With family arriving home over the holidays I wanted to make ofam, Ghana's challenge to Western holiday fruitcakes: a rich, heavy plantain loaf made from sweet, over-ripe plantains, spices, and red palm (dende) oil. Helplessly, I waited unsuccessfully for my locally purchased plantains to turn black. Then, on December 22nd, my daughter Abena arrived from California carrying 2 plantains perfect for the recipe, which I added to my 2 semi-ripe ones, and was able to serve this special occasion dish in time for Christmas and the New Decade!
It is not difficult to make, but does require some special items, such as the over-ripe plantains and palm oil.
about 2 pounds of over-ripe (black) plantains, about 3 or 4 good sized ones
3 fresh chili peppers or to taste (I used a combination of part of each of the 3 types in the photo, seeded)
1 onion (enough to get about 1 cup of onion grated; use more or less to your taste)
fresh ginger (enought to get about 3 Tablespoons after peeling and grating it (again, adjust to taste)
up to 1 cup good-quality red palm oil (preferably zomi)
about 3/4 cup of flour (rice or wheat, or use Ghanaian corn dough)
1-2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
Peel the plantains and mash them. If they are very ripe a fork will do fine, otherwise use a potato masher or ricer or a glass, or whatever you have handy. Traditionally they would be pounded in a wooden mortar with a wooden pestle. Remember, thought, exture is important in Ghanaian dishes, so don't do this in a blender. You want about 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 cups of well-mashed plantain.
Put the mashed plantain in a large mixing bowl and add a cup of medium to finely grated onion.
Add the ground chili peppers (I seeded the peppers and added a couple of tablespoons of water to my mini processor attachment to grind them before adding them to the bowl).
Stir the dough gently, also adding a little salt. In Ghana we used 2 teaspoons, but I used a little less because we're on low-salt diets here. It is not meant to be very salty.
Stir in 1/2 cup of the flour (if you do not have rice flour, you can always grind some rice in a blender to add it, or use wheat flour, or, if you have Ghanaian corn dough, which is much more finely ground than cornmeal, use that).
If the dough seems thin, add up to another 1/4 cup flour to make it thicker, then stir in the palm oil. I balk at using a full cup of palm oil, but used part of it with a pastry brush to grease my pan well on the bottom and sides. Let the batter rest for about 15 minutes, then scrape it into a pan and bake it about half an hour in a medium oven (350 degrees). Let it cool on a rack long enough before removing it from the pan, maybe 20 minutes or so (a little of mine stuck to the pan).
In Ghana we made our ofam in loaf pans (traditionally it used to be wrapped in leaves first). I baked mine in a nonstick bundt pan. Serve warm or cool, in small slices by itself or accompanied by dry roasted peanuts. We ate it as both a dessert and a snack, and it is now long gone until the next holiday. If you have leftover, though, it freezes nicely and is quickly defrosted and warmed in a microwave. When serving, I blot excess palm oil off with paper towels, but that is just me--others might find that akin to scraping whipped cream or frosting off a cake.
Hope you all had a wonderful holiday and are ready for a fantastic new year. This is the year of the book! I plan to have the Ghanaian cookbook drafted by the spring. There are many recipes I've not yet had time to post, but will be diligent in the coming weeks. Next up will be another classic Ghanaian dish I love (both the food and its wonderful name: "mpotompoto," or yam soup).