Friday, December 31, 2010

African ingredients: More on akpe (akpi, njiangsa, munguella, wama, etc.)

In November I asked readers  whether they could steer me to information about akpi. One of my daughters had recently made a soup with her boyfriend from Côte d'Ivoire  and his mother ("sauce aubergine with crab and oxtail"), and she was enthusiastic about the flavor the akpi added. 

Ebele Ikezogwo immediately responded ". . .  I keep a humongous database of exactly that kind of information having walked past ewedu leaves (which I grew up eating) in my local African store for years not having a clue what it was--all because it was labeled 'jute leaves'! I believe one of the biggest impediments to cross-cultural exchange of foods in Africa is the language naming issue .  .  .  Here's my entry on Akpi:

Scientific Name: Ricinodendron Heudelotii
Classification: Spice
Description: Seed with an oily chocolate aroma and a subtly aromatic and bitter aftertaste
Other names: erimado (Yoruba), njangsang (Cameroon), munguella (Angola), akpi/akpe (Ivory Coast)
Uses: Used to thicken Cameroon peppersoup also Bassa-style palmnut soup. General spice."

Ebele provided the push needed to get going.  There's quite a bit of information on the Internet, once you have some direction. For example, Wikipedia points out that the seeds of the tree are found throughout tropical West Africa. It refers to them by variations on one of the names, njansa, njasang and djansang (as opposed to the njansang above),  and includes several other listings: essessang (Cameroon), bofeko (Zaire), wama (Ghana), okhuen (Nigeria), kishongo (Uganda), as well as essang and  ezezang, and also distinguishes between two varieties of the tree species : "R. heudelotii var. heudelotii in Ghana and R. heudelotii var. africanum in Nigeria and Westwards." 

The AgroForestry Tree Database also has some helpful information, both on the native geographic distribution ("Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia"), as well as the tree's common names, and information on its uses, as food, medicine, etc. (for example, " The kernels can be eaten after boiling in water, or in sauce as in Cote d’Ivoire, or mixed with fish, meat or vegetables. In Gabon kernels are roasted and made into a paste." 

I look forward to tasting this spice. I'm especially interested in it as a flavoring in sauce. I located a single recipe in English online using akpe, a Liberian recipe for Dry fish and rice. However, I did find several recipes in French for "la sauce claire au foufou banane" that use akpi, such as one on Facebook There is also a tempting looking version en français (as shown in the photo above above) in Cuisine de Côte d'Ivoire et d'Afrique de l'Ouest. If someone is willing to translate it into English, let me know and I'll send it to you.

Incidentally, I hope you are all aware of the horrible goings on in Cote d’Ivoire after the contested elections and the threat of war there. Please pray that 2011 sees an end to the terrible violence the Ivorian people have endured for so many years.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Goodbye 2010, Hello 2011

It's been 7 weeks since I've found my way to the computer. It's also been a full holiday season beginning with our American Thanksgiving (dinner for 17 with an amazing number of dietary needs to satisfy, from allergies to vegetarianism to health and religious restrictions), and continuing through the Christmas/New Year festivities. Today I've finally had a chance to sit down and reflect on this past year, and want to say "thank you" to all of you who have joined me in celebrating  African cuisines these past 12 months. By the way, the photo above includes pine cones and pine needles from Pennsylvania resting on a lovely  Ghanaian kente cloth. Not food, but a visual reminder  of how interconnected we are.

It sometimes feels lonely, but many of you continue to encourage and support me along the way. Let me begin by thanking Penn State for the brief interview they recently posted about BETUMI's mission at The video was produced by the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) initiative in the College of Engineering at Penn State with funding support from the Interinstitutional Consortium for Indigenous Knowledge (ICIK) (thank you especially Audrey and Khanjan) and the Marjorie Grant Whiting Endowment for Indigenous Knowledge Advancement. HESEPSU has a YouTube channel and if you go to that and poke around, you should also be able to find the videos.

