Monday, November 30, 2009

Recipe #31: Foolproof Mango Fool

Ghana is not a country particularly big on desserts. But a classic fruit-based one in Ghana (and other parts of English-speaking countries of Africa), is the "fool," which in North America nowadays usually means a mixture of whipped cream and crushed fruit. In Ghana, it means a custard mixed with crushed, and usually cooked, fresh fruit like mango, papaya, or soursop.

It's interesting that my 1970s edition of the Joy of Cooking says of fruit fools that "long ago the word 'fool' was used as a term of endearment." Others claim it comes from the French word "fouler," which means to mash or crush, while according to The Food Timeline, citing the Oxford English Dictionary, a more accurate explanation of its origin is likely its link to the "trifle," or "a bit of foolishness."

I was taught to make a fool using "Bird's custard powder," invented in 1837 by the English Chemist Alfred Bird, and containing cornflour, salt, vanilla, and annatto (for color). In Ghana we used evaporated milk, as in this recipe. It can also be made using a custard containing eggs, and instead of milk, coconut milk can be substituted. But the recipe here is adapted from the papaya fool we made in Ghana and shown in the photo above.

I picked up a papaya from the supermarket today, but it is nowhere near ripe, so I decided to make a mango fool instead. It is also hard to get ripe sweet mangos here in central Pennslvania, so I substituted mango pulp from India (see the can in the photo),  which also meant eliminating the preliminary steps of peeling chopping, pureeing, and cooking the fruit. However, the canned pulp also has sugar added, which made for a somewhat sweeter fool than would be common in Ghana. Today I'll just go step by step with the process I used, and later, when it ripens, I'll explain how to use fresh papaya to make a "pawpaw" fool.

Recipe #31: Step-by-step Mango Fool


1 3/4 cups canned mango puree
3 1/2 Tablespoons custard powder
about 3/4 cup water
1/2 cup evaporated milk

Pour 1 3/4 cups mango puree into a saucepan and set aside.

Shake the evaporated milk can, then open it and add 1/4 cup into a bowl, along with 1/4 cup water and the 3 1/2 Tablespoons custard powder (this is slightly less than 1/4 cup).
In a separate pan, slightly heat the remaining 1/4 cup of evaporated milk, then stir it into the water/milk/custard powder mix to prevent the custard from forming lumps.
Turn a burner on the stove to medium low and begin heating the mango puree. Stir it to make sure it does not stick.
Place the custard pan over another burner and cook the custard several minutes on medium low heat, stirring constantly with a wire whisk until it thickens. Remove from the heat. If it seems very thick, stir in a few Tablespoons of water (I needed to do this today), and let it cool for about 10 minutes.
Using a whisk, gradually mix the custard into the heated mango puree, stirring vigorously and letting it cook for a few minutes. Do not add any additional sugar.

I thought I would not need to do the final step we took in Ghana, which was straining the fool into a bowl, but I did have lumps in my fruit/custard mix, and needed to pour the whole thing through a strainer.

All that I could find in the house to garnish the fool with was: some chopped peanuts, a little cinnamon, some mandarin orange slices, and a some whipped topping. My husband added evaporated milk to his tonight, and said he found it a little too sweet. Other garnishes include orange/mango slices/cherries as in the photo above. The fool can be chilled before serving, and Barbara likes to soft freeze her fool sometimes, which is how we ate ours for dessert tonight. It is best made the same day it is served, though fresh fruit can be prepared a day ahead. NOTE: I imagine one could also use a custard pudding mix to speed things up, but in the U.S., the puddings tend to be quite sweet. As I mentioned earlier, the fruit could also be mixed in with whipped cream for a North American version.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Recipe #30: Crockpot Shito (Mako Tuntum/Black Pepper)

Well, the shito  [SHE-toe] cooked (see yesterday's post) in the crock pot about 24 hours. I stirred it regularly as Gloria instructed, but it never cooked down and turned dark. I telephoned her in Canada to confirm the crock pot should stay covered. I'm still figuring out how to adjust the crockpot cooking, but since I have  time constraints today I finally finished it off on the stove top, as I always have before. Please note that Gloria also cooks shito in a slow oven.

