Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Africa Cookbook Projects, Original and New

In my previous post I promised to share about what's happening with BETUMI's "mountain moving" projects. 

BETUMI's Original Africa Cookbook project:
In 2007 at the TED Global conference held in Arusha,
Tanzania, BETUMI launched the
Africa Cookbook Project --we now have collected well over 120 books written by Africans and published (mostly) in Africa. They range from mimeographed (yes, before the 1960s, before  photocopying or scanning, there was mimeographing) informal collections of recipes to sophisticated full-color print books. They are in English, French, Portuguese, Amharic, Malagasy. . . We have also collected dozens more cookbooks published outside of Africa and/or written by non-Africans, along with dozens of  African-food-related reference books.

The earliest books in the collection were originally published in 1933 (The Gold Coast Cookery Book,  by the Government Printing Office in Accra, reprinted in 2007 as The Ghana Cookery Book by Jeppestown Press in the U.K. AND the 1934 The Kudeti Book of Yoruba Cookery by J. A Mars & E. M. Tooleyo--we have the 3rd (Revised) Edition (1979) and the reprinted and repackaged 2002 edition, all from Lagos.

The most recently published additions are: from South Africa,  Ukutya Kwasekhaya: Tastes from Nelson Mandela's Kitchen by Xoliswa Ndoyiya with Anna Trapido, published in 2011;  from Ghana, Florence Sai's Aunty Mama's Cook Book launched in Ghana in December 2011, and from (Côte d'Ivoire (via France), Marguerite Abouet's  Délices d'Afrique, published in 2012 by Editions Alternatives.

A huge thank you to everyone who has contributed so far to this project. One immediate mountain that needs moving is getting all of the books into the fledgling data base. We need help to do this. Maybe the next step after that is getting some of the earlier works digitized and available to everyone, while ensuring that there is fair compensation to authors and publishers.

The Newest Africa Cookbook project:

As many of you already know, for over a decade (when the photo on the left was taken), Barbara Baeta and Fran Osseo-Asare have been collaborating on compiling an ambitious Ghanaian cookbook designed as a basic cooking course. It will feature regional variations and step-by-step instructions for a wide range of Ghanaian recipes (roughly 150), along with Ghanaian artwork, scenic shots, and anecdotes from both of our lives. 

We're thrilled to report that in August 2013 we signed a contract with Hippocrene Books, respected for over 40 years as a publisher of ethnic cookbooks. The manuscript will be completed by the end of August 2014, and the book is expected out 9 months later, around May 2015. Thank you to all of you who have been supportive of this unfolding dream. We trust that, like all truly great things, it will prove worth the wait.

We're very excited! 

P.S. Those of you who have offered to help (or would like to)  with the final recipe testing, stay tuned. We welcome your involvement, and will soon give more details on how you can be a part of this project.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Bissap and Plantain Chips at TED Fellows Retreat

This past August (2013), I was invited to attend the first ever TED Fellows Retreat, held in breath-taking Whistler, Canada. The "retreat" was so action packed it would have been better named TED Fellows Advance. Amazing talks, amazing networking, amazing gifts, amazing resources, amazing energy . . .

It was also the first reunion of the original 2007 Fellows group from TEDGlobal: Africa: the next chapter We were disappointed that the Canadian government denied visas to some of the African Fellows, but it was still wonderfully encouraging to catch up on what's been happening the past 7 years all over the continent and beyond.

One activity during break times was an "international tea party," featuring teas the Fellows brought from around the world. I carried along some S. African rooibos teabags my Ghana-based architect son DK (2010 TED Global Fellow) brought me from Cape Town and gave me when I was in Ghana in July (Incidentally, I think we're the only parent-child Fellows in TED!) Plus, I cooked up some fried plantain chips to carry along. The first evening at the retreat I brewed some bissap (hibiscus iced tea) to chill and serve with the chips to my fabulously talented and amazing fellow Fellows. Very grateful to Emeka Okafor of Timbuktu Chronicles, Tom Rielly, and all the other members of the TED Fellows team who made this renewing experience possible. My next post will share the progress on my dream and the mountains I'm planning on moving (the theme of the retreat), with your help.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Around the House, kpakpo shito and water leaf

Fall is now arriving in the US. Nights are getting colder, yet the warm memories of a month in Ghana during June and July are still strong.

