Thursday, June 30, 2011

Recipe #69: Spicy Coated Groundnuts (Peanuts)

Are you tired of those same old party peanuts? Here's a way to wake them up!

While in the U.S. we're most likely to coat peanuts with something sweet (see recipe #44, "Groundnut Cakes), here is a savory peanut snack/appetizer recipe from Ghana. The hardest part of this may be to locate raw unsalted peanuts with their skins still on. I finally found some at a health food store. Perhaps one could substitute raw peanuts without their skins, but my guess is that the batter would not stick to the peanuts as well.

Recipe #69: Spicy Coated Groundnuts(Peanuts)

Assemble the 9 ingredients:

  • 8 oz flour (1 1/2 to 2 cups unsifted)
  • 3 teaspoons ground dried red cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt, more or less to taste (whoops, I forgot that in the picture)
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1/4 cup evaporated milk (plus enough water to make the batter thin enough to coat, about 4 Tablespoons)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 pound (16 oz) shelled raw unsalted peanuts with their skins on (about 3 cups Spanish peanuts)
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying (I prefer canola)
  1. Add several cups of vegetable oil to a deep fryer, if using, or to a deep heavy pan. Do not fill either over half full. Heat the oil to around 360 degrees F while you make the batter (this would probably be between medium high and high on my stove top if you're frying them in a pan on the stove).
  2. Sieve (sift) together the 4 dry ingredients (flour, peppers, and salt) into a large bowl. 
  3. In a separate bowl, use a fork or wire whisk to beat together the eggs, shake the can of evaporated milk, then open it and add the 1/4 cup, and mix.
  4. Here is the first tricky part: add the liquid to the dry ingredients to make the batter, mixing well. At this point, you'll have to determine if the batter is too thick to mix the peanuts into without clumping. Add water or more milk, a tablespoon at a time, until it is thick enough to coat the peanuts, but not watery.
  5. Put a spoonful of batter into a small bowl, and mix in an equal amount of groundnuts.
  6. Here's the second tricky part: I've done a fair share of deep-frying, but I found it impossible to get the peanuts into the mixture to cook individually any way but by putting them in that way. I ended up scooping a spoonful of coated peanuts onto a long-handled spoon over the fryer, then using a knife (also with a long handle), to tap each peanut into the oil, being careful not to splatter myself. When the nuts are in the oil, stir them constantly with a long-handled metal or wooden spoon to make sure they brown evenly. As soon as they turn quite brown (the browner are they, the crispier they'll be, but being careful they do not cross the line to burned), remove with a slotted spoon and drain them on paper towels or paper.

A perfect snack to eat while sipping a nice cold Star or Club beer (sigh, none here in central Pennsylvania), or some fruit juice, bissap (aka sobolo),  ginger beer, or iced tea. If it were winter here in Pennsylvania, they'd also go well with a hot drink like coffee.The hot oil somehow steams the peanuts so they're still chewy, but the crispy, spicy coating gives them a kick. I'd eat them soon after making them.
NOTE: I did try frying some of the peanuts in clusters, but they seemed soggier rather than crisper. I'd stick with frying the nuts individually.

    Wednesday, June 29, 2011

    Recipe #67: Groundnut soup with chicken and Recipe #68: Ghana's benne (sesame) soup

    One of the most popular recipes I'm often asked to prepare is groundnut soup (or stew). Rather than repeat that recipe here, I'll refer you to a version I provided for African Diaspora Tourism: Recipe #67: Groundnut (peanut) Soup with Chicken. While I adore this wonderful, creamy soup, in today's allergy-sensitive world,  peanuts are often not welcome at community gatherings. In such a case, sesame soup would make a wonderful substitute. I'm amazed I've never seen an online (or published) version of it anywhere.  Perhaps it has another name I'm not familiar with? Sesame, aka "benne," is originally from Africa and has a fascinating history.