Recipe #30: Simple Crockpot Shito (adapted from Gloria Mensah)


1/4 cup ground dried chili pepper (cayenne)

2 cups crushed canned tomatoes (I crushed 2 cups worth from a 28 oz or 800 g can of Italian plum tomatoes, lifting the tomatoes out of the liquid first and then squeezing them through my fingers into a small bowl)
2 cups (slightly less than one 15 oz or 425 g can) canned mackerel (or tuna), drained and blotted dry with paper towels, flaked

1 cup of dried shrimp (one 3.5 oz, or 100 g package), rinsed, blotted, and dried in a low (200 degree F) oven [NOTE: if dried shrimp are not available, substitute fresh shrimp, first dried in a slow oven]
2 large onions, peeled and cut into chunks for blending (or grated)
1/4 cup ginger paste (from blended fresh ginger or an Indian or international store)
1/4 cup garlic paste (from blended fresh garlic, or an Indian or international store)
1 cup of vegetable oil, such as canola

Step-by-step Directions

Prepare the canned mackerel. One of the secrets to making shito is to remove all the water, so I figure  the less water you use in the beginning, the better. That's why I dried the drained canned mackerel with paper towels before using my fingers to flake it.

Similarly, I rinsed the dried shrimp before using them, blotted them dry with a paper towel, and then spread them out on a cookie sheet in a 200 degree F oven for an hour or so while I did the other prep work. Gloria says she can prepare this in 10 minutes, and then just has to be around to stir it from time to time! I'm guessing she doesn't bother with all the rinsing and blotting I did.

In a large bowl, add the 1/4 cup dried ground hot pepper to the flaked mackerel (remember that West African ground hot red pepper will be hotter than typical North American cayenne pepper). It may be cheaper to buy dried chili peppers and grind your own in a blender as I used to do, but this is a messy task that makes for a lot of sneezing! After making this once, you can adjust the pepper for a milder or spicier shito according to your preference (One could likely substitute paprika for some of the hot pepper to make a milder version).

Crush the 2 cups of tomatoes, and add 1 cup to the mackeral/pepper bowl. Use the second cup of tomatoes to blend the onions. I had to use a smaller food processor cup on my blender and do this in several batches. I'd bet, though, you could also just grate the onions into the bowl with the other ingredients.

In a couple of batches, grind the dried shrimps and add them to the bowl. A rubber spatula comes in helpful in getting all these ingredients out of the blender.

Stir in the 1/4 cup blended ginger and 1/4 blended garlic (those jars from the Indian section of our local international market were a huge time saver), and finally the 1 cup oil. According to Gloria's directions, you should be able to add everything to the crockpot, cover it and cook it on low for 12-18 hours, stirring every few hours. It didn't work that way for me, though.

I'm still perfecting the cooking part of this. It may be that my "low" on my slow cooker is lower than on Gloria's. It did not cook in the time she said, so I finished cooking most of it on the stovetop (first medium, then low heat, stirring constantly for about 30 to 45 minutes). If you have this problem, I recommend a seasoned cast iron pan if you have one (and a wooden spoon for stirring), though I also cooked some in a nonstick skillet and that worked fine as well, though it's a little harder to regulate the temperature. The shito is done when it is dark brown, but not burned (constant stirring and pressing is another trick to making shito), and all the water is cooked out. Remember that it will cook a little bit more in the pan even after it is taken off the heat. Another possibility for cooking this in the crockpot might be to remove the lid from the crockpot at some point to allow the liquid to escape more easily.

When the shito is cooked, allow it to cool completely and store it in glass jars. See note below about oil. If you know any students from Ghana, a small jar of shito and a little bag of gari would likely make a far more welcome gift over the holidays than any candy cane or chocolate chip cookies! The flavor is wonderful (as I said yesterday, dried shrimp is favored in Asia for its umami flavor). I just wish I had some kenkey handy.

I'll post my own "classic" shito recipe soon, but not until after the Thanksgiving holidays. In the meantime, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and remember to share what you have with others.

I've always used tomato paste before, and when I asked Gloria why she uses crushed tomatoes she said one could substitute 1 cup of tomato paste for the canned tomatoes. Trusting her intuition, I asked her why she doesn't use tomato paste since it's simpler. She said that she finds the paste gives too "sweet" a flavor to the shito.
Shrimp: I have Ghanaian friends who skip the mackerel altogether and make shito using only flaked shrimp from Thailand. This is even easier, but I don't like the 2% sugar the Thai people add to their dried shrimp. We also have a vegetarian family locally who make a great shito using seaweed in place of the dried shrimp and fish.
Also, many Ghanaians nowadays will include shrimp or other seasoning cubes added to their shito. Oil: One of the reasons shito does not spoil is that there is usually a coating of oil on top of it. Therefore, you might like to keep this in the refrigerator, even though that would likely not be the case in Ghana. Or, increase the amount of oil.
And yes, this has a strong fish odor, so cook it near a fan (or, like Gloria, outside).I happen to like the smell. It reminds me of Ghana.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Preview: Ghana's "shito" (black pepper condiment)

I've written about shito before, as in an article first published in Gastronomica. In much of Ghana it's as ubiquitous as ketchup was to my father's generation in the U.S. Shito literally means "pepper" in the Ga language, and can refer to peppers, or the hot sauce/condiment itself (also called shitor, or shito din [dark pepper]) which includes dried peppers, dried shrimps and sometimes small dried herrings as well as onion, tomato, and other seasonings. 

