Irio, Kenyan Style

February 26, 2023mayurisjikoni
Blog post

Recipe : Irio, Kenyan Style

Irio, Kenyan Style is an easy to make, delicious, Kenyan staple side dish. Pronounced as eee-ree-yo, it is usually made with some potatoes, peas and fresh greens. No fancy ingredients are required for this version of mash. It is usually served with stew, grilled meat or fish. As for me, I love to have it on its own or with some curry like the Green Moong one.


A Bit About Kenyan Cuisine

Though Kenya falls in the Savannah region, many parts of the country grow a rich variety of fruits and vegetables that provide the people of the area with their basic requirements of carbohydrates, proteins and minerals. Colonization by the Portuguese and then the British Empire and the influx of Indians and Arabs has added variety to the basic dishes prepared in many parts of Kenya. The coast is well known for using coconut milk in most of their dishes, the highlands use lots of potatoes and areas around Lake Victoria use a lot of fish and cassava. Over the years traditional methods and recipes have given way to new versions and more palatable ones for the younger generation.

Irio, Kenyan Style

Irio is very much a staple for the Kikuyu tribe. Traditionally, red beans, potatoes and and white corn are used.Depending on the season, tender kale would be added.  However, with more ingredients available and locally grown, there are so many versions of Irio. Kikuyus are basically farmers. Nowadays many are in different professions but most of them own land/farm back in their villages. Years ago new harvest meant that some of these vegetables and beans were combined to prepare a basic but very nutritious dish called irio. During the dry season, dried beans and maize were added to the mashed potatoes. On special occasions, boiled sweet potato, boiled green bananas, pumpkin leaves, peas, carrots or many other vegetables are added to make it into a dish literally fit for a king.

Sunday Funday Theme

The whole of March is celebrated as Women’s History Month. Stacy, suggested the following “Make and share a recipe from an important, significant woman in any field, not just cooking, and from any era. It can be something they were known to love OR actually cooked themselves. Please tell us how they are inspiring to you and perhaps others”.

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai is the woman I’m celebrating for this theme. She was the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, environmentalist and human rights activist from Kenya. Also known as the Woman Of Trees, she inspires not only me but many Kenyans to grow more trees. The Green Belt Movement started by Wangari Maathai is still been carried out by many smaller organizations. It was started as a way to empower communities, particularly women, to conserve and improve livelihoods.

Her struggle in the mainly male dominated political scene in Kenya, has been difficult but she persevered. During her lifetime she helped women from different parts of Africa to plant 30 million trees on their farms, school and church compounds. She was the first African woman and the first environmentalist to receive a Nobel Prize, and the first Eastern African woman to receive a PhD. Born in Nyeri County, the Highlands of Kenya, Wangari went to a mission school for her primary education. Growing up in the countryside, environment was always her passion.

Her quote I like the most “When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.” ― Wangari Maathai

How Does She Inspire Me And So Many Other Women?

Wangari Maathai fought for women’s rights. She empowered them with skills to run their homes. Her husband divorced her in 1977 claiming that she was too strong-minded as a woman and it was difficult to control her. She inspires women to follow their path and passion. For me she is a hero as she advocated the planting of trees which I try and do whenever possible.


Irio And Wangari Maathai

So are you still wondering what the connection is between Irio and Wangari Maathai? Well, she was from the Kikuyu Community. And she definitely must have prepared this simple but nutritious dish many a times for her family. Professor Maathai is quoted as saying that irio always reminded her of the earth. Irio in the Kikuyu language means food.

