The Vibrant Sautéed Greens I Cook on Repeat Every Week

Earthy, and deeply satisfying, these lightly sautéed Kenyan collard greens cook in under 30 minutes and pair perfectly with almost any meat, grain, or bread, to round out a full meal.

Overhead view of sukuma wiki
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Sukuma wiki—sautéed collard greens typically cooked with a fragrant combination of onions, tomatoes, and ginger—is a popular dish in Kenya and one of my favorite ways to eat dark leafy greens. While most kids have to be forced to eat their green vegetables, I have fond memories of eagerly eating these simply prepared collard greens alongside ugali (cooked cornmeal), both of which my Kenyan grandmother would prepare for me. 

View of lifting a bit of greens
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

At local markets in Kenya, sukuma (collard green) vendors hold a tight bundle of the fresh stemmed and rolled leaves in one hand while carefully shaving off ribbons of greens. Then they gather the shaved greens into bags for customers to purchase to make sukuma wiki at home. Each vendor has their own preferred cut that shoppers select from, sometimes sliced as thick as 2-inch wide ribbons and others finer than angel hair pasta. The convenience of being able to buy collards this way adds to their popularity: most of the prep is already done for the home cook. The prepped sukuma is as much a staple go-to convenience item in Kenya as bagged baby spinach is in the U.S.

Bowl of sukuma wiki
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In Swahili, “sukuma wiki” translates to "push the week", referring to the dish's ability to stretch throughout the week until payday, thanks to the abundant availability and affordability of greens in East African countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. It is simple to prepare for any night of the week—requiring mere minutes in a sautée pan—while it is also nutritious, and a great and relatively cheap way to bulk up a meal. Here are a few tips for how to prepare and add flavor to sukuma wiki when cooking at home.

Tips for Cleaning and Cutting Sukuma Wiki

While most American supermarkets sell collard greens whole rather than pre-sliced like in the food markets in Kenya, if you follow my tips, washing and cutting the greens is still relatively easy. Don’t be tempted to save time and skip washing the greens. Bunched collard greens, like any type of dark leafy green that is grown in the ground, can have residual dirt that when left unwashed before cooking, can have an unwelcome gritty texture. Avoid this by taking the few minutes to fill a large bowl of water, then dipping the individual leaves briefly into the water and rubbing them clean before transfering to a colander to drain. A quick drain is all the leaves need for easier handling when slicing. It’s OK if the leaves are not completely dry when they hit the skillet. Any residual moisture will promote initial steaming and quickly cook off.

The next crucial step when preparing the greens for cooking is to remove the fibrous center stalk that runs through the middle of each leaf. The stalk is too tough to soften in the short cooking time, so it’s best to just remove and discard or compost them for this dish. Once cleaned and trimmed, stack a few leaves together and curl into a tight coil before running your knife through the greens to form thin ribbons.

Simple Flavor Additions for Sukuma Wiki

Each Kenyan has their own favorite combination of aromatics and spices to season the greens. Kenyan versions always include tomato and onion—a classic aromatic pairing found throughout Kenyan cuisine, but beyond that the flavors can vary slightly. Beef or chicken bouillon powder is a common seasoning used for its meaty umami flavor that’s so loved in the country. The duo of garlic and ginger is widely used in versions of sukuma wiki in coastal Kenya, where the cuisine has a strong Indian influence.

In my version, I keep the flavor profile simple, skipping the bouillon powder and garlic. A light sprinkle of salt, fresh tomatoes, onion, and ginger are the only flavorings I use. I love how ginger brightens and adds a pop of assertive peppery flavor to balance the earthy greens. The combination is simple, bright, and completely satisfying. 

Overhead view of ingredients for sukuma wiki
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

But don’t feel limited by the aromatics I’ve selected here. Use this as a starting point to be creative and add your own preferred flavors, whether it’s the simple addition of minced garlic, a touch of heat from red chile flakes to finish, or a squeeze of lemon juice before serving. Whatever flavors you choose to enhance these sautéed collard greens is up to you, but I recommend keeping the combination simple.

I’ve included time ranges for both crisp-tender greens as well as a longer sauté time for more tender greens, which is how I prefer to enjoy my sukuma wiki. Whether you prefer your greens velvety soft as I do, or still with a bit of bite, these greens come together quickly and pair well with almost any protein, including chicken, fish, and beef. Or enjoy sukuma wiki as my grandmother and I do, as a light meal alongside Kenyan ugali (cooked cornmeal) or another simple starch such as rice, or chapati.

Working in batches stack a few stemmed collard leaves on a cutting board, placing the larger leaves at the bottom. Roll the leaves tightly and slice them into thin strips, approximately 1/8 inch wide. (Make sure they are not too thin, as they may clump together during cooking.)