Here are a few photos from my time there. On the right and below are photos of the kpakpo shito bushes planted in our yard in Baatsona (near Tema). Kpakpo shito (shito means "pepper" in Ga) is my favorite pepper from Ghana. I've tried unsuccessfully to locate seeds in the U.S., with several local organic farmers willing to grow them for me.

If anyone knows how to legally import them from Ghana, please let me know. Kpakpo shito has a wonderful, almost sweet fragrance, along with a spicy heat. I didn't have to buy peppers at all the 4 weeks I was in Ghana! I wait for them to turn red before cooking with them, either whole and "popped" between my fingers, or seeded and sliced.

My son Yaw Dankwa also planted some greens he brought from Nigeria, called "water leaf" or what sounded like "boca-boca" in Ghana. They have small purple flowers. He mentioned that they can be cooked like cocoyam leaves (nkontomire), and that in Nigeria people sometimes also just cut the leaves up and add them to food. I never had a chance to cook some this trip, but did check in with the knowledgeable Ozoz Sokoh, of Kitchen Butterfly fame, who confirmed that water leaf  is ". . . an aggressive plant and I'm less than happy with it at the moment as it overtakes every thing with its self propagation. Worse than mint! . . . But we use it in soups, with other greens (pumpkin leaves and another veggie we call 'green'), with ground melon, stirred into tomato sauces aka stew." She also provided a link for more information, including its history and scientific family and name, Portulacaceae, Talinum fruticosum (T. triangulare).  Apparently the leaves are  loaded with vitamins A and C, calcium and iron, and are grown in many tropical areas of the world besides West Africa.
Thank you again, Ozoz.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Pure Sugar Cane: Swizzle Sticks to Snacks

In central Pennsylvania, it's almost impossible to get fresh sugar cane. In Ghana it's a totally different reality. Last month I experimented with this versatile natural food, (Naomi helped me break it into pieces and peel it):

The sugar cane can be cut into longer sticks as drink stirrers (shown here with grapefruit juice), aka "swizzle sticks." It can also be cut into smaller sticks (I tried cutting it into rounds, too, but that did not work as well) that can be chewed as a simple, refreshingly light dessert or afternoon snack. Yum. A perfect example of "more with less."


    Tuesday, July 16, 2013

    African Development for the Kitchen: Ghana Kitchen-wear

    During this trip to Ghana, BETUMI is working with a talented young designer at Low Design Office (who happens to be my son) and local seamstresses and tailors to design and sew a line of  “Made in Ghana” culinary "wear." (Note in the photo below that the sewing machines are not electric). It’s a great way to support local women by giving them access to wider markets. It's also a way to add a unique African touch to your kitchen, or the perfect gift for someone special. If there is interest, there are plans to develop a complete line of Ghanaian chefwear, including chef jackets. What do you think? Let us know and check back for more information on ordering soon.

    Friday, July 12, 2013

    BETUMI Photo Exhibit at Penn State

    Though I'm in Ghana, my thoughts are turning towards the upcoming fall semester that begins at Penn State in August. Helen Sheehy, Head of the Social Sciences and Donald W. Hamer Map Libraries, has curated an exhibit of photos from BETUMI that graces the entrance to the undergraduate social sciences library at the University Park campus of Penn State. I am grateful for the exposure, and hopeful that some of the undergraduates may stop to check out the exhibit and be enticed to sign up for the fall offering of my African Foodways course (AFR297B).

    Tuesday, July 09, 2013

    Flair turns 45!

    I've been in Ghana for almost 2 weeks. The highlight so far was celebrating Flair Catering's 45th Anniversary and the graduation of its 2013 class. Barbara Baeta (and her catering company and school) is legendary in her commitment to setting standards in the hospitality industry in Ghana, as well as championing Ghana's classic cuisines while preparing a wide array of international dishes with equal ease. Barbara truly brings "flair" to everything she touches. I feel honored to know her and to have been able to join them for this special time. 

    While waiting  in a bank this morning I happened to see an editorial in one of the local papers. The writer was lamenting the failure of customer service in the hospitality industry in Ghana after over 50 years of independence. Then he stated that Barbara Baeta and Flair have restored his faith in the hope that dedicated, honest, creative, hardworking individuals like her and her legacy of trained professionals, offer hope for Ghana, and for Africa as a whole. It was a moving tribute.

