Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Recipe #52: Rice balls (omo tuo), white and brown, large and small

Here's the recipe I promised for the oh-so-easy-to-make rice balls, just like those Katie captured at Commonwealth Hall at the University of Ghana campus in June. Rice balls go well with almost any West African soup.

Rice Balls (Omo Tuo)

1 cup white rice (I use long-grain, but not precooked)
~4 c water
½ teaspoon salt (optional, I usually omit this)

·      Bring the rice, water and salt (if using) to a boil in a large heavy pot (or a rice cooker)
·      Turn down the heat to low, cover, and allow the rice to cook for about 20 minutes.You may have to take off the lid and let it cook down another 5-10 minutes.
·      When the rice is cooked (but not too dry), turn off the heat and let it sit until it is cool enough to handle.
·      Using a potato masher, a strong wooden spoon, a heavy glass, or something similar, mash the rice until it is fairly smooth. (If you have a wonderful wooden masher from Ghana like the one here, lucky you! It's easy to hold and use.)
·      Fill a cup with cold water and put it next to the pan.
·      Wet hands or dip an ice cream scoop or spoon into the water, then scoop up enough of the rice to shape into a ball, like a snowball. If the balls will not stick together, put the rice back on the stove to dry it out slightly.

     To accompany a main dish soup, a cup of rice makes about 6-8 rice balls, depending on the size.

To serve in place of rolls as a first course, say, with groundnut or light soup, I use a small spoon or melon baller (dipped in water first) to scoop out the rice and then shape tiny balls. I serve 2 or 3 in each bowl of soup. Rice balls can be made ahead of time and warmed in the oven or microwave just before serving.

NOTE: It's also possible to make this using a rice cooker: just add everything, but use at least a cup less water, and turn off the cooker when the rice is cooked and most of the water is gone. Also, it is possible to make these using brown rice, though I've never had them that way in Ghana (remember my theory that white is somehow always perceived as somehow better or purer). Brown rice balls are somewhat heavier. Just use less water, and allow more cooking time.


Geertrui said...


I must say I'm very inspired by your blog and your work. I studied african langauges and cultures in Belgium, also married to a Ghanaian. I lived a while in Ghana and I recognise all your observations. For instance, the preference of white, imported, less nutritious rice over locally produced brown rice always strucks me too. My husband explained to me though that the problem with the local rice was the bad production process which resulted in a badly finished product with stones mixed with the rice etc. It's only recently that the production has started to pick up again. Nevertheless it's still hard to get your hands on locally produced rice on the market (we always have to buy it in Accra when we are in Ghana). I don't totally agree with your idea of racism/colonialism and colours though. If you look at the food history in Europe, similar things happened. With the industrialisation people wanted to eat white, manifactured en masse, bread in stead of the brown farmers bread produced in the house. I think the opposition white-brown, polished-non polished, has more to do with a link with modernity and perceived richness. You present yourself more possitively if you serve your guest a plate with a huge pile of white rice then you do if you serve brown rice. I don't know about America but here in Belgium the majority of people still prefer white bread also.

Now I'll browse a bit in your archive to find some nice recipe's to bring me mouthwatering back to Ghana! :)

Fran said...

Esi: Thank you for your comments. I agree with much of what you said about industrialization, modernity and status foods, but still think in black Africa there's also a subtle racism laced through those preferences.

Katie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie said...

No matter where I look, I'm constantly reminded of you talking about the issue of food color over the summer. This semester I took a philosophy course that dealt with food and the values we surround it with. I'm not sure if you've read much food-related anthropology or philosophy (I'm assuming you have, I'm far more new to the game than you), but if you're interested in reading what some scholars have to say about purity, food perceptions, and food choice, I'd suggest looking into writers like Claude Fischler, Leon Rappoport, or Claude Levi-Strauss (he's got nothing to do with jeans, it's just a coincidence of naming). They discuss mostly European and Western perceptions of food, but the observations made by Fischler are particularly universal. He breaks down the nature of disgust regarding foods outside our daily diets as well as the identificatory nature of cuisine.

Rappoport is a more recent writer than the other two (though Fischler is probably the best, Rappoport sometimes jumps around a lot in his chapters), but his book How We Eat has several sections on cultural boundaries of food and social prejudices regarding what is good to eat and what isn't.

Enough rambling, I just wanted to share with you some like-minded writers who've seen in Europe and in the States what you're calling to attention in Ghana. It's a global issue, and there are ways to defeat these food prejudices, but it takes a lot of work to shift social norms.

Malee said...

Fran, I love your blog and am such an admirer of your work. The kids' cookbook is also great - and although I don't have children yet, I bought it to have in my collection for when nieces and nephews come around!

Quick question for you on omo tuo - I am making a large batch of omo tuo ahead of time (cooking the night before the event). I won't have time to make it the day of the event, so would it be best to (a) cook the rice the day before, and on the day of - warm the rice and shape the balls? or (b) make the balls the day before and just warm up in the microwave on the day of? Would you recommend wrapping the balls in plastic wrap, so they don't get hard?

Thanks so much!
- Caroline

Fran said...

Caroline, thank you for your support. It means a lot to me. RE your question: When I have to make lots of rice balls, I do it ahead (in your case, the day before). I'm not a big fan of plastic wrap against hot food (my husband is a material scientist and he tells me that the plastic is not good for us), but I do cover them with plastic wrap when they're cool and put them in the refrigerator. Just before serving,I take the plastic wrap off and cover them loosely with a damp plain paper towel (I wet it snd squeeze the extra water out) and heat them in the microwave.
Good luck

Malee said...

Thank you so much for your response, Fran! This is so helpful.

- Caroline

Unknown said...

wow simple rice recipe for my rice cooker. Thanks for sharing.


Debbe said...

I've just found your blog and it is a wonderful encouragement. I am new to the study of Ghanaian food and am going on with some trepidation. I have looked many other places and found only ingredients listed, without amounts, and despaired of ever being able to try it. But you've provided measurements!
But I have similar experience with the rice in another culture. I once taught English to Vietnamese refugee families here in WA. One night the children came to my house and I made them rice, as they asked. But they were horrified when (1) they could find no fish sauce in my fridge, and (2) the rice was brown. Finally little Thao said to me "Teacher? It is insult to give brown rice. Or it means you're too poor for buy real rice."

Fran said...

Debbie, thank you for writing. It's always encouraging to hear from folks who find my site helpful.I've learned to cook Ghanaian food "from the outside" and know how frustrating it is when people say "just cook some rice." That's one reason I'm still passionate about finding a publisher for the regional Ghanaian cookbook Barbara Baeta and I are writing.

Cary Terra, M.A., LMFT said...

What a fun blog you have. My 8 year-old son is studying Ghana in school, and I have been cooking recipes from your blog over the last few weeks. Our whole family has had fun sampling these recipes, and I've gotten them from you. Thanks for a great resource for us insecure cooks!!

Fran said...

Cara: Thank you for the kind words. I'm thrilled your son (and you) have found the recipes helpful. I have actually been asking for recipe testers to help test the recipes (revised versions of the recipes I've posted) for a regional Ghanaian cookbook we currently have under contract. Perhaps we could chat and I could give you details. Just knowing which recipes you tried and your experiences would be helpful feedback. You can reach me at fran@betumi.com

Fran said...

Sorry about the typo. I meant Cary