Thursday, September 12, 2013

Recipes from Ghana

My poor kids. "Blog night" was once almost synonymous with "dessert." But now, Martin and I (well, mostly Martin) are trying to improve our eating habits (I bet you couldn't tell that based on last week's cholesterol-fest), and that means we've been avoiding desserts. So my kids get all the scary, often unidentifiable blog food without any reward. Poor babies.

In continuing with that particular tradition, this week we are in Ghana, an African nation that is roughly the size of the UK. Ghana is on the western coast of Africa and is bordered by Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast and Togo.

If you're going to visit Africa, Ghana is a good place to put on your list. It's been politically stable since 2001, is democratic, reasonably well-off and ranks very well in terms of human development. This is the sort of place you go on a safari—the northern half of Ghana has those famous savannas and wildlife such as elephants, lions, hippos and hyenas. In the southern half, Ghana has great mineral and fossil fuel resources—petroleum, gold, diamonds, and perhaps most importantly, chocolate. Or, rather cocoa beans, which as you know are used to make chocolate.

Jungle Bridges, Tarkwa, Western Ghana. Photo Credit: BillBl

Ghana has more natural beauty than it probably knows what to do with: savannas, forests, waterfalls, caves, rivers, beaches, mountains and nature reserves. Its manmade beauty includes castles, ports, forts and harbors. I think I already want to go there.

And guess what, the food is pretty good too. Yeah, I think I definitely want to go there. Ghanaian food is quite diverse, ranging from seafood dishes to soups and stews, cornmeal-based breads and spicy condiments. During my research I found a ton of different recipes to choose from, but this time got wise and let my ever-suffering husband help me narrow down my menu. Here's what we came up with:

(from African Seer)
  • 3 lb chicken, cut into pieces (I used a 3-legged chicken, otherwise known as a grill-pack)
  • 1/2 onion
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup tomatoes, chopped
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened peanut butter
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ginger, grated
  • 2 hot chili peppers, crushed,
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen okra
  • 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup whole peanuts
And on the side:

Watchi (Black Eyed Peas and Rice)
(from Ghana Nation)
  • 1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 4 to 5 inch piece kombu (optional)
  • 3 cups cooked brown rice
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
For the sauce:
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 heaping tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 cup tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Now, if I was going to do a dessert I would have done this one: Coconut Halva. Just in the interests of full disclosure. But I have to say it was actually nice to have a two-recipe menu this week.

Here goes, starting with the watchi:

Soak the peas overnight. Or, if you forget, you can put them in a pot and cover with water, then bring to a boil. Let boil for two to three minutes, then remove from heat. Cover and let stand for an hour or two.

Now drain the beans and put them in a pot with enough fresh water to cover. The water level should be two or three inches above the peas. Add the bay leaf and kombu (I could have sworn I had some kombu, but I couldn't find it so I had to leave it out). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover the pot so the lid is slightly ajar and let simmer for one hour, or until the peas are tender. Keep checking and add more water if you need to. There should be very little water remaining when the peas are done.

Now throw out the bay leaf and kombu (if you were lucky enough to find yours), and add the cooked rice. Stir, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the oil in a large skillet and add flour to make a roux. Stirring constantly, cook the roux for two minutes or until it starts to brown. Now add the onion.

When the onion has browned, stir in the tomato paste and nutmeg.

Add a little water until you get a sauce, but don't let it get too soupy. Serve the peas and rice topped with the sauce.

Now for the chicken:

Put about two cups of water in a pot with the chicken pieces. Add the ginger and the half-onion (you don't need to chop it). 

In a separate pot, heat the oil and add the tomato paste. Cook over low heat for five minutes, then add the rest of the onion (this time chopped) and the tomatoes. Cook until the onions are translucent.

Now take the chicken pieces out of the other pot (they won't be cooked through yet) and put them in the pot with the onion mixture, along with about half the broth. Add the peanut butter, salt and hot chilies.

Let simmer for five minutes or so, then add the eggplant and okra. Keep on cooking until the chicken is done and the vegetables are tender. You can add broth as necessary to keep a stew-like consistency.

Serve with peanuts sprinkled on top.

OK before I tell you what we thought, I just want to add a quick note about okra. Okra is yucky. If you've ever eaten okra, you know where I'm coming from: cooked okra tends to be slimy. Why? Because there's actual slime in it. No kidding: it's called "mucilage" and it's the same stuff that comes out of aloe leaves.

So knowing that okra has something in it with the very unappetizing name "mucilage" did not make it easier for me to stomach the idea of eating it. So I figured there had to be some technique for reducing all that slime, and I was right. There are several techniques, actually, but here's the one I chose:

Put some oil in a pan and fry the sliced okra in it for a couple of minutes. Then add the juice of one lemon. The acidity in the lemon helps cut back on the slime. Did it work? Yes! But I still found the whole "mucilage" thing gross even though my okra was nice and slime-free.

Here's what we thought:

I really liked the stew, though it was quite reminiscent of other African peanut stews I've had in the past. And I was actually impressed by how good the okra was once the texture had been improved, although I still couldn't get the word "mucilage" out of my head.

The peas and rice were good too. The tomato sauce was really rich (a whole can of tomato paste explains that) so it was hard to taste much else. But the two dishes made for a nice meal, and not too unhealthy either! That's always a plus.

Anyway next week we're not going to have dessert either, but don't worry, I haven't sworn off it completely. When I find a really great, can't resist dessert recipe, you know I won't be able to stop myself from making it.

Next week: Gibraltar

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


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