Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tigernuts (chufa), another "Lost Crop" found

There is a grass-like sedge, cyperus esculentus, from ancient Egypt, whose nut-like fruit, actually the root, grows underground like a peanut (or groundnut) and that is known in Ghana as tigernut, and in Mexico and Spain as chufa (where they are used to make a drink called horchata (or orxata) chufa . Apparently, the Arabs took the sedge from Egypt to Spain between the 8th and 13th centuries, especially to Valencia. The Spanish took it to Mexico.

Today it grows throughout the
Americas, including almost every state in the U.S., where it is used as feed for turkeys, ducks and wild game, and as fish bait. That's like saying corn is only fit to feed cows, or peanuts are only for elephants.

I'm fond of a rich version of a wonderful pudding, called atadwe milkye (tigernut milk), made from these nuts ground together with rice and sugar, then strained repeatedly, cooked and chilled. It looks like it has milk in it, but does not, and so is a nice choice for the lactose intolerant.

When I asked Barbara to teach me to make it, she reminisced about how she served this pudding to Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, and his family in 1999. She served it in crystal champagne glasses, with fresh fruit.

While we were in Ghana in 2008, I broke my cheap electric blender trying to grind the tigernuts (in Ghana one just sends things to the local miller at the market, from corn to millet to tigernuts, as shown below).

Since coming back to the U.S., I was uncertain of where to obtain tigernuts, but finally settled on ordering Spanish chufa from La Tienda. They arrived yesterday, and I'm excited to try my hand at duplicating the recipe Barbara and I developed at Flair. Perhaps I'll presoak the tigernuts, and maybe use my food processor to grind them. Check back to find out how it goes.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Recipe #25: Jollof Rice in a Crock-Pot

Okay, if you don't have an oven (my first choice) or a stove top (second choice), I think maybe I'd try making a vegetarian jollof rice in a rice cooker (I admit I haven't tried it yet, and I'm so sick of eating my various versions I don't want to try today). BUT, if you have no other choice, yes, you can make a not-so-perfect, but edible, version in the crockpot.

I gave the directions yesterday, but made one simple adjustment while it was cooking. In Ghana they often put a piece of plastic wrap over the covered rice while it is cooking, even though they have a lid on the pot. My guess is that it's to somehow help the rice steam. Anyhow, yesterday I stirred the rice after a couple of hours, from the outside to the inside and the bottom to the top, then cut a piece of parchment paper (I don't trust plastic wrap), and lightly tapped (NOT taped) it over the top of the rice, then replaced the glass cover. It didn't hurt anything, and maybe it helped a little. The vegetarian version was better than the one I made with beef, even though I didn't precook the onions, garlic, etc. Perhaps I'd suggest a little less tomato paste--maybe 1 to 1 1/2 Tablespoons. For a meat version, I imagine you could either just brown the beef (or lamb, if you prefer) in a little oil first or even try just adding everything in together without even searing it. I let it cook a little less--maybe six hours, too.

I ate my vegetarian version with a spicy Asian boca burger and a little sauteed cabbage.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Crockpot Jollof Rice revisited

Okay, after yesterday's discouraging results, today I'm trying a very simplified vegetarian version of a jollof rice putting everything directly into the slow cooker (except the chopped vegetables--I'll still add them in a few hours) and changing quantities.

I only used 1 cup of rice for this experiment, but used over half a cup (half of a large onion) of chopped onion, 2 cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon curry powder, 4 well-drained canned plum tomatoes, seeded and squeezed between my fingers, 1 cup of broth, 1/2 cup of the tomato juice from the can and 1/2 cup water, and 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh chopped ginger, 2 tablespoons of peanut oil, a couple of twists of black pepper from the pepper mill, 2 1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste, and a heaping 1/4 teaspoonful of red pepper flakes.

I stirred everything but the rice together well in the crock pot first (especially so the tomato paste would mix in) and then added the rice, stirred it again, and then put it on 15 minutes ago to cook on high (I'll turn it to low in an hour and see how long it takes to cook this time). I'll let you know what happens.

Recipe-in-Progress: Crockpot Jollof Rice with Beef

It should be possible to make jollof rice in a slow cooker. That was my premise yesterday, and I adapted my recipe accordingly (less liquid and oil, more onion and garlic, coarser chopping, not grating, etc.). Then, when I added everything together, at the last minute I decided to add another 1/2 cup of broth. The result was about a 55% success: right flavor, tender meat, but, yuk, very mushy rice, with some grains undercooked.

