Friday, July 22, 2011

Recipe #94: Contemporary Akontoshi ("stuffed crab")

The word for "crab" in Twi is kɔtɔ or ɔkɔtɔ or okoto. Kotokyim is the Akan name for "crab stew" and akontoshi refers to a classic Ghanaian stuffed crab dish topped with bread crumbs. Barbara Baeta of Flair Catering has adjusted the traditional recipe to create an elegant, but easy, dish that can be made from crab (or lobster) meat, but also using less expensive canned tuna fish. Following her lead, I have used Irish baking dish seashells to lend a nice ambiance to the dish. It can also be served in a  crab shell or a ramekin.

If you have access to fresh crabs, good for you. I do not, and since I'm not serving this as a first course at a fancy luncheon or dinner party, and the crab would cost me at least $20 to buy, I prepared mine today using a can of chunk tuna in water.

Recipe #94: Contemporary Akontoshi ("stuffed crab")

  • 1 slice of wholewheat (brown) bread, to make about 1/2 cup of bread crumbs
  • about 1 cup of Ghanaian gravy (see below for directions)
  • about 6 ounces of fresh crab (or lobster meat), or 1 6 oz can of solid tuna fish (preferably in water), drained and flaked with a fork or your fingers
Special equipment:
  • 4 or 5 (oven proof) shells or ramekins to hold the stew
  1. Put a slice of whole-wheat bread into a blender and pulse the blender to make it into crumbs. If it is too fresh and soft, let it sit out for a while to dry, or pop it into a toaster for a minute. You should have about 1/2 cup of crumbs.
  2. Put a clean, heavy pan on the stove and toast the breadcrumbs in it over medium heat until they are browned and crisp, stirring or shaking the pan frequently. Remove the pan from heat and pour the crumbs into a bowl so they do not continue to cook and burn, and set them aside.
If you do not already have some Ghana-style gravy on hand, make some using:
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (such as canola, or peanut)
  • l/2  medium onion, finely chopped (or grated) to get about 1/2 cup 
  • a tomato, seeded and grated (or ground), peeling discarded if grated (for directions on grating, see the eggplant stew recipe), to get about 1/2 cup with juice (do not rinse the peelings with any water)
  • a heaping teaspoon of tomato paste
  • 1 large clove of garlic (or 2 small), pressed (or ground)
  • 1 teaspoon of peeled and grated or ground fresh ginger
  • fresh ground (or minced, but I prefer grinding in a blender) hot pepper to taste (or substitute one or two minced, grated or ground tablespoons of a sweet bell pepper, and/or a half teaspoon or more of dried ground hot chili pepper)
  • a little salt to taste
  • a teaspoon or so of your choice of additional seasoning, dried ground shrimp, white pepper, no-salt seasoning, etc.(optional; I used 1/4 teaspoon dried ground shrimp.
To make the gravy: Prepare the onion, tomato, ginger, pepper, and garlic. Put a frying pan on the stove to heat on medium heat, then add the oil and chopped or grated onion. Saute for a few minutes, then add the garlic, ginger, and fresh red (or bell) pepper. Stir well and cook for another minute or two, and add the tomatoes, tomato paste and other seasonings you are using. Cook for a few minutes until well blended. Add the flaked tuna fish (or crab) to the gravy and stir well. Let it cook for several minutes for the flavors to blend and thicken as  some of the liquid cooks out. (If using fresh crab meat, make sure it is cooked through). Taste and adjust seasonings.

To fill the shells (crab or seashells) or ramekins: You should have a little over a cup of stew, enough for 4 shells filled with 1/4 cup of stew each, or 5 shells filled with 1/3 cup each (that's what I did). Sprinkle a couple of teaspoons of the bread crumbs over the stew on each shell (or a little more if you like).

Heat through in a moderate oven (350 degrees For 180 degrees C) for about 10 minutes, or just until heated through, making sure the crumbs do not burn (I actually used a slightly lower temperature in my toaster broiler oven).

Voila! A delicious, impressive first course to a meal. Even better, you can prepare the stew and the bread crumbs ahead of time, and just stuff and heat them at the last minute. They should be served warm.
Variations: Ghanaians would likely use more oil in the gravy than I suggest. Sometimes butter replaces the oil. Sometimes cheese is added.

    Thursday, July 21, 2011

    Recipe #93: Akple (corn and cassava dough)

    In July I discussed cassava (yucca, manioc) dough, and began describing how to make it--at least as far as grating the peeled cassava and pressing it to drain it for 2 or 3 days. Today's post follows up on that. After 3 days, you will have a dry, tightly pressed together clump of cassava. I added a cup of water to a blender, and blended the cassava to a dough/paste. That is what I'm using today. (I had several cups of dough, and have the rest stored it in the freezer). A photo at that previous blog posting shows the Ewe answer to banku: akple. Once one has the cassava dough, it is simple to make. I decided akple would go well with the yesterday's garden egg stew, so only made a small amount since I'm home alone this week. You might want to try this small recipe first, and if you like it, increase the recipe next time you make it.

    Recipe #93: Akple (cooked corn and cassava dough)

    The proportions for making akple are 1/3 of cassava dough to 2/3rds corn dough. It is my understanding that akple is made from unfermented corn dough. I used
    • 1/2 cup of cassava dough
    • 1 cup of corn dough
    To make the corn dough, I put a cup of white Indian Head cornmeal in a blender to make it a little finer (optional), then mixed it in a bowl with a teaspoon of cornstarch (also optional) to make a slightly smoother dough, then mixed 1/2 cup of water into it. (NOTE: the photo shows the cassava dough on the left and the corn dough on the right.
    •  Mix together the 2 doughs in a saucepan with a half cup of water to get a smooth creamy mixture, and add a little salt (I used ~1/4 teaspoon). A nice heavy wooden spoon or stick works well.
    • Put the mixture on the stove on a medium heat and stir it as it heats, adding another half cup of water all at once and continue stirring until it forms a solid mass (about 10-15 minutes). Do not allow the dough to become lumpy or scorch on the bottom. Turn it as you stir.
    • When the mixture becomes fairly solid and no longer "wet" looking, take a calabash (or bowl), wet it thoroughly and put a spoonful of the dough into the calabash, shaking it vigorously and rolling the dough inside into a circle or oval shape.
    Originally, akple was eaten mainly with fetri ma or fetri detsi, but now it goes well with other dishes, such as fried fish with pepper sauce or shito, or palaver sauce. As I said, I'm enjoying mine with garden egg stew.