    Yesterday I began describing how to make the sesame soup popular in Northern Ghana. I told how we went to the market and bought our ingredients, and how labor intensive it was to prepare the guinea fowl. Today I'll simply (emphasis on simply) substitute Cornish game hens. If you can get the real thing, or pheasant, it would be even better. Or else, use a roasting chicken.

    To obtain our sesame paste in Tamale we searched the local market unsuccessfully for the 2 types of sesame seeds my guides wanted, but settled on 2 other varieties. We washed the dust off, dried and toasted them, then pounded them to paste in a mortar. When I tried duplicating that process (twice) using my coffee grinder and/or blender, I was unsuccessful: I burned up the motor in my coffee grinder, and the blender, even with the addition of sesame oil, was not up to the task of grinding the seeds fine enough. Without the stamina to pound the seeds, I've substituted tahini.
     Recipe #68: Ghana's Benne (Sesame) Soup with Guinea Fowl (or Cornish game hens)

    Assemble the ingredients:

    1.  Fowl (I'm using 2 Cornish game hens, around 4 lbs, total)
    2.  1.5 teaspoons salt, or to taste
    3.  1 cup of tahini (or less if you prefer)
    4.  3 - 4 cloves of garlic
    5.   About  2-inch chunk of fresh peeled ginger
    6.  1 onion (about 1 cup, red, if available)
    7.  About  4 habanero, or other milder chile peppers, seeded and membranes removed, if desired. (When ground they should make about  1 Tablespoon of pepper paste).  Americans use milder chile peppers, remove seeds, etc.)
    8.  6 small-to-medium tomatoes (or about half a large 28 oz can of tomatoes; I imagine this might also be a small can, but I never have them in the house): enough to get 1 1/2- 2 cups when blended.

    To cook:

    1. Prepare the fowl: Rinse (I cut off the end of the tails and the tips of the wings because I don't like them), and remove any extra fat and the loose skin (Ghanaians would not do this, but poultry in the U.S. tends to have a lot of fat under the skin). Keep the neck but discard the liver (too strong a flavor). While Ghanaians would likely use all of the fowl, our pre-cleaned varieties do not include other parts. Cut each fowl into serving pieces. For a chicken, I'd cut about 8-10 pieces. For the game hens, since I'm not making for a crowd, I'll simply quarter each one. I have a very nice butcher knife I use for whacking through the bones. Don't be timid.
    2. Prepare the seasonings: 
    Put the onion (chopped into large chunks), the ginger (cut into smaller chunks), the peppers (washed, the stems removed, and seeded if desired), and the peeled garlic cloves into a small container for a blender. Add just enough water (probably a tablespoon or two) to grind them into a paste. You may need to do this in several batches.
    3. Put the game hen (or chicken) pieces into a large heavy pot along with a half-cup of water and the ground seasoning. Rinse out the blender container with a little more water and add that, too, along with the salt. Stir to mix and cover the pot, and heat on high heat, then reduce to medium to steam the fowl for about 10 minutes while you prepare the tomatoes.
    4. If using fresh tomatoes, first drop in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then cold water, to loosen the skins and make it easy to remove them, then puree in a blender. If using canned tomatoes, simply puree, adding about half a cup of the juice from the can as well.
    5. Place a strainer over the soup, and add the pureed tomatoes, straining out the seeds. (Omit this step if you don't mind the seeds.) Add a few cups of water and pour it through the strainer, too, to get the last bit of tomato in the soup. Discard the seeds. Add 2 cups of water, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer and allow to cook while preparing the sesame paste.
    (Here's an optional step you don't really need to do, but because I'm always looking for a smoother soup, after the soup simmers for about 10 minutes, you can remove the chicken pieces into another large pot, shaking off the seasoning, then strain the broth into the new pot with the chicken). I usually rinse out the strainer with some of the strained broth a few times, and push down on the strainer with a large spoon to get all of the liquid from the strained residue, then use a spatula to remove all the bits on the underside of the strainer, and add that to the soup as well.)
    6. Since we did not toast the seeds before adding them to the soup, I've added a step: cooking the sesame paste with a cup or two of the soup's broth in a small saucepan the same way the peanut butter was treated in Recipe #67 referenced above: first, blend the tahini with a cup of the broth from the simmering soup. Heat it on the stove for 3 or 4 minutes on medium heat, until the oil begins to separate. (I read somewhere that cooking sesame makes the sesame less nutritious. Does anyone know if that's true?).
    7. Hmmmmm. Here's the next step as I envisioned it, and the surprise I encountered. When the sesame oil began to rise to the top, I treated it like ground peanuts: added a couple of ladles of the soup broth to the tahini, mixed it in and stirred it into the soup. The surprise was that, unlike groundnut soup, the sesame kind of curdled and made some kind of emulsion that was NOT the way I remember it in Tamale, so I needed to add an additional step.
    8. Again, I removed the chicken pieces, strained the broth into the pot with it, then blended the sesame residue in the blender. Ahah! That made it the right creaminess, so I stirred it back into the soup pot, rinsing the blender with broth from the pot, and scraping the dregs with a spatula. Yes! This should be called "Cream of Sesame Soup" or "Velvet Sesame Soup." I did have to add some more hot pepper (dried red--always easier to add than remove), and a little more blended tomato (I've adjusted the ingredients above). It's creamy, but with a subtly different flavor than groundnut ("peanut butter") soup.