I'll try again today, but since it took 8 hours to cook (crock pot, remember), I don't want to wait to share where I am now. The recipe follows, but if any of you have any suggestions, please let me know how to improve this recipe. It's not ready to be given a number yet. Do you think using a shorter grain rice would be better? Adding the rice to the skillet and heating the stew with the rice before putting it in the crock pot? What about the amount of liquid?

Crockpot Jollof Rice with Beef


1 cup broth
1 cup tomato juice or water
well drained tomatoes (seeded, if you wish), from a 28 oz. can of tomatoes (plum, if possible) (about a cup)
1 pound of stewing beef (such as chuck)
3 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil
2 cups of onion, chopped (about 2 medium)
1 tablespoon of fresh peeled ginger, chopped
1/3 cup tomato paste (5 tablespoons)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon black or white pepper (optional)
1 whole chili pepper, seeded (or substitute about 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
1 teaspoon curry powder, thyme, or other herb (optional)
2 teaspoons seasoning (like Adobo) or regular salt, or to taste
1 bay leaf (optional)
2 cups chopped vegetables (e.g., carrots, peas, green bell pepper), fresh or frozen

Turn the crockpot onto high to preheat for about 30 minutes while you prepare the ingredients and stew.

1. Cut the beef into cubes (about 3 dozen).
2. Peel and chop the onion, garlic and ginger.
3. Prepare the canned tomatoes. NOTE: I'm not fond of tomato seeds, so I generally use a strainer over one bowl to collect the juice while I use my fingers to remove the seeds, and a separate bowl to smash the tomato between my fingers and add to another bowl. When finished, I discard the seeds and drain any extra liquid from the tomatoes into the bowl with the juice. I use part of the tomato juice for the liquid in the recipe. Also, I prefer the pulpier canned plum tomatoes.
4. Put the oil into a heavy skillet and heat it. Add a little of the onion into the oil to season it and fry for a couple of minutes, then add the beef cubes and brown them over medium high heat.
5. As the cubes are browning, add the onion, ginger, garlic, salt and peppers, and any other seasoning such as curry powder or bay leaf. You may remove the meat to a bowl as it browns if you need more space in the pan. Add the tomato paste and cup of tomato juice and mix well. Add 1/2 cup of broth to the stew and mix. Pour a few tablespoons of broth into the crockpot, then add the stew and 1 1/2 cups of long grain rice into the pot and stir them well. Add the rest of the broth and stir again.

Cover and cook on high for an hour, then reduce the heat to low and cook for about 7 more hours. About an hour before serving, stir in the chopped vegetables, or cook them separately and stir them in just before serving the jollof rice. Don't forget to remove the bay leaf, or whole chili pepper if you used them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Recipe #24: Sardine Stew in A Flash

One of my daughters recently mentioned that she has a hard time making what has to be one of the fastest, easiest Ghanaian recipes of all time: sardine stew. It's one of the first things I taught my adopted nephews to cook when they arrived from Ghana.

I looked in my old journals from years ago and saw that I had actually written it up once, so here are my notes, typed almost verbatim. This is one of those recipes that is so simple it never gets written down.

I whipped up this stew for lunch so I could include some pictures here.

* * * * *
Sardines have been rediscovered. Years ago, our Victorian ancestors considered them haute cuisine, and served them at dinner parties in fancy crystal and silver sardine servers. More recently, they have gained favor because they are filled with protein, minerals, vitamins, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Yet they are still inexpensive, and can be conveniently stored on the shelf next to cans of tuna fish. They are already cooked, and have a mild, pleasant flavor.

My Norwegian grandfather used to eat sardines, but I never ate them myself until I went to work in Ghana and learned to favor them with a ball of kenkey and some fiery shito, or in this simple and satisfying stew. My grandfather ate the tiny sardines in oil in the flat tin box that you open with a key, and those can be used, but more common are the larger herrings that are canned with chili sauce or tomato sauce (NOTE: like those marketed by Goya) and that can be found in grocery stores in the Mexican or Asian food sections.

Sardine stew can be cooked up in a flash when you're tired or company arrives unexpectedly. The last time I cooked it I timed myself, and it took less than 20 minutes to prepare everything, except for allowing a little more cooking time--and that even included the time it took me to wash out the frying pan soaking from lunch and solve my teenage daughter's problem with overfilling the lawnmower.
This stew goes well with plain boiled rice, and I usually put a couple of cups of long-grain rice on to cook before I begin the stew (NOTE: If you don't have an electric rice cooker, but could, I highly recommend getting one). This recipes serves about 4.