I also want to express appreciation to for selecting me as a top 2010 food blogger in March, and posting the text of an interview with me on African Food Culture. Then in October, selected betumiblog for a  2010 Top African/Middle East Cuisine Blog Award.  by At the risk of sounding like I've just received an Oscar, I also want to remember the wonderful students who came to my cooking classes, and all of you who have posted comments (tomorrow I'll share an update on African ingredients, with a big "thank you" to Ebele Ikezogwo for helping me uncover fascinating information on akpe). Among the students, I especially acknowledge Katie Cochrane who accompanied me to Ghana in June (to read an article we wrote together, go to I've also enjoyed the opportunity to work with Gastronomica, bSpirit magazine, and Kitty Pope at African Diaspora Tourism. Forgive me, for surely I've omitted many others. Let's all look forward to a spectacular 2011, especially in growing in our knowledge, understanding  and sharing of Africa's culinary contributions and heritage. As they say in Twi, "Afehyiapa!"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Some ingredients: millet stalks, fonio, hwentia (udah-urhirhe), akpe, etc.

While I was in California, my daughter and son-in-law took me to their favorite African food store, Specialty Foods, Inc. at 535 8th St., Oakland. I took the opportunity to stock up on some items unavailable locally in central Pennsylvania. Some of them had Nigerian? or slightly differently spelled names: millet stalks (labeled watche leaves), or hwentia (labeled udah-urhirhe), and bambara beans (called bambala beans, African yellow soy beans), along with some smoked herring powder (I'm thinking of making some shito before Thanksgiving), some Ethiopian berbere, and some fonio (aka acha), a tiny, grain, one of those "lost crops of Africa" that is one of the oldest grains of Africa. I haven't had that since I was at the Tamale Institute of Cross-Cultural Studies (TICCS) several years ago. It makes a tasty, very nutritious porridge.

The millet stalks are what traditionally give waakye (rice and beans) its characteristic color. In the U.S. we generally substitute baking soda, as in the recipes linked to above.

By the way, can anyone tell me another name for the Ivorian? spice "akpe"? And information on its use? Thank you.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Recipe #52: Rice balls (omo tuo), white and brown, large and small

Here's the recipe I promised for the oh-so-easy-to-make rice balls, just like those Katie captured at Commonwealth Hall at the University of Ghana campus in June. Rice balls go well with almost any West African soup.

Rice Balls (Omo Tuo)

1 cup white rice (I use long-grain, but not precooked)
~4 c water
½ teaspoon salt (optional, I usually omit this)

·      Bring the rice, water and salt (if using) to a boil in a large heavy pot (or a rice cooker)
·      Turn down the heat to low, cover, and allow the rice to cook for about 20 minutes.You may have to take off the lid and let it cook down another 5-10 minutes.
·      When the rice is cooked (but not too dry), turn off the heat and let it sit until it is cool enough to handle.
·      Using a potato masher, a strong wooden spoon, a heavy glass, or something similar, mash the rice until it is fairly smooth. (If you have a wonderful wooden masher from Ghana like the one here, lucky you! It's easy to hold and use.)
·      Fill a cup with cold water and put it next to the pan.
·      Wet hands or dip an ice cream scoop or spoon into the water, then scoop up enough of the rice to shape into a ball, like a snowball. If the balls will not stick together, put the rice back on the stove to dry it out slightly.

     To accompany a main dish soup, a cup of rice makes about 6-8 rice balls, depending on the size.

To serve in place of rolls as a first course, say, with groundnut or light soup, I use a small spoon or melon baller (dipped in water first) to scoop out the rice and then shape tiny balls. I serve 2 or 3 in each bowl of soup. Rice balls can be made ahead of time and warmed in the oven or microwave just before serving.

NOTE: It's also possible to make this using a rice cooker: just add everything, but use at least a cup less water, and turn off the cooker when the rice is cooked and most of the water is gone. Also, it is possible to make these using brown rice, though I've never had them that way in Ghana (remember my theory that white is somehow always perceived as somehow better or purer). Brown rice balls are somewhat heavier. Just use less water, and allow more cooking time.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Recipe #51: Chicken Groundnut Soup (nkate nkwan) pureed peanuts (groundnuts) are frequently used to thicken soups or stews in Sub-Saharan African cooking, and are particularly famous in West African cuisine. For those of you who have asked me to post a recipe for this perennial favorite, I direct you to an article I wrote for Africa Diasporan Tourism.