    I'll just make some more tuo zaafe, and then it's time to eat. BTW, if you don't plan to eat the TZ immediately, it's best to cover it with some plastic wrap (or, if it's in a wet mold, leave it there until you're ready to eat) to keep it from drying out and getting a crust on it. The top right photo shows my lunch. Very nice indeed.

    Variations/Serving Suggestions: Substitute tahini for peanut butter (paste) in any groundnut soup recipe. Use tomato sauce or paste in place of fresh or canned tomatoes. Don't do all the straining and extra pureeing. Substitute vegetables for the fowl (use mushrooms, eggplant, etc.). Use less tahini for a milder, lighter flavor. Serve as a first course in a meal and garnish with parsley, grated hard-boiled egg, or minced green onions.

    Whatever you do, enjoy!

    P.S. If any of you know why the sesame curdled, and any fix other than straining and blending it again, let me know.

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    Recipe #66: Tuo Zaafe ("TZ")

    Today I'd like to talk about a couple of  dishes from Northern Ghana.

    The first one is "tuo zaafe," commonly called "TZ" ("tee zed," literally "very hot"). Along with omo tuo (rice balls, generally served with groundnut soup), it is a preferred standard carbohydrate-based accompaniment that "goes with" many of the soups and sauces of Northern Ghana (Upper East, Upper West and Northern regions). TZ is a thick porridge with many variations: it can be made from millet, "guinea corn" (sorghum), corn, and/or cassava mixtures. The grain can be fermented or not. It tends to be less elastic than fufu, and ranges from soft like banku to loaf-like that can be cut with a knife.

    When I was last in Tamale, Mrs. Comfort Awu Akor and her daughter Amadu George Shetu showed me how to make both this dish and a sesame soup to accompany it. We made our TZ from fonio, but I'll give an adapted recipe from also-gluten-free millet flour. While in Ghana they've developed an ingenious way to hold the cooking pot steady over the fire using iron rods held in place by feet, those of us outside of Ghana (and some of us inside), will have to rely on a sturdy saucepan with a handle. The TZ is in the pot on the right-hand side of the photo below.

    Note: it helps if you have a really strong wooden spoon or stirring stick like those from Ghana (another worthwhile purchase if you intend to do much Ghanaian/West African cooking).

