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.

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