Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Coming soon: The Ghana Cookbook

News flash--our forthcoming book is now listed on Amazon! The cover features some of my Ghana photography. Still lots of editing and finalizing, but please stay tuned. It should be out in time for your holiday giving next October. Kudos to Hippocrene for their lovely design.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Investigating Traditional Basotho Breads


Wheat is expensive and often imported into sub-Saharan African countries, where it is
generally the preferred ingredient in baked or steamed breads. It is often in competition with other more traditional ingredients, such as sorghum and maize.

In 2014 I had the privilege of participating in the thesis defense of another young African woman scholar, Pulane Nkhabutlane, who set out to investigate and document  the culinary practices and consumer preferences regarding traditional Basotho bread. She  sampled villages in 5 rural districts in Lesotho, a small country in southern Africa completely embedded within S. Africa.

(photo from  http://bit.ly/1IpV5yw)

A consumer science doctoral student at the University of Pretoria, Dr. Nkhabutlane's pioneering doctoral research was, like Rose Omari's, by necessity largely exploratory and descriptive.  There were 3 main phases of her research: 
  • First, to identify and describe the different traditional breads in Lesotho, to investigate the past and present culinary practices related to them, to understand the factors influencing consumers' perceptions and consumption patterns, and to identify how Basotho culture impacts traditional bread acceptance. She considered ingredients, cooking methods, and social and economic variables (e.g., age, gender, and rural-urban differences)
  •  The second phase included a more technical analysis to standardize the recipes, considering regional variation, and to identify the nutritional value (macronutrients, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals) and yields.
  • Finally, to characterize selected traditional Basotho breads. This section included identifying sensory characteristics like texture, volume, and color, and the contributions of wheat, maize and sorghum flour to these. Also, to investigate and determine the contribution of sourdough in the bread doughs (pH and total titratable acidity).
The thesis was another fascinating contribution to filling in the hole in contemporary sub-Saharan African culinary research. It also suggests a number of policy recommendations, such as campaigns to improve nutrition and food security and a greater appreciation of the strengths of the culinary heritage of sub-Saharan Africa. 

It is exciting to observe a new generation of African scholars taking hold of their own research agendas. It also gladdens my heart that there is a generation of African fathers and husbands who are willing to support their wives to enable them to make contributions to the development of their continent, even at a personal cost to themselves. 

The full title of Dr. Nkhabutlane's thesis is: "An Investigation of Basotho Culinary Practices and Consumer Acceptance of Basotho Traditional Bread."

Some of her work has already been published: P. Nkhabutlane, G. E. du Rand, and H. L, de Kock, "Quality characterization of wheat, maize and sorghum steamed breads from Lesotho" Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Volume 94, Issue 10, pages 2104–2117, August 2014.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Urban Food Provisioning in Ghana: Fast Food Restaurants

As 2014 draws to a close, I have returned to my desk in Pennsylvania, USA, after several
months away. A recent trip was to the Netherlands, specifically to Wageningen University, where I was pleased to be on the examining committee during Rose Omari's doctoral defense. I first met Dr. Omari when she was a student and working at the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute in Accra during a research trip to Ghana in 2010, and it is encouraging to see another young African scholar tackling some of the gaps in African culinary research. Originally trained as a food scientist, Dr. Omari transitioned into the social sciences with her doctoral research.

Intrigued by the rapid emergence of an urban social phenomenon in Ghana, the "fast-food restaurant," she wanted to use the Accra Metropolitan Area to answer basic what, why, where and when questions, and to try to make sense of it. She wanted to use a Ghanaian perspective rather than simply adopt Western models. Prof. Dr. E. O. Sakyi-Dawson, from the University of Ghana, was another of her examiners. The research is fascinating and likely to inspire further efforts. Besides doing a fine job of description, she sought to cast a wide interdisciplinary net to analyze the phenomenon considering the interacting and contradictory dimensions of social identity,  convenience, and sense of consumer responsibility.

The thesis title is: Fast Food in Ghana's Restaurants: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Relevance--An Interdisciplinary Perspective. One paper rising from the research has already been published, and several more are already submitted/accepted:

Omari, R., Jongerden, J. P., Essegbey, G. Frempong, G., and Ruivenkamp, G. T. P. (2014) Fast food in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana: Characteristics, availability and the cuisine concept. Food Studies 1 (4):29-44.