    The graduation speaker this year was Mrs. Lordina Mahama, the wife of Ghana's current President. It turns out she was a graduate of Flair, and in the 1990s earned the coveted "Barbara Baeta Award" for her outstanding accomplishments while

    a student. The graduates were inspired and eager to continue Flair's traditions. Mrs. Mahama also donated a new 6-burner cookstove to the school, and promised 2,000 bags of cement for the long-dreamed of expansion of the school in a new location.

    It struck me how the students truly understood the vocation before them, as they (and former students as well) transitioned effortlessly from honored graduates to earnest caterers: after the graduation on Friday, serving the hundreds of guests refreshments they had prepared , as well as at a luncheon held on Sunday after a service of Thanksgiving at Ridge Church. I was also touched by the devotion, respect,  and love they obviously have for their beloved "Auntie Shika."

    Sunday, June 02, 2013

    Cassava: beyond tapioca pudding

    In graduate school back in the 1980s, "cassava" was pretty much  a dirty word: empty calories, starchy, toxic, starvation/subsistence food, nutrient-deficient. etc. Not a food for the future, I was advised. Everyone seemed consumed by rice research and the "green revolution."

    I vaguely knew there was an International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, based in Nigeria, that did something with cassava (aka yuca, manioc, mandioca), and had heard somewhere in Colombia there was a group (the International Center for Tropical Research) working with cassava, too. But this, anyway, was apparently unrelated to "cuisine."

    How the times have changed. There is today a burst of enthusiasm about this tuber (and its leaves), both within African countries and around the world. Cassava is periodically featured in this blog. For example, I have written about the widespread consumption of  cassava in Brazil, and work of some of my colleagues to further respect for it. I have also included recipes using cassava flour, such as Brazil's popular pão de queijo as well as how to make cassava (yucca) dough or cassava (gari) biscuits.

    Ghana is a huge wheat importer (estimated in 2010 to be about 270,000 million tons). Periodically, African governments encourage (or require by law) bakers to substitute cassava flour for part of this amount (e.g., in Ghana, in Nigeria, in Tanzania. However, there is still higher status attached to using (expensive) imported wheat flour, or using (expensive imported) rice (see my comments on Flora Nwapa's Cassava Song and Rice Song)

    In 2001, an influential book was published, called The Cassava Transformation: Africa's Best-Kept Secret. The book challenged a number of myths about cassava, while also recognizing its growing importance in Africa and other parts of the tropical world. There have also been major research advances in improving varieties of cassava. Today cassava's image has been largely rehabilitated, and there is renewed interest in using it to replace part of the wheat flour commonly
    imported into places like Ghana, Nigeria, or Tanzania. A few years ago I was delighted to see a factory near our house near Tema producing tasty Obama biscuits (cookies) from cassava flour.

    I was reminded of the subject of cassava flour in May by a news announcement lauding one of Nigeria's former presidents, Obasanjo, on exporting cassava bread to Tanzania. I hope the rhetoric is matched by government and public support in Africa to raise the stature of cassava, not just for economic, but also culinary reasons.

    Monday, May 20, 2013

    Groundnut Paste No-flour Biscuit (Cookie)

    I'm currently spending a couple of months in California, with time split between my own mother (84 years old) and my granddaughter, 2 years  (plus new grandson, 3 days old!). Around Mother's Day, mom and I were talking about cooking things using available ingredients, and I was (as usual) lamenting the dependency on wheat flour for baking in Ghana.

    "Don't you know how to make 'Believe-It-or-Not' peanut butter cookies?" she asked. "They're quick, unbelievably easy, and only use 4 ingredients: peanut butter, sugar, egg, and a little vanilla." When I admitted I didn't, she whipped up a batch practically instantly.

    I had to share this magic recipe: not only with those who eat gluten-free, or those in Africa who cherish recipes that do not require a bunch of imported ingredients, but anyone who can eat peanuts and wants to add an instant favorite to his or her culinary repertoire. 

     Groundnut Paste Flourless Biscuits (Cookies)
    Assemble ingredients: To make 1 1/2 dozen (about 18), you'll need a cup of groundnut paste (in Oregon, mom used Jif creamy peanut butter), one cup of sugar, 1 egg, and a teaspoon of vanilla.