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Recipe #92: Eggplant (or Garden Egg) Stew with Meat, Shrimp (or Crab) and Fish

    I have written about "garden eggs" (aka jilo, ntroma) before. Today's recipe is adapted from a rich stew we cooked at Flair Catering in Accra. It includes that common blending of meat and fresh and smoked, dried and salted seafood, laced together with exciting spiciness, fresh vegetables, and the distinctive flavor of palm oil (though that, too, is adapted here). This is a slightly more complicated version than a simple eggplant or okra and eggplant stew, but it is perfect for a special occasion. I've reduced both the salt (folks don't sweat as much in the U.S.), and the oil (we eat more and we don't work as hard physically, either).

    In Accra we purchased fresh, living crabs from the market, wrapped in brown paper to keep them from running away.  Here in central Pennsylvania, I've had to adapt ingredients: the fresh garden eggs are replaced by purple eggplants, the crabs (alas) by tiger shrimp, the momoni by salted cod, the kpakpo shito by jalapeno and habanero peppers, and I've lightened the palm oil by mixing it with half canola oil. By the way, sometimes people attempt to recreate the distinctive color (but not the flavor) of palm oil by mixing paprika in to color it (NOTE: in the U.S., paprika does not refer to a hot chili pepper).

    Recipe #92: Eggplant (or Garden Egg) Stew with Meat, Shrimp (or Crab) and Fish

    First, assemble the ingredients, beginning with the ingredients to season the meat (the 8 oz of stewing beef (or other meat, like lamb or goat), cut into 1/2-inch (~1.5 cm) cubes listed below):

    To season the meat, use the same procedure to prepare the meat as was explained yesterday in recipe #90 for the Light Okra Soup with Chicken  (but omitting  washing it with lemon and water as you did the chicken): 2 teaspoons of fresh grated ginger, a teaspoon of fresh minced, crushed or ground garlic, a half to a teaspoon of dried ground red pepper, and 1 to 2 teaspoons of seasoning salt/no salt seasoning mixture of your choice. Put the meat into a heavy pot, and sprinkle the seasonings over it, mixing it to coat it well. . Sprinkle 1/4 cup of sliced onion and the coarsely chopped fresh chili peppers over the meat, along with half a cup of water. Heat the water to boiling, cover the pot and redue the heat to allow the meat to simmer until almost tender, probably about 20 minutes. Add a little more water as it cooks if necessary to keep it from scorching. 
    After the meat has steamed, take it off the heat until you are ready to proceed. You can either remove the chopped peppers and the onion slices (I did) or leave them in the pot.

    The rest of the ingredients you need for the soup (plus the meat), include:
    • 8 oz of stewing beef (or other meat, like lamb or goat), cut into 1/2-inch (~1.5 cm) cubes
    • about a pound of garden eggs, white or yellow (about 7) or eggplant
    • about 8 oz of smoked fish, cleaned
    • 6 large shrimps (with shells) OR 6 small soft-shelled crabs
    • 8 oz of onions or shallots, peeled and sliced or grated on a medium grater (about a cup grated, but will be more if you slice it)
    • a small piece of salted cod (or momoni), soaked slightly in warm water and rinsed to remove some of the salt first, about an inch long (optional)
    • 1 heaping teaspoon of tomato paste
    • about a pound of fresh tomatoes, seeded and grated to make about 2 cups (use a strainer over a bowl as you de-seed them to collect the juice)
    • 1 teaspoon of salt
    • 1 teaspoon of fish seasoning (I use a fish masala)
    • 4 tablespoons of ground shrimp, or to taste
    • more hot fresh pepper to taste
    • additional ground dried chili pepper to taste 
    • 1/4 cup of white oil (peanut, canola, etc.) and 1/4 cup of palm oil, dzomi if available (OR 1/2 cup of palm oil OR 1/2 cup of white oil, plus 2 heaping teaspoons of tomato paste to give it the proper red color)
    While the meat is steaming, prepare the other ingredients:
    •  if using salted cod, soak it in a little hot water and rinse it
    • grate or slice the onions
    •  deseed and grate the tomatoes (As you grate the tomatoes into a bowl, keep the peelings on a plate, then add them to the strainer with the seeds in it and slowly pour about 1/3 cup water over it, pressing on the peelings and seeds with your fingers to remove as much juice as possible. You should end up with about 2 cups of tomato pulp and juice.
    • If using eggplants: There are  2 basic ways to prepare the eggplant. Option 1 which is what I'm doing, is to peel the eggplant, cut it into a few pieces/slices, cover it with several cups of water in a saucepan and simmer it separately until it is soft, then remove it with a slotted spoon and puree it in a blender and have it ready to add to the stew at the appropriate time. (If you're organized, the cooking water can be saved to use another day for a light soup.) Option 2 is to simply cut the peeled eggplant into small pieces and add it seeds and all to the stew. Your choice. I got into the habit of pureeing mine years ago because it was easier to get the children to eat them that way. (However, if using garden eggs, cut the ends off and cut them in half lengthwise. They should be smooth, unblemished, and an attractive oval-shape. A wrinkled skin means they are old. You can also either cook the garden eggs separately in a few cups of boiling water, then remove the skin and seeds and add to the stew, smashing them as you add them or leaving them in chunks, OR do not precook them and simply cut them up into small pieces and add them to the  meat without removing the seeds).
    • If using shrimp as I did here, devein them but leave the shells on. [If you are using crabs, wash and clean them, whacking off the sharp edges of their shells and removing the underside where the mouth is, and trimming the ends of the claws.
    • Prepare the smoked fish (I'm using smoked mackerel fillets here with no bones, so only rinsed and removed the skin)
    You are now ready to finish the stew:
    1. Put 1/4 cup of palm oil and 1/4 cup of canola (or similar) oil into a heavy skillet or pot (I had to switch in the middle because my frying pan was too small) and add and saute the salted cod and a heaping teaspoon of tomato paste for a couple of minutes.
    2. Add the grated onions and saute 2 minutes, then add the meat and the broth from cooking it (will only be about 1/3 cup), the tomatoes, the 1/4 cup of ground shrimp, and the pureed eggplant. Mix well. If you like the heat, slice a habanero partway through once or twice, and add it to the mixture. To increase the heat, push against the pepper as it cooks.
    3. Add the shrimp (or crab) and another 1 1/2 teaspoon ground/grated fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon crushed garlic (about 1 large clove), and an additional teaspoon of fish seasoning/seasoning salt/no salt seasoning but remember that the smoked fish will add additional saltiness so be careful not to oversalt.
    4. Add the smoked fish and allow to simmer for 15 minutes for the flavors to blend, then check and adjust the seasonings, especially the spiciness and salt. To increase the heat, add a little more ground red chili pepper.
    Oh, gosh. This smells just like Ghana. Even though my kitchen is sweltering in our Pennsylvania heat wave, it's more than worth it. To serve: This stew goes with just about anything, especially yams, plantain, any kind of ampesi, potatoes, gari with water (what Nigerians call eba), rice, akple, kenkey, etc. I generally offer the habanero in the stew to the one who most wants it, but I usually press it against the side of the pan to spice up the stew before I remove it.

