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!"