Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best Wishes for 2012

Dear friends and colleagues:  It has been a busy couple of months and I have not found a way to share it with you on this blog as I would have liked to. Unfortunately, the next 2 months will be just as hectic. I am now sitting at the airport in Washington DC en route to Ghana for a week, then on to Abuja to teach 2 intensive  courses through most of February. 

When I return, rest assured I'll be posting again (such as the recipe for these coconut-gari cookies [biscuits] that I served to a class at PSU in early December.)  The picture above includes a picture of the cookies in a snack sons Sam and Ernest enjoyed while visiting over the holidays. Note the ofam (plantain loaf) in the foreground (very popular with the Penn State students). 

We also had a great time in December at The Textile Museum (see below) discussing (and sampling) Central African food and culture. The palm wine was a big hit.


Wishing you all a  happy, healthy, prosperous 2012. May it be filled with good (African) food, good friends, and good memories.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Beignets congolaise: mikate, continued

In Ghana they make a kind of doughnut called togbei or bofrot (called "puff-puff" in Nigeria) shown in the picture at the left. It is very similar to the DRC's mikate. When I first learned of mikate, I believed it was made solely from cassava flour, but that was incorrect.

Stany Nzabas, my husband's colleague from the DRC, explains that mikate is the plural of a Swahili word for bread, and Anne Masamba clarifies that in Lingala mikate is the plural form of the word (mokate is the singular), whereas in Kikongo, mikati is the plural form, mukati the singular.

Stany Nzabas further commented that in the DRC, the French name is beignet, and these are a popular  breakfast food with coffee. Sure enough, I found a recipe online (in French) for beignets congolaise  as well as cooking videos (all in French) demonstrating clearly the steps in making  Beignets Congolais, with slight variations:

As well as Recette Beignet nature  à la congolaise

There are also mikate recipes online from Tanzania such as one for mikate ya Maji, or Zenji crepes.
Here is a final interesting historical footnote: While Anne indicated in her reaction to my last post  that nowadays mikate are commonly made from wheat flour, it's possible that rice flour was historically part of the mix. Her comment reminded me of a question my friend and culinary colleague Gisele Perez posed earlier this year in a  blog posting on her painperdue site, called "Calás--the search for a lost food tradition" in which she was searching for the roots of the famous rice beignets that "were long a special treat in New Orleans Creole households," especially among very Catholic families. I wonder if there is a Congolese connection . . .

Monday, November 07, 2011

DRC: Central African Mikaté (Donuts)

Left: kokonte and wheat flour Right: only kokonte flour
Last week I wrote about a Brazilian cassava (manioc) cheese bread called pão de queijo. I've also been doing some research  on Central African Cuisine and Culture for a talk I'm giving at the Textile Museum in Washington DC on December 11, in conjunction with an exhibit they have called "Weaving Abstraction: Kuba Textiles and the Woven Art of Central Africa" (details at: http://www.textilemuseum.org/calendar/calendar.htm#Dec).

After the afternoon talk, there will be a reception and a chance for guests to sample some Sub-Saharan African dishes. I hope to include some food from the traditional area inhabited by the Kuba (or Bakuba) peoples in the DRC. As I've never had the good fortune of living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among other things, I turned for advice to my graduate school colleague from my Berkeley days, Anne Masamba.  

I told her we're supposed to steer clear of dishes with peanuts (sigh), and she was dismayed because 2 of her favorite dishes are mwamba nsusu (similar to chicken groundnut soup in West Africa), and mfumbwa (a dish of finely chopped "gnetum africanum," aka a type of "wild spinach") cooked in a sauce with onions, tomatoes, palm oil, smoked fish, and peanuts. I also lamented the difficulty of locating a supplier in the Washington DC area of the cherished cassava staple, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, then "sliced like round bread" and eaten with sauce, called kwanga. According to Anne "It is fermented and tastes a little like a sharp cheese . . ." She also recommended makayabu (munsambu), a dry salt fish dish. And mbika, using pounded seeds (like West African agushi or egusi) to coat fried meat and then steaming or grilling it.

