Monday, September 24, 2012

West African cuisine comes to Penn State

Last Friday we finished the Western Africa unit of our class at Penn State, and in a grand finale moved to one of PSU's food labs in the food science building and spent a busy early morning preparing and sampling a variety of West African foods, showcasing different cooking techniques (steaming, baking, deepfrying, stewing, grinding, cutting, steeping) and ingredients (starches like cassava, plantain, and corn; fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, herbs, legumes, including coconut, lemon grass, hibiscus, pineapple, groundnuts (peanuts), black-eyed peas, pumpkin, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and a Senegalese tea leaf (Krystal, what's the name of that again?). It made everything we studied seem more real. As I pointed out to the students, there was nary a drop of dairy or wheat in any of the things we ate. As usual, I forgot to take any photos until we were eating, so you cannot see anyone cracking open coconuts or grinding in the asanka. Still, you can see a little bit of the results.

This week we're moving on to Eastern Africa, beginning with the Horn of Africa. Wish you could join us!


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fall for Garden Eggs (African eggplants) and a question

There are numerous farmer's markets in central Pennsylvania this time of year. Last week 2 of my students (one from Ghana) told me one of the markets sells "heirloom" eggplants, that included some that look like the West African versions. The market opens at 11:30 on Fridays, so yesterday I hurried over there and checked stalls until I found the right one, Moser's Garden Produce. As I examined the dozen or so different types of eggplants (Asian, Indian, African, Brazilian, etc.), I struck up a conversation with another shopper beside me loading a large bag. He was from Côte d'Ivoire, and preparing to buy in bulk and freeze the "aubergines" (French for eggplant) for use as needed. Unfortunately, he told me, the best ones were already taken. It turns out a Liberian colleague had beat us to it and called ahead for 4 bushels that she was picking up at 4:00 p.m. Oh, well. I selected several of the ones still available (in the picture above) and brought them home to test out. 

I also had a lovely chat with owner/farmer Barrie Moser, and he let me look through the seed catalog he buys from, Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. It turns out the ones I bought included a new variety (Solanum aethiopicum) from Burkina Faso (the orange ones on the left). Mr. Moser's seed catalog was from 2010, but it also included several "jilo" varieties from Brazil, as well as "gbogname" from Togo (S. macrocarpon), and the African goya kumbo (S. melongena).
I'm pretty excited to try them out (one of my American students who bought some said he found them bitter, which was what I had warned them they might think. Can anyone tell me the scientific name of the common variety  of Ghanaian "ntroma" garden eggs?