Tomorrow I'll post a recipe for omo tuo (rice balls) a wonderful starch to accompany this dish, though it also goes well with a simple slice of boiled African yam or bread.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

African food bloggers on trends and restaurants

The November 2010 issue of Brussels Airlines' inflight magazine bspirit! features a touristy article "African Cuisine 2.0" by African food bloggers (your truly included) writing about current trends and restaurants in Kigali, Monrovia, Dakar, Luanda, and Accra. I see they edited out some of my information and photos for their online version (e.g., Buka). Still, you might check it out.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Recipe #50: Ghana-inspired Hot Chocolate

For the record, I'm a confirmed chocoholic. In October I had some fabulous creamy hot chocolate at a little shop in Santa Cruz, California. It made me start thinking about 2 ingredients found in Ghana: chocolate and cassava. This morning I quickly experimented in the microwave with wonderful initial results of what I think of as a rich holiday Ghana-style hot chocolate: thick enough to eat with a spoon, but thin enough to drink. 

Please understand that this is not a traditional beverage in Ghana. Ghana's world-class cocoa, and its cassava consumption, inspired me. I'm not sure how it will work with powdered or evaporated milk but I'll continue experimenting, including a stove-top version, different kinds of milk, using coconut milk/water, different types of chocolate, flavorings like vanilla, mint, etc. Also, I wonder about how to extract the cassava (tapioca) starch directly from fresh cassava. . .

I took a mug of milk (probably 12-14 oz, half whole milk and half organic 1%) and whisked in 2 teaspoons of tapioca starch (aka tapioca flour). I heated it for a few minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or so (not sure if this is necessary, but I didn't want it to thicken unevenly). After a couple of minutes, I added some squares of chocolate I had handy (Lindt's 85% extra dark cocoa, probably 3/4 - 1 oz; the Lotte "Ghana" chocolate  my Berkeley daughter gave me from her trip to Japan was too precious to experiment with), whisked it with a tiny whisk as it melted, and put it back in the microwave for about 30 seconds, then whisked it again. It needed a little sugar . For garnish I used grated chocolate and a little whipped cream.

It was luxuriously rich, smooth, creamy, and very satisfying. I invite you to try it and let me know what you think (and also how to improve it).

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Ghanaian Gourmet--Recipe #49, continued: Palmnut Soup

Yesterday I introduced palmnut soup and today I continue to celebrate the much-maligned palm fruit, basic to this most wonderful of soups, abe nkwan.  Incidentally, nkwan means "soup" in the Twi language, and abe is the Twi name of the red fruits of the palm tree (shown below). I was able to  find a couple of photos from last New Year's Day to share with the recipe, along with a Tema market photo Katie took in June.

In an article in Gastronomica several years ago, I wrote: "it is as hard to capture the essence of the palm fruit . . .  as it is to describe the hues of sunset to a blind person. The fruit has a color like paprika or glowing coals, with the softness of red velvet, the silkiness of a fine sari, and the richness of fresh cream."

As is true of many soups, abe nkwan allows the creator some freedom and creativity. Here's my holiday version. Trust me, it's well worth the work.

Assemble all ingredients:

2 large onions, any type (enough to get about 3 cups, chopped)
2 pounds meat (beef, lamb, or goat, or a combination--I use lamb and beef)
1-2 pounds of soup bones
1 medium eggplant (to get about 3 cups chopped)
1 28 oz can plum tomatoes (I'm such a purist I usually remove and strain out the seeds first)
1 29 oz/800 g can cream of palmnuts (NOTE: to locate an African market near you, check African Chop )
1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms (I like crimini and portabella)
6 oz smoked fish (I like Duck Pond's smoked mackerel, but also white fish, whiting or salmon. I don't recommend smoked herring, however. Even desalted, it has a strong flavor.)
3 crabs (or I generally use a combination of crab and King crab legs)
1 pound fresh shrimp with shells (the larger, the better)
1 10 oz package frozen chopped okra (or fresh if you can get it)
seasonings, to taste:
salt (~ 2 teaspoons)
fresh peeled, grated ginger (~4 teaspoons)
hot pepper, to taste [NOTE: if you are not used to handling habanero peppers, which must be done very carefully,  you might want to skip the fresh peppers, and stick with dried ground red pepper ] How much pepper varies greatly: if you like HOT, throw in one or two habanero peppers whole, but with the stem removed and let them steam with the meat and then cook in the broth. After they're soft you can squeeze them to increase the heat in the soup, or remove them and serve them on the side for people to add heat individually.  OR you can remove them and blend one or two of them with the eggplant or tomatoes. OR you can remove the seeds and membranes before cooking them. OR you can substitute milder peppers like jalapenos. OR to start with you can simply add dried ground red pepper to taste (for a mild soup, about 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon). I always serve extra dried pepper flakes with the soup for the men in my family, who like their soup very spicy.
2-4  cloves garlic
[if you like, add a tablespoon or 2 of powdered dried shrimp or prawns]

Assemble equipment:

I use a can opener, pot holders, paper towels (to wipe the mushrooms), cutting board, ginger grater,  garlic press,  blender or food processor, strainer, knives, large 8-qt soup pot, wooden spoon,  slotted spoon, soup ladle, and 2-qt  sauce pan. Unlike most Africans, I also use measuring spoons and cups.


