The Spinach and Onion Dish From the Mystical House in Nairobi's Forest

Oh boy...there is a long story behind this recipe and how I obtained it. It all started in Nairobi, September 2007. I was all alone, supposed to pick up a group of people from Iceland the next day, heading for safari. Jóhannes, my husband, had another group in Mombasa. My brother Borgar (who owns Afríka Ævintýraferðir (travel company specialising in trips to Kenya)) was supposed to find me accommodation in Nairobi for the night. He had forgotten all about it (being very busy) which left me kind of stranded, alone, without a place to stay, in Nairobi (not the best place for those kind of situations). Luckily, my brother knows many people in Kenya and Stephanie, a local Kenyan  who is working for my brother remembered that she had a friend, living in the Karen neighbourhood in Nairobi. Karen is named after Karen Blixen, the famous Danish writer who lived just outside Nairobi, near Nairobi's National park (where one can find elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, zebras, giraffes and more). Cornelius, my Kenyan driver who was supposed to take me to the airport for the pick up the next morning now had instructions to take me to this friend of Stephanie's. We were driving in my brother's brand new, shiny safari Land Cruiser. I had absolutely no idea who this woman was, didn't know her name, if she lived in a mud hut or a house, how she looked like, if she was local or foreign or what. I was clueless and driving in the middle of nowhere with Cornelius. The sun was setting and the shadows were soon disappearing. Cornelius decided to take a short cut through Nairobi's horrible traffic (are short cuts ever a good idea?). We drove through parts of Nairobi I had never seen (although been there many times). All of a sudden we were stuck in the traffic, I didn't have a clue as to our whereabouts and Cornelius was obviously starting to feel uncomfortable in this beacon of "luxury" that was the shiny, green Land Cruiser. There were no street lights but lots of stalls with lamps and there was a market with lots of local people. When we had been sitting there for a while, the local youth started noticing the "Mzungu" in the car. They also started shouting and pointing "Mzungu" something, something. I know what Mzungu means (white person)..and since I was the only white person around I knew they were referring to me. I asked Cornelius what they were saying. "You don't want to me, just make sure the doors are locked". I could see that my trusted driver was starting to feel stressed out in his seat. We were driving in what was the equivalent of a gold mine for some people and even though most people are absolutely honest and hard working, you will find as in any other city, there are people who like to take advantage of other people and for those local youth, they obviously had something in mind and it didn't include inviting us to a tea party. Fortunately we were able to move away although slowly and by now it was completely dark.

Thankfully I started to become familiar with the surroundings again when we got closer to the Karen area. If I hadn't trusted my driver implicitly I would have been freaking out, driving through a Nairobi forest in complete darkness with a male driver (me being a tiny person). In the far distance I could make out dogs barking. Well it was more like hippo noise but I knew there were no hippos around. It was the deepest, loudest barking I have ever heard in my life and I have been around some pretty large dogs in my life. Finally we arrived at the gates and the watchman (I couldn't make out which tribe he was) let us in. Now...I am not at all afraid of dogs and I especially like larger dogs. These dogs however were like..small horses in size. They were absolutely enormous and that explained the loud barking I heard through the forest before. You have to keep in mind that dogs in Kenya and elsewhere in East Africa at least, are normally not kept as pets. The Kenyans are terrified of dogs which is why it makes sense to have a couple of large dogs to guard your home. If you are a burglar in Kenya, you would not enter that property at all. I was absolutely terrified of these dogs (and again remember that I love dogs, especially large dogs) and I couldn't exactly make out which bread they were which made them all the more scary. It turned out that they were a cross between Rhodesian Ridge Backs and Grate Danes and they were being bred as guard dogs. This was something the owner explained to me as she lightly stepped out of her house (which was not a mud house but a bungalow, made of cement/concrete). This was Stephanie's friend and she was Swedish. She showed me to the guesthouse which was clean and nice and included a mattress, a shower, a toilet, a gas lamp and nothing else. It was perfect because I just wanted to go to sleep, I was exhausted and Cornelius was picking me up at 4.45 in the morning. Stephanie's friend insisted that I have dinner with the family and at that moment I realised that I was absolutely starving, hadn't eaten properly all day. She was going to come back in an hour so that I had time to shower and freshen up. She did and she led me through absolute darkness to the main house which was being renovated. The only thing I could see were some pots and pans and gas lamps, a maid busily cooking something and then the aroma of freshly baked bread hit me like a wall of bricks...I was SO hungry. I also detected onion, spinach and something else and I couldn't wait to sit down for dinner.

