Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Injera in State College

Our Ethiopian cooking class last week was fun. True, it was a challenge for everyone to get the injera thin enough, and we cheated after roasting the Ethiopian coffee beans in a cast iron frying pan by grinding them in a coffee grinder (along with a few cloves and a short stick of cinnamon). And we had to use an American coffee pot to serve the coffee, plus we had to substitute mead for tej at dinner. You can only special order a whole case of tej to get it in the state liquor stores here in central Pennslvania, where there are no Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants, but a good time was had by all.

The stews (wats and alechas) and Ethiopian-style cheese were a hit and people were eager to take home some of the sour dough starter made with tef, as well as authentic
berberé to try their hands at duplicating our meal.

The electric metad (aka lefse maker) worked fine, and we served the injera on 16-inch pizza pans at the table. Tomorrow I'll get back to the cookbook recipes. Watch for recipe #17, Ghanaian tatale (ripe plantain pancakes).

I'm still waiting to hear who else is teaching African cooking classes, and where.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Question #10: Where can I go to learn more about (or taste) authentic African cuisine?

In April I posed 10 questions about African cuisine, and today I'll begin to tackle the last one, which is how to learn more about African food, or where to go to taste it. There are many pieces to the answer to Question #10, and many places to learn about and eat African cuisine. A quickie first step is to find some African cooking classes. This is not likely to be at any culinary institutes, since I am not aware of any schools where African cuisine is part of the mainstream curriculum (though I'd love to be corrected here).

Also, culinary tourism and the opportunity to take short culinary classes in Africa is almost nonexistent, apart perhaps from Northern and Southern Africa. There are many online videos, some free and some not (and of widely varying quality), websites, and books. My favorite way is to make friends with Africans and have them teach you or eat at their homes, or visit restaurants (if you live in a big city), or attend cultural festivals. I'll write more about all of these later.

For now, you may have noticed I've fallen off on posting recipes from the Ghanaian cookbook these past 2 weeks. That's because I've been busy teaching classes and doing presentations, which will continue at least through October. I'll post new recipes as I'm able.

However, I've had several requests for information about the classes I'm currently teaching. Last
week it was a cooking class on North African (Moroccan) cooking and a demonstration class on West African (Ghanaian) food and culture. This week it's Eastern African (focus on Ethiopia), with classes on West and Southern African food and culture in upcoming weeks. If anyone or any groups within range of central PA (State College) would like more information, or to arrange a custom class (either here or where you are), I'd be happy to work with you. Here's a summary of the next few classes, each of which are held in my home from 6-9:30 p.m. and are $50:

Thursday, September 24: East Africa--includes tej (honey wine), injera (traditional flatbread crepe) and doro wat (chicken stew with eggs), gomen wat (chard stew), kik alecha (pureed bean stew), lab (Ethiopian-style cheese), Ethiopian coffee.

Wednesday, September 30: West Africa--includes bissap (hibiscus iced tea), beef chichinga (West African kebab with a spicy rub), ginger beer, green plantain chips, palaver sauce with African yam, groundnut soup and omo tuo (rice balls), tropical fruit salad with coconut and “twisted cakes.”

Thursday, October 8: Southern Africa—includes South African wine, shrimp
peri peri, samp and beans with tomato bredie, curry and rice, and melktert (milk tart).

If anyone else is currently teaching African cooking classes, or would like to recommend resources, please let me know and I'll be thrilled to post that information here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Recipe #16: Gari potowye (soaking)

Gari-potowye (gari soaking)

I featured a recipe for iced kenkey. Today I'd like to share another snack/porridge- type food I learned to call "gari soak" or "gari soaking." My sister-in-law, Theodora, was unfamiliar with those terms, but knows it by its Fante name "gari-potowye."

It's also simple to make. Take a small amount of gari (I've only used the finely sifted Ghanaian version, not the coarser Nigerian one, but it would work, too). For Americans, I imagine 1/4 - 1/3 cup makes a serving, though for Ghanaians it might take twice that much. Remember that gari swells up to almost 3 times its size when liquid is added to it.

Traditionally people pour the gari into a bowl and fill the bowl with water a couple of times to clean the gari and allow them to pour off any impurities that float to the top.

Like iced kenkey, Theodora agrees gari-potowye "is cheap and easy to make. . . people eat (it) mainly to quench thirst/hunger until they can make or eat something more filling. . ."

To make
"gari- potowye," after rinsing the gari and pouring off any chaff/impurities and most of the extra water, one adds cold or iced water, remembering to add enough to keep it from becoming too thick. For 1/4 cup, after draining off most of the water used to rinse the gari, use 1/4-1/2 cup cold (ice) water. If you are adding milk, you may stay with the lower amount of water. You can always add more milk or water if after it sits for a few minutes you think the mixture is too thick. Conversely, if you add more liquid than you like, you can always sprinkle in a little more gari. As I've said before, Ghanaian cooking is very flexible and forgiving.