    Recipe #66: Tuo Zaffe (TZ) from millet flour 
    3 cups of boiling water
    3-4 cups of cold water
    3 cups of millet flour
    1. Heat 3 cups of water to a boil in a heavy saucepan with a handle.
    2. While the water is heating, mix 2 cups of cold water with 2 cups of millet flour.
    3. When the water boils, turn the heat to medium, or medium high, and quickly mix in the millet-water mixture, stirring constantly.
    4. Stir in another cup or two of cold water.
    5. I admit I cheated here: I was afraid my TZ would go lumpy on me, so I used a wire whisk before  the mixture thickened, to make sure I had all the lumps out ;-). Let it cook for about 10 minutes over medium to medium high heat. I stirred it constantly.
    6. Remove half of the porridge mixture and put it in another bowl.
    7. Add the additional cup of millet flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring vigourously after each addition.
    8. Add in the porridge mixture that you separated out, and continue to cook and stir for about 10 more minutes.
    9. Wet a large bowl, and put the mixture into it, press it down slightly and mold it into a large multi-portion size, or shape it into individual servings if desired. The TZ hardens as it cools. Alternatively, in Ghana they often shape the TZ into individual balls that they wrap in plastic bags. Or, the TZ can be ladled individually into serving bowls along with soup.

    We ate our TZ in Tamale with a wonderful soup made with pounded sesame seeds and Guinea fowl.

    First we went to the market and picked out our guinea fowl, and all the other ingredients, including the available sesame seeds. There were 2 types of sesame seeds Comfort wanted, but we had to settle for what was there. My Muslim driver, Abdul, did the honors of slaughtering the guinea fowl by cutting its head off, after first saying a prayer. Then we boiled some water and cleaned the fowl, removed its feathers, and cut it into serving pieces. (While Ghanaians enjoy almost all parts of the guinea fowl, or game hens, or chickens, for Westerners they can be cut into about 8 or 10 pieces at the joints.) Since I have no guinea fowl available, I'll be substituting Cornish game hens for this recipe today and tomorrow. Incidentally, my next-door-neighbor is a hunter, and he once brought me a wild pheasant when I was testing this recipe, which made a wonderful substitute for the guinea fowl.

    I'm afraid I've run out of time today, so come back tomorrow for the first recipe I've ever seen posted for this delicious Northern soup: Benne (Sesame) Soup with Guinea Fowl (or game hens)

    Monday, June 27, 2011

    Recipe #65: Caramel Custard

     Recipe #65: Caramel Custard

    This custard recipe makes a lovely, impressive dessert. The distinctive contribution of the Ghanaian version is that it is lighter and less sweet than recipes from the Americas. As I began to prepare it today, I noticed that in Ghana we used a small can (called "tin" in Ghana) of evaporated milk, but it seemed that the can from our local supermarket in Pennsylvania was smaller. With a little sleuthing, I discovered that can sizes do change, and thus today's can in the U.S. is only 5 oz, not the 6 oz size we used in Ghana, so if you want to make this dessert buy a large can of evaporated milk!

    Also, in Ghana we used empty evaporated milk cans for our molds. I was hoping to do that, too, but since the cans I have are smaller, decided to go ahead and use standard custard cups.

    Caramel custard requires only 5  handy ingredients: water, sugar, eggs, evaporated milk, vanilla, and nutmeg.  It is prepared in two steps: first, the caramel that coats the bottom of the mold is prepared on the stove top, then the custard itself is made and baked in an oven.

    To make the caramel topping (which actually goes in the bottom of the cups and will be inverted when serving), you need:
    • 4 oz of sugar (a slightly rounded 1/2 cup)
    • 3/4 cup of water (a U.S. cup, or 6 oz)

    Put the sugar and water into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium high heat without stirring. Allow it to cook about 10-15 minutes (depending on your pan and how hot your stove is), just until it begins to turn golden. Immediately remove it from the heat and stir 2 teaspoons of water, one at a time, watching out for splatters. Pour the syrup immediately into the bottom of 4 molds or custard cups, or a large single mold that can go in the oven, and allow it to cool while you prepare the custard.