The coastal Ga people eat a lot of fish, fresh and dried.I first lived in Nungua in the early 1970s, which is a Ga area. Ga kenkey (komi) in Nungua was generally eaten with shito and fried fish. I've always assumed shito was a Ga invention (aka black pepper, "engine oil, " students' pepper sauce). It was especially popular with boarding school students, probably because it goes well with both kenkey and gari, filling and inexpensive foods.

In Twi the word for pepper is mako, so it might be called mako tuntum (black or dark pepper). In Robert Sietsema’s article “Foo-foo Fundamentals” in the October 2005 issue of Gourmet he suggested it might be called "black pepper" because it included grains of paradise. I've no idea how he came up with that interpretation. I've never heard of melegueta peppers (Aframomum melegueta) being included in it. I think, rather, it's called "black" because you cook all of the liquid out of it with very slow cooking, which means it will keep for a very long time without refrigeration, and it turns quite dark.

Pounding is of course a very common processing technique in Ghana, so the traditional pounding of the dried peppers and dried fish is consistent with the cooking techniques throughout the region, and provides the texture I've always valued. Onions, peppers, and tomatoes are of course "the ingredients." Ghanaians are inordinately fond of tomato paste, and often include it. I don't know of other places that make a similar sauce around the world, and would love to know if there are.

It's interesting that the recipe for this has been pretty much an oral tradition up until recently. None of the earliest cookbooks I have include recipes for it. However, Dorinda Hafner included a recipe in her book A Taste of Africa, and more recently I saw one in a "people's" cookbook by Vivian Ofori that I picked up in an outdoor market in Accra in 2008. (Recipe Book for All [Catering]). Also, Marian Shardow in the U.K. included a recipe for it in her self-published A Taste of Hospitality: Authentic Ghanaian Cookery, a few years ago. Plus, there are a number of online recipes now. 

However, it saddens me to see how often imported tabasco sauce is found on restaurant tables in Ghana these days.

I also note with amusement that one of the main ingredients, dried shrimp, have been recently "discovered" to have great value for providing that magical "5th sense" umami. Maybe there is another link between Chinese and West African cuisines to look at?

At any rate, I confess that while I can make shito, it is a somewhat complicated and time-consuming process so I often opt out and substitute off-the-shelf Asian chili sauces. But I've been wanting to make shito recently. I emailed my friend and colleague Gloria Mensah
who is an amazing no-nonsense, efficient, single mom who knows how to adapt traditional recipes to the 21st century. She once told me she baked shito in large batches in the oven and also that she substituted canned mackerel for the dried herrings. She responded that she now makes shito in a crock-pot (that sits outside for a day or a day-and-a-half) because it used to smell up her house so badly.

I eagerly asked for the recipe and she gave me the basics. My version is outside cooking now, and I'm excited. She's added a number of short cuts that make it much easier to prepare, and I've made a few more.

Here are a couple of pictures to whet your appetite. I'll post the recipe and results very soon. Incidentally, I placed salt in the picture of the ingredients, which was probably a mistake. Just ignore that for now. I'm not sure we'll need to add any. Along with substituting canned mackerel, Gloria also uses ginger paste and garlic paste from an Indian market to eliminate making them from scratch. Another time saver for me, was the ability to purchase Thai dried shrimp from the local international market--Gloria said she has to dry her own in the oven first before grinding them.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Recipe #29: Crockpot bean stew (Asedua) with adzuki beans and smoked fish

In Ghana, usually a soup is boiled and has more liquid, and a stew is fried and has less liquid. These distinctions are not always clear, and sauces or gravies have elements of both.

Here is my crockpot version of a bean stew called asedua in Twi. It uses adzuki  beans which substitute well for the beans in Ghana. I prefer adzuki beans to small kidney beans, which I've also used. They seem to have more substance and flavor. Also,  the step of first frying the "ingredients" (the onions, peppers, tomatoes) and other spices is omitted to adapt to the crock pot method of slow simmering. This recipe also replaces the traditional salt fish and dried fish with smoked fish, and I've reduced the amount of oil in the stew. Increase it if you must. You'll also notice: no seasoning cubes here.