    Variations: As with most Ghanaian cooking, this recipe is quite flexible. For example, you can leave out the smoked fish and shrimp, or the meat, or substitute pig's feet. 

    How about sharing a meal with others soon.

      Tuesday, July 19, 2011

      Recipe #91: Light Okra Soup w/Chicken (Ewe Style, fetri detsi)

      I have previously enthused about okra, aka Lady Fingers, that Cinderella of vegetables, and indigenous to West Africa. Among the Ewe people of the Volta Region, there is a short fat type of okra known as Anlo fetri after the region that type originated. It can be seen in the picture at the blog posting linked to above.  The Ewe word for okra is "fetri," and the word for soup or stew is "detsi." This version is the one we prepared at Flair Catering.. By the way, the picture at the left with the carving of the okra farmer shows a different kind of okra soup (fetri ma, a "heavy" okra soup using gboma leaves and sliced okra, which is too hard for me to duplicate in the U.S.). I just love the statue.

       Recipe #91: Ewe-style Light Okra (Okro) Soup with Chicken (Fetri Detsi)

       Assemble the ingredients:

      First, the ingredients for seasoning the chicken to steam it (and the chicken):
      • 2 teaspoons of fresh grated ginger (Hint: while preparing the seasoning for steaming the chicken, go ahead and prepare extra ginger for the soup itself as listed below)
      • 1 teaspoon of fresh minced or ground garlic
      • 1 to 2 teaspoons of seasoning salt/no salt seasoning mixture
      • a little fresh coarsely sliced chili pepper (again, we used kpakpo shito in Ghana, but substitute your choice)
      • 1 chicken cut into 8-12 pieces, including the giblets (heart and gizzard) and neck, but not the liver (or buy an already cut-up chicken or pieces)
      • lemon for cleansing the chicken
      • 1/4 cup sliced onion
      Traditionally, the chicken pieces would be removed after steaming and fried in a white oil (like peanut or canola) before proceeding, as is traditionally done for chicken groundnut stew. For health reasons Barbara Baeta omits that step and proceeds directly to making the soup, which is what I prefer, too, so I've omitted the frying altogether.

      Ingredients for the soup after steaming the chicken:
      • 8 oz (preferably fresh) okra
      • 1 cup of water
      • 1/2 cup of onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
      • 1/4 cup white vegetable oil (I used peanut oil today)
      • 1 1/2 teaspoons of tomato paste (optional, the soup with be greener if you do not use it)
      • 1 Tablespoon ground shrimp
      • 2 cups of water
      • a teaspoon or two of chicken seasoning (e.g., salt, no salt seasoning of choice--in Ghana they used a large chicken-flavored seasoning cube
      • 1 heaping teaspoon of ginger, grated/ground
      • 1 teaspoon of dried ground red chili pepper, or to taste)
      1. After cutting the chicken, remove extra fat. I'm using a fryer chicken today, but would actually prefer a roaster or a free-range chicken.
      2. Put the chicken pieces in a bowl, add half a cup of water to wet it. Cut the lemon in half and rub it over the chicken to cleanse and season them, then empty the bowl and repeat with the other half of the lemon. Then rinse the chicken in about 2 cups of water. 

      1. Put the chicken in a soup pot with the 2 teaspoons of grated ginger, a teaspoon of fresh minced or ground garlic, the salt/seasoning salt/no salt seasoning mixture, and a little ground red chili pepper. Mix it well (easiest to do this with your hands)to coat the chicken, then add 1/4 cup sliced onion, the  a little fresh coarsely sliced chili pepper (again, we used kpakpo shito in Ghana, but substitute your choice. I'm using 1 jalapeno today), and add about 1/4 cup water. Turn on the heat on the stove to high, bring it to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pot, and allow the chicken to steam for 10 minutes, before removing it form the heat, and letting it cool while you prepare the other soup ingredients. (Traditionally this is the point at which the chicken would then be fried, but along with Barbara, I'm omitting that step. Also, like her, after the chicken cools I'll remove its skin before using it in the soup.)
      2. While the chicken is steaming, prepare the ginger (if you haven't already), coarsely chop 1/2 cup of onion, and 
      3. Prepare the okra. This is the fun part. Wash it, then cut off the top and the tail, then seed them by cutting through almost all the way to the end, and then making another cut so that you have the okra cut into 4 pieces that are still held together at one end. I used smallish okra today, and realized it would have been easier with larger okra. Removing the seeds takes a bit of effort, and the tip of a knife (or, in my cheating case, your fingernails). Barbara removes the seeds "to keep it tidy" but says that in poorer families they would not remove the seeds.
      1. After you have removed the round white seeds, you will need a good-sized cutting board and a sharp knife. Stack several of the okra together and slice through them perpendicularly. Continue until all the okra is chopped. Sprinkle the onion on top and mix it in, then measure out a cup of water. Pour a couple of tablespoons onto the okra-onion mixture and mince them together, mixing and adding a little more water every couple of minutes. The okra mixture will thicken and foam and bind itself together to become a mucilaginous dough. Use the knife to continue turning and mixing it as you chop it more. On the left you'll see mine tonight (I used purple onions) and the picture I took at Flair Catering. You'll probably need about 3/4 cup of the water all together, adding a little about 4 times. Use a knife and a large spoon to lift the mass into a bowl.
      2. [Remember I omitted frying the chicken after steaming it.]
      3. Add a couple of tablespoons of "white" oil (I used peanut) to heat in another soup pot. Add a heaping teaspoon (1 1/2 teaspoon) of tomato paste and 1/2 cup of water to the pot and stir all together. Remove the chicken from the pot  you steamed it in onto a platter. Put a strainer over the pot with the tomato paste water mixture and pour the liquid from the pot you steamed the chicken in into the new pot. Discard the pepper and onion slices. Add 1 tablespoon of the ground dried shrimp/crayfish to the pot, another teaspoon or 2 of salt, and some more seasoning to taste (about a teaspoon of  poultry seasoning, etc.). Add 2 cups of water to the pot and bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer.
      4. Remove the skin and any extra fat from the chicken, and put it into the pot with a heaping teaspoon of freshly ground ginger and a teaspoon or more of dried ground red pepper (I needed a couple of teaspoons to get the spiciness I wanted).
      5. Add a cup of water to the okra mixture in two batches, mixing the mixture rapidly with a spoon (or your hand) to break it up. Mix the okro into the soup and let the soup simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste.
      NOTE: I'm not sure why it was necessary to add the oil with the water and tomato paste. My chicken was very fatty and I needed to skim some of the oil off the top of the soup at the end, so I'm guessing that it would be possible to omit the oil in step #3 above.
        This soup goes well with banku or the similar Ewe akple. It's also a "light" okra soup and a good first step for someone not used to eating okra.

