Thursday, February 25, 2010

Candy (toffee), Ghana-style: Recipes #44 Groundnut "cakes and #45 Coconut "cakes"

Ghanaians use available ingredients to create simple candies, or "toffees." Here is a version of "peanut cakes" (recipe #44) and a similar "coconut cake" made with toasted dried coconut instead of peanuts (#45).

Recipe #44 Groundnut toffee (peanut cakes)

This relative of peanut brittle requires only 3 simple ingredients:  peanuts (dry roasted, unsalted), sugar and a little water.

The only equipment needed: a measuring cup and tablespoon, a rolling pin (or meat tenderizer or something similar), some waxed paper or sturdy plastic or paper bag (optional), a heavy 2-quart saucepan, a long-handled metal or wooden spoon for stirring, a flat glass surface like a cutting board or a baking pan,  a spatula, knife, or spoon, and a stove.

Measure out:

3/4 cup dry roasted unsalted peanuts
1/2 cup of sugar
2 Tablespoons of water

1. Coarsely crush the peanuts (easiest between 2 pieces of waxed paper or in a plastic or paper bag) with a rolling pin or other heavy object like a meat tenderizer.
2. Wet a glass cutting board or pan (like a lasagna or cake pan) with a little water and set aside.
3. Also wet (or rub a little margarine or butter) on the spatula, spoon or knife and set it aside, too.
4. Put the water and sugar into the saucepan and briefly stir it on medium high heat just until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Turn it to medium and let it continue cooking on MEDIUM WITHOUT STIRRING  it at all until the mixture turns brown (probably around 10 minutes). If crystals form you probably stirred it too long or your heat wasn't high enough.Turn the pan gently if the burner browns unevenly. Be careful once the mixture begins to brown so that it doesn't burn and turn into charcoal.
5. When it is a nice golden brown, remove the pan from the heat (turn off the stove) and quickly stir in the nuts.
6. Immediately turn the toffee onto the wet cutting board and use the prepared spatula or knife or spoon to press the toffee flat. It will be VERY HOT so do not touch it with your fingers.
7. As the candy cools it will harden. You can simply break it into pieces, score it while it is still warm into squares, diamonds or triangles and break them off when it is hard (top row in top photo, right), or take small spoonfuls of  the warm, but not hot candy, and roll it into balls (top left in photo above)

A yummy treat that will also keep well.

Recipe #45: Coconut "cakes" (toffees)

To make coconut candy (aka coconut "cakes"), you will substitute unsweetened dried grated coconut for the peanuts.  

Before beginning, preheat an oven to 350 degrees farenheit (medium heat). Put  3/4 cup dried, unsweetened flaked or grated coconut onto a cookie sheet and toast it in the oven, shaking the pan every couple of minutes. It will probably take only 4-6 minutes to lightly toast the coconut (it smells wonderful, by the way). Immediately remove the cookie sheet and set it aside. Follow the instructions above for making the carmelized sugar syrup, but instead of adding peanuts, add the toasted coconut, then follow the same steps of pressing it onto a wet platter or board to make the crisp "cakes" (the bottom row right in the top photo above). The candy on the left bottom row of the photo at the beginning of this post is made with fresh coconut and makes chewier toffees. I'll describe how to make them another day.

The day I cooked these I sent a batch of both types of candy with my husband to share with his students and colleagues at Penn State. No candy came home with him.

Special thanks to Katie Cochrane for her help in the kitchen and with the camera this week.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Step-by-step: How to Crack Open a Coconut

Last August when I listed Recipe 13 (corn and coconut snack) I  summarized the process of preparing your own coconut. In case you missed that summary, or want more detail, here is is.

This basic recipe is handy to know for many world cuisines, including African,  Brazilian, Asian and Indian ones. "Fresh" coconuts in North America mean the brown hairy ones with hard shells sold in the produce section. As I've explained before, in Ghana they call those "dried," and when they say "fresh" coconut, they mean the literally fresh green ones right off the trees, often sold with the tops whacked off in front of you with a machete. For those coconuts the inside is soft and melting and you can drink the coconut water right out of it, and scoop the meat up with a spoon or a piece of shell.