Omari R., Essegbey G. and Ruivenkamp G. (2014) Barriers to the use of locally produced food products in Ghanaian restaurants: Opportunities for investments [Accepted for publication in Journal of Scientific Research and Reports]

Dr. Omari is married and has children. From personal experience I know that a woman's academic road in that case can be a long and challenging one, requiring intense commitment and persistence, and the sustained love and support of one's spouse, family, and friends. Clearly, Dr. Omari received that. Well done!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Help with Nigerian snack name

It's October and I'm in Austin, Texas, visiting family. Daughter Abena just gave me a snack (grain? seed?) she bought at a Nigerian store. It  looks like barley or buckwheat, or a fat kind of rice. Can any of you tell me what it's from, and its name--English, indigenous, and/or scientific? Also, any more information about how it's prepared and eaten is welcome. As always, thank you.

Monday, September 08, 2014

A Giant Step Forward

I trust I have not completely slipped off everyone's radar. The good news: the Ghana food and culture book manuscript was sent off on August 30, 2014, as promised.

The next step is sorting through hundreds of high resolution photos to select some for Hippocrene to consider as possible illustrations. (As the photo below shows, I am a "floor filer.")

It feels great to see some light ahead. Again, thank you to everyone who assisted in testing recipes and giving me helpful feedback. 

Now there is quite a bit of "catch up" to do as well.
For anyone in the State College, PA area, I will be giving a presentation at Foxdale Village,
500 East Marylyn Avenue, State College, PA 16801 this Thursday evening, September 11, at 7 p.m. (If you come by 6:30 p.m. you can also help prepare atwemo, (a deep-fried, slightly sweet cookie/biscuit). The event is free and open to the public. During the presentation,  also sample plantain chips and bissap (hibiscus iced tea) prepared by Executive Chef Jeffrey Boggle and his staff. The talk will include some of the story behind my love affair with Ghana's food, as well as information about its vibrant food and culture.

Also, next year be prepared to see sub-Saharan Africa represented in the 2015 upcoming Oxford Companion to Sweets, edited by Darra Goldstein!

Summer flew past without a break, so several trips are on the immediate horizon (Texas, Oregon, and California), but I will be weighing in here as well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Working on the book: "little by little, the chicken drinks water"

Hello, friends. Yes, it has been almost 3 months since a posting here. Let me assure you that I am alive and well. The final draft of our book  (tentatively titled "The Good Soup Comes From the Good Earth: Regional Cooking of Ghana") is due at the publishers at the end of the summer, along with photos. That is a full-time project (note  the 6 binders and file box!), taking every spare moment. As soon as the manuscript is on its way to Hippocrene Press, I will be back at the blog with renewed energy.

Though I am writing alone, many of you have offered assistance with testing the recipes--please know how much that is appreciated, and how helpful the feedback has been. Student interns from Penn State and elsewhere are helping manage that whole process to leave me free to work. To see photos as they are taken by some of the testers, see http://www.pinterest.com/afculnet/recipe-testing-for-ghana-regional-cookbook/

Once again, thank you, thank you, thank you. It is sometimes a lonely road, and it is tremendously encouraging to have a community of supporters out there cheering me on.--Fran Osseo-Asare

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

More thoughts on snacking on toasted corn

The consensus was that  the crunchy version of toasted corn from yesterday's posting was a bit hard to chew. Since there was no dried hominy corn available,  I decided to experiment with canned white hominy today. After draining off the water, I dry roasted it in a
heavy cast iron frying pan on a low heat, stirring regularly. After half an hour, even though the water had cooked away, the corn did not look toasted, so I added a little bit of oil (no more than a teaspoon) to a second pan, turned the heat to medium, and put half the corn from the dry frying pan into the second pan. Almost immediately the corn began to sizzle and jump around, and I needed to put a lid on it. I shook the pan on medium heat for about 15 minutes, lifting the lid occasionally to let the steam escape, then uncovered it and turned off the heat.

The result of both batches was tasty, though pretty far removed from the Ghanaian version: the corn was chewy, with the version cooked in a little oil (on the left above ) a bit more crispy and browned. Both were much easier on the teeth.