          Monday, July 18, 2011

          Recipe #90: Fante-Fante (Fresh Fish Soup), Versions I and II

          I always think of Fante-Fante as a red soup/sauce made only with very fresh fish. When I asked people in Ghana how to make this dish, which originated among the coastal Fanti people of the Western Region, I got multiple answers: one we prepared at Flair Catering, which was similar to a stew where some of the ingredients were first fried ; one I was told to do with similar ingredients as Flair's, but without frying them first (but "you never fry the fish"); finally, I was told it could be made it like a simple fish light soup without any palm oil. Some people said to grind the ingredients, others to grate them; some to add ground shrimp, others not to; some to steam the fish first separately in a little salted water and onion; some used ginger, but most did not; people often said to use seasoning cubes. It was somewhat confusing.

          However, after sifting through all of the information, here are 2 versions. The first one, the one I made tonight, does not involve any frying; the second does.

          Basic Fante Fante, Version I

          • 1 - 1 1/2 pounds of fresh fish (red snapper seems popular [that's what I used today], along with grouper, or cassava fish or even octopus [octopus requires some special treatment, so I'm not recommending it here.] Also, usually people use "white fleshy fish," but it is also apparently made with "dark fish," in which case one should use a "white" oil as opposed to the traditional red palm oil.)
          • an onion
          • fresh red chili pepper to taste (seeded and with membranes removed, if desired. I used a very hot habanero, and needed no dried ground red pepper.
          • 2 good-sized tomatoes, seeded, if desired (I always core the tomato, and remove the seeds over a strainer placed over a bowl so that I can add the juice.
          • 1 Tablespoon of tomato paste (or more or less, as desired, or substitute more fresh tomato)
          • 4 Tablespoons of good quality palm oil (spiced dzomi oil if available--ginger is one of the spices infused in dzomi)
          • salt to taste (or seasoned salt, or a little ginger and/or garlic and/or no salt seasoning)

          1. Scale (if necessary) and clean the fish, cut it into 4 pieces (or in halves if using 2 fish), and wash it with a little water with lemon squeezed in it.
          2. [Optional: put the fish in a saucepan with a little chopped onion and some salt, and a little water  and steam it for about 3 minutes. I omitted this step today.]
          3. Seed the tomatoes if desired, and puree the tomatoes, tomato paste, pepper  (fresh and some dried red pepper, too) and onion in a blender. I find that if I chop the onion, pepper, and tomato coarsely, put everything a bowl, and begin adding it a bit at a time to a blender container while pulsing, it's easiest. Eventually add the tomato paste.
          4. Add 3/4 cup of water to a soup pot (use part of the water you steamed the fish in, if you steamed it), add the fish pieces to the pot in a single layer, sprinkle them with salt, and pour the pureed ingredients over the fish, using another 1/4 cup of water to rinse out your blender container. Bring the water in the pot to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for four minutes.
          5. Add the 4 tablespoons of palm oil (Ghanaians would probably use twice that much) and shake the pan gently to mix everything without breaking the fish apart. Let simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes and adjust seasonings. Continue cooking until the fish flakes easily.
          Variation: Omit the palm oil.
          Fante Fante goes well with Fante kenkey, banku, yam, rice, potatoes, etc.

          Fante Fante Version II (Flair)
          When we prepared this dish at Flair Catering, we used basically the same ingredients, but grated the onion and omitted the fresh tomatoes, increased the palm oil to 1/2 cup, and reduced the amount of water.

          After washing the fish with the lemon water, we shook off the extra water and seasoned the fish with: 
          • a clove of garlic, 
          • 1 heaping teaspoon grated onion 
          • 1  teaspoon grated ginger 
          • half of a large shrimp-flavored seasoning cube (I would substitute some dried ground shrimp/crayfish) 
          • some fresh chili pepper (we used kpakpo shito)
          While it marinated, we continued:
          1. Next we heated the palm oil in a frying pan (seasoning the oil first with a few slices of onion, and removing it before proceeding), then added 1/2 cup of well-packed grated onion, 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, and a little more fresh pepper, and cooked it together for about 5 minutes. 
          2. We added another teaspoon of grated ginger and the other half of the seasoning cube, and adjusted the seasoning, adding about 1/2 teaspoon salt and some dried red chili pepper.
          3. We placed the fish in a single layer in the pan, added 1/3 cup of water and shook the pan to stir it, adding a few more kpakpo shito and another 1/2 teaspoon salt. We covered the pan and simmered it until the fish cooked, about 15 minutes. We checked during the cooking to make sure the water had not evaporated.
           Let me hear from you. What version of Fante Fante do you use?

