Kiano Moju is Creating an African Recipe Archive for the Next Generation 

Last Update: February 1, 2024

When Kiano Moju was a child, she had her own cooking show. The set was her family’s kitchen in Northern California, and there was an audience of only two: her parents. “From the time I was itty bitty, my mom would plop me on the kitchen counter and hand me something to do,” she remembers. 

It wasn’t just the cooking that she loved. As she got a bit older, Moju became interested in showing others how to cook, too. “I was always very passionate about the teaching side of cooking, so I’d be that kid in my kitchen talking out loud as if there was some audience there.” 

Moju took cooking classes as a child, and then traveled the world to experience her family’s culinary heritage firsthand. “Every other summer, I would go to my grandparents’ ranch in Kenya,” she says. “Ranch life is kind of centered around food. There’s always something to do, whether it’s with the animals or whether it’s with preparing the greens for dinner or gathering firewood.”  

After college, she went on to get her master’s degree in publishing with a focus in food media, then landed her first job producing cooking videos for Buzzfeed. While she loved what she was doing, she couldn’t help but think about the recipes she grew up cooking: heritage recipes from her mother’s home country of Kenya or her father’s home country of Nigeria, recipes she didn’t see much (if at all) in American food media. 

A Way of Remembering 

In 2019, Moju launched Jikoni Studios, her own production company. “I used our resources to tell the food stories that I was passionate about and that I wasn’t seeing or getting hired to do, focusing on foods from Africa and across the diaspora.” 

It soon became clear that Jikoni was more than just a production company. For Moju, it was a way to memorialize the African recipes she grew up making — and to uncover the ones she had only heard about. “Our mission is first and foremost to archive, to document traditional recipes from Africa and the Caribbean and Black Cuisines in the Americas,” Moju explains. “These are long standing cuisines that just haven’t been written down the same way as other foods have, and we don’t want them to get lost.”  

She began compiling the Jikoni Recipe Archive as a place to document these recipes and share them with others. “I want to build up that internal food encyclopedia,” she says. “I’m like, what does food in the Congo look like? What does food in Namibia look like? These are things that I don’t necessarily have answers to. That’s where the fun part begins: you start meeting people, start filming them, asking them questions, and going to their home kitchens.” 

With the recipes she’s collected so far, Moju has created not just an archive, but also online video content, in-person cooking classes, and other events to help support the nonprofit and their work. “We want to amplify these cuisines to help more people discover them, to inspire chefs who come from these backgrounds to be innovative, so that things aren’t stagnant in time,” Moju says. 

Sharing History Through Heritage Recipes

When Austin Parks and Lanae Williams, two members of Thrive Market’s Black Thriver Union employee resource group, mentioned that there were many traditional African recipes that they would like to learn to make at home, Moju seemed like the perfect person to go to for help. 

Without hesitation, Moju suggested her Jollof Risotto as a great starting point. This recipe is a twist on a classic African dish that spans the diaspora, and when served alongside perfectly seared whole prawns seasoned with Nigerian suya spice blend, creates a meal that’s a perfect blend of both Moju’s Californian and African backgrounds — “Africali”, she calls it, which is also the title of her forthcoming cookbook. 

“​​It’s literally the way I cook,” Moju says. “My mom’s from Kenya. My dad’s from Nigeria. I grew up in the Bay Area, and my food is a little mix of all of that. I’m looking for recipes that you can shop for almost anywhere, and that bring in a lot of those flavors from the African continent into my California kitchen.”

On a rainy Los Angeles afternoon, Moju visited the Thrive Market photo studio to share her Jollof Risotto with Parks, Williams, and the rest of our creative team. The studio filled with the warming, savory scent of the spicy Nigerian tomato and red bell pepper stew, and as she stirred the huge pot of arborio rice, Moju told the team about the cultural and historical significance of jollof rice. 

The team snagged bites of the finished risotto straight out of the pot and grabbed shrimp from the serving plate with bare hands, closing their eyes as they savored the complex flavor of the suya spice. It was a perfect kickoff to Black History Month: sharing history by sharing a meal. 

Kiano Moju’s Jollof Rice Risotto With Seared Suya Spice Prawns 

“Jollof rice is one of the most famous dishes in Africa, particularly in western Africa. It’s cooked in my father’s home country, Nigeria, as well as Ghana, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, and Cameroon. It’s essentially rice cooked in stew. For this recipe, I brought that same stew that would be in the jollof rice and incorporated it into a risotto. 

Making Nigerian stew is akin to making Italian Sunday gravy. It’s a big pot of red sauce, and the longer you let it cook, the better it’ll taste, because the idea here is to concentrate the flavor. If we take something big and watery and put in risotto, the flavors are going to fall flat. So making sure your stew has thickened up where you can grab it on a spoon, flip it upside down, and it’ll be slow to drop—that is the thing you’re looking for. That’s the key.” —Kiano Moju

Active time: 20 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 4-6 servings


For the stew: 

1 can diced tomatoes
½ medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 habanero pepper or Scotch Bonnet pepper, stemmed
1” piece ginger, sliced
¼ cup avocado oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon curry powder
Salt to taste

For the risotto: 

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1.5 cups arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken stock, hot
Kosher salt, to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Parmesan cheese, to taste


To make the stew, start by combining the tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, habanero, and ginger in a blender. Blend until smooth.

Pour the tomato purée into a medium pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the water has cooked off and the sauce is reduced by about half.

Add the oil and fry the sauce for 10 to 15 minutes more.

Add the thyme and curry powder, season with salt to taste. Cook for another 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.

To make the risotto, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, cooking until the onions have softened, around 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste. 

Add the rice and sauté until the grains start to become translucent. Add the wine, scraping any browned bits from the bottom.

Add a ladleful of hot stock to the rice. Stir the rice until the stock is absorbed and the pan is almost dry. Continue adding stock, a ladleful at a time, until the rice is tender, but still al dente. It should be moist and creamy, but not a solid clump. If it becomes too thick, add another splash of stock to loosen it up. This all may take 20 minutes or more. 

Add the stew and stir to incorporate. Remove the risotto from the heat, stir in grated Parmesan and butter until melted and well-incorporated. 

Serving suggestion: Moju likes to serve this risotto alongside prawns seasoned with her homemade suya spice (also known as yaji spice), a peanut-based Nigerian spice blend often used to season meat and seafood. She seasons the peeled and deveined shrimp with salt and suya spice, then sears them in a pan with some olive oil, adding in a pat of butter and chopped parsley right before they’re done.  

This article is related to:

Dinner Recipes

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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