1 medium onion, peeled and chopped or sliced
4 Tablespoons (1/4 cup) peanut or other vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon dried ground red pepper (or more to taste)

15-ounce can sardines in tomato (or chili) sauce
1/2 cup of water
(Optional additions: 2 eggs, beaten, 2 tablespoons canned tomato paste)


Peel and slice or chop the onion.
Heat the 4 tablespoons peanut or other oil on medium heat in a heavy 10-inch frying pan, then add the chopped onion and fry it on medium heat for a few minutes until it is translucent.
Stir in the red pepper and 1/4 cup of the water (NOTE: if you like you could also add a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and/or a couple of beaten eggs here with the water to make a richer, thicker sauce).
Open the can of sardines and gently empty it into the frying pan, leaving the sardines whole if you like, or allowing them to break up into small pieces.
Use 1/4 cup water to rinse out the sardine can, and add to the stew.
Add salt to taste (or none), turn the heat to low and allow the stew to simmer for 10 or 15 minutes until the rice is ready.

To serve:
Ladle a generous spoonful of rice onto your plate, and cover with a spoonful of stew.
If you desire another vegetable, cook up some fresh or frozen veggies (in the microwave, if you have one), or saute some cabbage or other greens while the stew is simmering.

My family members would automatically spoon some shito onto the side of the plate alongside the stew (or use any hot sauce).
We often simply top the meal off with seasonal fresh fruit.

* * * * * *

Recipe #23: Fresh papaya with lime

It seems somehow like cheating to take credit for a "recipe" for cutting up fresh fruit like papaya (or pawpaw, as it's often called in Ghana), but because it's a less familiar fruit to North Americans, even though it needs no dressing up to taste wonderful, it deserves a post all to itself.

Though papayas likely originated in the Americas, probably southern Mexico and adjacent Central America, they're found all over the tropical and subtropical world, and imported to grocery stores throughout North America and other countries. There are many types (see the papaya link above), but I tend to think of them as the small ones and the big ones. Both taste wonderful when they're ripe. And papayas (including their seeds) have all sorts of health benefits to recommend them, especially as a natural source of papain, which aids in digestion, but also loads of vitamins C and E, fiber, potassium, lycopene, etc.

Papayas (which are technically a kind of herb) are soft and sweet and juicy with a mild flavor. Their flesh looks kind of like ripe cantaloupe, and has a similar texture, but the flavor is very different. Kind of like a sunset in Jamaica might taste. At any rate, they're a wonderful addition cut up in fruit salads, but this morning I'm having it one of my favorite ways for breakfast: sliced and sprinkled with lime juice.

All you need, as usual, is to begin with a ripe fruit. If you cannot step outside and pick one off a tree, you can buy it green and let it ripen at home. Don't worry if it looks kind of blotchy. It should be mostly yellow and soft to the touch. (There are also recipes for unripe papayas, but those are for another day.)

Wash it and cut it in half, scooping out the black seeds (unless you like their peppery flavor, in which case you can save some to sprinkle on top). I like to cut the peeling off, but you can also serve it with the peeling and scoop it out with a spoon like a melon. You can serve an entire half of a small one to a person, or cut it into slices, whichever you prefer.

Arrange the slices on small plates and serve with lime wedges for dinersto squeeze over just before eating. The sweet tartness of the lime does something very special to enhance the flavor of the papaya.

And voila! It feels warm again even in the Fall.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Recipe #22: Mango--breakfast, snack, dessert

As I said recently, I was without power in Pennsylvania for several days, and we had way too much snow in town for the middle of October. Perhaps in reaction to that, for lunch today I cut up a Brazilian mango that's been ripening on my counter this week. When ripe, they should be nice and yellow/red and very soft and juicy.

There are mangoes and there are mangoes. I love the "traditional" mangoes in Ghana, that are quite fibrous and stringy but juicy and wonderfully sweet. During mango season they're everywhere and you just reach out your hand when you want to eat. Having said that, it is much easier to work with the "improved" commercial ones for cooking, salads, juice, etc. Where I live we can sometimes get sweet mangoes from India, but usually the ones in the grocery stores, even when ripe, just don't have that distinctive flavor.