1. Peel and chop the onions (I prefer them medium-to-fine) and put them into a large, heavy soup pot.
2. Remove and discard fat and gristle on the meat, then cut it into chunks (I usually make them about 1/2 inch cubes), and add to the soup pot, along with 1/2 cup water. 
3. Peel and crush the garlic cloves and sprinkle over the meat. Peel and grate the fresh ginger and add to the pot. Rinse and remove the stem end of the hot peppers (de-seed and remove membranes if desired), or sprinkle dried red pepper over the meat, along with about 2 teaspoons salt (NOTE: at this point many West Africans would crumble a few Maggi or Royco cubes over the meat, too, but it's unnecessary.). Stir meat and seasonings with the wooden spoon and place the pot over a medium-high heat to steam, covered, for about 15 minutes.
4. While the meat is steaming, rinse, peel, and cube the eggplant and put it in a saucepan with a few cups of water. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat, then simmer for about 10 minutes. 
5. While the eggplant is simmering, blend the  tomatoes in the blender or food processor and add to the soup pot.
6. Open the canned cream of palm fruits and add to the pot. Use a little water, or a spatula or spoon, to get all of the palm cream out of the can. 
7. When the eggplant is soft, remove the pan from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggplant to the blender or food processor in two batches. Add a little of the cooking water to the blender (maybe 1/2 cup). No need to rinse out the dregs from the tomatoes. If you wish, transfer one or more of the chili peppers into the blender container and grind with the eggplant. After grinding, add to the soup pot.
8. Also add 4 to 6 cups of water (or, simply add 1 1/2 to 2 cans of water using the tomato or palm fruit cans), depending on how thick you desire the soup to be. I often use part of the water to rinse out the blender or food processor container.
8. Stir well and allow the soup to simmer for 30 minutes while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
9. Quickly rinse the mushrooms and wipe them dry with paper towels, trimming (but not removing) the stem ends. Leave the mushrooms whole or halved (for small mushrooms), or thickly sliced for larger mushrooms, and add them to the pot.
10. Remove and discard the skin and bones from the smoked fish, then add the fish to the pot.
11. Rinse and devein the shrimp, but do not remove their shells. Add them to the pot.
12. Clean and rinse the crabs/crab legs and add to the pot.
13. Add the frozen okra (and powdered dried shrimp, if using) and stir.
14. Cover the soup pot and allow the soup to simmer on low for about 20 minutes, until the meat and vegetables are soft and flavors have blended together.
15. As the soup cooks, use a spoon to skim off the red palm oil that rises to the surface. This may be set aside and saved to be used for other cooking. Add more salt or red pepper if needed.

Serve this lovely, filling soup with fufu, rice,  or  omo tuo (rice balls) (or, if you prefer, thick slices of French or a hearty bread). Oh my goodness, I don't think I've never posted a recipe for omo tuo, either. Look for that soon.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Recipe #49: Abe Nwkan (Palmnut Soup), Part I

Palmnut soup has many names. For example, it is commonly known as abe nkwan in Ghana,  mbanga soup in Cameroon, and banga in Nigeria.

We celebrated my nephew's 23rd birthday in October. When I asked this Americanized young Ghanaian what he wanted me to cook for his special dinner (Mexican, Italian, Asian, Ghanaian, "American," etc.),  for the second year in a row he answered "palmnut soup and cocoyam (taro) fufu." I scouted around State College, PA rounding up

canned cream of palm fruits, cocoyam fufu flour, smoked mackerel (Duckpond), fresh crabs (and king crab legs) and shrimp, habanero peppers, lamb and beef and soup bones, fresh ginger, mushrooms, eggplant, (frozen) okra, etc. While I was preparing his special meal the thought flitted through my head that I ought to take some photos for my blog, but things were too hectic and I forgot about it.