The basic equipment I use when preparing coconuts includes:
a hammer, an ice pick or similar sharp implement (I've used screw drivers, clean nails, and today the meat pick from a nut cracker set), newspapers, a cup, a knife and/or vegetable peeler. By the way, this is a fun activity to do with all ages of children and young adults--just be sure that they stand back when someone is pounding the shell in case of flying pieces.

I usually crack open coconuts in my garage where I have a cement floor, but you can also do it inside if you prefer. Spread a few newspapers under the coconut and turn it up so you see the three eyes at one end. Place the ice pick or whatever you are using in the center of one of the eyes, and hammer it through the eye to make a hole. Wiggle it around to enlarge the hole and remove it. Repeat the process with the other 2 eyes. Turn the coconut over a glass, cup, or small pitcher and let the coconut water run into it. It's always good to get a "juicy" coconut (shake them in the store before you buy). Remember that this is NOT the coconut "milk." We'll talk about that another day.

Once the liquid is out of the coconut, move the glass or cup away to a safe place, and begin hammering away at the coconut. Many times there will be a small line around the center of the coconut that has been made to make it easier to crack the coconut open. If there is such a line, aim at it or otherwise at the center (not the end where the eyes are or the other end). When the coconut begins cracking open, keep pounding away until many of the pieces of the white meat have broken off from the shell (they will have a brown coating on one side), and the rest can be pried off carefully with a knife. A vegetable  peeler will remove the brown skin from the coconut, which can be cut or broken into pieces and served that way, or grated or chopped into fruit salads or other recipes.

I needed coconut today when I was making some Ghanaian candy (toffee), including both peanut "cakes" (like peanut brittle) and 2 kinds of coconut "cakes." Those recipes will follow soon.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Recipe #43: Akara (bean balls or cowpea paste fritters)

I've frequently alluded to the hugely popular West African bean paste fritter called akara (aka  kose, akla, accara, koose, kosai). A version that traveled to Brazil is called acaraj√©. Akara is commonly eaten as a snack or breakfast food. This dish, of course, has many variations. While Ghanaians like to take credit for it, it is also popular in Nigeria. Jessica Harris, in The Africa Cookbook, gives recipes for Nigerian versions  akara awon (with beans and okra), akara egusi (beans and ground egusi, or agushi, a kind of melon seed), and even cheese akara

The first step in making this dish is to remove the skins from the black-eyed peas (the most common version in Ghana) and grind them. Yesterday I made a couple of batches using some "pre-hulled" black-eyed peas from Nigeria. I thought it would be a nice time-saver, but failed to notice the tiny pieces of stone in the package (I picked out the big ones), and ended up with gritty akara even after I rinsed and strained the beans. I remade the akara after first sifting out all those small sand-like bits of gravel, but still re-strained it before frying it, and it worked fine. 

A number of online YouTube (with Chi-Chi)  videos (by Zukatrading) suggest using bean powder. (NOTE: the two videos I've linked to from here are for Nigerian-style akara, and omit the fresh ginger, plus are shallow-fat fried, and are larger and flatter and are made from a somewhat thinner batter than the Ghanaian version I'm posting). If bean flour is available, it certainly is a time saver. However, I have to say, for the best akara, I'll still go with de-hulling my own dried black-eyed peas (For a way to do this using a food processor, see BETUMI's YouTube video. It's also possible to omit removing the skins and just grind the beans unskinned, but, then, I'm a purist and that's not how akara is traditionally made. I sometimes skin a pound of black-eyed peas then store them in the freezer to use as I need them. I haven't tried frozen black-eyed peas, but that's another option. I usually use dried red pepper because it is easier to control the spiciness of the akara, but you can substitute a fresh chili pepper (for example, a green or red Scotch bonnet or habanero, seeded, or if you're really brave, whole).

