Wednesday, February 28, 2007

African Gastronomy Coming to the table at TEDGLOBAL

TEDGLOBAL "Africa: The Next Chapter"

The insightful and far-seeing organizers and supporters of the upcoming TEDGLOBAL conference
in Arusha, Tanzania recognize that Africa's culinary star is rising. "TED" stands for technology, entertainment, and design, and TED's annual conference in California is legendary as "an annual event where leading thinkers and doers gather for inspiration. " This June they're holding their first conference in Africa. Tami Hultman, now of, who in 1985 edited the fabulous Africa News Cookbook, nicely summarizes what the conference is all about.

Emeka Okafor, a UK-raised, New York-based entrepreneur of Nigerian origins, has been hired as the conference organizer. Well-known, among other things, for his fabulous, eclectic blog timbuktuchronicles, he realizes the importance of African entrepreneurs involved in the African-food industry.

100 of the invitees to the (pricey) conference are described as ". . . people actively involved in creating Africa’s future who could not afford to attend on their own. Four companies – AMD, GE, Google and Sun Microsystems – are providing fellowships to cover expenses, and admission fees will be waived." I am honored to have been selected to receive one of those fellowships, and hope to represent African culinary and other food industry professionals. I have some ideas to carry along with me (from a digital archive of African cookbooks to culinary teaching dvds to a television show), but please let me know your suggestions, observations, etc.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

More African Cooking Lessons on DVD

An enterprising couple, Antony Kovilparambil and Marina Antony, have developed a set of budget-priced ethnic cooking DVDs. One is called West African Cooking (Liberian Style), demonstrated by 2 sisters from Monrovia, Vashti Taylor and Darling Taylor-Bello. The set contains 10 basic recipes (for Jaloff Rice, Potato Greens or Spinach, Liberian Gravy, Pepper Soup, Check Rice, Fried Okra, Palm Butter, Cassava Leaves, Palava Sauce and Tabughee, with a "bonus" recipe for Paw Paw pudding).

I salute Mr. Kovilparambil and Ms. Antony for their pioneering efforts that enabled me (and others outside Liberia) to learn more about Liberian versions of several familiar West African dishes, and also to see Check Rice and Tabughee prepared. I noted a general absence of the tomatoes and ginger common in much Ghanaian cooking, and a more frequent use of celery. Still, I was somewhat disappointed in the repetitiveness of the recipes, the heavy hand with seasoning cubes (increasingly common throughout West Africa), the limited use of fresh ingredients, and the complicated cooking procedures. I was left with a couple of questions: in Liberia do people really combine shrimp, beef and chicken, and sometimes fish in almost every dish? Why would they cook each of those ingredients in separate pots before combining them?

The demonstrated recipes are included as a Word file on the DVD to print out (the install program seemed way too complicated, so I just printed out the files on my Mac and also a PC directly from the DVD after exiting the menu and had no problem.) A slightly more expensive version includes printed recipes. More information is available at
Also, they have another DVD from East Africa coming out soon, that will focus on Ethiopian cooking.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Touch of Africa 2007

Penn State recently held its annual African food and culture event sponsored by the African Students Association. This always-sold-out event attracts 400-600 students, faculty, and community people who come to be touched by the vibrancy and creativity of Africa: to taste the food, hear the music, listen to the speakers, watch the fashion shows and dancers and drummers and acrobats. . .you get the idea.
Producing the meal is a feat in itself. As usual, preparation takes place behind the scenes, mostly by the women students, using Penn State's conference center kitchen. Special ingredients from cases of red palm oil and agushi to ripe plantain are ordered well in advance, and for two days volunteers are in the kitchen chopping, dicing, marinating and cooking. I visited the kitchen the day before the actual event. While most of my pictures are in albums on the betumi flickr account, along with descriptions, here is a sampling. This year's event was heavily influenced by the West African students from Nigeria, Cameroon, Togo and Liberia.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Making Ghana-style Microwave Fufu, Parts 1 and 2

Here's our first "how to" video demonstrating step-by-step how to make microwave fufu using readily available ingredients. Part 1 (about 5 minutes) is the introduction

and Part 2 (almost 11 minutes) is the actual demonstration

Here's the recipe:

Microwave Fufu Recipe (Ghana-style)
Using Instant Mashed Potatoes and Potato Starch Flour

1 U. S. cup (16 tablespoons, or 250 ml) instant mashed potatoes
½ U. S. cup (8 tablespoons, or 125 ml) potato starch flour
2 U. S. cups (32 tablespoons, or 500 ml) water

• Put the instant mashed potatoes and potato starch flour in a 1-quart or 1-liter microwave safe container (Naana and I both use round ones, which are easier to stir). Add 1 ¾ cup to 2 cups (about 440 to 500 ml) of the water, and stir well for about a minute with a sturdy spoon (wooden stirring stick or wooden spoon, if available).
• Place the bowl, uncovered, in the microwave for 3 minutes on high.
• Remove the bowl, and stir well, pressing against the side of the bowl to remove any lumps
• If necessary, and you did not use all of the water, add the rest, simply pouring it on top of the fufu, but not stirring it, and return the fufu to the microwave for another 3 minutes.
• Remove the fufu, pour off any standing water, and stir it again, pressing hard against the side of the bowl, until all the remaining water is mixed in and the fufu is smooth.
• Put a small bowl of water near the fufu, and wet another bowl. Place a handful of the fufu into the wet bowl, wet your hands, and turn the fufu ball until it is a smooth, almost oval shape, occasionally using the water in the other bowl to wet your hands and keep the fufu from sticking to it, and until the surface of the fufu is smooth.
• The individual balls of fufu may be served on a platter dampened with water to keep the fufu from sticking (we always put a bowl of water near our fufu to allow us to wet the serving spoon if it is being served into a bowl, or to allow diners to wet their hands before serving themselves.
• Enjoy with a nice Ghanaian soup (palmnut, groundnut, or light soup)!
• To serve: place the fufu into a bowl, and spoon the soup over and around it. Eat with a spoon or your hands.

Incidentally, exploring YouTube, I found 4 little clips of fufu being pounded in Ghana, and one of (definitely nonGhanaians) eating fufu, and 3 clips of someone making fufu on the stovetop:
eating fufu
pounding fufu 1
pounding fufu 2
pounding fufu 3
pounding fufu 4
making fufu on the stovetop, part 1
making fufu on the stovetop, part 2
making fufu on the stovetop, part 3