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.


    ooooo said...

    This recipe is delicious. I was not able to find dried, smoked fish at a reasonable price here in Brazil,so I just used smoked shrimp powder. I love Red Red, so it is nice to be able to make it at home.

    Fran said...

    So glad to hear it worked out for you.

    photoriety said...

    Thank you for posting this recipe. I just returned from a week in Ghana and really enjoyed the red-red I ate there. Now all I have to do is find a grocery store that sells palm oil . . .

    Fran said...

    There are some online suppliers (check out Also, it might be sold under its Brazilian name dende oil. Good luck.

    Jeanette said...

    I'm looking forward to trying this recipe for my Ghanian friend that I'm cooking for. Thank you!