Ghanaian Cooking 101
The food of Ghana is wonderful, there is a freshness about it that you don’t find in the states and I think most of that is because it is home-made, from very fresh ingredients. There is no Sysco food distribution network here, and so the food that restaurants serve here, is the food that they prepare (often minutes after you order it). So food takes a long time to get to the table, but when it get there, it is worth the wait.
Of our three kids, Grace is the once who had taken to the foods of Ghana the most Given the choice, she will pick Ghanaian always, like in the hospital when the choices for lunch was a vegetable soup, or Groundnut Stew with Fufu, and she picked the latter.
Fufu is a staple of Ghanaian food, it is a pounded food made of cassava and plantain, pounded to make a sticky smooth glob of flavorless starch. It is eaten with the fingers, dipped in a thick soup and sucked down whole (don’t chew, just swallow). This takes a bit of training not to gag, and the Ghanaians in the market get a kick out of watching obruie eat it. Though instant fufu is available in the stores, most Ghanaian homes make their own, through a process of what our German student-friends call Kitchen Athletics.
The basic process is to take Yam, Cocoyam, Cassava, or Plantain peal it and steam it until tender, and then pound it in a large mortar and pestle until it forms a mass and becomes a little bit too elastic. I’ve heard of electric fufu pounders, and even a large diesel one for the whole village, but most people just pound their own. Scoop a mass o’ fufu (about the size of a fist) onto a wet plate and smooth while shaping it into a round ball.
Fufu isn’t the only pounded food starch, there is also Kenke (corn), Banku (fermented corn), Tuto (pounded rice balls), and other starches from the north I have not tasted into yet.
Fufu is served with Groundnut Stew or Light Soup. Banku is served with fish (dried, roasted, or fried) as is Kenke. When I took the trip to Emmanuel’s village, we bought 15 servings of Kenke off the side of the road, in blue plastic bags.
On the menu you will almost always see four typical Ghanaian or West African dishes:
Jollof Rice (recipe follows)
Red-Red (served with fried (called Dodo) or boiled plantain)
Palava Sauce (AKA Kontembre) (served over rice)
Groundnut Stew or Light Soup (both served with Fufu)
Vida’s Jollof Rice
Vida is our day guard Emmanuel’s Wife who has been to our house twice to teach me how to cook Ghanaian.
500 kg of rice (1 pound)
1 210g can of tomato paste
½ cup thick palm oil (you can use 100% palm oil, but not so heart healthy)
½ cup heart healthy oil (sunflower, rapeseed, canola)
1 yellow cube Maggie (flavoring cube)
2 green peppers cubed
4 roma tomatoes cubed
2 onions (sliced in crescents)
1 head cabbage chopped
1 cup mixed frozen vegetables (or 5 carrots, 4 green onions)
1 tps curry
1 tps rosemary
1 tps cyanine pepper
1 tps nutmeg
1 Tbs salt.
Heat oil in a large
heavy cooking pan (with lid) over high heat, when hot add onions, and
stir. When onions are almost translucent, add tomato paste. Add 1
one tomato paste can of water, to rinse out can. After two minutes,
add curry, and another tomato paste can of water. Continue to stir over
low heat to prevent scorching.
When mixture has come
together (about 3-5 minutes), add green pepper, cyanine pepper, and fresh
tomatoes. Stir occasionally until tomatoes skins begin to separate.
Add another tomato paste can of water, flavoring cube (Maggie) and
Add rice and stir until uniform
consistency. Note: At this point Vida will add a can of corned beef,
but only does so on very special occasions, we omit.
Add salt, and 2 tomato paste cans of water, stir.
Add cabbage, vegetables (either frozen vegetables, or fresh carrots & spring onions), add nutmeg. Stir until uniform consistency (this will take some effort as cabbage, and vegetables
add much bulk to the mix. If having trouble mixing, add more water. [At this point Vida will add a small can of tuna fish, we omit.]
Press and pat rice mixture down until flat in the pot, and then add water to cover rice by a depth of ½ inch. Cover dish and … you have a choice to make.