However, in case you haven't ever cut up mangoes before (and they can also be peeled and sliced, but I just had a single one here today), here's a simple way to prepare them. As the pictures show, you slice both sides off (the seed is long and flat, so make sure you're cutting along the "long" side of it), then make horizontal and vertical cuts along the cut side of each, being careful not to cut through the peeling. You can then either turn the mango over and push the peeling to make the cut part form little cubes that are easy to eat with a spoon. If you do this, one mango will serve 2 people.

Alternatively, you can cut the cubes off, and serve them directly in a bowl.

How jealous I am of my son in Tema and my husband in Belo Horizonte right now!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Storm in State College, Power woes, etc.

Hello, all. We had an all-time record early snow storm here in Central Pennsylvania the last couple of days. Wet snow in State College that knocked down trees (still full of leaves) and branches and caused a lot of power outages, including my house, which is surrounded by oak trees. I'm in the queue to have power restored (soon, they say, but keep pushing soon further and further back). I've been imposing on friends and neighbors for food and lodging (along with our local Starbucks for a little online access), but not only did our power cable go down, ditto for our Internet cable and telephone lines. I'll be out of commission for a couple of days. Don't worry. I'll be back soon.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Recipe #21: Atwemo (twisted cakes)

Every time I make atwemo in Central Pennsylvania, people say it reminds them of Pennsylvania Dutch "funnel cakes," and they want to sprinkle them with powdered sugar. That's definitely a North American idea.

"Twisted cakes," called atwemo in Ghana, are a standard holiday/birthday/special occasion treat at our house, and also a popular request at cooking demonstrations. A version is called chinchin in Nigeria. They are slightly sweet, crispy treats that are a combination cracker/cookie that don't require an oven to make. In Ghana the richer version given here is eaten at celebrations like Christmas or parties, and a less sweet version has long been sold by street vendors as a snack. Nowadays "atwemo" are found packaged in plastic and sold in grocery stores and small kiosks.

This is a great, fun recipe for assembly-line production with almost any age group. I've done them with K-12 students, teenagers, college students, and adults, including nursing home residents. They cook very quickly, the deepfrying kills germs, and they can be made anywhere there's an electrical outlet. It's important to have a designated adult to do the frying, and oversee rolling the dough out so it's thin enough.

Cutting the dough into diamonds and the twisting process are fun, and even very young helpers can carry plates of twisted dough to the fryer, or loosen the cut diamonds from the board so they can be twisted. The dough can easily be rolled into balls that can be frozen and fried in smaller batches as needed.

That's what I did yesterday, and all those I made were quickly consumed by friends and family. I didn't get proper pictures, and a record-breaking snowstorm (in the middle of October) in central Pennsylvania, knocked down power lines and trees, everywhere, including our house, so it may be several days before I can properly illustrate this posting, but that's no reason to keep from putting it up.

When I make atwemo I generally make a large batch, but you can easily cut this recipe in half.

Twisted Cakes (Atwemo)


4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup margarine (1 cube) [in Ghana they use margarine; if you substitute butter the dough
will have a slightly different texture]
1 egg
3/4 cup milk (in Ghana I make it with half evaporated milk and half water)
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring (I always use real vanilla)
vegetable oil for deepfrying (I like canola)

Recommended equipment:

measuring cups
large bowl
flour sifter
pastry cutter (optional)
measuring spoons
small bowl
waxed paper or board
rolling pin
2 plates
electric deep fryer (or large heavy pan or pot)
colander and/or paper towels
long-handled slotted spoon