She told me, too, about a kind of popular snack food called "mikaté," a fried dough she said was a bit like the togbei, bofrot, or puff puff of West Africa that I've blogged about before.  [NOTE: I'm adding this update on Nov. 9: it turns out these are not actually "cassava" donuts. Rice flour or wheat flour are a part of the equation. I'll post more about this on Nov. 10]
The interesting thing to me was that in the DRC she remembered the mikaté were made with cassava flour, and no wheat flour. I begged for the recipe, which she duly sent me, and today I've tried several versions with little success. While I'm testing the recipe, I've cut down her proportions by 2/3rds (her recipe called for 3 cups of flour, but I used only 1). I'm working on 4 different versions so far.  Anne recommended that I mix half wheat flour and half cassava flour. I decided to try 2 different types of cassava flour (one being Ghana's kokonte aka lafu) and one being Bob Red Mill's tapioca flour. I also tried making a version with only kokonte and only tapioca flour.

My initial 2 fried versions were unsuccessful: the recipe says "add enough water until the consistency of thick pancake mix." To the cup of kokonte I added a cup of warm water to the first batch (too much, so I had to increase the dry ingredients); the second one (a mix of wheat and cassava flours) seemed okay, but it seemed to soak up oil like a sponge when I fried it. Both those batches got tossed out.

I have 2 more batches fermenting (but the yeast seems insufficient to get  the fermentation process going--I'm wondering if cool, dry  fall weather in Central Pennsylvania lacks some of the warmth and humidity necessary to get the yeast properly activated. The batch using only the tapioca flour feels more like a thick glue than a dough. I'm tempted to try using some of the Brazilian mandioca flour I used last week for the cheese bread. . . [NOTE: both of these attempts were also unsuccessful].

At any rate, here's  Anne's recipe:
 (Makes about a dozen) [NOTE: She says to refrigerate this; I'm not sure why]

1 cup all-purpose flour (again, I'm trying half wheat and half cassava; and all cassava versions)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
about 3/4 t of active yeast
1 little (1/4 t) pure vanilla (for her tripled recipe she also recommends instead substituting 1/4 pkg of dried powdered vanilla pudding--this recipe would be 1/3 of 1/4 or 1/12 of a pkg. I used the vanilla).

  • Mix the flour(s) together with the yeast and let it sit together for 45 seconds (so the yeast can settle with the flour)
  • Add the sugar, salt and vanilla (or dry pudding for an extra tasty result)
  • Add water until the consistency of thick pancake mix [this ended up being about 1/2 cup warm water, a little more for the tapioca flour]
  • Let sit (I covered it) for 2 hours (my house was so cool it took more than 2 hours)
Fill a deep skillet about 3/4 full with 6 - 8 cups oil (she recommended 1/4 olive oil and 3/4 vegetable oil).
Heat the oil and test by dropping in a glob of batter (NOTE: if the batter falls to the bottom and stays there, it's too cool; if it immediately bounces and up browns, it's too hot).
When the oil is hot, take a tablespoon and scoop up batter, then attempt to drop into batter as balls (like US donut holes). I had a LOT of trouble with my kokonte batter--it was too soft and kept wanting to spread (like PA Dutch funel cakes). I needed to add more flour to thicken it, and they still would not hold a round shape.

Fill the pan with batter, let brown on one side and then turn them over to brown on the other side.
Drain on paper towels and serve.
As I mentioned, I've not yet mastered the art of making mikaté, and may need to find someone to help me perfect the technique. Any of you readers have any advice?
P.S. Tuesday, Nov. 8: After 4 attempts at making these with cassava flour/starch, I can say that I failed. Mine were essentially inedible.  I'm guessing it has to do with the cassava flour I used. Certainly the starch became like glue, and did not form the spongy dough that I expected. However, I can see that using wheat flour would likely be totally fine.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Cassava (manioc) cheese bread: Pão de queijo

As I mentioned in my last post, Brazil has a popular snack and breakfast food called
pão de queijo, a kind of chewy on the inside, crisp on the outside (but not too crisp) muffin/popover/roll/bread made from cassava (mandioca) flour, egg, milk, oil, salt, and cheese. They can be made tiny or large, depending on one's preference. Traditionally pão de queijo is a dough that is kneaded and individual rolls are formed by hand. However, recent adaptations have resulted in a faster, easier version that can be made in muffin tins. That's the first one I tried. Just like adding more liquid to a biscuit dough means you can make drop biscuits, adding extra liquid to the batter means that instead of cooking the  pão de queijo on flat pans like cookie sheets, you can simply pour the batter into greased muffin tins. 