I was led through the house in darkness and let out to the veranda. I sat down and one by one the family members gathered and sat down for the meal. With the clouds clearing the moon shone brightly on the dinner table and I could see that there were the husband, the wife, three girls various ages and a family friend. I could also see lots of food on the table and that was where my eyes sat for a while because I was so hungry.

This was surreal. I was sitting in a forest in Nairobi and I new that all these wild animals were roaming around very close by in Nairobi's National Game Reserve. I could hear all the sounds you hear in the African jungle, monkeys, birds, insects, crickets, frogs, hyenas, zebras, elephants...and it was absolutely magical. The family was very nice (the husband was born and bread in Kenya) and it is always so lovely to meat interesting people, especially when so unexpectedly. Finally I heard the magic words "Please dig in" and I was like a wolf, tearing at the food. We had this lovely spinach dish, cooked pumpkin in coconut sauce, wonderful freshly baked bread, watermelon juice and lots more. I just love home made Kenyan food, it's the best. Whilst I was enjoying my dinner I suddenly felt something warm and fuzzy brushing against my feet and I jumped. You have to keep in mind that I was in Africa, eating dinner outside, nearby a national game reserve and didn't exactly think "cuddly cat". But as it turned was the cuddly family cat. However what the host said next was so surreal: "Yeah sorry about the cat, there actually used to be two of them, but there was a leopard in the garden last year and it ate the other cat". As one would expect in the back yard!!!! This was one of the best meals I have had in all my life and even though my host didn't have the exact recipe she told me about all the ingredients and when I recreated the recipes back home I could almost hear the jungle sounds. I hope you experience that too when you make this.....just watch out for that leopard!!

Jungle sounds are optional!

This recipe is:

  • Egg free
  • Gluten free
  • Lactose (dairy) free
  • Nut free
  • Vegan

The Spinach and Onion Dish From the Mystical House in Nairobi's Forest

Serves 3-4 as a side dish


  • 500 grams (17½ oz) fresh or frozen spinach
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped finely
  • 1 onion, chopped fairly finely
  • Half a small leek (optional), sliced finely
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • ¾ yeast free vegetable stock cube
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder


  1. If using frozen spinach, thaw the 500 grams and drain. Squeeze out excess water.
  2. Peel the garlic clove and chop finely.
  3. Peel the onion and chop fairly finely.
  4. Wash the half leek and slice finely. Discard the very end.
  5. Now heat 1 teaspoon coconut oil in a large frying pan (or saucepan).
  6. Heat the chopped onion, garlic and leek for 5 minutes. Add a couple of tablespoons water to the frying pan if needed.
  7. Add the ¾ vegetable stock cube and 1 teaspoon curry powder. Add a couple tablespoons water if needed. Stir frequently for 3 minutes.
  8. Add the spinach to the pan and heat for 5 minutes.
  9. Add the 2 tablespoon coconut oil and heat well. Stir frequently for 5 minutes.
  10. Serve with freshly baked bread (jungle sounds optional)!


  • If the coconut oil is cold (in which case it becomes solid), place the jar in a bowl filled with hot water for a couple of minutes. 
  • You can use regular stock cubes instead of yeast free ones.
  • You can use chicken stock instead of vegetable stock.