1. Wash your hands well, then assemble the ingredients and utensils.
2. Sift flour, salt, nutmeg and baking powder together in a large bowl.
3. Use a pastry blender or your hands (this is what I use) to rub or cut the margerine into the sifted ingredients.
4. Add the sugar, then mix with a spoon.
5. Break the egg into the small bowl and beat slightly with a fork, add the milk and vanilla and mix together.
6. Add the liquid ingredients to the flour mixture and mix well (after stirring a little with a spoon, I dust my hands with flour and mix the dough together--this works best for me), knead it lightly but not enough to make it tough. Add a little more flour if it is sticky, a little more milk if it seems too dry and will not hold together.
7. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts.
8. I usually sprinkle a few drops of water on my counter, then put a couple of sheets of waxed paper down, add some flour on top of that and a little on the rolling pin, then roll the dough out to between 1/8 and 1/4 inch. I like my atwemo on the hard and crispy side, so I tend to go thin.
9. Cut the dough into strips about 1/2 inch wide. Next, cut the dough diagonally to make diamond shapes about an inch long (I'll put up a picture of this as soon as my scanner is operable again). Cut slits in the center of each diamond.
10. Pick up one diamond, push one end through the slit and pull it through all the way to "twist" it. If you do not pull the dough all the way through you will end up with what my children used to call "birds." These will taste fine, but it's better to learn to twist the dough properly.
11. Continue rolling out the scraps of dough and repeating the process. To prevent the dough from becoming tough, or simply to simplify the process, just cut the dough into triangles or other shapes and skip the twisting (however, cook any untwisted ones separately since the cooking times will vary a bit).
12. While you are cutting and twisting the atwemo, fill an electric deepfryer or pan with vegetable oil (never more than half full, please; it will bubble up when you add the atwemo) and heat it to about 365 degrees Farenheit.
13. Carefully but quickly slip a couple dozen or so atwemo into the hot oil, one by one. Do not drop them and splatter the oil. If the oil is not hot enough the atwemo will fall to the bottom of the pan and stay there. If it is too hot they will bounce up immediately and brown before they are cooked all the way through.
14. Stir them frequently while they are cooking, making sure to turn them over so they brown on both sides. They should be quite golden when they are ready; perhaps a little browner than you think at first. It will only take a few minutes to cook each batch.
15. Remove them with the slotted spoon as they cook, and place into a paper towel-lined colander (or directly onto paper towels) to cool.

Store them covered in an airtight container.

Atwemo freeze beautifully well if you want to make a large batch. They work equally well as a snack or a dessert alone or served with ice cream or a fruit salad. Even children who are more likely to say "yuck" to new foods seem to say "yum" from their first taste.

Variations: instead of nutmeg, use grated orange rind, caraway or aniseed, or leave out the vanilla.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Recipe #20: Party-Perfect Jollof rice (with chicken)

"Jollof rice" (aka jolof or djolof or benachin) is one of the better-known classic West African dishes. It's always amusing to read that this is the "national dish" of any specific West African country, since it belongs to the whole region, with many versions and variations in name and ingredients. It's sometimes credited with originating among the Wolof people of Senegal and Gambia, but is now claimed by many other West African nations, including Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Senegal's famous "ceebu jen" (from Wolof words for rice and fish, aka thiebou djenne) is a similar rice paella, but it is not the same. Ghana's jollof rice has a distinctive red color from the tomatoes and tomato paste used, not red palm oil as versions from Nigeria might. It is somewhat reminiscent of Spanish rice. Sometimes another one-pot in Ghana, "gari foto," is called gari jollof.

Jollof is a rice one-pot with infinite variations. I'll be posting several versions from Ghana: today a chicken version, later meat and vegetarian ones. Of course, in West Africa, these distinctions are not always meaningful, and meat, poultry and seafood can also be combined in the same recipe. Once you get the idea, you can adjust ingredients and spices to meet your preferences. Remember, Ghanaian cooking is very flexible and forgiving. Be sure, however, to include tomatoes and tomato paste, onions, and rice.

This is also a dish that I've generally found to be served mildly spiced, but with
shito (that recipe will also be coming up later) or a spicy "tomato gravy" (also coming up in future postings) on the side. When I first lived in Ghana in the 1970s, the protein source such as chicken or meat was always cooked into the rice. Increasingly in Ghana, the rice is cooked separately with the meat or seafood or chicken served on the side, unless it is being served in a buffet. I believe this likely influenced by Western ideas of proper plating of food and protein serving sizes. I still prefer to cook my meat/poultry mixed into the food.

Similarly, many recipes outside of Africa say to use boneless chicken pieces. Traditionally the chicken bones are chewed and provide welcome calcium to the diet. Suit yourself in this recipe. To be honest, if you're cooking for an (American) crowd, using boneless chicken is less messy and easier to eat and cook, but it's right up there with seasoning cubes in my mind (you gain something in convenience, but lose something in health). In Ghana nowadays I cannot imagine you will be served jollof without Maggi or Royco cubes, but I prefer stock and "real" seasonings like garlic, pepper, fresh ginger, etc. I do, however, remove the chicken skin first, so I, too, have my preferences that differ from tradition.

The biggest problem I always used to have when making jollof rice was keeping it from becoming too mushy. I've solved that now by cooking it in the oven where the heat is evenly distributed and not just on the bottom. Today's recipe is adapted from one I developed for Penn State's Touch of Africa dinner for several hundred people in February 2009.

