Thursday, October 13, 2011

Back to Brazil

In 2007 I spent 6 months in Brazil, based in Belo Horizonte with side trips to Rio and Salvador.  The many links between African and Brazilian (and other Latin) cuisines continue to fascinate me, and it's with great enthusiasm that I leave today for a 2-week trip to Salvador, Fortaleza in Ceará, and Belo.Think of me while I'm enjoying  farofa, dende oil, vatapá acaraje, feijoada, and caipirinhas. Oh, and don't forget I'll be savoring many cups of cafezihno!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Step-by-Step Ghana-Style Thin-Crust Pizza

Last April, when Mary Akogyeram visited Central Pennsylvania on a trip to the U.S., I promised her I'd write up a recipe for a no-yeast version of pizza. I finally remembered my promise yesterday, and decided to whip up a basic pizza from things I had in my house. I'm calling this  "Ghana-style" because I hope you creative Ghanaians out there will take this recipe several steps further. Basically, this is just a crust waiting for toppings to be added: fish, poultry, meat, okra, garden eggs, groundnuts, etc. And the crust itself is made here from wheat flour, but why not try using fine gari, or cassava flour, even corn or rice flour, or palm oil? There are no rules that say it has to be Italian-style pizza. Please let me know what you think.

Basic Ghana-Style Thin Crust No-Yeast Pizza

There are 3 parts to making pizza: making the sauce, preparing the toppings, and making the crust. NOTE: you will need to have acess to an oven to bake the pizza.

Begin by making the sauce. This is traditionally tomato-based. It can be made from fresh or canned tomatoes, canned tomato sauce, and I'll bet even tomato paste with added water could be used. Yesterday I used canned, peeled tomatoes. I put them in a blender to puree (grind) them.

Assemble the sauce and topping ingredients:

To make enough sauce for 2 pizzas, I used 
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (30 ml)
  • about 50 g (2 oz) of chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 cups of pureed, peeled, canned tomatoes
  • a little dried ground red pepper
  • a little salt
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon, each, of dried herbs of choice (I used oregano and basil)
To make the sauce: chop the onion and peel the garlic, then put the oil into a saucepan on a stove top on medium heat and saute the onion briefly, then crush or mince the garlic and add it, making sure not to burn it. Stir in the pureed tomatoes (or tomato sauce). Add seasonings to taste (red pepper, salt, herbs), and allow to simmer uncovered until the sauce has thickened to a consistency similar to ketchup, and is no longer watery. This may take 20 minutes or so. Stir it occasionally to make sure it is not sticking, and reduce the heat if necessary.

While the sauce is simmering, prepare the toppings. (NOTE: in the picture above you'll see that since I was using sliced chicken, I also put a little oil and onion in a frying pan and quickly stir-fried the chicken before adding it to the pizza. This was a very tender American chicken. In Ghana, if using chicken, one might wish to tenderize it by steaming it a little before adding to the pizza as a topping. As I said earlier, the sky is the limit as far as toppings are concerned! Traditionally, things like tomato, mushroom, onion, peppers (sweet),  and olives are often  sliced and used, and in Italian-style pizza cheeses, especially grated mozzarella and Parmesan or Romano, are important ingredients. Since cheese is very expensive in Ghana, I used only a few ounces of mozzarella. Also fresh herbs or greens, like tender spinach leaves (that's what I used), can be used; and meats and salted fish (especially anchovies), including sausages and salami or pepperoni or ham are featured in traditional Italian versions. These can all be mixed and matched according to your preferences.

Once the sauce has finished thickening, remove it from the heat while you prepare the dough. I like a crispy crust, so the basic recipe I use for a single pizza (this can easily be doubled to make 2 pizzas as I did),  calls for:
  • 1 cup of flour  (250 ml) (NOTE: I used unbleached white; if you experiment using another type of flour you may need to adjust the liquid a little)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder (5 ml)
  • salt to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon) (about 2 ml)
  • 1/3 cup milk or water [I used milk; if using tinned milk, mix half milk and half water]     (75 ml)
  • 2 tablespoons (1/8 cup) (30 ml) of salad oil
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) salad oil to brush on the crust before adding sauce
 Before preparing the crust, turn the oven on to  425 degrees F to preheat (218° celsius, gas mark 7).

To make the crust, first mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Add the milk and 2 tablespoons of oil and stir quickly to mix until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Knead the dough in the bowl about 10 times (it was hard to take a picture with my left hand while kneading with my right, so this picture is blurry!). Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface. If you have a 13-inch round pan, this dough will make one pizza to fit that pan. If you have a large baking sheet for making cookies (biscuits), just roll it out as thinly as you can, then put it on the pan and turn up the edges, pinching them to make them stay . I was always taught to put a little cornmeal (or you could use gari) on the pan before adding the crust, but I realize this isn't really necessary. It will not stick.

If you have a brush, brush about a tablespoon of oil over the crust (this keeps it from getting soggy when you add the sauce). If not, use your hands or a spoon or knife to spread it, then spread about 1/2 cup or more of the sauce over the crust to coat it lightly. Next sprinkle your toppings of choice over the pizza, ending with grated or sliced cheese if you are using it.

Cook the pizza in the center of the hot oven for about 20 minutes, until the crust is golden and the ingredients are lightly toasted. Carefully remove and serve in wedges or squares. Dried red pepper flakes, grated Parmesan cheese, or dried herbs are frequently available at the table to sprinkle on top of the pizza if desired. Hmmmm, Ghanaians might try sprinkling gari on top. Or what about crushed groundnuts or grated hard-boiled eggs? Whatever you do, enjoy your pizza with good friends, family, and conversation.