But, while trying to remember if I'd ever posted a recipe for palmnut soup (no) I was poking around on the Internet and was dismayed to see several recipes that described using palm oil ("no substitutes") to make it. As one (obviously Ghanaian) person pointed out on one of the sites "You are so wrong. Ghanaian palm nut (soup) is very different from what you described." Perhaps in some countries they use the oil, but in Ghana, the oil is strictly for stews or frying, and using the pulp or "cream" of the fruit is imperative.

Since I hadn't taken any photos while preparing Sam's soup I scanned one above from my cookbook A Good Soup Attracts Chairs. I also went to the grocery store and photographed the ingredients I used (except our local store was out of the Duckpond Smoked Mackerel, the type I prefer). There are several authentic Ghanaian recipes for palmnut soup available on the internet and if you try one, just be sure it calls for using canned cream of palm fruit (or, if you're lucky enough to be in a place where you can buy fresh palm nuts, and have a mortar and pestle for pounding and straining them, that's even better, but a lot more work).

Palm nut soup is also a family favorite at my house for ringing in the New Year. Here is the extra special rich birthday version I prepared for Sam who came home from college and his brother Ernest, who came up from Philadelphia for the event. It's loaded with seafood, meat, and vegetables, and adapted to our Pennsylvania environment. It's also not cheap to make but you can simplify it if you're making an "every day" version. Just remember to use the freshest ingredients available.

Other Ingredients (besides the canned cream of palm fruit, aka. sauce graine) and the fufu flour:


I hope your appetite is whetted, or your curiosity aroused. I'll post my actual recipe tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

African Cookbook Project

I recently returned from a trip to the West Coast of the U.S. While there I took the opportunity to stop by one of my favorite bookstores, Powell's in Portland, Oregon, where I picked up a 1971 book published by Dell and called The Art of African Cooking--The Original "Soul Food": 307 recipes from the new African nations. Or, as the cover promises "307 exotic recipes from the first ladies of the new African nations." I've been unable to trace compiler  Sandy Lesberg, except to see that she (he?) was fairly prolific in the 1960s and 1970s, and continued to produce in the 1980s, mostly compilations like this one, often about food, restaurants, or places, or retelling other's stories. At any rate, this unpretentious little book (214 pages, paperback) is interesting historically. It seems Lesberg faithfully included the recipes she was given by various dignitaries, and often did not try to interpret them (e.g., a recipe for Ghanaian  akple calls for 2 cups soured corn dough, fermented [seems redundant, doesn't it] and 1/2 lb. cassava dough, without explaining how one is to obtain such items). While it's not directly written by Africans, I'm still including it on my shelf.

I've also added another reference book. I was delighted when Boston historian James Mcann's book on the history of maize in Africa came out in 2005. He now has another addition to African culinary history, called Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine, part of Ohio University Press' Africa in World History Series. Check out my review in an upcoming issue of Gastronomica (hint: I recommend the book).

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Ghana report and culinary entrepreneurship

Katie Cochrane (the PSU student who accompanied me for part of my trip to Ghana this summer) and I recently summarized our experiences in a brief article on pages 6-7 of the Fall issue of the  Interinstitutional Consortium for Indigenous Knowledge (ICIK)'s newsletter.  The newsletter can be downloaded (thank you for permission Prof. Maretzki) at

This issue is most informative and also includes a great article on page 5 featuring three Penn State graduate students who took first place in a competition sponsored by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT)  and called "Developing Solutions for Developing Countries,"  specifically  a contest in which students are challenged to come up with a way to provide sustainable, nutritional and affordable food for families with small children. I only wish the IFT had included "tasty" among the adjectives.

The winning students'  ingenious design was for "producing and distributing a confectionery product in Peru where traditional diets are extremely low in calcium." The students named their product “CalciMelo” (“Calci” for Calcium and “Melo” from Caramelo, the Spanish word for a confection or candy). I hope to profile one of the graduate students, Julius Ashirifie-Gogofio from Ghana, in an upcoming blog posting, and to learn if steps are being made to translate their idea into a reality. In the meantime, I recommend the article and others in the issue.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chocolate and child labor in West Africa

It's been a while since you've heard from BETUMIblog.  After I returned from Nigeria in August the logic board on my computer died, and I've been dealing with that, along with a backlog of work. . .

Enough excuses. When my husband joined me in Nigeria in August he carried along a chocolate bar to show me another example (this one from Japan) of the fame of Ghana's "black gold."  I kept meaning to write about it, but ended up with the package back in Pennsylvania. . . until last week when I had a chocolate attack. But before eating, I dutifully took a couple of pictures.