Theodora likes her gari potowye best after refrigerating it for about 30 minutes (i.e., it will be softer). As with the iced kenkey, one may add roasted peanuts (in Ghana these would likely be dry roasted and unsalted), milk (evaporated, powdered or fresh) and sugar to taste.

I found an online site in the U.K. that sells processed gari
"Kwik meal gari soaking" to make this dish. Their Kwik brand included cocoa in the mix, something I've never heard of before in Ghana (nor had Julia or Theodora).

Julia affirms, "Yes, it's (gari soaking) delicious with roasted nuts, usually not crushed. It is also not described (as) a drink, though some people may dunk it, but rather (is) watery and eaten with a spoon since the gari thickens if you don't have enough water. The milk tends to slow this down."

Gari soaking has a milder taste than iced kenkey. It can be prepared more or less thick, crisper or soggier, according to taste. As Holli, a Canadian living in Ghana for over a dozen years noted in a comment on yesterday's posting "There is. . . (a) food . . .that my kids love, . . . made with dried gari (cassava powder). Pour the dried gari into water, add evaporated milk (Ideal Brand here!), peanuts and sugar... it has a similar flavour to breakfast cereal!"

Gari prepared this way is another student and boarding school staple.
I think of this cassava meal as Ghana's favorite convenience food, and "gari soaking" is another example. In the coming months I'll feature gari regularly, in ways both savory and sweet.

By the way, the images I'm posting these days were generally meant to be functional, not carefully composed food photography. I leave my camera in the kitchen and take utilitarian photos so you can see what I'm describing. Our cookbook will be visually much more exciting! Also, today I was fresh out of peanuts, so they're missing from the picture, though the added crunch they give to gari soaking is wonderful. For those with allergies, try another type of nut.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Recipe #15: Iced Kenkey

I remember that when I was a child growing up in California my Tennessee-born mother sometimes snacked on graham crackers she crumbled into a bowl and covered with milk.

Iced kenkey: Similarly, my late sister-in-law Afua used to enjoy a Ghanaian snack in the early 1970s when she attended the boarding school where I taught in Nungua, Ghana. It was called "iced kenkey." She simply crumbled part of a ball of Ga kenkey with her fingers into a cup and added cold water and "plenty" of evaporated milk and sugar (it was sugar cubes in those days), stirred it well, and drank/ate it from a large mug. We had no refrigerator, but if we had I'm sure she would have used ice water to prepare it.

I never developed a taste for iced kenkey, so I checked in with a couple of Ghanaians--my sister-in-law Theodora, and my friend Julia--to make sure I had the recipe right.

My friend Julia Yeboah said that "iced kenkey" made from Fante kenkey is superior in taste to that made from other kenkeys. Fante kenkey is the one steamed in plantain or banana leaves, rather than corn husks, and is generally unsalted.

"Iced kenkey" is quick and easy to make. It is a popular inexpensive snack/street food sold throughout much of Ghana. It can tide people over until they can have a more filling meal. Iced kenkey is also used as a weaning food for children. "Iced kenkey" is never served hot (duh, right?)

To make enough for one-two people, take about a cup of kenkey (I used some leftover from the balls I blogged about on Aug. 26, recipe #12), and crumble it into pieces in a bowl with your fingers. I cheated and used a fork to help smash it up. Then add about a half cup of ice cold water and mix well. I used a wire whisk, but think this would work well if blended in a blender like a smoothie, even though that's not traditional and it would change the texture. Add milk and sugar to taste. It took me about a tablespoon of sugar to smooth out the sourness of the kenkey, and about 1/3 cup of evaporated milk (you can use other milk, but I wanted to recreate the taste I remember from Ghana).

It is about the consistency of rice water, and can be drunk or eaten with a spoon, or a combination. It is frequently eaten with unsalted roasted peanuts (but not crushed) sprinkled over it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Recipe #14: Rice Water

On Sept. 5, Global Voices Online posted a fun and informative bit of information about Ghanaian cooking. Thank you to Kajsa Halberg Adu for drawing it to my attention, and also for featuring BETUMI in her posting on Sept. 7.

Last week my husband had to take his once-every-10-years colonoscopy. That meant a few days of diet changes, which made it a good time to make a light and easy-to-prepare/easy-to-digest Ghanaian porridge/drink called "rice water." It's basically just cooking rice with extra water. While "rice water" is an ordinary breakfast porridge eaten by everyone, in Ghana it is especially recommended for children and invalids--especially when made thinner with even more water, and richer with extra milk. It has a different consistency from North American "Cream of Rice" cereals which are made from ground rice.