Now the traditional way to finish the rice is to cook on the stove until all water has been absorbed. I find that the rice on the bottom gets scorched, and apparently this is just an
expected part of the cooking process. However, if you don’t want or like scorched rice, then finish the cooking in an oven preheated to 300, for 30 minutes, until water absorbed, and rice cooked. Emmanuel likes the taste of the scorched or slightly burned rice, and was aghast that I would alter the recipe.
When all water is absorbed, rice is cooked and cabbage is soft. Turn off heat (or take out of oven) and let rest until read to serve.
2 medium onions, diced
8 fresh tomatoes
½ c vegetable oil (we use half palm, half something more heart healthy)
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp seasoning salt
½ tsp thyme
Optional: 1 green pepper, diced and added at the same time as the tomatoes.
Heat oil in a fry pan and sauté onions until soft, but not brown, add tomatoes, cayenne pepper, seasoning salt, and thyme.
Fry for 30 minutes until tomatoes are soft and deep red in color.
You may be seeing a common theme in that much of the recipes contain the not so heart healthy Palm Oil, there is even a soup made from Palm Nuts that Vida made for us in the fall. Suzanne says that she has developed a taste for palm oil, especially in fried chicken.
For several months I tried to develop a recipe for a dish called “Red Red,” which could be made from brown lentils, red black-eyed peas, or small red beans. They serve a very delicious “Red Red” at the Ashesi canteen, and so I wanted to develop my own recipe. No matter what I did, my Red Red tasted like plain old beans, or refried beans, until I added palm oil. That’s the Ghanaian flavor I had been missing.
1 lb Black-eyed Peas, brown lentils, or small red beans
½ cup palm oil
2 onions, minced.
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 head garlic, minced (optional)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 tsp curry powder
Boil or pressure cook the (black-eyed peas, lentils or small red beans) until almost tender. Meanwhile sauté the onions, garlic and green peppers in palm oil until almost soft but not brown. Add tomatoes and cook until soft. When beans are almost
tender drain and add to onion-garlic-tomato mixture. Palm Oil is essential
to the authentic taste of Red Red.
[this Red Red made with Lentils]
Red Red is always served with Fried Plaintain (DoDo). Plaintain is like a
really large starchy banana, and you wait until the peals are half black before
slicing in long 3/8 inch slices thick and cooked in Palm Oil, which is where the
name comes from. Palm Oil, when it is cooked takes on a slightly red
color, and as it seeps from both the beans and the fried plaintan, there is Red Red on your plate.
Adapted from Authentic African Cuisine from Ghana, by David & Tamminay Otoo
As you can see there are two types of Palm Oil, refined and not. It is the not refined palm oil that gives it the wonderful flavor. I’m guessing there are laws against this kind of Palm Oil in the states, or should be because it is anything but heart friendly, but oh is it tasty.
Earlier in the blog I posted Groundnut Stew. I’ve continued to adapt it to make it taste more authentic.
(Chicken Peanut Soup)
8-12 chicken pieces (we used 1 pound or a ½ kilo of cut up chicken quarters)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 t salt
1 t pepper
1 T curry powder
1 t cayenne pepper
1 cup smooth peanut butter (natural, never jiffy or skippy)
10 cups hot water
2 medium-ripe tomatoes, pealed. We used about a cup of salsa
Season chicken with onions and all dry ingredients. Moisten with a little water and cook over medium heat in a large saucepan for 15
minutes. Stir as needed.
While chicken is cooking, mix peanut butter with boiling water in a bowl until smooth (Ghanaians will use their fingers) Add peanut butter mixture to chicken when it is ready. Bring to a boil at once and continue boiling for about 30 minutes.
Grind tomatoes in a blender until smooth, and add to soup. Simmer until chicken becomes tender and a dark oil begins to form in soup. Stir often.
Empty soup into individual bowls and serve hot with rice or fufu.
Finally, there is an ingredient that you won’t be able to find in the states, at least not until it undergoes a name change. Its called Shito, and is available in bottles. It has an oily, fishy, spicy taste that really fills out whatever it added to. While Shito, is not necessary to make things taste Ghanaian, it sure makes it easier.
 From Authentic African Cuisine from Ghana, by David and Tamminay Otoo, 1997