Overehead view of collard greens cut into strips
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In a large skillet or sauté pan, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add sliced onion and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Two image collage of onions browning
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Add tomatoes and ginger and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring often, until tomatoes have released most of their water, about 5 minutes.

Two image collage of tomato and onions cooking
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Add collards to the pan and season with salt. Cook, lowering the heat as needed to avoid scorching, until collards have softened but retain a vibrant green color and slightly crunchy texture, 8 to 10 minutes. Or, if desired, cook until collards are fully softened and have darkened in color, 15 to 25 minutes total. Season with salt to taste. Serve.

Two image collage of adding and cooking down collard greens
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Large skillet or sauté pan


If you can’t find collard greens, kale is the next best choice. I have used both curly and lacinato kale. They are a bit more finicky to chop due to the shape of their leaves, but they are closer in flavor to the original than other dark leafy greens such as Swiss chard, which is too bitter for this dish. 

My Grandmother’s One-Bowl Recipe for Pillowy-Soft Kenyan Chapati

With just a few pantry ingredients and the right technique, these soft and savory Kenyan flatbreads can be mixed, laminated, griddled, and ready for dinner in under an hour.

Overhead view of chapati
Serious Eats / Michelle Yip

I've been honing the art of making chapati—the soft unleavened savory flatbread commonly served alongside meals in several East African nations—since my childhood in Kenya and I’ve been fortunate to pick up many tips and tricks from various family members along the way. The cooking process for chapati is relatively simple in theory: A one-bowl dough is mixed by hand, rested briefly, rolled, shaped, and cooked for just a few minutes on the stovetop. But I know from experience that it can take a bit of practice to nail the right technique to get this unleavened savory flatbread pillowy-soft and filled with flaky layers.

Most Kenyan families cook chapati a couple of times a week for supper. My grandmother makes the best chapati I've ever had, and after years of practice, I've come up with a method that allows me to replicate my grandmother's version every time. I typically make it at least once a month to keep my skills sharp and with the tips and recipe I'm sharing here, you can learn the art of making the best chapati too.

Side view of chapati in half
Serious Eats / Michelle Yip

Kenyan Chapati vs. Indian Chapati and Other Flatbreads

Despite sharing a name, Kenyan chapati and Indian chapati are not the same bread. The word chapati does reflect the heavy influence Indian cuisine has had on Kenyan coastal cooking, stemming from the large influx of Indian immigrants into Kenya since the late 19th century. But it would be more accurate to describe Kenyan chapati as a thinner version of an Indian paratha, as they both feature similar wonderful flaky layers. However, compared to Indian paratha, the amount of fat used in Kenyan chapati is reduced to ensure that the layers are soft and tender. 

Overhead view of adding oil
Serious Eats / Michelle Yip

The Hallmarks of Excellent Kenyan Chapati

Kenyan chapati is known for its delectable flaky layers, achieved by laminating the dough with a fat such as lard, butter, or oil. While all three types of fat are commonly used in chapati, I prefer to use oil in mine for the neutral flavor it adds to the dough. I find this lets the earthy flavor of the whole-wheat flour in the chapati be more prominent. Chapatis are traditionally served with simple stews, sautéed veggies, or stir-fries in homes, but are also popular with street food vendors who use them as wraps for a variety of sandwiches.

This recipe offers one classic take on Kenyan chapati, but every cook in Kenya has their own methods for achieving this soft and flaky bread. Here are my tips for making chapati at home that even my grandmother would love.

Tips for Making the Best Kenyan Chapati

Choose the right flour

In Kenya, a fine 100% whole-wheat flour known as graded Atta mark 1 is the main type of flour that is available in grocery stores, and is therefore the flour used in making chapati. While this type of flour can also be found in Indian grocery stores, it's important to avoid flour labeled as “chapati flour” as a substitute, as this flour is usually a blend of whole-wheat flour and barley or chickpea flour, designed for making Indian chapati. 

Since Atta mark 1 flour can be challenging to find in most U.S. markets, I prefer to use a blend of all-purpose flour and whole-wheat flour to replicate the finely milled whole-wheat flour sold in Kenya. Through testing many batches, I landed on a ratio of 3.5 parts all-purpose flour to one part whole-wheat flour. All-purpose flour absorbs water more readily than whole-wheat flour, which means more liquid can be added to the dough while the dough still retains its shape. The more hydrated the dough, the more tender the final chapati will be. When i tried making this dough with 100% whole-wheat flour and the same amount of liquid, the dough was wet and difficult to laminate and shape. While using all-purpose flour achieved the dough texture I wanted, I still wanted the signature earthy wheat flavor in my chapati. I found that combining 100 grams of whole-wheat flour with 350 grams of all-purpose flour produced that signature earthy and nutty whole-wheat flavor I wanted. The final blend of all-purpose flour and whole-wheat flour work together for a chapati dough that is malleable, easy to shape with the complex flavor I wanted.