      2.   To make the custard, you need:
    • 4 eggs
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla flavoring (not imitation)
    • 3/4 cup of evaporated milk (6 oz), plus enough water to make 2 1/2 cups

    Shake the can of evaporated milk before opening it. Beat the 4 eggs and 1/4 cup sugar together in a bowl (I used a wire whisk), then add the nutmeg, vanilla and milk and water. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into another container to make the mixture smoother,  and pour the custard into the individual cups or mold. To make a bain marie (water bath), fill a pan half full of water and place the custard cups in the water. Bake them in a medium oven (350 degrees F) for about an hour or until a knife put in it comes out clean. By the way, I put my knife all the way through to the bottom of the custard, which was a mistake because it gave me a knife mark on the top (hidden by the mint sprig in the picture). In Ghana, while the custards were cooling, we replaced the warm water in the pan with cool water. I'm not sure that's necessary where a refrigerator is available. I'd just cover it with saran wrap or something similar, and put it in the refrigerator to cool. Serve the custard warm or cool. Just before serving, go gently around the very top of the custard with a knife or spatula to loosen it, then shake it gently and turn it upside down onto a serving dish. Or, simply put a plate on top and turn it over. Also, I kind of gouged my custard when I was loosening the sides, so they did not come out as smoothly as they could have.

    When Flair Catering serves this, they make often make  it in a large mold, and lend it a Ghanaian touch by serving it surrounded by fresh slices of tropical fruit such as papaya (pawpaw), pineapple, mango, banana, watermelon, and oranges, and garnish it with a spring of mint. I've just removed mine from the oven, cooled it slightly, then placed it in the refrigerator to cool. I do have mint, but only have some orange, watermelon and bananas, so let me slice some of these up and then turn out the custard . . .

    Gosh, that tastes good. And it looks extraordinary, though it's not hard to make. Even without any fruit garnishing.

    Incidentally, when I cut this recipe in half I still had enough extra to make the one additional serving above (though I did have to make some more of the caramel topping. Here are a couple of hints: be sure to run hot water into the pan you use for the syrup: the caramel hardens quickly and it makes for an easier cleanup; also, you'll need plenty of hot water to get the dregs out of the custard cups once you unmold them and want to wash them.

    Saturday, June 25, 2011

    Recipe #63: Basic tomato gravy and #64: Ayikple (coconut, bean, and corn one-pot)

    You who follow me probably noticed that the past week I posted recipes daily. That's because I  have declared 5 weeks of a "cookbook writer's retreat"--well, the first week is over, so it's 4 more weeks. I'm going to post only  Ghanaian recipes during this time. I will be in the kitchen and at the computer all day every day, with a break for reflection on Sundays. I want to finish this cookbook and the only way to do that seems to be to block out everything else and focus. (It helps that my husband is in Nigeria for the next month.) Still, it takes discipline, so please know that I find your feedback (nice word!) encouraging and helpful: try some recipes, react to them, correct mistakes, make comments . . .

    When I was staying with Barbara Baeta at Flair Catering a few years ago, one day we cooked up a lovely Ewe coconut and bean stew one-pot meal that was memorable. I had a coconut left over from the posts on making coconut milk and cream last week (NOTE: whenever I'm making coconut milk I buy 2 coconuts, or at least a can of coconut milk as a backup, just in case one is spoiled when I crack it open) so I decided to celebrate the first week of successfully working hard on the cookbook by making ayikple for dinner. This is a quite rich recipe, and since I'm the only one in the house to eat it, I cut the recipe in half (it serves four), so some of the photos might look like I'm using smaller amounts of ingredients than listed below. (As an aside, I'm cutting most of the recipes down in these posts  unless I can freeze them.)

    One of the building blocks of Ghanaian cooking is a basic tomato sauce, called a "gravy" in Ghana. Since ayikple requires some, let me first explain how to make it.

