Dolly’s Kukupaka and Mkate Mimina | The Ismaili Canada

In Arts and Culture

Dolly’s Kukupaka and Mkate Mimina

A Vancouver chef shares her version of East African Ismaili classics

Alia Dharssi
Published September 30, 2020
Dolly in her kitchen at home. Photo: Alishah Virji.

When Dolly Pisani stands in front of a stove, she loses herself in chopping, tossing, mixing, simmering … and her worries are overtaken by the satisfaction of  having created something new. It’s a calling she discovered after the loss of her mother when Dolly was about 13. She started helping out in the kitchen and, before long, what was a necessity became an enduring passion.

From the beginning, cooking made her feel happy, recalls Dolly, who grew up in Tanzania and immigrated to Vancouver with her husband and children in 1975. She learned to make dishes like gobi nu shaak (cauliflower curry), kukra nu shaak (chicken curry), rotli (chapati), daal and fried masala fish from her father. “He was just a natural cook,” she says.

In 1985, Dolly and her husband opened Zeenaz, the first restaurant offering East African-style Indian cuisine in Vancouver, to rave reviews from local food critics. The restaurant was promoted by Tourism Vancouver, recommended in the Lonely Planet, and drew visitors from around the world before closing in 2002. Dolly’s culinary journey continued with Zeenaz Kitchen, a catering and food company famous for its chevda (Indian snack mix), before she retired in 2018. 

Dolly, like many East African Ismaili women of her generation, rarely uses recipes. Instead, she cooks by smell, sight and taste. In 2012, her daughter Zenobia Virji began working with her to document how she cooks. They produced a recipe book to pass on to future generations.

For this issue, they’ve shared recipes for two dishes popular among East African-Indian Ismailis. Both are tasty examples of the fusion of East African and Gujarati cuisines that developed after Khoja Ismailis migrated to East Africa from Gujarat in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Kukupaka (Chicken in Coconut)

The word kukupaka comes from the swahili word for chicken (kuku). Dolly learned to make it from her father and fondly recalls preparing it for family gatherings. For maximum flavour, she recommends using bone-in chicken.

Dolly’s kukupaka. Photo: Paul Considine

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 1.5 hours



For the marinade:

●     1 tablespoon garlic, crushed

●     1 tablespoon ginger, crushed

●     1 tablespoon lemon juice

●     1 teaspoon salt

●     ½ teaspoon lemon salt

●     ½ teaspoon green chilli, crushed

●     ½ teaspoon turmeric

●     200 ml coconut milk

For the curry:

●     2½  lbs chicken

●     ¼ cup gram flour

●     2½ cups hot water

●     ¾ lbs potatoes

●     4-6 eggs

●     1 tablespoon oil

●     ¼ cup onion, crushed

●     2 cardamom pods

●     2 cinnamon sticks

●     ½ teaspoon turmeric

●     1 teaspoon salt

●     ½ tablespoon garlic, crushed

●     ½ tablespoon ginger, crushed

●     ½ teaspoon green chilli, crushed

●     600 ml coconut milk

●     2 cups chicken broth

●     2 tablespoons lemon juice

●     ½ teaspoon garam masala

●     ¼ cup cilantro, chopped



  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Mix together garlic, ginger, lemon, salt, lemon salt, green chilli, turmeric and 200ml coconut milk in a small bowl. Place chicken on a baking tray or pan, and coat with marinade. Set aside for 15 minutes. Bake in oven for 45 minutes until chicken is tender. Set aside. Reserve pan juices.

  3. Combine gram flour and ½ cup hot water in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside.

  4. Boil potatoes and eggs. Set aside.

  5. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent.

  6. Stir in cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, turmeric, salt, garlic, ginger, green chilli and remaining hot water. Sauté for 1 minute.

  7. Mix in gram flour mixture, coconut milk and chicken broth. Simmer for 10 minutes.

  8. Add chicken, pan juices, eggs and potatoes. Mix well and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

  9. Stir in lemon, garam masala and cilantro.

  10. Serve with rotli (chapati), rice or mkate mimina (Swahili rice cake).

Mkate Mimina (Swahili Rice Cake)

Mkate mimina is a cake-like bread popular in East Africa. In Swahili, mkate means bread, while mimina means pour—perhaps alluding to the liquid batter from which the bread is made. This is Dolly’s recipe for the Ismaili version of the dish.

Dolly’s mkate mimina. Photo: Paul Considine.

Yield: 1 12” cake (6 servings)

Prep time: 30 minutes, plus 2 hours soaking and leavening overnight

Cook time: 1 hour



●     1 cup basmati rice

●     1 cup long grain rice

●     ¾ cup milk

●     1½ cups coconut milk

●     ½ teaspoon cardamom, ground

●     2 teaspoons dry yeast

●     1¾ cups sugar

●     ½ teaspoon cardamom seeds

●     ¼ cup warm water

●     ¼ cup oil

●     2 teaspoons white poppy seeds



  1. Place rice in a strainer with bowl underneath. Wash by running hot water over it for 1 to 2 minutes, while using your hands to turn over handfuls of rice to ensure it is thoroughly washed. Soak the rice in cold water for 2 hours. Drain.

  2. Prepare yeast according to instructions on packet. Blend rice, milk, ground cardamom and yeast in a blender until the mixture has a light grainy texture. Cover and set aside in a warm place overnight.

  3. The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  4. Whisk sugar, cardamom seeds and warm water into leavened mixture.

  5. Heat oil in a 12-inch non-stick round baking pan on stovetop on low heat. Pour mixture into pan and cook on low heat until mixture thickens. When edges turn pink, garnish with poppy seeds.

  6. Transfer to oven and bake until golden brown, approximately 30 to 40 minutes.

  7. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes before unmolding. 

  8. Serve with kukupaka or enjoy a slice with a cup of tea.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of The Ismaili Canada.

The Ismaili

Contact Us

His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for Canada

49 Wynford Drive Toronto, Ontario M3C 1K1 CANADA

Tel: +1-416-646-6965

Stay Connected

Subscribe to the Al-Akhbar newsletter today. Join over 40,000 people who receive weekly local, national and international news.


Download the iiCanada App

Download on the App Store Download on the Google Play