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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.