    Recipe #63: Basic Ghanaian Tomato Gravy (sauce)

    When my nephews from Ghana first came to live with me, I found myself sometimes making this sauce in quantity to have on hand when making stews for the boys. It can take only 10 minutes to prepare the simplest sauce, or a little more for a more complicated version. In the post  "Recipe #24: Sardine Stew in a Flash" I explained the basics of using sliced onion, vegetable oil, dried ground red pepper, and canned sardines to make tomato gravy That recipe can be adjusted by making it without the canned sardines and simply using a small can of tomato sauce, sliced fresh tomato, or a few tablespoons of tomato paste plus a little water.

    For a basic tomato gravy for the coconut stew, you can use:
    • 1/4 cup of vegetable oil (I used canola; some Ghanaians might use 2 or 3 or even 4 times that, but it isn't necessary) 
    •  about 8 tomatoes, seeded and grated or blended (if grated, discard the peeling), enough tomato and juice to make about 2 cups
    • a few tablespoons of tomato paste (optional)
    • a large onion, grated or chopped
    • salt to taste (maybe 1/2 to a teaspoon)
    If I'd been using this gravy in a separate stew, I would likely have added some form of chili pepper (dried ground red pepper, possibly a habanero with seeds and membranes removed (and taken out after the sauce had simmered), chopped hot peppers, maybe a little minced or crushed fresh garlic or fresh grated ginger added in before the tomatoes. People sometimes add curry powder to the sauce as well (and many Ghanaians regularly use seasoning cubes). If you think the sauce is too thick, add a little water or stock. Canned peeled tomatoes or canned tomato sauce can replace all or some of the fresh tomatoes.

    To make the gravy:
    1. Wash and cut the tomatoes in half horizontally with the stem end facing the top. Put a strainer over a bowl and squeeze out the seeds into the strainer, catching any juice in the bowl. Grate the tomatoes on a grater, discarding the peelings (or, if you prefer, blend the tomatoes in a blender). Put the juice and grated tomato in a bowl. If you like, pour about a half cup of water over the seeds and press against them to remove additional juice, and add to the bowl of grated tomatoes. Discard seeds.
    2. Peel and grate or chop the onion.
    3. Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan on medium heat, then add the chopped/grated onion and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently.
    4. Add the tomatoes and continue stirring.
    5. Add the salt to taste (if you want it spicier, add some dried ground red pepper) 
    6. Let it simmer for a few minutes. Ghanaians are very fond of tomato paste, so feel free to stir in a few tablespoons of tomato paste if you like. It will give a richer color and a slightly sweeter taste to the final gravy. Set the gravy aside until you need it. (If you are making a meat, poultry, fish or vegetable stew, the directions are slightly different. E.g., you may add meat or fish or mushrooms in before the tomatoes, and will need to simmer most vegetables along with the tomatoes.

      Recipe #64: (Ayikple) Coconut, Adzuki Bean and Corn One-Pot

      NOTE: This recipe requires some special ingredients: dried pounded herrings and crayfish, ablemanu (toasted cornflour), and coconut milk. You can make the coconut milk from a fresh coconut, or substitute canned. The ablemanu is more difficult, but there are 2 options: iif you have popcorn, patience, and  a spice or coffee grinder, you can make your own. I used yellow popcorn because that's what was handy and a  blender with a small attachment yesterday because I was too impatient, to grind a little at a time in my coffee grinder, repeatedly sift and regrind it, and the result was while that the stew had the correct wonderful flavor, it was not as smooth as it should have been. I'd recommend using option #2: sacrificing a little of the "correct" flavor and using instead some yellow stone-ground corn flour, using the same technique as described in Recipe #11: Beef Stew with Browned Flour. Please do not substitute corn meal, which is too coarse and "gritty" for this dish. I just browned a little of Bob's Red Mill corn flour (the toasted is onthe left) and will definitely substitute this next time I prepare ayikple if I cannot obtain any Ghanaian-prepared toasted corn flour. I'll also use it for aprapransa, another forthcoming recipe.


