Amukeke: The versatile sweet potato slices

The dry slices can be eaten as a snack.

What you need to know:

The sundried sweet potatoes originally meant to be a food for the dry season can today be enjoyed at anytime for breakfast or with a main meal.

No doubt the sweet potato is an amazingly flexible food. Whereas in Uganda boiled potatoes are the most popular version of these root tubers, in West Africa, their vine tips and young leaves are eaten as vegetables. But that is only a tip of the iceberg. Arguably, the most awesome of them all is the amukeke. You can browse all websites there are on the web, including Wikipedia but the name amukeke is just that. It has no English version attached to it.

Amukeke is popular among the Iteso, Karimojong and some parts of Lango and Acholi and refers to the dried slices of sweet potatoes. The potato roots are usually cut into relatively thin slices then dried under the sun for at least three days. Once they are dry, they can be stored for up to four to five months.
“The potatoes have to be dried well so that they do not ferment,” says Norah Akareut, an elderly woman from Pallisa who has stored amukeke for long.

The demands of necessity
Some folklore has it that the food was originally designed for food security purposes. “As a way of surviving during famine, families devised amukeke as it could be stored in granaries long enough to last the famine period,” Akareut says. Some scientists’ observations validate Akareut’s tale. They assert that amukeke is part of the mechanism taken up by some communities to adapt to climate change. Over and above all this, the bottom line is that the food has steadily evolved into an integral part of the culinary of North-Eastern region.

That is why restaurants dealing in traditional food in some towns have included it in their menu. In Kampala, you will munch on the delicacy at House Of Olel Restaurant on Lumumba Avenue and in Jinja, a branch of the same restaurant is along Main street.

A waitress only identified as Deborah at the restaurant says, “Amukeke is superb for customers who prefer heavy breakfast to take them through the day.” She explains that unlike popular accompaniments of breakfast like bread and katogo, amukeke is cholesterol free.

Easy to prepare
With the exception of tea, it could be the easiest food to prepare. “It does not need spices like curry powder or even ingredients like tomatoes and onions,” she says. All you need is water and heat. Better still, there are no laid down steps to follow in having the dish ready.

“Even somebody who has never cooked can prepare it. You just boil the dried potato slices in water and that is all,” says Rose Nyaketcho, a teacher from Tororo District. Some people though prefer to steam it (with banana leaves) so as to give a more appetising taste and scent. Amukeke is sometimes also eaten in its dried form as a snack.

Unlike the ordinary foods like cassava, rice and posho, amukeke can be boiled directly with vegetables and sauce like malakwany and cowpea sauce and served for a meal.

Robert Odeu, 45, a resident of Dokolo village in Soroti District in an interview with said, “Amukeke can be crushed into inginyo and mixed with cassava flour to make atapa which is best with smoked fish and peanut sauce.”

Cooking Amukeke
•Soak the dried potato slices overnight or for a few hours to ease the boiling and softening.
•If not soaked, wash the dried slices thoroughly (incase weevils infiltrated) and put them in a sauce pan with water. The water should be above the amukeke.
•Boil till the food gets soft.
•At this point, you may decide to crush them and eat with a selected sauce just like matooke. Adding greens or any other sauce is a plausible option. The most popular option is serving them for breakfast or even lunch and supper. At the end of the day, the choice is yours.