Party-Perfect Chicken Jollof Rice


2 cups long grain white rice (not parboiled)
4 cups water or broth or a combination (including up to a cup of drained juice from tomatoes)

3 good-sized cloves of garlic (about 1 Tablespoon), minced or crushed
2 cups fresh grated tomatoes, seeded (discard peelings) (OR 2 cups well-drained well-chopped tomatoes, OR 2 cups pureed tomatoes)

1 medium onion, finely chopped (a good cup)

fresh vegetables, about 2-3 cups, such as 1 carrot peeled and diced, frozen green peas,
and other vegetables such as bell peppers or green beans (OR substitute frozen mixed vegetables) 1 bay leaf (optional)
1/2 teaspoon black or white pepper (optional)
1 Tablespoon freshly peeled, grated ginger

5 Tablespoons (1/3 cup) of tomato paste

about 1/2 teaspoon of dried ground cayenne pepper (or chopped fresh chili peppers, but be
careful because the hotness may vary)
1/3 - 1/2 cup (5 - 8 Tablespoons) peanut or other vegetable oil

2 teaspoons salt or to taste (plain or Adobo or other seasoning salt)

1 teaspoon curry powder (OR thyme, about 1/2 teaspoon)

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken cubed, or 3 pounds with bones and cut into small pieces, breaking the bones with a heavy cleaver (for example, cut a thigh or drumstick into 2 pieces)
Realistically, you'll probably use frying chicken, but free-range or roasting chicken would be

This version is more of a party version which is easily doubled or tripled.

1. First prepare all the ingredients: remove the skin and fat from the chicken and cut it into pieces, gather the spices, chop the onion, grate the ginger, drain and prepare the tomatoes, etc.
2. In a bowl, mix about 1/4 cup of the chopped onions with a little (maybe 1/4 of the garlic and ginger, about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black (or white) pepper and 1/8 teaspoon red pepper and stir well. Allow it to marinate for a few minutes.
2. Heat 3 or 4 Tablespoons of oil in a heavy skillet, add a couple of tablespoons of onion and brown the chicken on medium high heat in 2 batches (so you don't crowd them), adding another 1/4 cup of chopped onions and another Tablespoon of oil if necessary with the second batch. As the chicken browns put the pieces into a large roaster or casserole dish (I usually make this in quantity and you may notice that in the first picture above I started with small enameled roasting pan, but had to switch to a larger one before I added the liquid. Make sure your pan will hold all of the chicken, rice, liquid and vegetables!)
3. While you're browning the chicken, put the 4 cups of broth/water/tomato juice into a saucepan with a bay leaf if you're using it and heat to a boil, then keep warm until you need it. Turn the oven on to 350 degrees Farenheit to preheat, and make sure your oven rack is low enough to place your covered roasting pan on it.
4. After all the chicken is browned, add another 3 - 4 Tablespoon of oil, the remaining onion, garlic, ginger, and curry powder or thyme (if using either), and stir fry together for a few minutes, then stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste and pepper, and salt.
5. Add the 2 cups of rice to the roasting pan with the chicken.
6. Pour the heated liquid (broth/water/tomato juice mixture) into the skillet with the tomato paste and tomato and stir to loosen the onion from the pan, then pour then liquid from the pan into the roasting pan, stir well, cover and place in the oven.
7. Cook covered for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven once to check rice for doneness and to see if a little more liquid is needed. If so, add a little water or broth. Stir the rice from the outside in as the outside edges will brown faster than the inside. Return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes while you prepare the vegetables.
8. Peel and dice the vegetables and cook separately, either in a microwave or on the stove top.
9. Remove the rice and stir in the vegetables.
10. Garnish as desired.

NOTES: Alternatively, this may all be cooked in a large pot on the stovetop, but beware of burning the rice on the bottom and/or stirring too often and making the rice mushy. Also, the vegetables may be added directly to the rice while it is cooking, or stirred in during the final minutes before it is done.

This is one of those wonderful recipes that tastes even better the day after it was made, and also freezes nicely. In Ghana it is often served with braised cabbage on the side and/or Ghana-style gravy, or shito (hot pepper sauce).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Recipe #19: Roasted ripe plantain snack

I've already enthused about ripe plantains.
If you're interested in a healthy snack that's naturally low in sodium, but high in potassium, vitamins B6 and C and fiber, and heartier than bananas, here's an easy recipe: roasted ripe plantain.

You'll need an oven to make this (or a toaster oven).