      Assemble ingredients:
      • Coconut milk and cream from 1 coconut or 1 can coconut milk plus 2 cups water 
      • 1 cup of  adzuki beans (8 oz) 
      • 1/3 c smoked herring, ground or pounded
      • 1/4 c. dried ground (or pounded) crayfish
      • 1 teaspoon salt or seasoning salt (or to taste), or salt and no-salt seasong
      • 2 teaspoons fresh peeled, grated/ground ginger
      •  Fresh sliced hot peppers to taste (I used about 1/4 c sliced green jalapeno peppers; 6 sliced kpakpo shito would be my preference)
      • 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cup tomato gravy (Ghana style)
      • Up to 2 cups of toasted corn flour (ablemanu)

      1. Either rinse, pick through and pre-soak the beans overnight, or cover them with water, boil them for a few minutes, and let it sit covered for an hour, 
      2. When ready to begin cooking, drain the beans and add  8-10 cups of fresh water.  Simmer them, covered, for about an hour, until they are cooked.*See caution note below.
      3. While the beans are cooking,  make the gravy (see directions above, Recipe #63)
      4. Prepare the ginger.
      5. When the beans are cooked, add the coconut milk/cream and enough additional water to make 4 cups to them.
      6. Add the gravy, ginger, peppers, herrings, crayfish, and salt to the pot. Simmer on medium for a few minutes to allow the flavors to blend, making sure the mixture does not scorch.
      7. The only tricky part is right at the end, when adding the toasted, ground corn flour. Sprinkle half of the flour in fairly quickly, stirring like crazy to make sure it doesn't get lumpy. Repeat with most of the remaining flour (you may have about 1/4 cup left over) until you have a nice thick porridge.
      Serving: This porridge is best eaten immediately after it is prepared. Barbara insists it's no good once it cools, and unlike many dishes, isn't as good reheated. This recipe makes 4 generous servings.  Ayikple has an amazing flavor and texture. Even though the one I made with blender-prepared toasted corn flour was not as smooth and creamy as it should have been, the amazing  flavors of thecrayfish and herring provided the same  magical umami flavor. The delicate but rich coconut milk reminds me of Bahian cooking of Brazil. I garnished mine with a couple of left-over grilled tiger shrimp and paired mine with a California cabernet sauvignon, and it went very well together. At Flair, we ate the meal with a hearty red Slavic wine. Ghanaians do not always have the same ideas about which wines "go" with which foods as North Americans. More on wine pairings to come later.
      Finally, in Ghana we ate the stew with shito, but I used up the last of the fresh pepper sauces I made earlier, and rounded out the meal with some fresh watermelon (in Ghana we finished off our meal with papaya and pineapple).

      *One slight word of caution. I believe I may have used less water than my original recipe called for.  When the cup of beans beans were cooked, I had only about 3 or 4 cups of water left in the pot. If you find your bean, coconut mixture is very watery, you may need to cook it down a little before adding the cornflour.

      Friday, June 24, 2011

      Recipes #61 Fish Cakes and #62 Fish Balls

       Are you hungry for a delicious snack or looking for some great, elegant (but easy-to-make) party appetizers? Or something different to make for a breakfast or brunch? Consider whipping up some Ghana-style fish balls or  fish cakes.

      Recipe #61 Fish Cakes

      To make about 16 fish cakes (8 servings), you'll need 
      • about 1 1/2 pounds of fresh fish, such as red snapper, grouper, halibut, or any fleshy fish, to yield about 2 cups of flaked cooked fish. Any leftover cooked fish will work (I used part of the grilled tilapia I cooked the day before, and some perch fillets). In a pinch, canned tuna would work.
      • 1/4 cup (preferably white) bread crumbs, or cooked mashed African yam
      • 1 egg (optional)
      • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
      • 1/2 teaspoon ground dried red pepper or to taste
      • 1 teaspoon fish spice (I used an Indian fish masala)
      • 1/4 cup of finely grated or minced onion (optional, I omitted this)
      • 1/4 cup of water
      • vegetable oil for frying (like canola), not palm oil
      • waxed paper (optional)

      1. Wash the fish, season it if desired  and bake it in a moderate oven ( 350º F) for half an hour or until it flakes easily. Make sure to grease the bottom of the pan lightly to keep it from sticking. Remove and allow it to cool enough to handle it.
      2. Remove the skin and carefully remove all the bones and discard them. Put the fish into a bowl and flake and mash it with a fork or your fingers or a wire whisk until it looks like bread crumbs.