    Next, gather the utensils you'll need: (along with an oven), we used  a cookie sheet, a small bowl and a mixing bowl, measuring spoons, a measuring cup, a wire whisk, a fork, a rubber scraper, a strong wooden spoona mini melon scoop, a pancake turner (or spatula), and a wire cooling rack. Use as many, or as few,  of these things as you need. But be sure to have a mixing bowl, a cup, a mixing spoon (or electric mixer), a cookie sheet to bake them on, an oven, and probably a fork to press the cookies down.
                                                                              To prepare:
    Add caption
    •  Preheat an oven to 325 degrees F (farenheit) (= 160 degrees C or gas mark 3)
    • Mix together until creamy 1 U.S. cup of groundnut paste (260 grams) with 1 U.S. cup of sugar (that's 260 grams) in a large mixing bowl. We used a rubber scraper to get all of the groundnut paste/peanut butter out. (A clean finger also works ;-)
    • First break the egg into a small bowl (to make sure you do not have any shell in it), then add the egg to the mixing bowl
    • Add 1 U.S. teaspoon (5 ml) of vanilla to the large mixing bowl
    • Using a sturdy spoon or an electric mixer, mix all ingredients well until they form a ball. (That's my talented mom, Sylvia Casteel, stirring away!)
    • If you have time and a refrigerator handy, you can chill the dough slightly to make it easier to work with (we skipped this step, and it was fine).
    • Using a small spoon (we used a melon scoop to easily make small balls of a uniform size), drop enough dough on the cookie sheet to make about 18 cookies, leaving room for them to expand and spread out


    • Finally,  using a fork, press it lightly on each cookie (alternatively, if you chill the dough first, or possibly if you wet the fork, you can press the cookie again at a 90 degree angle to  criss-cross the marks)
    • Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until it is just slightly brown. The cookies will harden as they cool. Use a pancake turner or spatula to carefully remove the cookies (biscuits) and store them in an airtight container.
    This is the basic recipe, but it is wide open for variations: sprinkle chopped groundnuts on top or into the batter, add some cocoa (chocolate) bits or powder, or coconut flakes, or another flavoring in place of the vanilla (maybe something like lime or orange?)  What do you think? And thanks, mom, for another gift from you.
    P.S. These freeze really well, and the recipe can easily be doubled. Plus, I've heard you can substitute brown sugar or honey or even Splenda for part or all of the white sugar.

    Tuesday, May 14, 2013

    Borlaug Fellows Do Up an African Feast

    In April 2013, several Borlaug Fellows visiting Penn State as part of the USAID's Feed the Future program spent two days in my home preparing and serving a feast to which they welcomed their mentors and colleagues. The Fellows who participated included: Rugie Wonyene, who studied business management at the University of Liberia and  Liberian farmer Patricia Gant; Ruth Pobie from the Ghana CSIR Food Research Institute; Amma Amponsah  from the University of Ghana; Alganesh Gamechu of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR); Alice Ajani with the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute; Mercy Elom from the Cross River Cooperative Womens Alliance ; and Eucharia Onwurafor  from the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Nigeria.

    Central Pennsylvania is a long way from Africa, and it was a joy to be in the kitchen cooking, laughing, and sharing with these talented and committed women. The original idea was to videotape them as they cooked, and chat with them about their foods, but the sheer number of dishes being prepared in the crowded conditions, plus technical difficulties with the camcorder, made that a no-go. Just for the record, below is the horrendously unsuccessful, but actually pretty hilarious, initial attempt to document the experience--if you don't mind mostly audio only and lots of camera jumping:

    The menu was mouthwatering: tef injera and multiple stews/sauces from Ethiopia; check rice,  fried okra, and cassava leaf stew  from Liberia. banga (palmnut) soup and eba (from gari)  from Nigeria, groundnut (peanut) soup  fufu, omo tuo (rice balls) and kelewele (spicy fried ripe plantain cubes), from Ghana, bissap (hibiscus iced tea), Ethiopian coffee, fresh fruit salad. . . you get the idea. . . It was a fitting way to wind down their experiences at Penn State, and their friends and sponsors were grateful for the opportunity to share a meal together with them. I (Fran) was grateful to have a little window into their lives, too. I wish them well as they return home to continue working towards a better future in their home countries. There are many more pictures from the day of preparation as well as the meal at betumi's flicker account in a set called Borlaug Fellows cooking/dinner.