Adzuki beans take a  while to cook, so either soak them the night before or use the "quick soak" method where you boil them for a couple of minutes, let them sit covered for an hour, drain, and then proceed. [Of course, if you were using canned or pre-cooked beans, you could just mash some of the beans, and then put everything in the crockpot to cook on low.]

Recipe #29: Crockpot bean stew with adzuki beans and smoked fish

Wash and pick over 2 cups of adzuki beans (a little less than 1 lb.), and soak them overnight or by the quick soak method for an hour.
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped (or, just cut it in half and remove the seeds, so you can remove it before serving the stew), OR dried ground red pepper to taste
1 large onion, coarsely chopped or grated (Or, chop half of it and put the other part in whole and grind/mash it when you grind/mash the beans)
1/3 cup red palm oil (if no palm oil, substitute another oil such as peanut), OR use 1/2 cup pulp from a can of cream of palm fruit. Be careful around the carotene-rich palm oil as it can stain if you spill it.
1 cup of well-drained canned tomatoes, peeled and seeded if you wish (I favor Italian plum tomatoes, which are pulpier)
1/3 cup tomato juice from the can
3 Tablespoons of tomato paste, optional (if you like a more pronounced tomato flavor)
6 - 8  oz. of smoked fish (I like mackerel, but smoked salmon, whiting, etc. also work. If you use smoked salted herring, first soak and/or simmer in water separately before adding to the stew or it will overpower it).

Place the drained beans, 2 1/2 cups of water, the tomato juice, tomatoes, tomato paste (if using), hot pepper, onion, and palm oil in the crock pot.  Break up the tomatoes with your fingers as you add them.

Cover and cook on high until the beans are soft, about 4-5 hours  (longer if you use the low setting).

Remove about half of the beans and mash them (or put them in a blender or food processor to grind) and return them to the crockpot.  Grind or mash any large pieces of pepper or onion with the beans, or remove them if you prefer a milder stew. Rinse the smoked fish, remove the skin and any bones  and add it to the crockpot in pieces. Add a teaspoon of salt (or less if the fish is very salty). Stir well and let it cook for another half hour or so on low for the flavors to blend. Just before serving check to see if you need to adjust the salt (I added another teaspoon) or add water if it seems too thick.

Variations: if you like okra, cook some separately and add it or serve it one the side, or add frozen cut okra to the stew about an hour before serving. Also, if you like spicier stews, add some fresh garlic and ginger, and increase the amount of hot pepper, or substitute a habanero for the jalapeno. If you like it less spicy, just use a little dried ground red pepper.

Stove top version: If you don't have a crockpot, and want to make the stew, just cook the beans first and mash or grind half of them, then fry the onion in the palm or other oil, add the tomatoes and red pepper, fish and beans and water and simmer for half an hour.

This hearty stew goes well with just about any starch, from rice or gari to banku or boiled potatoes (that's what I had handy tonight), ripe plantains or yams, boiled or fried. I didn't have any okra, so just sauteed some greens to go with it. You'll notice the ubiquitous hot sauce is served on the side.

This stew freezes and/or reheats well and easily in the microwave.
Voila! Dinner is ready. I'll sign off now so I can eat.

Check back next week if you want to learn more about flavored oils, fresh pepper sauces, as well as "shito" (aka "black pepper.") They are next on my list to cover.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Recipe #28B: African doughnut, Cake Version

Today's posting continues yesterday's  about the Ghanaian doughnut called bofrot or togbei. Here is the cake version, made with baking powder but not wine and/or yeast.

This recipe is adapted from one used by Barbara Baeta of Flair Catering in Accra. These are faster to make, with a different texture from a yeast version--more coarse and crisp, just as a muffin differs from a regular slice of bread. Either way is tasty.

In the photo below, the wine and yeast on the right are the ingredients special to the yeast version, those on the left (the vanilla and margarine) are special to the baking powder version, and all the others are common to both (the sugar, egg, salt, bread flour, nutmeg and baking powder). This is a small batch (1/8 of the original recipe, thus some of the awkward measurements). Also, remember that by a cup I mean 8 fluid ounces, not 10.