I like to make small bite-sized akara to serve with toothpicks and dips as a party appetizer.


1 cup dried black-eyed peas
1/2 cup of minced or grated onion (about 1/2 of one medium)
3-4 teaspoons of fresh grated ginger, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
about 1/2 teaspoon dried ground red pepper (or to taste)
about 4 cups of vegetable oil (I often use canola)

Begin with a cup of dried black-eyed peas. Pick them over, rinse, and soak them in about 3 or 4 cups of water for at least 30 minutes (when I used the pre-hulled cowpeas I let them pre-soak in warm water).

While they're soaking, prepare the other ingredients, and put the oil into a deep fryer (if you have one), or a large heavy kettle if you do not. Do not fill the kettle or fryer more than half full.

After you have removed the skins of the black-eyed peas, either by rubbing them between your hands to loosen them and floating them out of a large basin or using a food processor as described in the YouTube video above, drain the water off and put half of them into a blender or food processor and blend them until they are smooth. Use up to 1/4 cup water (necessary if using a standard blender) to grind the beans to a paste, regularly pushing them down the sides with a spatula to make sure they are thoroughly ground. This will take several minutes.

Empty the first batch into a bowl and repeat the process with the second half of the beans (including using up to 1/4 cup water again). When they are fairly well ground, add in the salt, onion, pepper and ginger and continue mixing until the paste is well blended.

By now you should begin heating the oil. In a deepfryer, set the temperature to 275 degrees Farenheit. On my stove, I need to alternate between a medium high and high heat.

Empty the bean paste into the same bowl as the first batch, and mix (I like to actually use a mixer, but a whisk or spoon could be used) until air is incorporated into the batter to make it light (think egg whites or whipped cream, though that's not a perfect analogy). It will take a couple of minutes.

Depending on the size you want, dip a long-handled teaspoon (for tiny balls) into the oil to coat it, then dip it into the paste. In Ghana skilled cooks drop the paste right into the oil, but I'm not that adept. I use one spoon, and quickly use another spoon to slip it off into the oil, repeating until the fryer is filled but not crowded. If the balls do not turn over by themselves, turn them over halfway. It will just take a few minutes until they are nicely browned. You can make between 2 and 3 dozen small balls from this recipe. If the balls fall down to the bottom of the pan, the oil is not hot enough, and if they brown immediately without having time to cook through to the center, the oil is too hot. I drain them on paper towels in a colander to cool.

The balls can be eaten warm or at room temperature, alone or with a dip. I often use hot sauce and/or a version of a peanut sauce--in the picture I had some leftover groundnut and okra stew, so we used that.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Recipe #42: Tuna Fish Turnovers

"Meat pies" commonly refers to turnovers filled with a meat, fish, or other filling and are popular appetizers/snacks/street foods in Ghana and other parts of West Africa. The filling may include  items ranging from canned corned beef to leftover fish or cooked meat or ground beef, or even vegetables. Sometimes the pastry includes egg yolk and the filling other spices, such as a little nutmeg.

Here is our family's favorite (and easiest) version. I often double this recipe to make party snacks (or to take to church or school functions), or our family eats the turnovers as a light supper (or a very portable make-ahead picnic lunch) when accompanied with a salad or side vegetable and fruit. Fish turnovers are mildly reminiscent of Indian or East African samosas or sambusas, which are deep-fried rather than baked.

Ingredients for the filling:
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/2 cup canned tuna fish in water, drained (or leftover cooked, flaked fish)
1 tablespoon onion, minced
2 tablespoons margarine
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
a dash or two of ground red pepper (or to taste)

Ingredients for the pastry:
2 cups flour, plus extra for rolling out pastry
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
6-7 tablespoons cold water

small saucepan
can opener
paring knife
measuring cups and spoons
small bowl
large mixing bowl
frying pan
cutting board
waxed paper (optional)
2 table knives or pastry blender
rolling pin
~3-inch circle (jar lid, glass, bowl, biscuit cutter, etc.)
a fork
cookie sheet
pancake turner
wire rack

1. Assemble the ingredients and utensils. Hard boil the egg in a small saucepan, peel, and set aside.
2. Open the tomato paste and tuna fish, and drain the water off the tuna.
3. Peel and mince the onion. Mash the peeled egg with a fork in a small bowl.
4. Melt the margarine in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes, then turn the heat to low and add the water, tomato paste, flour, salt and pepper. Stir well, then flake the tuna fish and stir it and the mashed egg into the pan. Cook for a couple of minutes then set the pan aside while you prepare the pastry.

Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, then using a pastry blender, two knives, or your (clean) hands, cut the shortening in until it is in pieces the size of small peas. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of water over part of the flour mixture, then gently mix it and push it to the side with a fork, continuing until all the pastry is moistened. Dust your hands with flour and form the mixture into a couple of balls.

Dust a work surface and rolling pin with flour (I often use wax paper on a barely moistened counter to make cleanup easier), then roll out one of the balls (cover the other one and/or put it in the refrigerator while you work) until it is between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. If the dough is too crumbly, add a little more more water and if it is too sticky, add a little more flour. Using the biscuit cutter or glass or even a knife,
cut the dough into circles and place them on the cookie sheet.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Fill a small glass or bowl with water. Put a heaping teaspoon of the filling in the center of each circle. Dip your finger into the water and moisten the edges, then fold the pastry over to form half circles. Dip a fork in flour, then crimp around the edges of the turnover to seal it well. Prick the top several times with the fork to let steam escape, but don not prick through the bottom side of the turnover.
Bake in a hot over (400 degrees F) for about 20 minutes (check after 15 minutes) until they are crisp and golden. Cool on a wire rack.
Repeat until all the dough and filling is used, re-rolling scraps once or twice but not until they become tough.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Hope for reducing aflatoxins in African peanuts and maize

When asked about taking groups to West Africa on culinary tours,  I have been hesitant to undertake such a project due to issues of food safety and quality control. A serious problem surrounding peanut and maize production in Africa, for example, is the prevalence of mycotoxins, types of fungi that can contaminate food before, during or after it is harvested/processed. Since the 1960s there has been a new recognition of the health and other impacts of  one group of mycotoxins known as aflatoxins (in particular, Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus) in Africa. According to the most recent quarterly newsletter of the  African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) (04, Oct. 2009-Jan 2010) "These toxins are potent causes of cancer and suppress the immune system causing greater susceptibility of humans and animals to diseases. . . High levels of aflatoxin contamination in agricultural products also affect international trade since agricultural products that have more than permissible levels of contamination are rejected in the global market." The fungi thrive in environments of moisture and insect damage. It is therefore imperative to know how the maize in the ball of kenkey or corn dough was stored, how the peanuts in the tankora powder were processed, etc., in order to be confident that they are fungus-free. One cannot tell by looking or tasting.

New biocontrol products are now being developed to help: AflaSafe for maize by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Afla-guard by the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (now licensed to a private company). This is good news for us all.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Recipe #41: Pino, another light (and delightful) gari dish

Anyone who has ever turned to seasoned couscous for a quick side starch for a meal needs to learn to love gari, a form of cassava meal (aka manioc, yucca) I've enthused about previously. Last week when I made the beef and chicken versions of chichinga (a West African kebab) we didn't eat them as a snack, but made a light meal out of it by pairing them with pino, a quickly and easily prepared seasoned version of gari, some fresh vegetables, and a bottle of chilled chardonnay. A simple, satisfying and elegant meal.

Since I used part of a roasting chicken for the chicken chichinga, while I was making the tankora powder and preparing the meat and poultry I simmered the rest of the chicken in a pot with water, salt, onion, celery, garlic, fresh scotch bonnet pepper, etc.  to make chicken stock.