    Wednesday, April 10, 2013

    Tasting Cultures and Food Exhibit in New York City

    I was recently in New York City and finally had a chance to meet up with a kindred spirit--the talented, creative, savvy, exuberant Sarah Kahn, founder and director of Tasting Cultures Foundation. (Her also-impressive art-historian husband, Henry Drewal joined us, along with my architect son DK, for coffee/tea and a late afternoon snack.) DK and Henry chatted while Sarah and I mostly shared stories and talked about our visions related to food and culture. If you haven't heard of Tasting Cultures Foundation and its work, do check it out.  Very good stuff.

    I was also able to take a quick trip to the American Museum of Natural History to walk through its exhibit "Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture"   Africa was well represented.

    What fun! There was a giant cassava tuber taller than a person (I don't think it was real), lots of maize stalks, chili peppers arranged by heat rating, tasting experiences, hands-on exhibits and fascinating historical, cultural, scientific, and geographic information. The exhibit runs through August 11, 2013, so if you have the chance, stop in to see it, or at least take a look on the website.

    In other news: I'll be teaching the undergraduate African food and foodways course (AFR297B) again this fall at the Pennsylvania State University:

    Tuesday, March 26, 2013

    Aprapransa: delicious Ghanaian onepot meal

    This dish has a variety of names in Ghana. I first met it in the Eastern Region as aprapransa. When he recalls his grandmother's version, garnished with Ghana's wonderful crabs (like those seen below), my husband's eyes still glaze over. Along with its Twi name aprapransa, it's also called akpledzi (Ga or Ewe), apragyaa (Fante), or bɔbɔe (Ewe), or akplijii. Its other notable ingredient is the toasted corn flour used in  making Tom Brown or the tankora/yagi rub/powder used for chichinga/suya.

    It is an interesting texture and unusual flavor, but one that is  quite accessible to Western palates. However, the cream of palm fruit used means that is a rich dish that should be reserved for special occasions. It also requires some time and effort. I decided the visit of my architect son from Ghana qualified.
    Here in March in  central Pennsylvania, I had to improvise and use king crab legs. I also used adzuki in place of the small red beans from Ghana. However, I was able to obtain the requisite toasted corn flour (aka Tom Brown flour), and dried crayfish from Washington DC. All the other ingredients, including smoked fish (though I substituted smoked whiting for smoked herrings), salted cod, and cream of palm fruit, were locally available. It can also be made using meat.

    Recipe 98: Aprapransa (toasted cornmeal one-pot)

    Though this dish is served as a "one pot," it has two parts. The first is a bean and palmfruit soup that is thickened with the toasted corn flour, with a thick gravy (also called "dressing") served on top and/or on the side.

    Assemble ingredients and equipment.
    I used:

    • 2/3 cup adzuki beans (150 ml)
    • about 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of salted cod
    • 6 shallots (or substitute 1 1/4 cups of chopped onion) (300 ml)
    • about 10 oz of smoked whiting (300 g)
    • about 1/2 Habanero pepper
    • a large can of cream of palm fruit (you'll use about 3/4 of it)
    •  2 cups of Tom Brown flour (toasted corn flour) (500 ml)
    • ~10 small tomatoes or several large tomatoes
    • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) powdered shrimp/crayfish

    Before preparing the aprapransa I first cooked the 2/3 cup or adzuki beans. I rinsed them, covered them with water, brought it to a boil for a couple of minutes, then let them sit about an hour and then cooked the beans until they were almost soft. Alternatively, you could let them soak overnight, drain off the water, and then cook them. I also desalted the cod fish just before making the aprapransa by simmering it in a small pot for a few minutes. Alternatively, you could soak it.

    When the beans and salted cod were ready I made the actual stew by first making a palmnut soup. I added to a pot:
    •  four  shallots peeled and finely chopped (to get about 3/4 cup) 
    • (after removing the skin and bones of the smoked whiting and flaking it) added a bit over a cup of flaked fish
    • about 7 smallish tomatoes chopped (or you could use 3 or 4 medium ones)
    • 3/4 of a large can of cream of palm fruit
    • a couple of cups of water
    • about 1/4 of a very hot Habanero pepper, seeded
    • 2 tablespoons of dried powdered crayfish
    • the cooked beans (actually, I probably should have only put in half of the beans and added the rest at the end because they got softer than I wanted, and kind of lost their distinctiveness)
    As these simmered, I began scooping off the palm oil that rose to the top--I ended up with about 1 1/2 cup to 2 cups of oil.
    Also, as the soup was cooking I cooked the crab legs eparately in a pot with salted water and a bit of chopped onion. When they were cooked I removed them and set them aside to garnish the final dish. Just before finishing the aprapransa soup, I made the gravy to go with it.