          Saturday, July 16, 2011

          Kenkey Must-Have: Kenam (Fried Fish), 2 ways, Recipe #89

          The first time I traveled to Ghana (1971) I lived in Nungua, where I taught school . It was there that I learned to love Ga kenkey (aka dokono), shito, and fried fish (kenam or kyenam). Though kenam and its accompaniments are easy to obtain in Ghana, I have to make all three of those myself in central Pennsylvania where I live. That classic meal was one of the first birthday dinners my nephews requested when they came to live with us in 2002. 

          Unless you're used to cleaning your own fish, this task may seem a little daunting at first, but if I can do it, anyone can. That's the only "hard" part.

          Recipe #89: Ghana Fried Fish Version I (salted)
          The Ga people living along the coast traditionally just rubbed salt over the fish before shallow fat frying it, and that's the first way I'll present. Most any fish will work: in Ghana we made it with red snapper, but I chose the least expensive and smallest fresh fish I could find at my local grocery today, which were croakers and porgies. Vendors in Ghana often use smallish fish.

          • If the fish are not descaled, you must do that. Most likely they've already been cleaned. You'll need to shorten the tail, and remove all of the fins (and I remove the gills and gill coverings). This requires care and a sharp knife (those fins can be like needles). For larger fish, you can cut them in two or 3 pieces. Yes, include the head. 
          • After cleaning them and removing all the fins,gills, etc., rinse the fish with a cup or two of water in which you've squeezed a half or a whole lemon. Cut a slit or 2 in the each side of a whole fish. (I suppose that in North America we could use filleted whole fish, but that seems kind of wrong, somehow). And it also would prevent Ghanaians from having access to any bones. You'll need a whole fish or two per person if they're small, or several pieces if they're larger.
          • Let the fish drain in a colander for a few minutes while you heat up oil about 1/2 inch of oil in a large heavy pan (I use my largest cast iron frying pan, heated to medium high on my electric stove).
          • Blot the fish dry if necessary with a little paper towel, then carefully put them in the hot oil to avoid splattering.
          • Cook about 5 minutes on one side, then carefully turn the fish over and cook the other side about 5 minutes as well.
          Vendors in Ghana often cook the fish longer, until it is very hard, because it will keep from spoiling longer, but the fish can also be cooked so that the inside is still soft, or medium hard if you prefer. As I said before, this is wonderful with any kenkey (Ga or Fanti), and fresh pepper sauces or shito, or even just some sliced onion and tomato.

          Kenam, Version II (seasoned and stuffed)

          This is probably a more common way to make kenam nowadays. Follow the same procedure for cleaning and preparing the fish. However, leave the fish whole and do not cut it into pieces, but do make a slit or two diagonally on each side:
          • Make a seasoning paste by grinding about a tablespoon of peeled shallots (or red onion, if available, or else yellow onion and 
          • about an inch piece of fresh peeled ginger (enough to get almost 1 teaspoon ground) and
          • a teaspoon of ground red chili pepper
          Sprinkle a little salt over both sides of each fish. Stuff the slits with the spice mixture and close the slits up. Shallow fry the fish as for version I above (about 5 minutes on each side, more if desired). You'll see my pan was a little too small and I had to force the fish to fit. Drain the fish on paper or paper towels before serving.

          Bon Appétit.

          Friday, July 15, 2011

          On Ghana's "Kofi Brokeman," "shandies" and Charcoal Grilled Chicken

          Some time ago I discussed how to make roasted ripe plantain in the oven. Now that summer weather is here in central Pennsylvania, and everyone is bringing out their grills, I'd like to add a postscript.

          Recipe #86: "Kofi Brokeman" (grilled plantain slices)

          Where just-ripe plantains are plentiful in Ghana, roadside vendors sell grilled slices along with small paper- or plastic-wrapped packages of shelled roasted peanuts with their skins still on. A complete meal in itself, it is inexpensive and filling, and goes by the popular nickname "Kofi Brokeman." (in other words,  Kofi has no money).

          To do it yourself, build a fire in a charcoal grill (or fire up your gas grill), and be sure to brush oil on the grill rack to keep the plantain from sticking. Alternatively, use some "no stick" aluminum foil and put the plantain directly on that. If you have the chance to get a fan from Ghana like the one in the photo above, they're very handy for fanning the charcoal when starting the fire.

          While the fire is burning down (about 45 minutes for me), prepare the plantain: cut the ends off, make a shallow cut just through the peel from end to end on one side, peel it and remove any stringy fibers, then cut the plantain on the diagonal (making ovals on the cut ends) to make several slices.  Ghanaians would not salt them.

          Spread out the coals, and set the grill a few inches over the charcoal. Grill the plantain pieces until they are brown and cooked on each side (perhaps 5-10 minutes per side) . Be careful  the slices do not burn (see my p.s. below). If they seem to be getting dark too quickly, raise the grill, or move slices to the outside of the grill away from the direct heat. Best eaten warm off the grill.

          I'm getting ready to go light a fire myself now, but it's hot outside, so first I think I'll go and buy a bottle of beer and one of ginger ale, and make a "shandy." While I've no idea where the "shandy" (short for "shandygaff") originated or how it found its way to Ghana (maybe via the British?) it's a cooling drink, where beer is mixed with ginger ale or ginger beer or ginger drink in roughly equal quantities. I gather beer can also be mixed with citrus drinks like lemon squash or lemonade. Also, I think perhaps it's most popular with women in Ghana ("real men" drink beer, don't they?) It's a refreshing chilled drink, and sounds like the perfect accompaniment today to grilled plantain. To all you purists horrified that I would dilute my beer, I give you my unrepentant apologies. Now, if only I had some Star or Club here. . .

          Recipe #87: Shandy Drink 

          Directions: Simply mix together part lager beer and part ginger ale (or other soft drink or citrus drink) in whatever proportion you desire. Make sure the drinks are very well chilled first, and use ice cubes if you wish (people likely would not in Ghana). I made mine from Corona beer and Goya ginger beer (stronger, but sweeter, than ginger ale) and lots of ice, and garnished with a lemon slice.