I decided for my first effort to use the 2 types of cassava flour that are available in Brazil: polvilho doce and polvilho azedo--sweet and sour as I explained previously. (By the way, a big "thank you" to my husband and our Brazilian friends Virginia and Renato for going to the store for the flour the day he left Brazil.) Soon I'll experiment with some Ghanaian kokonte (cassava flour). Incidentally, Brazilians have found a way to package and export their bread as a mix. I'll try that, too, but I'm afraid it might be like eating instant mashed potatoes: better than nothing, but nothing like the real thing.
First I assembled the utensils:
  • An electric blender
  • 2 mini-muffin tins (I like petite-sized pão de queijo)
  • A brush to brush oil into the tins
  • A scale to weigh the flours (since I was making this the first time I both measured and weighed the flours)
  • Assorted U.S. standard measuring cups and spoons (3/4 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/4 cup, 1 teaspoon)
  • A rubber spatula 
 And ingredients: flours, salt, egg (room temperature is best), milk, oil (I used olive), cheese (I used half queso fresco, a Mexican mild semi-soft crumbly cheese, and half grated Parmesan cheese).

Quick Basic Brazilian  Pão de Queijo 

  • Set the oven to preheat at 375 °F  (NOTE: I used 400 °F but the bread browned a little too quickly for me) 
  • Pour some oil into one of the muffin cups in the muffin tins, and use a brush to coat each of the cups well (I had 2 mini-muffin tins, so coated 24 cups).
Add to the blender container:
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup oil (olive, soy, etc.)
  • slightly less than 3/4 cup each of  polvilho doce  and polvilho azedo, enough to get about 180 grams (OR, use only one of the flours, or change the proportions. It is probably possible to substitute tapioca flour, but I've not tried that yet)
  • 2/3 cup milk (I warmed mine for a minute in the microwave before adding it)
  • 3/4  teaspoon salt, or to taste 
  • 1/2 cup packed cheese (I used 1/4 cup of the hard Parmesan cheese, grated, and chunks of the queso fresco)
  • Cover the blender container and pulse the mixture for about 30 seconds. Stop, uncover the blender and use the spatula to scrap down the sides. Recover and repeat until the mixture is well blended. This only takes a minute or so.
  • Fill each muffin cup a good 1/2 full and cook in the preheated oven for about about 20 minutes. The pão de queijo should be just slightly golden. Extra batter can be stored in the refrigerator and used within a few days.
 Pão de queijo is best eaten straight from the oven while still warm. As it cools it get tougher. My husband declared these delicious, and amazingly the 2 dozen quickly disappeared with cups of tea (it would be coffee in Brazil).

I'm eager to try making these with kokonte. I understand that in parts of South America (Colombia?) the cassava flour is supplemented with corn flour. In Ghana other seasoning, like cinnamon or herbs, can be added.

Can't you imagine how delicious the possibilities are? It troubles me that in much of Africa it seems wheat flour is assumed to be THE ingredient for bread-making. In Brazil, people can cut the larger-sized  pão de queijo  and make them into sandwiches, especially filling them with sweet fruit-based fillings. My husband added an African touch by eating his with peanuts and hot sauce!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Back from Brazil: Moquecas to Mandioca

