Saturday, November 11, 2006

"Kuli-kuli is calling me to come and buy"

Today while looking through Mother Africa's Table: A Collection of West African and African American Recipes and Cultural Traditions, compiled by Cassandra Hughes Webster for The National Council of Negro Women, Inc., in 1998 and thinking how many Ghanaian influcences found their way into that book, I came across a recipe for a version of kuli-kuli (fried peanut cakes).

I was instantly transported back to Bawku in northern Ghana, and remembered sitting in a courtyard one morning learning how to make the peanut-based snack food kuli-kuli as part of my quest to develop a recipe for yagi, or tankora, powder, the spicy dry rub for Ghanaian chichinga (kebabs).

According to Elizabeth Jackson, in her excellent 1999 cookbook, South of the Sahara: Traditional Cooking from the Lands of West Africa, yagi is a Hausa word for a mixture of spices dating back to a 14th century ruler in Kano nicknamed Yaji, "the hot-tempered one," and composed of up to seven dried, powdered spices (e.g., red pepper, ginger, salt). In Ghana it usually also includes groundnut powder and a fine cornmeal (Incidentally, I promise that when Barbara Baeta and I eventually get our regional Ghanaian cookbook out, a yagi recipe will be there, along with the tea bread and sugar bread recipes people keep asking about).

The other thing I remembered about kuli-kuli was that my host in Bawku, the gracious Dorcas Nimbo, kindly agreed to let me record her singing the popular children's song about it. To hear her, click here, or subscribe to the BETUMI podcasts (go to ITunes or another podcast directory to sign up).

I'm also grateful to Mohammed-Nadhir Ibn Muntaka for helping me refine the processing steps for kuli-kuli:
1. Making the groundnut paste, or peanut butter (called luquie in Hausa) by shelling, roasting and grinding the nuts.
2. Removing excess peanut oil by kneading the paste to make tunkusa.
3. Forming small balls and frying them again to remove more oil (though Mohammed said his mother boiled the balls for the same reason, and the oil rose to the top).
4. After deepfrying the balls, pounding them in a mortar with a pestle to make another paste, which is seasoned with salt and rolled into thinner-than-pencil ropes that are joined together to form irregular circles, and then deepfried again.
5. The final shapes are called kuli-kuli, though there are other versions, such as balls, also called by the name.

Kuli-kuli can be eaten plain as a snack, or broken and mixed into millet, or corn, or corn and millet porridges (kokoo). They are also crumbled and sprinkled onto other foods.

The couple of times I've tried making kuli-kuli, mine have disintegrated (the women in Ghana really know how to compress those balls), but I plan to keep working on perfecting the process. In the meantime, if you're lucky enough to get to Ghana or Nigeria, don't leave the kuli-kuli to the children!


Cynthia said...

Hi there! I grew up in Nigeria and am looking for a kuli kuli recipe to use at my kids' multicultural night at their school (I'm representing Nigeria). I came across this post from you.

I was wondering--if I just use peanut butter rolled up and fry it will that work for kuli kuli? So many things like that which I loved eating as a kid but now as an adult I have NO idea how to actually make it! I'd love to hear if you have any thoughts...

Thanks, Cynthia

Fran said...

Cynthia (if you're still out there). I'm STILL trying to figure out how to keep my balls from falling apart when I try to deepfry them (no, just using peanut butter won't work.) So far, I'm squeezing out the oil, but when I try to fry them they still fall apart. I'm going to keep at it until I get it right!

kleinkenneth55 said...

NO. But, take the PB and pound and/or squeez with cheese cloth, put PB in metal or hard wood bowl and beat it with the top of a base ball bat--anything to get every drop of the peanut oil out. (Kuli-kuli is NOT only a byproduct--the goal is getting the oul out of it as much as possible. After little oil seems left, roll the chaff into any shape you like--but never more than 3/4" think at any one point. Spice it in a way you enjoy--sugar, ginger, touch of salt, powdered peppers. Take the rolled kuli-kuli shapes, put them in a deep fryer 3/4 full with peanut all and POT ASH. You need that to boost the heat of the oil without it wanting to burn. Allow 5 to 10 minutes. It goes in the color of clay, and comes out the shade of KFC Original. Don't burm it. You should have MORE oil when finished that when you start. Extracting oil from the beaten chaff is the purpose--kuli-kuli is the serendipity--which is given to the delighted children. This accidental snake is thus asociated with the children--poor children. Good kuli-kuli holds up for weeks and weeks resisiting spoilage--keep in tin cans or splastic. It can hold up for 6 months during the dry season. Ken

Fran said...

Thank you very much for your comments. If you look at my posts from Feb. 2-3, 2010, you'll see that I discovered for myself the truth of what you're saying!