      3. Prepare the starch that will serve as a binder: if bread crumbs, put a couple of pieces of preferably slightly stale bread in a blender and pulse briefly. If you are using African yam (please, NOT sweet potatoes), peel and chop it and cook in boiling salted water, drain, and mash). I had the ends of some lovely San Francisco sour dough French bread that I used.

      4. Add the pepper, fish spice, salt, water, and egg (if you are using it) and mix thoroughly.

      5. I put a piece of waxed paper onto my work surface, and put on it about  2 T of the mixture (use more or less, according to the size you wish). Then, using a table knife, flatten it into a patty about a half an inch thick, and use the blade of the knife to shape the 4 sides of the patty.
      6. While these can be deep-fried, I prefer to use a large heavy frying pan to shallow fry them in about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of oil at a medium high temperature, frying one side until brown, then gently turning them over with a slotted spoon or turner, and draining them on paper towels. If you prefer deep-frying, heat several cups of oil in a deep fryer or deep pan on the stove to about 375º F. Make sure never to fill the oil over half full since it could bubble over when adding the fish.
      7. Serving suggestions: Serve with hot pepper sauce or shito or even ketchup. These patties can also be made larger and served as a main dish with sautéed onion rings and eaten with yam, rice and Ghana-style gravy, or even as a first course with cucumber, tomato, onion, lettuce and vinaigrette dressing.

      Recipe #62  Fish Balls

      This  recipe is very similar to #61. The ingredients require a couple of additional things:
      • about 1 1/2 pounds of fresh fish, such as red snapper, grouper, halibut, or any fleshy fish, to yield about 2 cups of flaked cooked fish. Any leftover cooked fish will work,  including canned tuna
      • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
      • 1 egg
      • for 1 cup of white cream sauce
                   1 cup milk
                   1 Tablespoon corn starch
                   2 Tablespoons margarine or butter
                   salt and pepper to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon red or black pepper)
      • vegetable oil for frying (like canola), not palm oil
      • waxed paper (optional)
      1. Follow steps 1 and 2 as for Recipe #61.
      2. Prepare bread crumbs as in Recipe #61. Put them in a small shallow bowl.
      3. Break the egg into a small bowl and mix it with a fork.
      4. Prepare the cream sauce: Mix together the milk and corn starch in a small pan, stir it until smooth and add the salt, pepper, and butter or margarine. Heat on the stove top over  medium heat, stirring constantly. When it comes to a simmer, simmer for 1 minute to thicken it, then remove it from the stove and add  it to the fish. Note: I found that I needed to add a little extra fish for mine to hold together, so you might want to begin with 3/4 cup of white sauce and then add the rest if you determine it will not make the balls too soft to hold their shape.
      5. Put a sheet of waxed paper on you work surface.
      6. Shape about 2 Tablespoons of the fish mixture into a ball in you hands, dip it into the beaten egg, and roll it in the bread crumbs. Continue until all of the mixture is used up. 
      7.  These balls are best deep-fried as explained in recipe #61 ("heat several cups of oil in a deep fryer or deep pan on the stove to about 375º F. Make sure never to fill the oil over half full since it could bubble over when adding the fish."). Drain them on paper towels after cooking.
      Serving suggestions:  These balls have a milder, moister flavor than the cakes, and make delicious appetizers. They can be served the same way as fish cakes. At Flair catering, they are sometimes served in gravies, with or without curry powder, and gently set into the pot just before serving and shaken to coat them.

      NOTE: While I prefer these freshly prepared (I feasted on them yesterday with some of the fresh pepper sauces!), they can also be kept warm in an oven, or reheated quickly in a microwave or oven just before serving.