          P.S. A confession on my grilling today:
          I'm sorry to say that the only plantain I had in the house was riper than it should have been, my portable barbeque had no way to raise the grill, and my husband telephoned from Nigeria just as I put the food on to cook and I chose to talk to him, with the result that my plantain became glazed and then much of the outside burned (also the chicken as you'll see from the picture below). They  look more like charcoal that charcoal grilled. None the less, everything was very tasty.

          Recipe #88: Ghana-style charcoal grilled chicken

          One of the basic "building blocks" of Ghana's cuisine is a spicy wet seasoning used, with slight variations, on chicken, fish, pork, etc. The same combination of ground ingredients show up repeatedly: ginger, hot chili peppers, onion or shallots, garlic, tomatoes/tomato paste, salt, dried red pepper, and, generally, generous quantities of Maggi or Royco seasoning cubes. Ghanaians also select from various herbs and spices including curry powder, thyme, anise, dawadawa (from fermented locust beans), ground dried shrimp and herrings, and so forth. As I prefer not to use seasoning cubes, I rely on seasoned salts, and increased quantities of herbs and other spices, or dried shrimp, etc.

          Here is my version of a basic seasoning marinade that can be used in this recipe, or also on roasted poultry:

          In a small blender container mix together to a paste:
          • 1 peeled onion, any type (or several peeled shallots) cut into large chunks
          • a fresh chili pepper (e.g., jalapeno, or spicier habanero), seeded and membranes removed if desired, cut into several chunks (use more or less according to how hot you want the marinade)
          • 2 good-sized cloves of garlic
          • a couple of tablespoons of water, just enough to blend
          After blending, stir in:
          • 1 teaspoon salt
          • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried ground red pepper
          • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste (optional)
          • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
          • 2 teaspoons of your choice of poultry seasoning (I used and recommend Afro-Foods Poultry Seasoning. If you don't know about Yeti, who was featured on Betumi in 2007, she is doing great things with her Afrofood and her Afrofoodtv sites)
          Set the seasoning aside while you cut up and prepare a chicken (unless you buy already cut-up chicken pieces). I used a fryer, and removed and discarded the extra fat and liver. (I used part of the back, neck, and giblets for chicken stock to use another day.

          Mix the chicken and marinade well (if you have a study ziplock plastic bag that works wonderfully, as would a plastic container with a plastic lid you could shake to mix). I only had a glass baking dish handy, so I used that and covered it with plastic wrap. Ideally, I would have let this marinade for a couple of hours (in the refrigerator), but due to time pressure, only let it marinate for half an hour. The flavor still managed to permeate the chicken.

          When you are ready to grill the chicken, make sure the grill is clean and oiled to prevent sticking. As I mentioned above, I rushed my charcoal and the fire was too hot. I should have taken my own advice (removed the chicken for awhile or shifted its position--my grill was too small for this--or lifted the grill a couple of inches, which I also could not do). Baste the chicken with the excess marinade as it cooks, turning it from time to time. And voila! The unmistakable taste of Ghana.

            Thursday, July 14, 2011

            Recipe #85: Ghana's famous "red-red"

            Any visitor to Ghana will likely be introduced to one of the recipes most popular with foreigners: "red-red," the name of an (appropriately) red stew, served with ripe plantains,  aka "red plantains." The "red" also refers to the (red) palm oil used to prepare the stew. Because I'm quite fond of tomatoes, I use tomato paste in mine, which further enhances its color. "Red-red" (don't you love the African use of reduplication, or "echo words"?)  is most commonly made with black-eyed peas or other cowpeas, but it is also delicious when  made with aduki (or your choice of) beans. Along with other common dishes such as chicken groundnut soup with omo tuo (rice balls)jollof rice, and kelewele, most Ghanaians feel comfortable introducing visitors to this dish. If you've been following this blog, you'll see the recipe is also quite straightforward and easy.

            Recipe #85: Red-red (black-eyed pea stew with fried ripe plantain)

            NOTE: This recipe can easily be doubled. Vegetarians can omit the fish and substitute their choice of vegetables, perhaps increasing the salt.

            • In order to prepare this dish, make sure you have several nicely ripened (but not overly ripe; they should still be firm) plantains
            • 1 cup of black-eyed peas, uncooked (or about 3 cups cooked or frozen)
            • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste, smoked fish is salty)
            • 1 large onion, chopped
            • ~1/2 pound smoked fish (e.g., whiting, mackerel, haddock, tuna, salmon, whitefish. Do not use smoked herrings unless you desalt them first, and use only half as much, or 4 oz). If the fish has already been filleted, you may also use less than 8 ounces. You may substitute fresh fish, but you will not get the distinctive flavor to the stew. If using fresh fish,try adding a tablespoon or so of ground shrimp if you can
            • 1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce (as always, you can use several fresh [or canned] tomatoes, ground, to replace this, which I was I did today)
            • 1/3 cup red palm oil (dzomi, if available, or other vegetable oil)
            • fresh minced or ground chili pepper or ground red pepper to taste (begin with about 1/2 teaspoon dried)
            • vegetable oil (like canola) for frying the plantain
            • other seasonings if desired, but totally optional (e.g., ginger, garlic, herbs, powdered shrimps)
            • dry gari (optional)
            • a tablespoon or two of tomato paste (optional)
            To make the stew:
            1. Either wash and soak the beans several hours or the night before, or use the "quick" method:
            2. Rinse and pick over the beans, removing any stones or discolored beans, then put them in a pot, cover them with at least an inch of water, bring it to a boil and boil for 2 minutes, then remove it from the heat and let it sit for an hour. Then, drain off the water and put fresh water in, bring it to a boil, and cook until tender, about an hour or so.
            3. While the beans are simmering, prepare the onion and other ingredients.
            4. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onion and saute for about 10 minutes
            5. Add the seasonings (but leave the salt until the end since the smoked fish will increase the saltiness of the stew), and fry a few more minutes over medium heat.
            6. Add the ground tomatoes and fry together for a few minutes. Add tomato paste if you wish to use it, or wait until the end as you are adjusting the seasonings.
            7. (If you're me) remove any skin and bones and add the smoked fish, stir, and add the beans (without the water). A little water from the pot may be added if the stew cooks down too much. After simmering for about 10 minutes. Check the seasonings (especially the salt and pepper) and adjust to taste. Break the fish up to pieces as the stew cooks down.
            Let simmer or remove from heat while you prepare the ripe plantains.
            1. Peel the ripe plantains and remove any stringy fibers on them. I like to cut them horizontally lengthwise, and then into several pieces cut on the diagonal.
            2. Use shallow fat frying to fry these: heat enough oil in the bottom of a large frying pan to cover it well (to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch) but not to cover the entire pieces of plantain. I move back and forth between medium high and medium on my electric stove.
            3. Place them into the pan without crowding them (you may need to cook in batches), using a turner to avoid having hot oil splatter on you, turning them over when they are well-browned on one side.
            4. Remove them to drain on paper towels in a basket or on a platter.
            5. Serve warm with the stew.
            6. Gari is often sprinkled on top of the bean stew as a condiment (sort of like you'd sprinkle Parmesan cheese on pizza), or on the side moistened with water.
              Variation: Note: aduki beans take longer to cook, so extra time must be allowed if using them.
              Serving suggestion: Though it is not traditional, I like to serve this with a cooked vegetable (spinach, okra, etc. as a side dish).