I returned from Brazil a week ago. We spent most of our time in the Central West region (Salvador in Bahia and Fortaleza in Ceará ) and the South East Region (Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais). My only sadness is that I didn't have a chance to eat any feijoada while I was there. But, the myriad fresh tropical fruits, the seafood dishes, the cassava dishes, and, let's not forget the caipirinhas, mean I have no reason to complain.
One refreshing aspect of Brazilian cuisine is that everyone eats some form of cassava (mandioca, yuca), where the root is not seen as a food only for poor people. Everywhere in Bahia and Ceará the restaurants served custom-made "tapiocas" as a matter of course (a kind of cassava flour crepe, that can be sweet or savory). Carne del Sol (salted, sun-dried beef) and mandioca frita ("cassava fries" aka aipim frita  or macaxeira frita) where the cassava is first cooked by boiling, and then fried, is popular, and most mornings simple boiled cassava was served as a side dish at breakfast in our restaurants. And of course, in Bahia and Fortaleza along the coast we ate fish (moqueca de peixe) and shrimp (moqueca de camarão) stews every chance we got. The moqueca is Brazil's answer to seafood chowder, and was usually prepared Bahian-style, enriched with coconut milk. Ours were always served in traditional clay bowls. Sigh. . . A dish I think any West African would love: garlic, seafood, tomatoes, onions, coconut milk (or not). . .  with a pot of hot pepper sauce on the side and a variety of side dishes always including white rice, and a form of farofa/farina de mandioca with dendê oil (palm oil),  and/or vatapá, and cooked  chopped okra.  The 2 women above were gracious to allow me to take their photo at Yamanjá restaurant in Salvador (thank you to Luciene Guirra and Josi Roberto). Incidentally, the history of Yemanjá (or Yemajá), an orisha, African goddess of the sea,  originates from Yoruba land and is fascinating.
Of course, we also frequently enjoyed acarajé and seafood balls  (codfish and crab), and on and on. . .
A final word about cassava (mandioca, yuca). In Brazil, we never stayed at a restaurant or stopped an at airport that didn't serve piping hot fresh pão de queijo, an addictive kind of cassava flour popover, or "cheese bread," originally a Minas Gerais specialty that is now popular throughout Brazil. I've been thinking for some time that it should be possible for Africans to make  pão de queijo using cassava flour (kokonte, lafu). Brazilians actually often combine 2 types of cassava flour (one called polvilho azedo, (or "sour," because it is slightly fermented) and one called polvilho doce (or "sweet" because it is unfermented). I was able to find some of the first locally in our town, but have asked my husband (who returns from Brazil tomorrow) to bring me some if he has time, so that I can try several versions. There is a special type of cheese from Minas Gerais that is commonly used, but I'll use a substitute in the ones I try to make. I wonder about cheese in Ghana. . .wagashi? I'll let you know how my experiment works out.

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.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Africa Cookbook Project Update

In August my son and husband independently brought me books to build up the Africa Cookbook collection, some gotten in Abuja, and one in Lagos, I believe. 3 of them are new to me, and one is a copy of a 31-year old paperback I already own that is beginning to fall apart.

The Nigerian Cookery Book, by Maryam Dada Ibrahim, was first printed in 1997 (ISBN 978 027 119 8, published by Mashkur Holdings Ltd in Abuja) , and contains over 300 recipes (149 pages). It's a welcome addition to my growing collection related to Nigerian cuisine, and while I've not tried any of the recipes yet, plan to do so soon. It appears her effort was supported by numerous groups, from the Abuja Council for Arts and Culture, to the Nigeria Tourist Board, and The Nigerian Hotels Association Lagos.

Two other booklets are much more modest. One, Food & Health by a white woman (I assume, since it appears that is her photo on the cover), whose name is given as simply "Rebecca T. A.," is a small pamphlet of 53 pages published by Ades-Aris Books, Abuja (no date is given). Along with a number of Nigerian recipes, information is included on kitchen equipment, names of ingredients in English, Yoruba, Hause and Igbo, herbal remedies for diabetes and hypertension, and "40 Laws of Longetivity." The other pamphlet, 40 pages long, also with no date, is authored by a man, David Oluwaseum, and is called Dynamic Successful Cook: Easy way to give your life a meaning. It is quite an eclectic, sketchy, and somewhat hard to follow, collection of recipes for over 4 dozen basic dishes, along with recipes for making soap, candles, lotion, etc., and ending with advice on succeeding in setting up businesses, including but not limited to those related to food.  It is clearly aimed at a broader, less educated audience than Ibrahim's book.

Finally, my son DK handed me a copy of Ola Olaore's  1980 soft cover edition of The Best Kept Secrets of West and East African Cooking (aka African Cooking), published by W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd. This little 96-page book is a gem. It is illustrated beautifully, and covers a wide range of East and West African classic dishes. It was republished in hardback by Foulsham in 1990 as Traditional African Cooking.