Baking powder version:

6 ounces of bread flour (about an 8 ounce cup of unsifted)
3/8 teaspoon salt (a rounded 1/4 teaspoon)
1.5 oz margarine (3 Tablespoons)
1.5 oz sugar (3 Tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1/4 cup evaporated milk plus 1/2 cup water (or use 3/4 cup regular milk)
5/8 teaspoon (a rounded 1/2 teaspoon) baking powder
vegetable oil for deepfrying 

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, and cut in the margarine (I use my hands or 2 table knives) until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Stir in the sugar, nutmeg, and baking powder.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg, then add the milk (and water, if using), and vanilla and mix well. Make a hole in the center of the flour mixture and add the liquids all at once, blending with a few swift strokes to keep the batter from becoming tough. Let the batter sit for about 30 minutes.

While waiting, line a colander with paper towels to drain the bofrot after cooking them.
About 10 minutes before the 30 minutes are over heat vegetable oil (I like canola) in a deep fryer or a deep, heavy pan to 375 degrees farenheit. Do not fill the pan with oil more than halfway because the oil will bubble up when the dough is added. When the oil is hot enough, a small amount of dough dropped into the oil will quickly rise to the surface. If the oil is too hot, the dough will brown too quickly and the center will not have time to cook.

You can make the balls any size you like, but they are usually larger than a golf ball, a little smaller than a tennis ball. When the oil is ready, I usually slip a large spoon, like a soup spoon, into the oil to coat it, then dip it in the batter and slip a spoonful into the hot oil, using a finger or another soup spoon to quickly drop the dough in the shape of a ball into the oil. If the dough flattens out rather remaining in the shape of a ball, there is likely too much liquid in the batter.

Cook the doughnuts in batches until they are quite browned on all sides. They will likely turn over as the cook, but use a long-handled slotted spoon to stir and turn them as necessary. Use the slotted spoon to lift them out into the colander to drain and cool. They can be eaten when warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Recipe #28A: Bofrot, togbei, puff-puff (African donuts), yeast version

When I lived in Nungua along Ghana's coast in the 1970s I learned to love a fried sweet dough that the Ga people call togbei, which, delightfully, means "goat's balls." The Akan people call it bofrot (pronounced, more or less, "boff-row"). It is a flour dough (imported wheat flour) that traditionally uses palm wine (from the oil palm Elaeis guineensis) in place of yeast. The palm wine gives it a distinctive taste, but palm wine is not available to me here in Pennsylvania so I've substituted yeast and/or dry white wine.I've heard that (unpasteurized) beer also works, but haven't experimented with that yet.

The oldest recipes I've seen call for using currants  (and a more recent one calls for raisins), but I do not recall ever having tasted them made that way, and wonder if it is a Ghanaian regional variation or is more common in Nigeria, as bofrot appears to be the same dish as Nigerian "puff-puff."

NOTE: If you are in Africa and are making these recipes, please be aware that I am using US measurements, so a "cup" equals 8 oz, not 10  oz as the "imperial" measures meant. Forgive me for not using metric here.

In contemporary Ghana, people also make a version of bofrot  that is a larger cousin to North America's cake "donut holes," substituting baking powder for the yeast/palmwine. Such a version looks the same as togbei, but lacks elasticity. Bofrot is a popular street food. I remember buying them by the roadside freshly made and wrapped in newspaper. I like them as a snack with tea.

Version A: Bofrot (togbei) with yeast

Here is my recipe for the traditional chewy type (this can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, etc. to make large batches). I suggest making the small recipe the first time. I experimented with a couple of versions. In one batch I substituted some dry white wine (sauvignon blanc) for the traditional palm oil, plus a little yeast; in another batch I just used additional water and yeast. Either way works.

1/3 cup warm water
1.5 oz sugar (3 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon)
1.25 oz dry white wine or water (If using white wine, 3 Tablespoons--if not using wine, increase the 1/3 c warm water above to 1/2 cup)
1/3 egg (I beat a large egg, poured it in a 1/4 cup measuring cup, then poured out 1/3 of it) 
1 teaspoon yeast (I happened to have rapid rise yeast, so used that)
4 oz of bread flour (higher gluten content than regular white flour) [that's about 1/2 c plus 1/3 cup unsifted flour]
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
1/8 t baking powder
pinch of salt
oil for deepfrying (I used canola)

special equipment:

I used a deep fryer because it's easy to keep the temperature at 375 degrees, but a heavy pot on the stove would work, too (don't fill it over half full, though)

paper towels and colander
slotted spoon for removing and stirring the togbei while it cooks
various bowls, measuring spoons
a scale (if you want to weigh the ingredients)

Measure out the liquid (either 1/2 cup warm, not hot, water or 1/3 cup water plus 3 tablespoons wine, warmed in a microwave if available) into a bowl, and stir in the sugar to dissolve, then sprinkle in the yeast to soften. Let it sit for a few minutes to allow the mixture to begin to bubble.