Then, just before putting the skewers of chichinga under the broiler, I put couple of teaspoons of peanut oil in a nonstick skillet, sauteed a third of a medium chopped onion and added a little tomato paste and some seasoning (salt, red pepper) and 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock. If a Ghanaian had a little Ghana-style gravy left over from another meal, she or he would likely just mix that in with the stock or (sigh, water and a seasoning cube . . .).  I put a cup of fine (Ghana style, not coarser Nigerian style) gari in a small bowl and poured the liquid over it, stirring it quickly, careful to keep it from clumping or becoming lumpy. Then I wet a small bowl and pressed the pino into it,  put a plate on top of the bowl and turned it upside down to release the molded pino. Finally, I garnished it with what I had handy: some sweet bell pepper and cherry tomatoes. Pino is similar to, but lighter than, Nigerian imoyo eba, where the gari is actually cooked and becomes much denser. Since there were only 2 of us I used only a cup of gari, but would have doubled it to serve 4 or 5 people. It only took a few minutes to prepare, and we had a lovely light dinner.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Recipe #40: Step-by-step Chichinga (Kyinkyinga/Tsire Suya)

Here are 2 versions of what is known in Ghana as chichinga (with the first "i" pronounced like the "i" in "it," and the second one like a long "ee", and the emphasis on the second syllable [chiCHINga]. It's also spelled "kyinkyinga," in which case the first "n" is silent. This popular street food, appetizer, and party snack is common throughout West Africa. In Nigeria this version of kebab is called  tsire suya (sooya), often shortened to simply suya.

Chichinga is commonly made from a variety of protein sources, such as liver or beef (more traditional),  and chicken (more contemporary), lamb,  or goat. I'm sure it would be possible to use vegetarian sources like mushrooms or tofu, as well. The distinctive touch comes from the rub, the tankora/yagi/chichinga powder, which includes roasted cornmeal, pulverized and fried and then re-ground peanuts, ginger, red pepper, salt, and other spices. Typically in Ghana the meats are quite tough and the chichinga are grilled for a long time so that they sometimes taste overcooked according to Western sensibilities.

Once you have purchased or prepared the powder, you're set to go.

Beef Chichinga (Version I) (enough for 3 people)

12 ounces tender beef [I used top round (London broil)]
bamboo skewers (NOT the long ones)
1/2 cup tankora powder

for the marinade:
1-2 teaspoons tomato paste
ground dried red pepper to taste (about 1/3-1/2 teaspoon)
~1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger (about 1/2 inch root, peeled)
~1/2 teaspoon fresh ground or grated or crushed garlic (about 1-2 large cloves)
about 1/4 to 1/3 onion, grated (to get 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons)
~1 teaspoon salt or seasoned salt (like spicy adobo)
~1/2 teaspoon white or black pepper
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (I used peanut oil)

Put the skewers to soak in water at least an hour before you intend to use them (I do this for the oven when I need to broil the chichinga, but it might not be necessary on an outdoor grill). In the picture, the top shows the type of homemeade wooden skewers that are commonly used in Ghana.)
To make enough for 3 persons, use 12 ounces of tender beef with all fat trimmed off, enough to cut into about 18-21 thin strips, roughly  1/4-3/8 inches thick, and a couple of inches long and around an inch wide (you'll see both the chicken and beef strips in the picture).

Prepare the marinade and mix it together, then coat the meat evenly with it and let it sit (in the refrigerator) covered, for about half an hour or longer.

Preheat a broiler, or build a fire when you are ready to grill the chichinga. To finish the kebabs after marinating them,
put a cup of the kyinkyinga/tankora/yaji powder in a plastic or paper bag, and add about 6 pieces of the marinated meat at a time, shaking them well to coat them (in Ghana they actually coat them after they put them on the skewers, but the bag procedure works better for me. Thread 3 pieces of meat onto each skewer. Continue repeating this process untl all the meat is coated and on skewers. Do not push the meat down too tightly on the skewers.
I lightly brushed the kebabs with a little peanut oil before putting them under the broiler, turning after 5 minutes and brushing the other side lightly with oil as well, then giving them another 5 minutes or so. Since we weren't quite ready for them, I turned the broiler off and let the sit in the over for another 20 minutes or so befoe we were ready to eat.