Hmmmm. I was just checking to see if I could find any biographical info on Ola Olaore, and it appears she was/is? a journalist, and I see that African Cooking has been reprinted numerous times, in both English and German? It appears that it was reprinted in both 2008 and 2009:
It's very impressive to me that she keeps it out there. It deserves its classic status.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back to Work: updates

Hello, friends. I'm freshly back from the break I took after my recipe writing marathon of June and July. I hope you all had some times of re-creation and renewal during the past few months. Our family just shared a few relaxing days in Virginia: husband Kwadwo (and me) from State College, PA; son DK on vacation from Anam New City in Nigeria; daughter Masi (and her friend Inza) from New York City; sons/nephews Sam and Ernest from Lansdale, PA; daughter Abena and her husband Koranteng from Berkeley, CA, and the star of the whole vacation, sweet little 5-month old granddaughter Kumiwah.

I'm now back in my office. The Fall issue of Gastronomica just arrived in my mailbox. It includes my review of James McCann's  Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine.

Today and tomorrow I'm preparing for a tasting seminar at Penn State on Wed., August 24 "Africa's Place at the Global Table: Celebrating Africa's Cuisines" as part of their Africa2Ag week that kicks off today.

In December I have a couple of events scheduled so far:

Thursday, December 8: Catering an African meal for a Penn State class on African Women Writers
Sunday, December 11"Kinsase akidibua na bantu (Delicious meals are best eaten communally): Cuisine and Culture in Central Africa." A seminar introducing Central African cuisines and food cultures, exploring influences on them, differences and similarities in ingredients, cooking techniques, equipment, and flavor principles, followed by an opportunity to sample several dishes. This will be in conjunction with an upcoming exhibit on "Weaving Abstraction: Kuba Textiles and the Woven Art of Central Africa."

For now, it's back to the kitchen. . .

Friday, July 22, 2011

Recipe #94: Contemporary Akontoshi ("stuffed crab")

The word for "crab" in Twi is kɔtɔ or ɔkɔtɔ or okoto. Kotokyim is the Akan name for "crab stew" and akontoshi refers to a classic Ghanaian stuffed crab dish topped with bread crumbs. Barbara Baeta of Flair Catering has adjusted the traditional recipe to create an elegant, but easy, dish that can be made from crab (or lobster) meat, but also using less expensive canned tuna fish. Following her lead, I have used Irish baking dish seashells to lend a nice ambiance to the dish. It can also be served in a  crab shell or a ramekin.

If you have access to fresh crabs, good for you. I do not, and since I'm not serving this as a first course at a fancy luncheon or dinner party, and the crab would cost me at least $20 to buy, I prepared mine today using a can of chunk tuna in water.

Recipe #94: Contemporary Akontoshi ("stuffed crab")

  • 1 slice of wholewheat (brown) bread, to make about 1/2 cup of bread crumbs
  • about 1 cup of Ghanaian gravy (see below for directions)
  • about 6 ounces of fresh crab (or lobster meat), or 1 6 oz can of solid tuna fish (preferably in water), drained and flaked with a fork or your fingers
Special equipment:
  • 4 or 5 (oven proof) shells or ramekins to hold the stew
  1. Put a slice of whole-wheat bread into a blender and pulse the blender to make it into crumbs. If it is too fresh and soft, let it sit out for a while to dry, or pop it into a toaster for a minute. You should have about 1/2 cup of crumbs.
  2. Put a clean, heavy pan on the stove and toast the breadcrumbs in it over medium heat until they are browned and crisp, stirring or shaking the pan frequently. Remove the pan from heat and pour the crumbs into a bowl so they do not continue to cook and burn, and set them aside.
If you do not already have some Ghana-style gravy on hand, make some using:
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (such as canola, or peanut)
  • l/2  medium onion, finely chopped (or grated) to get about 1/2 cup 
  • a tomato, seeded and grated (or ground), peeling discarded if grated (for directions on grating, see the eggplant stew recipe), to get about 1/2 cup with juice (do not rinse the peelings with any water)
  • a heaping teaspoon of tomato paste
  • 1 large clove of garlic (or 2 small), pressed (or ground)
  • 1 teaspoon of peeled and grated or ground fresh ginger
  • fresh ground (or minced, but I prefer grinding in a blender) hot pepper to taste (or substitute one or two minced, grated or ground tablespoons of a sweet bell pepper, and/or a half teaspoon or more of dried ground hot chili pepper)
  • a little salt to taste
  • a teaspoon or so of your choice of additional seasoning, dried ground shrimp, white pepper, no-salt seasoning, etc.(optional; I used 1/4 teaspoon dried ground shrimp.
To make the gravy: Prepare the onion, tomato, ginger, pepper, and garlic. Put a frying pan on the stove to heat on medium heat, then add the oil and chopped or grated onion. Saute for a few minutes, then add the garlic, ginger, and fresh red (or bell) pepper. Stir well and cook for another minute or two, and add the tomatoes, tomato paste and other seasonings you are using. Cook for a few minutes until well blended. Add the flaked tuna fish (or crab) to the gravy and stir well. Let it cook for several minutes for the flavors to blend and thicken as  some of the liquid cooks out. (If using fresh crab meat, make sure it is cooked through). Taste and adjust seasonings.