              The light alternative:

              As health considerations loom more and more important in our lives, my husband and I are content to have a simpler version:
              Instead of frying the ripe plantain, I boil it as for ampesi, while my husband prefers to have it roasted in our little toaster oven, or even, in a pinch in the microwave.

              In place of the fried stew, simply cook the beans and then add some chopped onion, tomato, pepper, etc., without frying anything, and, for good measure I like to throw in a few fresh okra that have been tailed or chopped. While I love the smoked fish, if there's a low-salt diet in your life (as in mine), either skip the fish altogether and make a vegetarian version, or substitute fresh fish. Still a wonderful taste.

              Wednesday, July 13, 2011

              Recipes #83: corned beef stew with #84: ampesi (boiled starchy vegetables)

              One of our household standbys for unexpected guests, corned beef stew is also one of the first recipes I taught all my children when they were learning to cook. 

              Historically, when folks in Ghana returned to their hometowns for holidays, they would often carry "tinned" goods from the urban areas to give as gifts, such as "tinned milk," "sardines," "mackerel" and "Exeter corned beef." This stew, sort of like a hash or chowder without the milk or potatoes, still carries a sense of being special. 

              When my children were young, they used dried ginger and red pepper, but it tastes better using fresh seasonings. Also, they used an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce instead of fresh tomatoes. It's your own call on exactly what you use.

              Recipe #83: Corned Beef Stew

              Assemble ingredients:
              • 1 can of corned beef
              •  about a 1" piece of fresh grated, peeled ginger (or about a half teaspoon of dried)
              • 1/2 teaspoon of curry power (more if you like a zestier flavor)
              • dried ground red pepper to taste (begin with about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon and add more if you want it spicier), OR fresh hot minced or ground chili peppers (with or without seeds and membranes) of your choice
              • Additional seasoning of choice (I added a little optional Mrs. Dash no-salt seasoning)
              • 1 large onion, sliced or chopped
              • 1/3 cup of peanut oil (or other vegetable oil)
              • a few cloves of garlic, crushed or minced (optional)
              • salt to taste (depends on fresh or canned tomatoes, and personal preference, but I'd begin with 1/2 teaspoon)
              • 1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce (OR 4-5 fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded and chopped or pureed, if desired, OR substitute canned tomatoes, pureed or chopped).
              • a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste (optional)
              • 2 eggs
              • Garnish of your choice: a small onion and fresh bell pepper slices sauteed in a little oil, fresh steamed or sauteed vegetables, etc. (I had some green beans fresh from the garden, so I used those.)
                1.  As for most Ghanaian stews, begin with making a gravy: prepare the onion, ginger, pepper (if using fresh) and garlic if using. I was rushing today, so I threw the onion in a mini food processor, emptied it out, and then added fresh coarsely chopped ginger, pepper and garlic. Unfortunately, I didn't like the texture of those at all. I suggest that if you wish to use a machine, you use a blender to grind the spices finely instead, and I still prefer chopping onions for stews by hand.
                2. Heat the oil in a heavy pan, then fry the chopped onions for a few minutes.
                3. Add the spices and salt and cook a few more minutes.
                4. Add the tomatoes (I pureed canned tomatoes in a blender, but strained out the seeds before I added it to the stew), stir well, and let the stew continue to simmer.
                5. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat them with a fork, and stir into the stew, and let all simmer together for 10 minutes. Most of the water should evaporated so the stew is not runny. If it is too dry, add a little water to keep it from sticking.
                6. While the stew simmers, prepare any garnish.
                This stew goes very well with plain rice, or rice and beans (waakye), as well as the ampesi recipe that follows.

                Variation: other "tinned" foods, like tinned mackerel, could be substituted for the beef.

                Recipe #84: Ampesi (boiled starchy vegetables) 

                While frying is a popular cooking mode in Ghana, healthy and simple boiled starchy vegetables are also very common. When I think of my favorite meals, I remember the small green plantains (apim or apem) that often accompany nknotomire stew, or  the larger plantains (apantu) that are more commonly served ripe, the boiled yam slices that go with most any stew, as well as  boiled cocoyams (taro) or cassava (manioc). Boiled sweet potatoes (usually white) are a less common form of ampesi.

                When I first went to Ghana I was taught to put the heavier root vegetables that would take longer to cook on the bottom of the cooking pot, and the faster-cooking ones on top. In the U.S. I just put them all in together in a jumble. A good addition/substitution in the U.S. is russet potatoes.


                Assemble ingredients. The amount depends on the quantity of vegetables you're preparing and how many people you plan to serve.
                1. Peel the yam, cut it into rounds about half an inch thick, and cut each round in half. If using green plantains, peel them and cut  them in half lengthwise (horizontally). If using ripe plantains, sweet potato, cassava (manioc), potatoes, or cocoyam (taro), peel and cut each in several pieces.
                2. Put them into a large pot, cover with water, and add a little salt if you like.
                3. Bring the water to a boil and cook until the vegetables are soft but not mushy (if the ripe plantains cook more quickly, you can remove them with a slotted spoon while the other vegetables finish cooking).
                4. Drain the water off when they are cooked (about 20 minutes), and serve immediately with any stew, such as corned beef stew.