Actually, I made 2 versions at the same time (in the picture you'll see that I had some chicken livers from the chicken that I thought about using, too, but since they would have cooked faster and I didn't want to worry about timing, I left them for another day.)

Version II (Chicken Chichinga) [also for 3 people]

This version is the identical process, but uses chicken instead of beef. Since North American chickens tend to be so soft, it is more flavorful and interesting to use a roasting (or free-range) chicken. In Ghana, I usually find the chicken version is made from white chicken breast meat, but I include a few from the darker, moister thigh meat and that works well also.

12 ounces boneless chicken (breast and/or thigh meat), cut into roughly 18-21 thin strips (as was the beef)
Follow the same procedure for marinating, coating, and grilling.

Variation: It is also possible to grill the meat directly, without using the tankora powder, but you'll be missing a treat.

Chichinga goes very well with a lager beer (like Star or Club in Ghana), or ginger beer or ginger ale or bissap.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Recipes #39 and 40: Kuli-kuli and tankora (yaji) powder/rub

 Recipe #39: Kuli-kuli (groundnut/peanut balls)

I feel pretty stupid today. After spending hours trying to use peanut butter to make my kuli-kuli (and wasting a LOT of peanut oil as they disintegrated in it), I decided to try beginning with dry roasted peanuts. I threw a cupful into my mini food processor and quickly ground them to a powder, stopping before it turned into a paste. Then I proceeded to wrap the powder in cloth, and press the oil out between 2 cutting boards (I actually put them on the floor and stomped on them). Next, I added a little hot water to allow me to mold the powder mixture into small balls (the cup of peanuts made 16 of them). I didn't add salt because the peanuts were already lightly salted. Then I deepfried them in hot peanut oil for a few minutes until they were crisp and brown on the outside. No problem. It was quick and oh-so-easy.

They're then ready to eat as a snack, or sprinkled crumbled over salads or porridges or whatever you fancy. Because I intended to crush the balls to use in my tankora powder for my chichinga (suya), I didn't add any other spices like grated onion or red pepper when I made the balls, but I could have done that, too.  I pounded the fried balls in a small marble mortar (see picture below), then pressed the pounded mixture through a medium sieve for the recipe below. I imagine it would have been easier to just use the powdered peanuts without frying or pressing them, but then, I'm a perfectionist of sorts. Do whichever you choose.

Recipe #40: Tankora Powder/Rub for Chichinga (Suya)

If you don't want to bother with the recipe below, you can make a "make-do" powder by mixing a little hot red pepper, and a little ginger and salt, and some crushed/powdered peanuts together. If you don't have a food processor, put peanuts between waxed paper or into a bag and hit them with a rolling pin, hammer, or meat tenderizer to pulverize them.

However, if you have the time, I recommend going all out. As with curry powders, you can mix and match the ingredients you happen to like. And, as with curry powders, freshly made is better.

Here's a basic recipe:

1/2 cup of powdered peanuts from kulikuli prepared above
1/4 cup of toasted corn flour (see directions below) made from 1/4 cup toasted, ground white popcorn
dried ground red pepper to taste (~ 1/4-1/2 teaspoon)
dried ground ginger to taste (~ 1/2 teaspoon)
salt to taste (if peanuts were salted, just a little, maybe 1/4 teaspoon)
other ingredients as desired (I used 1/2 teaspoon dried powdered green bell pepper, 1/4 teaspoon mace, and 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper; others use shrimp-flavored or other seasoning cubes)

I actually made a double batch of this today so I can test it on 2 types of chichinga, one made from round steak (beef) and one from chicken breast. I'm getting ready to make the marinade for the meat now, and will grill it for dinner. I'll post the results tomorrow or the next day.