To fill the shells (crab or seashells) or ramekins: You should have a little over a cup of stew, enough for 4 shells filled with 1/4 cup of stew each, or 5 shells filled with 1/3 cup each (that's what I did). Sprinkle a couple of teaspoons of the bread crumbs over the stew on each shell (or a little more if you like).

Heat through in a moderate oven (350 degrees For 180 degrees C) for about 10 minutes, or just until heated through, making sure the crumbs do not burn (I actually used a slightly lower temperature in my toaster broiler oven).

Voila! A delicious, impressive first course to a meal. Even better, you can prepare the stew and the bread crumbs ahead of time, and just stuff and heat them at the last minute. They should be served warm.
Variations: Ghanaians would likely use more oil in the gravy than I suggest. Sometimes butter replaces the oil. Sometimes cheese is added.

    Thursday, July 21, 2011

    Recipe #93: Akple (corn and cassava dough)

    In July I discussed cassava (yucca, manioc) dough, and began describing how to make it--at least as far as grating the peeled cassava and pressing it to drain it for 2 or 3 days. Today's post follows up on that. After 3 days, you will have a dry, tightly pressed together clump of cassava. I added a cup of water to a blender, and blended the cassava to a dough/paste. That is what I'm using today. (I had several cups of dough, and have the rest stored it in the freezer). A photo at that previous blog posting shows the Ewe answer to banku: akple. Once one has the cassava dough, it is simple to make. I decided akple would go well with the yesterday's garden egg stew, so only made a small amount since I'm home alone this week. You might want to try this small recipe first, and if you like it, increase the recipe next time you make it.

    Recipe #93: Akple (cooked corn and cassava dough)

    The proportions for making akple are 1/3 of cassava dough to 2/3rds corn dough. It is my understanding that akple is made from unfermented corn dough. I used
    • 1/2 cup of cassava dough
    • 1 cup of corn dough
    To make the corn dough, I put a cup of white Indian Head cornmeal in a blender to make it a little finer (optional), then mixed it in a bowl with a teaspoon of cornstarch (also optional) to make a slightly smoother dough, then mixed 1/2 cup of water into it. (NOTE: the photo shows the cassava dough on the left and the corn dough on the right.
    •  Mix together the 2 doughs in a saucepan with a half cup of water to get a smooth creamy mixture, and add a little salt (I used ~1/4 teaspoon). A nice heavy wooden spoon or stick works well.
    • Put the mixture on the stove on a medium heat and stir it as it heats, adding another half cup of water all at once and continue stirring until it forms a solid mass (about 10-15 minutes). Do not allow the dough to become lumpy or scorch on the bottom. Turn it as you stir.
    • When the mixture becomes fairly solid and no longer "wet" looking, take a calabash (or bowl), wet it thoroughly and put a spoonful of the dough into the calabash, shaking it vigorously and rolling the dough inside into a circle or oval shape.
    Originally, akple was eaten mainly with fetri ma or fetri detsi, but now it goes well with other dishes, such as fried fish with pepper sauce or shito, or palaver sauce. As I said, I'm enjoying mine with garden egg stew.

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Recipe #92: Eggplant (or Garden Egg) Stew with Meat, Shrimp (or Crab) and Fish

    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:
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.