    I ground 2 small shallots (or use about half an onion) and 1/4 of a seeded Habanero in a blender, then heated about 1/2 cup of the palm oil I had removed from the soup (saving the rest of the oil to use some other day),  and fried  the shallots, palm oil and about 1/2 teaspoon salt and a little ground dried red pepper together several minutes on midium. Then I sliced half an onion and another handful of tomatoes and fried them together to make the gravy. I let the gravy sit while I added the corn flour to the soup:
    Before adding the 2 cups of corn flour, I removed a couple of cups of soup from the bowl, and slowly stirred in the corn flour to the rest of the soup, stirring constantly to prevent lumps forming. Then I stirred in the rest of the soup and kept stirring and cooking it until it pulled away from the sides. (and this is when I would have added part of the beans if I had removed them). 
    To serve: I served the aprapransa in an asanka, garnished with some of the gravy ("dressing") and the crab, with a smaller bowl of gravy on the side.
    While we agreed the corn flour was ground very fine and maybe the aprapransa was a little soft (I might have added a little more water than necessary), my husband had 3 servings!
    And this time  I didn't hear about how much better his grandmother's had been. It made enough to serve 6.

    Monday, March 18, 2013

    Délices d'Afrique, grains of paradise, etc.

    I'm still expressing appreciation to others who are helping to promote African cuisine:
    • Koranteng my son-in-law with a sophisticated African francophone and anglophone palate, who recently provided a delightful addition to the Africa Cookbook Project, Marguerite Abouet's 2012 Délices d'Afrique --50 recipes charmingly illustrated by Agnès Maupré. The recipes feature Ivorian cuisine and are bursting with flavor just as the exuberant illustrations are filled with good humor on each of the book's 124 pages.

    • Several weeks ago, Nigerian colleague Ozoz of "Kitchen Butterfly" fame, wrote a lovely post (with her always-exceptional photos)  about alligator pepper (aka grains of paradise), including a recipe using it for okwu-oji, a Nigerian version of groundnut soup.  She has also shared some photos of atariko, which I mentioned in a grains of paradise post in January, and which Nigerians often use in pepper soup and banga (palmnut soup). We continue to applaud her commitment to promoting Nigerian cuisine.
    • I was grateful to have Frederick Douglass Opie provide links to several resources/talks on African food and foodways (and to Africa is a Country for alerting me to them).
    Upcoming posts:

    My current challenge is to tackle 2 recipes for the regional Ghanaian cookbook that I've long delayed: 

    The toasted cornmeal and palmnut soup one-pot that my husband fondly remembers his grandmother making, and whose standard I've never been able to achieve: aprapransa, and a green snail soup he also loves called abunabuna. I'll be working on these this week, In the meantime,  if anyone has any suggestions or treasured recipes, please feel free to share.


    Wednesday, March 13, 2013

    Pssssst. . . Bim's Kitchen is coming

    . . . to the U.S., that is.
    I was excited to learn from James that in the next few week their products are going to be available in the U.S. in selected TJX stores (the parent company of our local TJ Maxx). I'm eagerly waiting to hear from our  State College, PA  store if it is receiving some. In case you only frequent the stores for clothing, you're missing out on the fact that they have an intriguing selection of specialty foods, too.

    If you haven't heard of Bim's Kitchen's creative line of "African-inspired" sauces and seasonings hand-crafted by a small family firm, you are in for a delightful discovery.

    Bim, aka James "Bim" (his Nigerian name) Adedeji and his wife Nicola founded this inspired line of sauces using a variety of African ingredients/spices/seasonings from baobab and peri peri peppers to egusi (agushi) seeds, hibiscus, and alligator pepper. 

    To be more specific, 2400 units of the following are expected to be on shelves in selected TJ Maxx and Homegoods stores by April: Hot Tangy BBQ Sauce, Smoky Baobab BBQ Sauce, Smokin' Red Hot Sauce; Fiery Hot Sauce, Baobab Chilli Jam, African Chilli Coconut Relish; African Lemony Piri Piri and Hot African Lemony Piri Piri. Several of these items have already won awards in the U.K.

