead the dough again and then divide it into 10-15 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
  7. Dust a flat surface with flour, then use a rolling pin to flatten each ball into a circular shape. Dusting the surface helps the dough not stick on the surface as you roll.
  8. Brush oil on top of each piece and then roll it up into a rope-like shape. Next, coil the rope up into a spiral and flatten with the ball of your hand. Repeat this process with all the balls of dough.
  9. Now, roll each of the spirals out into a circular shape again.
  10. Warm a little oil in a skillet over medium heat. Then place your flattened chapati in the pan, and fry both sides until it is golden brown. Repeat this step for all the balls until the dough is done.

You can serve it with beef, chicken, goat stew or curry. Or you can serve it with beans or lentils.

Swahili Pilau

Chopped red onions and gingerroot add spice to the pilau.


1 pound stewing beef or boneless chicken breasts

2 cups long-grain basmati rice

2 medium red onions, chopped

½ teaspoon cardamom seeds

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 cinnamon sticks

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons crushed garlic

1-inch square of gingerroot, chopped

1/3 cup cooking oil

¾ teaspoon salt


  1. Fill a cooking pot with about 4 cups of water and bring to boil. Add the beef or chicken along with salt, ginger and garlic and boil until the meat is tender.
  2. In another pot, heat cooking oil over medium-high heat and add red onions. Fry them until they begin to soften.
  3. Then add all the other spices to the fried onions and cook for a few minutes.
  4. Add the meat or chicken with its stock to the pot with the onions and spices.
  5. Then add the rice, cover the pot with a lid, and let it cook until the rice is soft and ready to serve.

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Kenyans like to go all out with Christmas celebrations. Read about some of their traditions!

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