Muthokoi (maize without husks) is a dish among the Kamba community from the Eastern part of Kenya. It entails removing the outer skin of the maize grains by using a pestle ‘muthi’ and a wooden mortar ‘ndii’.
Pounding ‘kukima mbemba’
The traditional way of making muthokoi was done as follows :-
Dry maize was taken from the granary ‘ikumbi’ and put in a large half calabash ‘nzele’ or a plaited tray used for sifting ‘lungo’. To sieve the dirt from the maize a second large calabash was used; while standing where wind was blowing .
The maize was then put in a mortar ‘ndii’, some water was added to soften it then a wooden pestle ‘muthi’ was used to do the pounding. The pounding can take about one hour; sometimes it’s done by two people at the same time to make it faster. As the pounding continues,
the maize starts drying and more water is added until the husks are completely removed from the grains Once the pounding ‘kukima mbemba’ is over, the maize is removed from the mortar ‘ndii’and poured on a sack and left to dry in the sun. After drying, it is placed in a large half calabash and the sieving process is done again by using two half calabashes ‘nzele’. It should be noted that for the muthokoi to cook nicely all the outer skin of the maize (makole) must be removed by sieving against the wind.
Once this is over, the grains are separated by selecting carefully the split ones from the whole ones, then the split ones are put aside and are called ‘nzenga’.
The split maize ‘nzenga’ can be cooked as rice. The de-husked grains are the ones cooked as muthokoi.
A large family will need two to three poundings to cater for everyone. This meal can be taken as lunch, supper and the leftovers can be used during breakfast the following morning with yorghurt ‘yiia ikaatu’.
In a clay pot ‘mbisu’ put your muthokoi, add beans ‘mboso’, cowpeas ‘nthooko’, pidgeon peas ‘nzuu’ or any other legumes and add some water. Using the traditional fireplace; a three stone fireplace ‘yiiko ya ngu’ light up the fire and place the pot on the three stones. Let it cook for about 2 – 3 hours.
As it cooks, keep adding more water. When it is about to stick at the bottom of the pot, add more firewood, lest the fire ebbs out. When thoroughly cooked, drain out excess water ‘kithoi’ by tilting the pot a bit. This is called ‘kukeluka mbisu’. The excess water ‘kithoi ‘ is very nutritious. It is usually given to babies. One can also use it to add onto the already served meal if it becomes dry.
At this juncture one can opt to add pumpkins ‘malenge’or ‘mongu’ a species of pumpkin plant, then mash using a big wooden spoon ‘mwiko’. During our ancestors’ time, there was no salt, so some soil called (kithaayo) which was collected from the river was mixed with water and sieved. The result was a salty liquid which was added to the muthokoi meal. The serving was done on a half calabash then ghee ‘mauta ma ngombe’ was added to make it tasty or delicious. Spoons carved out of a guard ‘kikuu’ were used for eating or one could use their bare hands to eat.
Muthokoi was mainly cooked during traditional weddings or during bride price negotiations ‘ngasya’ to feed the visitors. Families could also cook it in absence of any occasions. In some areas in Ukambani, it is still used as the cost of living has tremendously shot up and most families substitute it for rice which has become expensive for many households from the rural areas.
For preservation, the muthokoi was wrapped in banana leaves and put in another half calabash ‘uwa’ then placed on a wooden rack which was and is still used for drying utensils ‘utaa’. It could last for almost a week without going bad. Nowadays, the process of shelling the maize is done by machines in urban towns but in the rural areas the traditional method is still being used. People have modernized the cooking by frying it using/adding the following ingredients: