Monday, April 30, 2007

Koranteng's Toli

Koranteng's eclectic blog is always a stimulating read for anyone interested in things African and beyond--from technology to music to books to politics, and, yes, to food. He recently (Sunday, April 29) posted a mouth-watering, heart- and belly-warming review of a Cameroonian restaurant in Berkeley, A Taste of Africa. His posting reminded me of the wide regional variation among West African recipes with the same generic name, like "jollof rice." For a fascinating discussion about jollof rice, see the Congo Cookbook. I learned to make it in Ghana by first seasoning, then frying the chicken (or beef), and then the onion, tomatoes, and peppers. Over the years I learned to add fresh garlic, ginger, and curry powder, along with fresh or dried shrimp, and other vegetables, like peas and carrots or bell peppers. The final steps included adding tomato paste, and then the salt and rice and cooking it all together in a pot. I've since discovered my jollof is less mushy when I use fresh seeded tomatoes (rather than canned) and finish it up in the oven.

I've always called this classic West African dish reminiscent of Spanish rice a "one-pot," but apparently in Sierra Leone it also has a "two-pot" version where some of the sauce is prepared and served separately from the orange-red rice. Some say the dish originated from the Wolof people of Senegal, some of Gambia. Some say it should be bright red, others call for a toned-down orange. These days everybody seems wild to throw in a few seasoning cubes, but I continue to resist that trend.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Makola Markets (and more) in Chicago

I recently returned from Chicago, where Gloria Mensah and I presented, as promised, an enthusiastically received talk and tasting session (gari foto and chicken groundnut stew with rice, shown below) at the IACP (Intl. Assoc. of Culinary Professionals) meetings. Chicago's large Ghanaian community sponsors an annual cultural festival every year that is said to be the largest of its kind in North America. One of the surprise hits of our talk was our display and passing comments on the spice known as melegueta peppers (Grains of Paradise), which apparently is becoming trendy these days, though Moroccan cooks may know of the seeds as an ingredient in some ras el hanout combinations. (I'll write more about them later.) For now, here are a few photos: the 2 Makola Markets we visited (a few blocks apart) to pick up some true Ghanaian yam, some cassava, cocoyam, sweet potatoes, zomi oil, dried shrimp and various African seasonings (added to some I brought from Ghana, like dried orka and agushi and dawadawa seeds, and a variety of Maggi cubes (shito, dawadawa, shrimp). The proprieter of Chicago's Makola African Markets, which appear to cater especially to Ghanaians and Nigerians, is Nana Adu-Gyamfi, pictured on the right.

Gloria and fellow IACP attender Gisele Perez enjoying fish Friday night at Yassa, where the food was great, but we suffered from not having a car and ended up paying more for our transportation than dinner. Plus, the crowd there overwhelmed their staff and though service was pleasant it was quite slow. (To be picky, I was disappointed they were out of baobab juice.)

On Saturday Gloria and I went to observe the chefs prepare our recipes for our tasting at the conference hotel. I realized once again that chefs unfamiliar with African ingredients, be it gari or tinned corned beef or palm oil, need firm guidance when confronted with something for which they have no context. They had purchased pink pickled ginger (just in case that's what we meant), minced regular corned beef rather than canned, and gotten regular peanut butter rather than natural style we requested. The simple tastings (garifoto on the left; groundnut stew on the right) are pictured below.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Ghana in Chicago

I'm off to Chicago in two days for the International Association of Culinary Professionals' (IACP) annual conference. Gloria Mensah and I will be doing a presentation on Ghana's food and foodways, featuring tastings of gari foto and groundnut stew. Our session is called "The Good Soup Comes from the Good Earth: Cooking of Ghana, Gateway to West Africa." Gloria will join us fresh from the Ghana Jubilee celebration held in Calgary, Canada, where she helped oversee a culinary (and cultural) feast enjoyed by some 600 folks.

There're still a lot of loose ends to tie up, so it'll be a few days before I'm able to blog again. While in Chicago, some of us plan to dine at Madieye and Awa Gueye's newly enlarged Yassa African Restaurant restaurant, and I hope to pick up supplies for our presentation at Chicago's Makola Market. I'll be sure to report on the trip, and will have my trusty digital camera in hand.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Recent sources of information about African cuisine

(these links are current as of 4 April 2007):

On the growing interest in African cuisine: "African food is conquering America! More and more of my friends and colleagues are starting to get interested in African cuisine. . ."

An article in Cooking Light called "West African Hospitality" and featuring francophone cuisine (recipes from Benin, Senegal, and Cote D'Ivoire) by the well-known culinarian Jessica Harris:,14343,443650,00.html

(Word Press') Sociolingo's Africa has an archive of postings on African cuisine: