Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Recipe #37: Mpotompoto: African cocoyam (taro) "goulash"


I started out confident that I could write about both nyoma and  mpotompoto.  Now I realize what I vaguely suspected before: they're the same thing. Several Ghanaians have confirmed this. Barbara Baeta once told me that when it is made with yam, the Ewes call it teba ("yam mud") and that it is also known in Ewe as dablui, which means "cook it and mix it up." Barbara describes it as a kind of Ghanaian goulash.

In Twi, poto means "to mash/grind." I love the reduplication.  However, the root vegetable used is not necessarily mashed, just cooked in broth until the  cocoyam (a kind of taro, aka dasheen, eddo),  or (African) yam or white sweet potato, or even cassava, disintegrates. Mpotompoto or nyoma is also recommended as a weaning food for young children. I find it a light, comforting one-pot meal.

There are, of course, many variations. Here is a simple one using dried ground hot red pepper, cocoyam, palm oil, salt, tomatoes and dried shrimp. Our local chain grocery stores do not carry cocoyams, but I found some beautiful ones at a nearby Asian market.

Ingredients:

about 3 cocoyams (to get a pound when peeled) [or use African yam or white sweet potato]
1 medium onion (about 4 oz)
a couple of tomatoes (about 4 oz) [NOTE: I used cherry tomatoes, since that's what I had handy]
1/4 cup dried pounded shrimps or dried herrings [OR, if you must, substitute a shrimp-flavored seasoning cube]
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste


Pound the shrimp, if whole, in a mortar and pestle (I break off the head and end of the tail first, but that's just me)
Wash and peel the cocoyams (I use a potato peeler) and cut into1/2 inch cubes.
Peel the onion, leaving it whole.
Rinse the tomatoes, leaving them whole.

Put the diced cocoyams, whole onion and tomatoes in a small pot with 5 cups of water. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat  and cook  until the cocoyam is soft (20-30 minutes).

Remove the tomatoes and onions (I use a slotted spoon) and grind them (I use a mini food processor or blender), then return them to the pot.
Add the pounded shrimp, salt, red pepper and about 1/4 red palm oil (or less).
Let the mixture simmer briefly to blend the flavors. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Enjoy!

Another way to prepare nyoma or mpotompoto is to boil the root vegetable separately, and make a gravy with 1/2 c palm or other vegetable oil, frying the onion a few minutes, then adding sliced tomatoes (and other seasonings as desired, such as ginger, garlic, etc.), then mixing everyting together after the cocoyam, or yam, etc., is tender.

Finally, a third way to do it (and perhaps the most common) is to omit precooking the cocoyam and simply make the gravy, then add additional water and cook the cocoyam in it.

2 comments:

Natasha said...

Here's a question: Do you think I could use potatoes instead of the yam? Is there anything I'd have to do differently? We can't get any white sweet potatoes at our grocery stores!

Fran said...

Natsha, some people have told me that they do substitute potatoes. I've never tried it, but go for it! Let me know how it turns out.