While you are waiting, measure out the flour and have the nutmeg, baking powder, salt and yeast ready. Beat the egg and put it in a 1/4 cup measuring cup and take out 1/3 of that (I realize these are awkward measurements, but they work). Once the yeast begins to foam, add the egg and mix it with the liquids, then gradually sift and stir in in the flour. I just pour it through a strainer and shake it into the bowl as I'm stirring. Add the nutmeg, baking powder, and a pinch of salt.

Mix all together well, and cover the bowl with a cloth and allow it to sit in a warm place for at least 2 hours. It should at least double in size by then, so make sure your bowl is large enough to accommodate the dough.

When you're ready to fry the bofrot, heat your oil to 375 degrees in a deep fryer or large heavy pot. Line a colander with paper towels. In Ghana, experienced chefs efficiently and quickly scoop up the batter in the hollow of their right hand and drop it into the oil in a perfect ball as in the picture at the top of this posting.

For those of us who lack that skill, I usually use at least one soup spoon (first dipped in the oil to keep the dough from sticking to it) to scoop up the dough, then either slide it off the spoon with my fingers or another spoon. If the balls flatten out, there's likely too much liquid in your batter. If they sink to the bottom, your oil is not hot enough, and if they brown on the outside but do not cook on the inside, your oil is too hot.

Make sure the balls cook evenly on all sides, turning them over as necessary. When they are quite dark, probably darker than you would think they need to be, remove them to drain in a paper-towel-lined colander.

Enjoy them warm or at room temperature. The pictures below are of both the cake (baking powder version, on the left) and the yeast version (on the right). Tomorrow I'll post the directions for making the cake type, using the recipe from Flair in Ghana.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Recipe #27: Waakye 3 ways (rice and beans)

Today I made 3 different versions of waakye (pronounced "waatchy") the classic rice and "beans" dish from Northern Ghana: 1) a quick and easy version to make in an electric rice cooker, 2) an "every day" version, and 3) one that's a little fancier.

Waakye makes a great vegetarian meal by itself, with a little tomato gravy or shito (or any chili sauce), and/or a side vegetable like some kind of greens, and/or accompanied by a stew with meat or fish or poultry. People nowadays often top the waakye with a little spaghetti, so if you want to follow that tradition, cook a little for a garnish.

Generally  "black-eyed peas" or other cowpeas are used, and some kind of white rice. I made mine with black-eyed peas and regular long-grain white rice, but you could also use basmati or even brown rice. Or, if you can get it, one of Ghana's indigenous rices like aveyime rice ("Volta rice"), or varieties grown in the Northern regions. Sadly, much of the rice sold in Ghana today is imported from outside the country, at an annual cost of  about $450 million dollars.

Waakye is simple to make. In Ghana it would often be made with fresh or dried millet leaves (stalks), and kanwa (a mineral used to soften the beans), but baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) can be substituted to give the waakye its characteristic color.

All 3 versions use the same basic ingredients: rice, salt, black-eyed peas, water, oil, onion, and baking soda, with a couple of variations.

1) Waakye in a rice cooker

For this version put into a rice cooker: a 15.5 oz can of black-eyed peas, drained and lightly rinsed (this is about 1 and 1/2 cups), a cup of white rice (wash first if necessary), 1/2 to 1 of teaspoon baking soda (a full teaspoon will make it a little darker), a half teaspoon of salt (or to taste), a tablespoon of vegetable oil (like peanut or canola), a half cup of chopped onion, and 2 cups of water. Stir, cover, and cook. That's all there is to it! It cooks in about 30 minutes without burning.

2) Every day waakye

Rinse and pick over a cup of black-eyed peas, then soak them for about 4 hours covered with water (or, if you're in a rush like I always seem to be, just bring them to a boil in a saucepan, let them boil for a couple of minutes, sit for an hour, drain off the water and add 2 1/2 fresh cups of water to the sauce pan, along with a teaspoon of baking soda, a cup of rice, the 1/2 cup chopped onion, a tablespoon of vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring it to a boil, lower the heat to simmer and let it cook, covered, until the rice and beans are cooked. Watch out that it doesn't burn. It may need a little more water and stirring while it cooks.

3) Special Waakye

Rinse well and pick over a cup of black-eyed peas, then put them into a saucepan with 3 cups  of water and 1 teaspoon of baking soda, bring it to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the cup of rice, teaspoon of salt, 1/2 cup chopped onion, and either another cup of water or a cup of coconut milk. In place of the vegetable oil, use a couple of tablespoons of coconut cream (from the top of a can of unsweetened coconut milk), and a sprinkling of a spice of your choice (e.g., thyme, oregano). Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook, covered, until the rice and beans are tender, about half an hour. Check a few times to make sure it is not burning, and add more water if necessary.