Next I prepared the other ingredients for the tankora (yaji) powder, the spice rub to use on my meat/poultry. Yesterday I dried a few rings of sweet bell pepper in a warm oven (the lowest setting on the oven for a few hours) and ground them in a coffee/spice grinder. I've only once had tankora powder with that ingredient, but I liked it. I also used mace because I had some handy. And I had no African black pepper, so I just used white pepper. I had African dried red pepper (hotter than the cayenne usually available in North American grocery stores), so I used that, along with dried ground ginger.

The toasted cornflour (the same one used to make Tom Brown porridge) was a little more of a challenge, but thanks to Dorinda Hafner's adivce in A Taste of Africa, I managed to make my own by toasting a cup of white popcorn in a preheated heavy cast iron skillet over a medium high heat, shaking it constantly for about 6 minutes until just before the kernals started popping (I quickly poured them onto a cool plate so that they didn't continue to heat and pop in the pan) and then ground them as finely as I could in my coffee grinder, pouring them through a fine tea strainer and regrinding the chaff until I had what I needed: still not quite as fine as I could have gotten in Ghana, but quite okay. I've seen people saying you can just toast  cornmeal in a dry frying pan, but, as always, I think freshly made is better. Mix all of the ingredients together.

I make this just before I need it, but I imagine it could also be stored in the freezer.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Kuli-kuli, and tankora powder, the continuing saga

When I was in Northern Ghana I watched kuli-kuli being made (and helped a very little--the women laughed at how weak my hands were when I tried to squeeze the peanut [groundnut] paste into balls) it seemed pretty straightforward. That's like saying pounding fufu correctly is easy. Not true.

I'm working on developing the recipe for tankora (or "yaji") powder. Tankora powder is a West African rub for meats, poultry, etc. that is most famously used in West African kebabs. Like curry powders, it's a blend of several dried, powdered ingredients. There are many versions, but most commonly they contain dried, powdered red pepper, ginger, some kind of black or white pepper or masoro, salt, powdered peanuts specially prepared (that's the kuli-kuli I've been trying to master), and various other spices: some call for mace, or cloves, maggi cubes, garlic, and in Ghana people commonly mix toasted corn flour into the mixture as well. One of the best kebabs (called chichinga or  tsitsinga) I had in Ghana was made from tender beef (often chichinga is made from very tough meats and quite chewy and overcooked to Western palates), and the vendor (from the North) told me he made his own tankora powder that included: white pepper, sweet green dried pepper powder (the only time I've ever heard of that in tankora or yaji powder), dried powdered ginger, ground nutmeg, Maggi and Royco shrimp seasoning cubes, salt, kulikuli, and dried red pepper.

But making the kulikuli powder: that's the problem. I admit I'm not grinding the roasted peanuts fresh, but trying to use natural style peanut butter (I've tried different brands). Getting all of the oil possible out is the first step. I tried using my hands and a little hot water like they did in Ghana, but that didn't work, so I tried using a folded cheesecloth to squeeze out the oil, but that still didn't work well enough, so I wrapped the peanut butter in dishcloths, put it between 2 cutting boards, and stomped on it. That seemed to work! I got the oil out of the peanut butter, and was able to form the balls like they did in Ghana (or so I thought). As soon as I tried to deepfry them in peanut oil they disintegrated. I tried again today, making sure I had the oil hot enough, but the same thing happened, so I decided to make the balls into patties and fry them on a nonstick griddle well greased with peanut oil, at about 350-375 degrees. That worked okay, more or less.

In Northern Ghana, they then add the salt (and maybe other spices, too?), and pound the balls again, t form them into rolled strips joined together and deepfry them again. I couldn't manage that, so just rolled them out and put them in a very low oven alongside the green pepper strips I'm drying to powder and add to my tankora powder, too.  Most of the recipes I've seen simply say to powder dry-roasted peanuts and use them that way. I don't want to cave in and do that until I have no other choice. I'll let you know tomorrow how it worked out. If the oven will dry out the "kulikuli" enough to powder it, and if I can get the sweet bell peppers dry enough to grind, tomorrow I'll see if you can really make a proper toasted cornmeal from popcorn. Keep in touch!