Add milk for a more tender dough

In my family, which is of Maasai heritage, we incorporate fresh milk in addition to water when making the dough, and that's reflected in this recipe. The additional fat, sugar, and proteins from the milk reduce gluten development in the dough and yield a softer texture than when water alone is used in the dough. After testing, I landed on a ratio of 2:3 parts by volume of water to milk for a dough that produces tender chapati.

Overhead view of adding milk
Serious Eats / Michelle Yip

Make sure the dough is properly hydrated and pliable

Proper hydration during the initial dough formation is essential for successful chapati. Under hydrated dough will result in a tough texture. If the dough still seems shaggy and dry after the milk and water are added, go ahead and knead in one additional tablespoon of water at a time until no dry flour remains.

Choose the right pan

Traditionally, a jua kali pan, a flat skillet used specifically for chapati is used to cook the bread, allowing cooks to confidently flip the chapati using their hands without the risk of burning their wrists. If you don’t own this type of pan, you can use a large skillet; the even heat retention of a seasoned cast-iron skillet is best. The diameter of the cooking surface should be at least 10 inches to accommodate the chapati. To flip without burning yourself, use a spatula to lift the chapati and use your hand to steady the chapati as you flip it.

Overhead view of chapati in pan
Serious Eats / Michelle Yip

Take it easy on the oil

One valuable tip I learned from my grandmother is to use very little oil in the pan when cooking the chapati. The skillet should be coated in just a thin film of oil when cooking chapati to prevent the dough from sticking to the skillet. Too much oil in the skillet will cause the edges of the chapati to fry and turn crispy, which is not the desired chapati texture. Remember, we want to keep the cooked chapati soft and pliable, not griddled and fried.

Grab some friends or family members to help out

Kenyan cooking is known for its social nature, making the process enjoyable so time flies by. In that spirit, chapati-making often becomes a communal event, with each person having their own role: one person might roll and shape the chapatis while another takes charge of cooking them on the stove. However, chapati-making is also serious business and each family knows who is skilled enough to tackle the task and who is most helpful washing dishes. But with these tips and this recipe, everyone can become a skilled chapati maker—no need to be stuck to dishes duty.

In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, and salt. Slowly pour in warm water and milk while continuously mixing the dough with your hand until a shaggy dough forms. If needed, add extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time to form dough. The dough should be sticky and still slightly lumpy at this stage. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and continue to knead by hand until fully incorporated.

Four image collage of making dough
Serious Eats / Michelle Yip

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and continue to knead, flouring the surface as needed to prevent sticking, until the dough is elastic and smooth, 3 to 5 minutes. Pat the dough into a rectangle and lightly brush the surface with oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Two image collage of stretching dough and adding oil
Serious Eats / Michelle Yip

Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into a thin rectangle measuring 12 by 18 inches (it's okay if there are small tears). Lightly brush the entire surface of the dough with a thin layer of oil, then dust the top lightly with flour. This will help keep the layers separate. 

Two image collage of rolling out chapati dough
Serious Eats / Michelle Yip

Starting from the long side, roll the dough into a 18-inch long log shape. Cut the dough crosswise into 8 even rounds. Flip dough rounds so the cut side is face up, then press each piece into a small flat circle. Cover with greased plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes. On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll out each dough piece into a 9- to 10-inch disk, frequently rotating and flipping to maintain its shape and avoid sticking. Place side by side on a lightly floured work surface and cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel while cooking.

Four image collage of rolling out chapati dough
Serious Eats / Michelle Yip

Preheat an empty 10 or 12-inch cast-iron or stainless-steel skillet over medium-high heat until very hot (a drop of water dripped onto the surface should sizzle immediately), 2 to 4 minutes. Using a pastry brush, coat the hot skillet lightly with oil. Place 1 dough round into skillet and cook until the top surface is no longer sticky and a few bubbles form, and the bottom side is spotty brown, about 1 minute. Lightly brush the top with oil, flip, and cook until the second side is spotty brown, 30 to 60 seconds. While cooking, the chapati should bubble; this indicates that steam is passing through the layers, which will result in a flaky texture. This is a great indicator that the chapati dough has been properly laminated.

Four image collage of chapati cooking
Serious Eats / Michelle Yip

Repeat with remaining dough pieces, stacking cooked chapatis on a plate and keeping them covered with a clean kitchen towel until ready to serve. Serve chapatis warm.

Overhead view of covering chapati
Serious Eats / Michelle Yip

Special Equipment

10 or 12-inch cast-iron or stainless-steel skillet


You can substitute the milk with water in the recipe, but the chapati will be slightly less tender and soft.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Store the chapatis in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. To reheat, gently warm them in a dry pan over medium-low heat until they become pliable.