Saturday, January 29, 2011

Kontomire leaves and smoked tuna

I've been busy organizing my kitchen in Ghana. It's the harmattan  season now (January), with dry winds blowing from the Sahara, and there's fine red dust everywhere. When the plane landed last week from the air it looked like a bad case of smog.  It's a challenge keeping things clean--particularly because our house in Tema has screens and wooden shutters rather than glass windows in most of the rooms, including the kitchen. . .


The most exciting accomplishment today, however, was getting some fresh kontomire (nkontomire) leaves and some smoked fish (tuna and "safo") from the local market. I deboned the fish and gave the head away since I don't cook with it. 

As I was preparing the leaves I realized that folks outside of Ghana might not know what they are. In the U.S. Ghanaians always say they're making "spinach" stew, the most  easily available substitute being spinach leaves. However, in Ghana they use cocoyam (taro) leaves, called kontomire or nkontomire, that are easily available, either wild or cultivated. I paid about 60 cents for a huge bunch of them and cooked them all to freeze some for another day. Tonight we'll enjoy kontomire stew with smoked fish and leftover ampesi (boiled Ghanaian yam, ripe ["red"] plantain, and white sweet potatoes). Kontomire stew is often eaten with boiled green plantain: another example of good, simple, healthy food!

Kontomire's flavor differs a bit from spinach--the leaves are thicker and hardier, more like kale or collard greens. I wonder if that's one of the reasons slaves from West Africa favored cooking with collard and mustard greens? I remember that people prepared leaves exactly the same way when I was in Belo Horizonte in Brazil in 2007 and we cut up collard greens to accompany feijoada.
After washing the leaves,  remove the tough central stem (holding the top end of the leaf by the stem and pulling downwards to release it (sorry, I didn't think to take a picture of that). Then layer several leaves together and roll them up tightly, and slice thinly. 

I'd better stop writing now and make dinner. This post is making me hungry!


anthia-ofo said...

Ok, you can go and chop, but I hope you complete this post. I'm going to Ghana in a few weeks with my kids and we look forward to some real Ghanaian food. Ampesi is one of my favs. And I didn't know kontomire was called taro leaves.

Fran said...

I'm no food scientist, but I've always heard you can use the words kontomire, taro, dasheen, malanga, etc. leaves interchangeable (re taro and cocoyam leaf see However, poking around a bit it appears there's an "old cocoyam" and a new cocoyam." For ex.,
Have fun in Ghana. Where will you be based?

aliyudaku said...

Leaves make very healthy recipes and are mostly sweet to the taste of the mouth.

I also came across a similar recipe, Sweet potato leaves recipe which is served with rice and fish also.
Healthy living huh.. watch the video here African food recipes