    I've followed Bim's Kitchen for a couple of years from afar (the company is based in the U.K.), and hooked up more directly last winter when James generously sent me a complimentary sampler of items, from the award-winning "Smokin' Red Hot Sauce" and "African Bean and Nut Curry" above to their (also award-winning) "Baobab Chilli Jam," delightful "African spice and herb mix"  and a chickpea and melon curry sauce. And that's just a partial list. Do check out their site for more information. 

    I was grateful to taste their products firsthand, and later learned that two colleagues, Jessica Harris and Josh Schonwald, are also fans. I've been meaning for 2 months to share with my readers Bim's Kitchen's exciting foray into making these new flavors and ingredients more widely available outside the African continent, and doing it at a very sophisticated and exacting level. They remind us of the original meaning of that overworked word "gourmet." Now I'm glad that I can share their great news with you.

    Congratulations to James and Nicola for all they hard work they did to make this happen. Well done! May these accomplishments be an encouragement to all African culinary entrepreneurs.

    In conclusion, if you're lucky enough to see any Bim's Kitchen's products in a shop in the U.S., do snatch them up. They'll make wonderful gifts as well as enhancements to your own pantry.

    Thursday, January 31, 2013

    He who brings kola brings life

    The Akan adinkra symbol on the left is called "bese saka," or "bag of kola nuts." Like a lucrative sack of such nuts, (in Ghana) it is a very positive symbol associated with affluence and abundance, as well as togetherness and unity.

    Kola nuts have played an especially important role in Ghana and Nigeria. As one of Achebe's characters affirms in  Things Fall Apart, "He who brings kola brings life." While in the West we generally only think of "kola" as being part of the original formula for "Coca-Cola," the nuts have often been shared as part of a hospitality ritual in Western Africa. They are also favored by Muslims (such as my driver during one extended trip around Ghana during Ramadan) for their ability to quench thirst, stave off hunger, and increase alertness. For a history of the kola industry in Ghana, see Abaka's 2005 Kola is God's Gift.

    Two of my students last semester were attracted to kola nuts. One of them because he found them woven throughout Chris Abani's novel Graceland (e.g., "This is the kola nut. The seed is a star. This star is life. This star is us," another because he was just curious. 

    Fortunately, my generous fellow African food blogger and food photographer extraordinaire (also mentioned in my last posting because she also brought us alligator peppers) Ozoz arrived in New York a few days before our final class, which was an  "African cafe" buffet in my home featuring food we'd studied from throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Ozoz included two types of kola nuts (red and white) in her "care package" to us. Thus our final class together we were able to begin with a symbolic "breaking of the kola nut." I found a link describing how to actually "break" it, but I had to ask her for more information about the ceremony. Since she mentioned that she plans at some point to blog about it, I'll simply note that she said "Nowhere in Nigeria is Kolanut more revered than by the Igbo tribe. They are best known for all the traditions around the kola." My students universally agreed about the bitterness of the kola nuts (they found both equally bitter), but our unsophisticated palates couldn't detect the secondary sweetness.

    Incidentally, I would also like to thank Ozoz here for all her other gifts in that package:
    • In addition to the alligator pepper and kola nuts, she included  another, more recent copy of the classic Kudeti Book of Yoruba Cookery (one of the earliest African cookbooks I ever discovered)
    • several packets of banga soup spices (we used some to season our palmnut soup)
    • some containers of her preferred brand of curry powder (Lion, from the UK)
    • some suya spice (aka tankora or yagi powder/rub); essential to Nigerian suya (kebabs) or Ghanaian chichinga
    • some "belentientien," a kind of dried leaf used to season palmnut soup
    • several packets of "instant" pepper soup spices (containing: "Monodora Myristica, Tetraplura, Tetrapter, Parinars, Excelsa, Chrysobalanus, Orbicularis"), packaged in Okere-Warri, Delta State (and who says Africans aren't entrepreneurial?)
    • a large bar of Immit's Carnival milk chocolate
    I hope I haven't made all the Nigerians away from home too homesick.
    Truly, West Africans are generous and hospitable in many, many ways. Maybe the proverb should be "She who brings gifts from afar, brings life." Thank you, Ozoz.