Check Out Whom Members Of Sunday Funday Are Celebrating


Some More Kenyan Dishes You May Want To Check Out

Kenyan Chapati is a soft, flaky, chewy flatbread that is a staple part of celebratory meals in Kenya and other East African Countries. Popularly known as "chapo" in Kenya, it is usually enjoyed with curries as a main meal, with tea or eggs for breakfast.
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Kenyan Style Masala Chips also known as chips masala, is a popular dish on most restaurant menus in Kenya. Easy to make, spicy and tasty. It is a must to try out these chips when you visit Kenya.
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Uji /Millet Porridge is a Kenyan staple hot breakfast that is healthy, gluten free and filling.
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Makai Paka/ Corn Coconut Curry is an easy to prepare, tasty and creamy Kenyan style curry in which corn is cooked using coconut milk. Usually, makai paka is enjoyed with mahamri, chappati or rice. Makai is the Kiswahili word for corn.
Check out this recipe
Githeri is a one pot traditional Kikuyu dish that is made from beans and white maize (corn). It is a delicious, easy to prepare, protein rich dish which can be enjoyed on its own or with ugali or chapati.
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Maharage ya nazi/ kidney beans in coconut milk is a popular Swahili dish which is made from kidney beans, very simple spices, tomatoes and coconut milk. In the Kiswahili language maharage is red kidney beans and nazi is coconut. 
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Mahamri is basically like a doughnut but it is flavoured with coconut and cardamom powder. Doughnuts are ring shaped, but Mahamri is usually triangular in shape or sometimes round. Generally mahamri is enjoyed as a breakfast item on its own with tea or coffee or with mbaazi (pronounced as mmmbaaazi). Mbaazi is soaked pigeon peas cooked in coconut milk. 
Check out this recipe
Ugali is like a porridge but much more dense made from white maize meal or maize flour. It is the staple diet of the indigenous people of East Africa. Ugali or Nsima as it is known in Kenya, is generally enjoyed with a vegetable and/or meat stew.
Check out this recipe

Ingredients Required For Irio, Kenyan Style

Today I am sharing a basic Irio recipe with you. However feel free to add any other vegetables and flavourings that you may like. For example, to make it into a wholesome meal on its own, I sometimes add fresh pigeon peas, fresh kidney beans, chopped onion, garlic, cassava, and enjoy it topped with some lemon juice and red chilli powder. I mix lemon juice and red chilli powder with melted butter and drizzle it over the cooked irio.

Potatoes – along with potatoes can add cassava (yucca), sweet potato or replace them. Make sure you use potatoes that mash well. I like to use red potatoes. Kenya is well known for its good quality of potatoes.

Peas – fresh or frozen. Can also add fresh or frozen pigeon peas, red kidney beans. I don’t like to use canned beans for this recipe. I prefer either fresh ones or soaked ones.

Corn – I have used cooked yellow corn as I had that in my fridge. You can also use white corn kernels.

Fresh Greens – use spinach, kale, pumpkin leaves, cowpea leaves, collard greens, amaranth leaves, spring onion, etc. Make sure the leaves are fresh and tender.

Butter – salted. For a vegan version, replace the butter with plant based margarine or oil.

Salt – add according to your taste. Remember, that the butter is salted so add accordingly.

Water – normal tap water.


Some Tips:

  • If you use fresh corn, either white or yellow, you can cook it with the potatoes and peas.
  • If you are using red kidney beans, cook them separately as they take longer to cook. In fact if you use any dried beans for irio, it is best to soak them in warm water overnight. Cook them in the pressure cooker or Instant Pot till done.


Watch How To Make Irio, Kenyan Style



Irio is an easy to make, delicious, Kenyan staple side dish. It is usually made with some potatoes, peas and fresh greens. No fancy ingredients are required for this version of mash. It is usually served with stew, grilled meat or fish.
5 from 4 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Light Meal, Side Dish
Cuisine Kenyan
Servings 4


  • 3 large potatoes
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 -1¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup sweet corn cooked
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 2-3 tbsp butter
  • ¼ tsp pepper powder


  • Peel and chop the potatoes into big chunks.
  • Wash and chop the spinach.
  • Remove peas from their pods if you are using fresh ones.
  • Add the potatoes in a saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add water. Cover the pan and allow the water to become hot.
  • Add the peas and salt. Cover the pan and cook the potatoes and peas till done.
  • Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked peas and potatoes into a mixing bowl. Don't add water.
  • Add the spinach in the remaining hot water. Cook for 2-3 minutes till it wilts.
  • Mash the potatoes and peas.
  • Add the cooked spinach and mash more.
  • Add the cooked sweet corn, butter and pepper powder. Add more salt if required.
  • Mix well and serve it hot.