                Tuesday, July 12, 2011

                Recipes #81 and #82: Squid and Octopus Appetizers

                Octopus and squid are known as "blõsa" (bosa?) among the Ewe people. While this recipe was not part of the traditional diet, Barbara has adopted traditional seasoning and deep-frying cooking techniques to produce what has proven to be one of Flair's popular appetizers. While the recipe calls for octopus or squid, or a combination, other firm fish, or shrimp, could be substituted. Here are 2 ways of preparing this dish: one without a batter, and one with.

                Recipe #81: Squid or Octopus Appetizer
                In Ghana we used a kilo (a little over 2 pounds) of squid, and also a kilo of octopus. However, I believe that was before everything was cleaned and prepared, and I remember that we did not use the tentacles of the octopus. Barbara said that the kilo provided enough for 9 to 18 people.

                However, when I prepared it in Pennsylvania, I was only able to find already cleaned and prepared baby squid (I did not buy the tentacles, just the tubular part of the body), and also baby octopus, which was quite a bit softer than the octopus we used in Ghana. 

                I recommend a pound of the squid (over a pound of the octopus, since I did not cook the tentacles from them, but only if you have another use for them. Or, you could try coating them as well. I did not.).

                Assemble the ingredients:
                • 1 pound of squid (or substitute octopus, or a half pound of each)
                • 1 lemon
                • water for washing the squid
                For the seasoning:
                • 1 heaping teaspoon dried ground cayenne pepper
                • 1 heaping teaspoon fresh ground ginger
                • 1 heaping teaspoon ground shallots (or onion)
                • 1 teaspoon ground fresh garlic
                • 1-2 teaspoons of salt (to taste)
                • 1 heaping teaspoon fish seasoning (I used a fish masala)
                To fry the squid/octopus: 
                • vegetable oil like canola for deep frying
                • a little flour (optional)
                To prepare:
                1. Cut the squid into small strips the long way, about 1/2 inch wide, and cut the strips in half or thirds. When we used the large octopus, we cut them into strips about 1 1/2 inches by 1 1/4 inches. However, with the baby octopus, I simply cut them into small pieces as shown.
                2. Add 2 cups of water to a small bowl, and squeeze the lemon into the water. Wash the squid/octopus pieces in the liquid, swishing them around well, shake the excess water off, and place them in a colander lined with paper towels to drain. 
                3. Prepare the seasoning paste. To simplify matters, I simply put the peeled shallots, coaresly chopped fresh ginger, and several cloves of garlic in a small blender container, but had to add a tablespoon or two of water to get it to grind thoroughly. Then before I made the paste, I poured the blended ingredients into a fine strainer to get the water out, and used that water to flavor a gravy for stew. I was afraid the paste would be too thin if the water was not removed, and would splatter when frying.
                4. Mix the blended ingredients with the dried red pepper, salt and fish seasoning to make a paste.
                5. When we were in Ghana, I believe we simply coated the squid/octopus pieces with the paste and fried them in a heated deep pot of oil, but I found several problems when I tried that: the paste did not properly stick to the pieces, and also they splattered excessively when I put them in the oil, so I added another step: dry the pieces well with paper towels, and lightly dust them with flour before coating them with the paste.  Carefully put them in the hot oil using a long-handled spoon or tongs and be careful of splatters (It's a good idea to wear a full apron if you have one, and follow standard deep frying procedure--e.g., don't overfill the pot, make sure the oil is hot enough---about 360 degrees F). As soon as the first batch is in, cover the pot or fryer for a couple of minutes, then remove the lid and stir the pieces to make sure they brown on both sides. 
                6. When they are nice and crispy, remove to another paper lined colander or tray to drain. When we cooked this in Ghana, the octopus was much thicker and took longer to cook than the squid. When I used the baby squid and octopus, it cooked in just a few minutes. Repeat until all are cooked.
                Serving: At Flair they often dip the pieces in a gravy and serve them on a skewer like a kebab, alternating the fried octopus with fried squid, sweet bell pepper,  tomato, and/or onion slices. I made a basic Ghana gravy (with hot pepper), dipped the fried pieces in it, and threaded them on skewers that way, as shown in the photo at the top. Another way they eat them is with little steamed cassava "pancakes" called yakayake, but I have neither the dough nor the equipment to make those. Sometimes, when they cook a large fish at Flair, they sprinkled the fried squid or octopus over it as a garnish.

                Recipe #82: Batter-coated Squid and Octopus Appetizer
                The  way I got cautious Sam to be willing to try (and like) squid and octopus, was to dip them in batter before frying them.

                For this recipe, you follow the same instructions as for #81, but there is an additional step. Actually, it's a good idea to make the batter first, then let it rest while you prepare the squid/octopus. As I noted above, in Ghana we made a double batch of this, but I'm cutting the recipe in half here.

                Assemble the ingredients:
                • 8 ounces of flour (about 1 3/4 cup)
                • 2 eggs (actually, one and a half, but that's kind of awkward)
                • 1/4 cup of evaporated milk (if using fresh milk, simply decrease the water below accordingly)
                • 1 cup water (or 3/4 cup if not using evaporated milk) (or more as necessary, described below)
                • 1 teaspoon baking powder
                • 1/2 heaping teaspoon salt
                • 1/2 teaspoon dried ground red pepper (or more to taste)
                To prepare:
                1. Sift the flour into a large bowl.
                2. Crack and add the 2 eggs.
                3. Shake, then open and add the evaporated (or fresh) milk and mix all well with a wire whisk.
                4. In Ghana they added part of a shrimp-flavored seasoning cube, crushed, but I used a no-salt seasoning substitute, or perhaps you could substitute some ground shrimp powder.
                5. Add the baking powder, salt, and dried gorund red pepper.
                6. Mix again with the wire whisk, then add more water if necessary. I had to add about 1/4 cup to get it the right consistency.
                7. This batter can be used to coat squid, octopus, or any fish before frying it. As was the case in recipe #81, I suggest dusting the fish lightly with a powder of flour before dipping it in the batter. If you accidentally make the batter too thin, add more flour. 
                To serve: I served this with a couple of different sauces: a hot sauce and a horseradish cocktail sauce. It would also go well with shito or ketchup. It goes well with any drink (beer, red or white wine, soda, juices) as an appetizer, or as a savory snack with tea or coffee.

                Isn't it about time you had a party?