As is frequently the case, there is plenty of room for personal preference. I use about a half a cup of white rice (or about 4 oz.--frequently in the past in Ghana it was "1/2 cigarette tin"). I use long-grain rice, but any grain works fine. In Ghana, people boil the water first, then wash the rice and add it with salt to taste (maybe 1/2 teaspoon). I skip the pre-boiling and washing part.

The proportions vary, but about 4 cups of water to the rice works for me. Bring everything to a boil and lower the heat and simmer it until the rice is tender and kind of
starts to disintegrate. Add more water if you think it looks too thick.

The rice water can be served in a bowl or a cup, with milk and sugar added to taste. In Ghana I first learned to drink it with canned, or "tinned," evaporated milk, as fresh milk was not available. More recently people add powdered whole milk (like Nestle's NIDO) to it (and other
porridges.) Fresh milk can also be used. The amounts of each can be adjusted to taste. Rice water can be served hot, warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Tomorrow I'll continue in this vein and share recipes for "iced kenkey" and "gari soak."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Breakfast menu for the Obama visit to Ghana 11 July 2009

Below is the menu provided to me by Barbara Baeta Bentsi-Enchill, the Executive Chairman and founder of Flair Catering Services in Ghana, of the breakfast buffet served to President and Mrs. Obama and their entourage at the Presidential Castle on 11 July 2009.

I've unsuccessfully scoured the Internet trying to locate ANY photos of the food or buffet lines. This omission seems to indicate a glaring lack of curiosity about or interest in Ghanaian cuisine displayed by the myriad photographers--all of the breakfast pictures show only the important dignitaries present, and I've not been able to find one that shows the food.

What an opportunity missed.


Tropical Fruit Juices (NOTE: I assume this would have included orange, pineapple, mango, papaya or similar juices). All of the items in bold will be found in our upcoming cookbook, and some are things I've already blogged about. I've included a couple of representative photos I've taken at Flair, but these ARE NOT from the July breakfast.

Variety of Tropical Fruits (Again, probably Ghana's fantastically sweet pineapples, along with papayas, mangos, soursop, melons, oranges, etc.).

Tom Brown (porridge made from toasted corn flour)
Hausa Koko (a spiced millet porridge)
Akra (a black-eyed pea fritter, aka kose, akara)
Beans Stew (a stew often made with smoked fish and red beans or black-eyed peas and eaten with ripe plantain)
Fried Plantain (probably ripe or "red" plantain slices)
Waakye with Meat Stew (rice and black-eyed peas with a meat stew made with tomatoes, onions, probably beef, etc.)
Galifoto (also known as "gari foto," a one-pot made from cassava meal similar to Brazil's farofa)
Oto with Boiled Eggs (a traditional dish made from mashed yam, onion and palm oil garnished with hard-boiled eggs)
Individual Steaks of Fried Fish (while Ghanaians often eat tilapia, Barbara said they used grouper steaks for this meal)
Abolo (a baked corn dough and flour or sweet potato dough; another version omo abolo is made from rice) & Kenkey (steamed soured corn dough balls)
Shito (pepper sauce)
Scrambled Eggs with Bacon
Grilled Tomatoes & Sausages
Brown & White Rolls
Assorted Jams & Marmalade
Hot Chocolate

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Flair Cooks for Obamas in Ghana

I telephoned my colleague Barbara Baeta of Flair Catering in Ghana (and my collaborator on our upcoming Ghanaian cookbook, the recipes of which are appearing in development on Betumiblog regularly) to find out if she could help me discover what the Obama family was served during their stay in Accra in July. It turns out the one State meal catered for them was breakfast, and her own Flair Catering was selected to provide that meal (for 600 people)! She's sending me the menu tomorrow (Thursday), so check back to find out what was served. Barbara was quick to point out that she knows what Flair served, but not what the Obamas themselves actually ate.

She compared the security there in 2009 to that when she cooked for President Jimmy Carter (pre 9/11)--then it was much looser, and she was able to chat with the President; this time, though she was a few yards away from President Obama, and saw his wife come down, she was unable to meet them and security soon hustled everyone away. Plus, there were meetings going on upstairs, where Flair also set up a buffet table, but she doesn't know if President Obama actually tried any of the food or not. A combination of Ghanaian and European food was served.

Barbara commented to me that some of the culinary
reporting was inaccurate. Among other things, they got her name wrong and called her "Henrietta." Also, while kenkey was part of the buffet, tilapia was not ("I wasn't going to take a chance on all those bones."). Instead, she said, they prepared grouper fillets. I hope she'll be able to get some pictures of the tables, too. She said everything looked lovely, but security was so tight there was no way for her to photograph anything herself. For some photographs I took at Flair's 40th birthday party in 2008, go to BETUMI's flickr account.