Then a few days ago I read something about child trafficking in the cocoa industry in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.  That made me sad. However, after a quick online search of child labor in Ghana, and the results were not so scary. It seems it's more a question in Ghana of smallholder farms where family members are all involved in production.
I'll be able to enjoy my cocoa more if that's the case.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Discovering Nigerian Cuisine: Abuja

It's been several weeks since I've had time to post. The final 2 weeks of June in Ghana were quite full doing research and preparing to travel to Nigeria to teach a technical writing and communications class. I wasn't quite sure what to expect here in Abuja, but the reality proved to be a huge learning experience for us all: over 70 students and lots of challenges with technology (power, computer access, etc.). The students took their final exam on Sat., July 17, and I'm now marking tests and reviewing each student's portfolio of writing exercises.

I'm also now more free to explore Nigerian cuisine. The cafeteria here at the university serves Nigerian food daily, and I've been enjoying quite a few Nigerian dishes--including seasonal fruit, moinmoin, akara, plus stews with egusi, okra, meat, fish and greens, along with fried yams, plantains, sweet potatoes, eba and jollof rice. However, to mark the end of my classes, yesterday we took a trip into town to the Abuja Hilton. The luncheon buffet was quite pricey, but I had the opportunity to speak with some of the chefs and tasted a variety of regional dishes. I'll be writing about them in the coming days.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Culinary Entrepreneurship in Ghana: Food Studies and Ice Kenkey

On Wed., June 16, Katie and I spent the day at the University of Ghana, Legon. We first met with with Rose Omari, a food scientist with the Science & Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) of Ghana. Rose is currently in Ghana doing research for her PhD from Wageningen University. Her interests range broadly from food science through policy research, and we only had time to scratch the surface. Her pioneering doctoral research focuses on characteristics of the indigenous fast food industry (within the formal sector, thus excluding street foods) in Accra and I'll be following it with great interest.

From there we stopped in at the Legon campus bookstore, where I was again saddened to see how the many imported food service and hospitality industry texts  are not contextualized for the African situation (foods and recipes, cooking techniques, equipment, technology, etc.). I am hopeful that as the hospitality industry grows in Ghana, there will be those who can make it truly Ghanaian with world class standards. Next week we plan to visit one positive example in the Akuapem Mountains.

We spent a couple of fascinating hours at the Department of Nutrition and Food Science with professors George Amponsah Annor, Kwaku Tano-Debrah, and Esther O. Sakyi-Dawson. The conversations ranged from why cassava flour is not used more to replace imported wheat flour (the answer that made the most sense is the counter-intuitive one that it is cheaper to buy imported wheat flour than locally produced cassava flour) to differences in Nigerian and Ghanaian gari to promotion of healthy indigenous products. Katie had a number of technical questions associated with the challenges of calculating fat adsorption in fried foods and effects of texture, temperature, density, etc. Prof. Annor has promised to provide us with an updated data base of information about West African ingredients and some common foods.

Ice kenkey: Pennsylvania has a large dairy industry and at Penn State University the College of Agriculture and the food science department stocks its own store, the Creamery, and supplies various restaurants and events on campus with PSU dairy products, from its famous ice creams to a variety of PSU cheeses, milk, and yogurt. The Department of Nutrition and Food Science at Legon seems to be embarking down a similar path of producing quality products that can be sold to a wide audience. The initial product now being test marketed is a refreshing traditional sweetened fermented corn and milk drink known as  ice kenkey. Incidentally, I have always called it "iced" kenkey, but that may be similar to the question of whether something is "ice" tea or "iced" tea in the U.S. At any rate, this is definitely a Ghanaian product. It is an acquired taste for Westerners, as you will note from Katie's June 16 blog posting  and also the comments at the Betumiblog posting linked to above). However, it did not surprise me to learn that it is a Japanese partner that is working with Legon on this venture: many Japanese food items are also acquired tastes for Westerners. The department plans to expand to other products and has many great ideas, such as how to ensure quality control. This is another venture to keep one's eyes on. I wish them every success.

After our morning meetings we met up with a number of faculty from the English Department and a history of science colleague of my daughter Abena, Laura  McGough, for lunch at the senior staff club at Commonwealth Hall, where I enjoyed tuo zaafe (tz) made from corn and ayoyo soup with fish.Katie had some omo tuo (rice balls) and groundnut soup with goat meat. I really enjoyed it: I haven't had soup made with the ayoyo leaves since I was in Northern Ghana several years ago. Over lunch I challenged a couple of the English faculty to begin looking at the portrayal and symbolism of food in African literature, a shockingly neglected area, and especially to examine any gender differences between men and women writers. My sense is that women are more intimately connected to food preparation and socializing around the cooking pot and hence their memories (especially when exiled from their homelands) may be different. I'm curious to see if Helen and Kari take up the challenge. I also have the exciting promise of receiving a 17th century translation (from German) of a document describing the preparation of kenkey. I'm still trying to track down dokono's origins and history. Suggestions made at the luncheon were that, unlike "dokono," "kenkey" is a Malay word, that Northerners have always fermented millet, so they just used the same technique on corn when it arrived in Ghana. I welcome anyone's comments on his subject.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Recipe #48: Yam Balls (Yele Kakro)

It's almost time for the new yams to appear on the scene in Ghana, but yesterday I bought 9 old puna yams for 25 cedis ($18, or $2 per yam, each weighing at least 4 pounds) , and they were still fresher than anything I could ever buy in State College, Pennsylvania.

Today we prepared some yam balls (in my notes I have written "yele kakro." I understand that is its name in Ga (see Naa's comment below) but am sure there are other names in other dialects and other West African countries, as well. Let me know that, too, please.

Like many flexible Ghanaian/West African recipes, there is plenty of room for improvisation, especially with seasonings. Also, I imagine that if you don't have African yams (please, not the much softer sweet potatoes, which are also called "yams" in the U.S.), perhaps you could try using potatoes.

Here's a basic recipe:
Yam Balls (Yele Kakro)

Gather the ingredients first. You'll need ~1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 eggs, about 1.5 to 2 pounds of African yam, 3 medium tomatoes, a large onion (or 2 small), a few tablespoons of flour, some oil for deep-frying (peanut is nice, but we used what we had today, which was safflower)--about 3-4 cups, about .5-1 teaspoon dried ground red pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or a similar spice. We didn't use garlic, but a few minced cloves would have blended beautifully, too. Some people add small amounts of cooked meat as well.

Peel and chop the yam into small chunks to get about 4 cups. Rinse and put them into in a large pot and cover with water (and add a little salt, if desired). Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat, and cook until soft (about 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the chunks). While the yam is cooking, scald 3 medium tomatoes in boiling water and then plunge them into cold water to remove their skins. Core, and seed, if desired, then chop them finely. Set aside. Peel and mince a large onion. Set aside.

Heat 1/4 cup of vegetable oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add half of the minced onion and cook it for a couple of minutes, then add half of the finely chopped, peeled tomatoes. Cook for a few more minutes, just until the onion is soft but not browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in the thyme, salt, and red pepper. Set aside. Break the eggs into a small bowl and mix with a fork.

When the yam is cooked, drain off the water and mash (we used a potato masher) it while it is still warm. Stir in the cooked onion-tomato-spice mixture and the uncooked tomato and onion. Next stir in the 2 eggs and mix everything well, making sure the yam is thoroughly mashed and not lumpy.

In a small, deep, heavy saucepan put enough oil to fill the pan halfway and heat the oil to about 375 degrees.

Sprinkle a little flour on a working surface (we used a pastry mat), put a little oil or flour on your hands and shape a spoonful of the mashed yam mixture into a ball. We  made them a little smaller than golf balls and ended up with  over 2 dozen.

When the oil is hot (I sprinkle a drop of water in and see how it sizzles to judge when it's hot enough since I don't have a deep-fryer here in Ghana), put several balls in and cook them several minutes until they are golden brown on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain (if we'd had some cloth or paper we would have drained them on that, but none was available).

We ate ours as a snack while they were still warm, and shared them with some carpenters building me a kitchen table in my new house in Tema. If we'd had some fresh pepper sauce or shito that would have gone well with the yam balls, too. They also make a nice side dish as part of a meal.

For some nice pictures taken today by my undergraduate Penn State student intern/helper/photographer, Katie, who is here in Ghana for 2 weeks with me, check out her creative and lovely blog, Eat My Work. We also made some Tom Brown (ablemamu) for breakfast, and I let her snack on some tigernuts this afternoon. She took pictures of them all.