  • If you use fresh corn, either white or yellow, you can cook it with the potatoes and peas.
  • If you are using red kidney beans, cook them separately as they take longer to cook. In fact if you use any dried beans for irio, it is best to soak them in warm water overnight. Cook them in the pressure cooker or Instant Pot till done.
  • If the Irio becomes cold, heat it up in a pan over low heat.
  • Serve it with some stew, grilled meat or fish. Or enjoy it on its own.
Keyword how to make irio, irio recipe, Irio, Kenyan Style

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  • Beena.stephy

    February 16, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Healthy dish . Thanku for sharing

  • Srivalli

    February 19, 2014 at 8:01 am

    That's an interesting one..never cooked with these ingredients…thanks for joining us for the party!

  • Priya Anandakumar

    February 19, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Very healthy and new to me, thanks for sharing…

  • Shruti

    March 4, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    Made this today, loved it. Swapped the boiled potato for potato crisps topped over it. Thank you!

  • Sandhya Rege Nadkarni

    August 18, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    Mayuri, thank you for introducing me to this dish- looks so delicious!

  • Stacy

    February 26, 2023 at 8:44 am

    Wangari Maathai sounds like an AMAZING woman and I can see why you chose her! It would be hard to overestimate the impact she had through her Green Belt Movement and her fight for human rights. I just went to Wikipedia to read more about her. She was clearly brilliant, earning so many degrees!

    I love the versatility of the recipe for irio, depending on seasonal ingredients and learning that in the Kikuyu language irio means food. Such an important dish in Kenyan customs and it reminds me of Irish colcannon which we love. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    1. mayurisjikoni

      February 27, 2023 at 8:14 pm

      Thank you so much Stacy,by the virtue back in 1940 she was sent to school,when most girls stayed at home, her parents must have been visionaries.No one so far has been able to match her energy, zeal and passion in Kenya.

  • Basil-Dressed Chicken Salad with Tomatoes

    February 26, 2023 at 9:42 pm

    […] Irio, Kenyan Style from Mayuri’s Jikoni […]

  • Colleen – Faith, Hope, Love, & Luck

    February 26, 2023 at 9:48 pm

    How lovely that one woman is responsible for bringing so much beauty to the world. And speaking of beauty…this recipe…absolutely beautiful…and definitely one that I want to make!!!

    1. mayurisjikoni

      February 27, 2023 at 8:12 pm

      Thank you so much. Enjoy irio when you make it.

  • Sneha Datar

    March 1, 2023 at 1:52 am

    What an interesting dish with just simple ingredients, love it!

    1. mayurisjikoni

      March 2, 2023 at 5:54 pm

      Thanks Sneha. It is.

  • Kalyani

    April 12, 2023 at 5:52 am

    5 stars
    Reading about That Mathai lady was so enriching . Thank you for the share and the potato dish looks absolutely fabulous too Mayuri !

    1. mayurisjikoni

      April 14, 2023 at 3:38 pm

      Thanks Kalyani.

      1. Jennifer Huff

        July 11, 2023 at 8:43 am

        5 stars
        Thank you so much for sharing this! I lived in Kenya in the 80’s and my second meal once I arrived was boiled beef and irio. (The first was samosas!) I’ve been looking for the ‘right’ recipe for years, and this is it! Our garden is full now and I have all the vegetables I need. Thank you! 💕 🌿

      2. mayurisjikoni

        July 14, 2023 at 7:38 pm

        You’re most welcome Jennifer. Enjoy the irio with your home grown vegetables.

  • Jayashree. T.Rao

    April 13, 2023 at 7:13 am

    5 stars
    Irio, looks good and love the simplicity of the diish. I am sure it tastes good with the combination of vegetables cooked in butter. Loved it.

    1. mayurisjikoni

      April 14, 2023 at 3:35 pm

      Thank you so much Jayashree, it is usually served as a side with meat, fish, etc. For vegetarians it is served with vegetable stew.

  • Seema Sriram

    April 17, 2023 at 6:54 am

    5 stars
    I lived the insights you gave into irio. As I read through the recipe, I loved the variations you can make with these.simply elevated the humble potato.

    1. mayurisjikoni

      April 17, 2023 at 3:54 pm

      Thank you so much Seema. Trust me it is so delicious with the variations too.

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