1. First, get a ripe plantain per person. This may take some
2. Preheat your oven to high (425 degrees F)
3. Wash the plantain, then make a horizontal slit along one side
4. Put the plantain on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. The peeling will become very dark, but the plantain inside will not burn.
5. Remove the cookie sheet and set it on a heatproof surface. Remember the plantain will be very hot, so let it cool a little before carefully peeling it and serving it on a plate.

While I like my roasted plantains "naked" they can also be eaten with peanuts or a sauce (when my unconventional son DK was young, he used to dip ihem in ketchup). When accompanied with a stew, of course, it is no longer a snack.

There are many variations to this: you could also cut the unpeeled plantain into 4 or 6 pieces and bake the same way. If you grease the cookie sheet lightly first, you can place sliced peeled plantains on it. This makes for a different texture, since the plantains are browned on the outside. Finally, you can cook plantains in the microwave, but I greatly prefer them cooked in the oven.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Recipe #18: Bean Stew w/smoked fish

Here's another easy-to-make stew that is perfect with tatale. It also pairs wonderfully with fried ripe plantain, boiled rice, or plain gari.

In Ghana bean (or "beans") stew is commonly prepared with cowpeas, especially a small red type that I would have preferred to use when I made my tatale a few weeks ago. I usually get them from an international market that carries Hispanic foods, but I was out. Sometimes I use aduki beans but they take a longer time to cook.

However, I always have some dried black-eyed peas on the shelf. (Okay, they're not really "beans," but people call them that). If you're not a purist, you can always use frozen or canned cowpeas to speed things up even more. I hadn't pre-soaked my beans, so I just washed and picked over them, brought some water to a boil for a couple of minutes, let it sit for an hour, then drained the water, added more, simmered them until they were soft, and continued with the recipe.

You'll need:
1. a cup of dried cowpeas washed, soaked and cooked (or subsitute one or two cans or packages of frozen black-eyed peas),
2. a medium onion, peeled and chopped or sliced
3. an 8-oz can of tomato sauce (or substitute a cup of fresh chopped or canned tomatoes [pureed if possible], even a small can of tomato paste and half a cup of water will work),
4. 1/2 pound of smoked fish, with skin and bones removed (I like mackerel best, but whiting haddock, whitefish, trout, etc. all work),
5. about 1/4-1/3 cup palm oil if you can possibly get it (or substitute peanut oil or other vegetable oil). If you're new to palm oil, you can use half palm oil and half other vegetable oil). BTW, olive oil is not a West African cooking oil. I don't know of any olive trees in Ghana.
6. 1/2 t (or to taste) salt, optional
7. 1/8 - ? t dried ground red pepper to taste (or substitute fresh chopped hot chili peppers)
8. a couple cloves of garlic, minced (optional)
9. a little fresh ginger, grated (optional)

You'll probably begin to notice a pattern if you've been following my stew recipes (meat stew with browned flour or okra, eggplant fish stew) or even the base for things like potluck gari foto. As I've explained elsewhere, one of the basic building blocks in Ghanaian cooking is frying "the ingredients" together to make something similar to Brazil's refogado.

When your cowpeas are ready, and your ingredients prepared:
Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan and add the onion, and cook for a few minutes on medium heat until it's translucent.

If using other fresh seasonings, like ginger or garlic, or fresh chili peppers, add them and stir and cook for another minute before adding the tomato sauce (or tomato, etc.). Break the fish into pieces and add it to the stew, along with the beans and a cup of water and dried red pepper and salt, if using. Remember that the salt in the fish will take a few minutes to flavor the stew. Stir well and allow to simmer while the flavors blend and the sauce thickens. After about 20 minutes taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.

Some people mash some of the beans before adding them to the stew, and you can do that if you like a thicker stew.

This is a great "every day" stew: it's easy to make, it freezes well, it tastes even better the next day, and it's easy to make substitutions (use smoked ham cubes or ham hocks if you don't like fish, or use mushrooms to make a vegetarian version, maybe flavored with a little soy sauce? It's also easy to make a large quantity and freeze some for another day to make a quick meal. Also, you can easily add in anything you like (e.g., chopped okra or eggplant or zucchini.). I often omit the ginger and garlic if I'm in a rush. I imagine if you use garlic powder you could try substituting that, but I always have fresh on hand. Fresh ginger has a completely different flavor to me from dried, but ginger is easy to grate and freeze (like in a mini ice cube tray) to always have on hand, too.

I haven't tried it, but bet this would be a good slow cooker recipe if you omitted frying the onions and tomatoes, used ham hocks, and didn't precook the beans. Let me know if any of you try it that way.