Some notes:

An article in a food science journal suggests that using baking soda may be somewhat detrimental to the retention of some of the water-soluble b-vitamins, but I like the flavor and color of the traditional recipe. Still, omit the baking soda if you wish. (Similarly, there may be more retention of vitamins by using a pressure cooker, but I'm not prepared to do that, either.)

I would have liked to have tried the version in the rice cooker using frozen black-eyed peas (they have less salt than canned), but wasn't able to find them in my local grocery today, and hadn't taken my advice below.

If you cook a pound or two of black-eyed peas and then freeze them in batches, you can make waakye faster since the peas will not need to be pre-cooked for any of the version. Just use 1 1/2 - 2 cups of cooked beans in place of the 1 cup uncooked.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

More African-food themed t-shirts

A few years ago I was excited to note some African-food themed t-shirts available through and bought a couple for myself. I just got an e-mail from Wesley Chenoweth, the designer, that he has some new designs, from tie-dye and retro t-shirts and accessories with the "got fufu" message, to a wide variety of "I Love" African foods shirts featured, with messages such as these those below. You African food lovers might want to check them out.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Recipe #26 (tested): Silky Tigernut Pudding (Atadwe Milkye)

I've tried various ways of making the pudding now, and here's my recipe. The only hard part is locating the tigernuts (see my post from October 29)

Recipe #26 (revised): Silky Tigernut Milk Pudding (Atadwe Milkye)


1 cup of tigernuts (chufa)
1/4 cup of long grain white rice (or rice flour)
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of salt (to taste)
1 1/2 cups plus 2/3 cups of water
a few drops of food coloring (optional)
milk or cream, for serving (optional)

Recommended equipment:
A food processor, blender, or other grinder
rubber spatula
fine mesh strainer
silk scarf (optional)
stainless steel or other nonreactive bowls
stainless steel or other nonreactive mixing spoons and/or whisk


1. Remove any shriveled or discolored chufa (tiger nuts), rinse them well several times, then put them into a nonreactive bowl (plastic, glass, ceramic, stainless steel) to soak for several hours or overnight (NOTE: in November in cold Pennsylvania, with not-so-fresh chufa, this meant overnight in the refrigerator, but in warm Ghana with fresh nuts it meant 3 or so hours. Avoid leaving them to soak so long that they begin to ferment.)
2. When ready to make the pudding, pour and drain off the water, rinse once more, and drain again.

3. Grinding: When I made this the first time, I ground the rice into powder separately in a small blender; the second time I simply mixed the rice and tiger nuts together into a food processor to blend them. While the first way seemed more elegant and was more complicated, to be honest I couldn't tell the difference in the final product. Put the 1 cup of chufa nuts and 1/4 cup rice into a food processor and add 1 cup of water. Grind/pulse the nuts and rice several minutes until they are powdery and as fine as you can get them (somehow they reminded me of ground almonds). Use a rubber spatula a few times to push down the tigernut/rice mixture if necessary. (If you are using rice flour or have ground it separately, do not add it until you are at the next step).
4. Scrape the ground mixture into a (nonreactive) bowl. Add another 1/2 cup water to the bowl of the food processor to rinse as much of the dregs out of the processor as possible. Mix the water and ground tigernuts/rice with a spoon. If using ground rice, stir it in at this point.

5. Place a folded cheesecloth over a metal strainer that is over another bowl. Scrape the ground tigernut/rice mixture into the cheesecloth, then gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and squeeze as much liquid as possible into the bowl.
6. Open the cheesecloth (still over the strainer) and pour 2/3 cup of water into the cheesecloth, and then squeeze it again to force as much "milk" as possible into the bowl again. Discard the "dregs" of the nuts.
7. Remembering the silk scarf we used in Ghana, I rinsed out and dried the bowl I used earlier when I emptied the food processor, rinsed out my clean silk scarf and squeezed it as dry as I could, then placed it over the strainer and carefully poured the tigernut milk mixture through it, and squeezed it out as I had with the cheesecloth. The first time I did this (when I ground the nuts and rice separately), I ended up with another couple of tablespoons of fiber/dregs in the cheesecloth, and it was like milking a cow to get all the liquid through the silk. The second time, I'm not sure it made any difference. Perhaps the rice was ground finer the first time and could slip through the cheesecloth, but not the silk, and the second time it was coarser and so didn't need to be restrained. As I said, the flavor was not significantly different, so you decide if you need to use a silk scarf or not. Either way, the final product is definitely silky smooth!

8. After the final straining, pour the "milk" into a heavy nonreactive metal pan (I use stainless steel), and add a little salt to taste (I used less than 1/2 teaspoon), and about 1/4 cup sugar. Heat the milk over medium heat, stirring constantly. Do not boil it. It will thicken in a few minutes. Immediately remove it from the heat and pour or ladle it into serving dishes (I used clear glass, like Barbara). I didn't try molding it, but that is another option. If you like, add a few drops of red or yellow food coloring, or try layering several colors as I did. The natural color is kind of off-white. Allow to cool, and serve topped with evaporated milk, or cream. Yummy! Who said the lactose-intolerant couldn't have pudding?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

New address for betumiblog

I used to publish postings on my own server ( via ftp with the address I THINK I've now changed it to to let blogger host me and to allow me to interface better with blogger's software. I hope this doesn't confuse anyone besides me. I'll now go back and see if old links do or don't work. Please be patient as I work out any kinks.

Recipe #26: Atadwe Milkye (Tiger Nut Pudding)

I just rinsed the tiger nuts (chufa), measured them out and put them on to soak for a few hours. The proportions we used in Ghana were basically 1 to 4: one part rice to 4 parts tiger nuts. I was told for a richer version you can increase the rice. Some people soak the nuts overnight, and some also soak the rice, but at Flair we did neither. For this first testing, I'm going with a cup of tiger nuts to 1/4 cup of long grain white rice (I understand you can also use rice flour in the same proportion).

I was somewhat disappointed in the tiger nuts shipped from Valencia: in Ghana they were always very fresh, but these look like they've seen better days. I'm avoiding shriveled ones (like the cluster on the right in the photo below), and I am still happy to have ANY chufa to use. I wonder how I could get some fresher ones from the U.S., though? At any rate, make sure to pick over the nuts when you are rinsing them (a couple of times) and discard the shriveled or discolored ones, which may just float to the top.
Cover the nuts with cold water and let them sit for several hours. It's noon here, so I'll let them soak until 3 p.m., then grind them together in my food processor and continue. (Whoops, that didn't happen. See the rest of this blog posting).

Update: these chufa are so hard and dry I'm going to let them soak overnight. Sorry I won't be able to tell you how it works until I've tested the recipe (I have 3 separate batches going to see what works best). In the meantime, it's interesting that even though all the online information about chufa acknowledges that the root/nut originated in ancient Egypt, and was carried later to Spain and Mexico, no one seems to realize that it's currently eaten in West Africa.

That's another reason why we need more people speaking out about African cuisines! BTW, apparently the Ga name for atadwe milkye is
ataanme nmliche (thank you Anthia-Ofo). I believe the Ewe name is atagbe mekye (correct me if I'm wrong). I guess you'll have to wait another day for news on how this turns out.

After soaking the tiger nuts overnight, I'll drain and rinse them, then attempt to grind them together in a food processor (or my blender) until they form a fine powder kind of like cornmeal, only softer.

I'll then mix in about 1.5 cups of water to help release the "milk" from the nuts. I'll likely use my hand for this so I can squeeze the mixture through my fingers.

The next step will be straining it, first using a metal strainer into a bowl, removing as much water as possible. I'll use 2/3 cup of water at the end to rinse the remaining "chaff" (the "dregs") into the bowl with the "milk."

In Ghana we then strained the "milk" through a very fine metal strainer, and finally through a silk scarf to get every piece of "chaff" out (I'll use a cheesecloth for part of this, but don't know yet what I'll do about the silk scarf). We may get almost another half a cup of the "chaff" out in the end.

It will then be time to cook the pudding, adding a bit of salt (maybe 1/2 teaspoon) and a little sugar (about 1/4 cup), bring it to a boil, then quickly reduce the heat to simmer, stirring constantly for about 10-12 minutes, until it thickens. It can be poured into a serving bowl, or individual dishes, or into a mold (like a jello mold), and cooled before serving.

Barbara says she likes to serve this in clear glass serving dishes, and sometimes colors it slightly yellow, or even layers it in 3 separate colors, like pink, yellow, and the natural color. One cookbook from Ghana suggests coloring it with "black jack," which may be a mineral, but I'm not sure.

So, that's the basic recipe. I'll confirm it tomorrow.

One final note: I've always hosted this blog on my own server, but will soon transfer it to blogger's so that I can take advantage of identifying "followers," you loyal readers who keep me motivated to continue posting.