Happy cooking.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Recipe #17: Tatale (ripe plantain pancakes)

I'm partial to versatile ripe plantains. One of my favorite ways to cook (and eat!) them is as a simple savory (no syrup, please) pancake as in this photo from a party in Ghana.

The first, and possibly the hardest, step is to find ripe-to-overripe plantains. In colder weather in central Pennsylvania this is difficult. I'm not sure if the imported green plantains are held at too cold a temperature or something, but half the time the plantains will not ripen, even if you put them in a paper bag with apples, keep them in a warm room, in sunlight, etc.), but just get wooden and rot. In the summer I rarely have that problem. However, I generally buy twice as many plantains as I need two or three weeks before I need them ripened.

I cooked
tatale (aka tetare) a couple of weeks ago, and made boiled bambara beans to go with them. This is a classic way to eat tatale in Ghana. It's also the only dish I know of, apart from porridge, where sugar is served on the side and may be added to taste (though some purists insist that even that's a foreign intrusion).

BTW, I didn't have any rice flour so I threw some long grain rice into a blender and made my own. It worked fine. You may also substitute cornmeal for all or part of the flours.

Here's the basic recipe:

3 or 4 large over-ripe plantains, about 1 1/2 lbs. after peeling), or about 3 cups when sliced
4 oz. of onion (about 2 medium), or shallots, finely grated
2 oz rice flour (about 1/3-1/2 cup)
2 oz wheat flour (about 1/2 cup)
2 t dried ground red cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
3 t fresh grated or ground ginger
about a cup of oil for pan frying (palm oil is traditional if you can get it. I usually make these on a nonstick electric griddle so I don't need too much)
1/4-1/2 t salt (optional)
a cup of water

For equipment, I recommend:
paper towels, for draining the pancakes (that's because I don't want too much oil. They would likely omit this step in Ghana);
a frying pan or griddle (nonstick is nice);
something to mash the plantains (I would've used a potato masher but it's still in boxes since our last sabbatical, so I ended up squeezing them through a potato ricer and then mashing them with a fork. A mortar and pestle would also work (they use a rounded wooden mortar in Ghana), but I'd stay away from a blender or food processor if you want the proper texture (if that doesn't bother you, blend away);
a knife
a grater (for the ginger and onion)
a cup


Cut the ends off, and make a horizontal slit along one side, then peel each of the plantains and slice them into slices about 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick. As mentioned above, traditionally these would then be pounded in a mortar with a wooden pestle. It should not be completely smooth. If you feel you must use a blender or food processor, keep some of the plantain out and mash it and add it after you've blended the rest.

Stir in the grated ginger, dried red pepper and grated onions. Add the rice and wheat flours (or cornmeal if you prefer). Add a cup of water and stir again.

It's good to let the mixture sit for 20 - 30 minutes before you cook the pancakes. The batter can actually be made a day ahead and refrigerated until you're ready to cook the tatale.

Heat a heavy frying pan or griddle as you would for regular pancakes (medium high heat). I use a pastry brush to brush palm oil on the pan, then drop the batter onto the griddle (either small, like "silver dollar" pancakes, or somewhat larger, say using 1/3 to 1/2 cup batter.) I usually use a spoon to spread the batter into a circle shape.

As soon as the tatale is firm enough to turn without breaking, carefully turn it over with a pancake turner and press the turner down firmly on the pancake to flatten it. Continue doing this every few minutes while the pancakes cook.

Drain the pancakes on paper towels and add a little more oil to the pan for each batch of tatale. Avoid stacking them--spread them out to drain, and serve them on a large platter. The tatale can be made in the morning and kept warm in a low oven, but will become tough if heated too long. A better alternative is to zap them briefly in the microwave to heat them before serving them. Both Barbara and I like our tatale quite brown, but if you prefer it less crusty, cook it to suit your taste.

Serving suggestions:

The classic way to serve tatale is with boiled bambara beans (aboboe) as in the photo above, or bean stew. Tatale and aboboe is a wonderful, elegantly simple party snack, especially pleasant when washed down with cold glasses of beer. It is also hearty enough for nonvegetarians to adore. Peanuts supplanted bambara beans in much of West Africa. I'll bet if you boiled fresh peanuts you'd get a tasty substitute, though I've never tried it. I usually serve tatale with bean stew since it's difficult for me to get dried bambara beans. Some organic farmers in my town tried to grow some for me, but the plants did never fruited. Watch for recipes for boiled bambara beans and bean stew soon.