Zoe Adjonyoh, ZOE'S GHANA KITCHEN
Excerpts from Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen: Traditional Ghanaian Recipes Remixed for the Modern Kitchen. Published by Mitchell Beazley (April 2017). All Photography by Nassima Rothacker
‘Oh! I‘ve never tried that before.’ This is the usual response when I mention Ghanaian food and tell people what I do for a living. This is what has inspired me to write this cookbook.
African cuisine has been surprisingly marginalized, both in people’s consciousness and on the high street. We don’t see African cookery shows on TV; we rarely see reviews of the myriad pan-African restaurants serving up great food from an incredibly rich and diverse continent, whose influences have nevertheless spread all over the world.
I believe we are on the cusp of an African food revolution. Among a generation of foodies whose palates are exhausted by innumerable variations on the burger, there is a longing to try something that is new, not just re-spun. African cuisines are filling that gap. It’s the last continent of relatively unexplored food.
Within the African diaspora, two important trends are taking place. First, people are transporting themselves ‘back home’ to reconnect with the culture of their parents and grandparents, bringing with them their knowledge of and appetite for modern Western business and entrepreneurship in order to resettle, repackage and export what is good about their homelands. But also, being members of that same generation of foodies, they want to show off the vibrancy and variety of their home nation’s cuisine wherever they reside.
For too long, Africans have kept their amazing food a greedy secret, cooked and closely guarded by mothers and grandmothers in the home, then rolled out just for celebratory occasions such as weddings and naming ceremonies. Only a select few friends outside of the African community are admitted to the inner sanctum of the African kitchen to sample these delicious morsels.
Very good West African restaurants exist in London and other cities in the West, they really do, yet they are cloistered in the community and there has been no attempt to encourage the crossover of those cuisine into mainstream eating out – until now. This is the main mission behind Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, my cooking and dining venture: to share the passion of and for this food with a wider audience. Suddenly we are seeing a whole new raft of pop-ups and supper clubs representing Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Congo and Togo and I suspect (and hope) we will witness those go on to launch as restaurants in the coming years. And it’s not just West Africa being represented – it’s a continentwide food movement that’s taking place…and it’s incredibly exciting!
It’s important to note that I am not a trained chef, nor did I grow up with a Ghanaian grandmother pouring her cooking influence into me. I am self-taught, and that should encourage anyone who is new to Ghanaian food or wants to reconnect with it.
The point of this book is not to give a definitive guide to Ghanaian cuisine but to highlight Ghana’s great ingredients, subtle flavour profiles and cooking methods, and—most importantly—to make that food accessible and highlight how to incorporate those ingredients easily into everyday dishes.
Within these pages, I have sought to strike a balance in the recipes between paying homage to traditional cooking methods and styles, and my own interpretations of certain authentic dishes. I’ve also given some new ways to incorporate favourite Ghanaian ingredients into other dishes, for those already familiar with good home-cooked Ghanaian food.
Kelewele (Spiced Plantain)
AS A SIDE
When out walking in Kaneshie, the town in Ghana where my grandmother lives, in the hot dusk of the evening among the clatter and chaos of life, amid the sound of tro-tro (share taxi) drivers shouting out their destinations to attract fares, it’s hard to avoid the soothing and dominant, sweet and spicy aroma of spiced ginger cooking on sweet plantain that emanates from almost every street. Hard to avoid and nigh on impossible to resist. This is kelewele (pronounced ‘kaylaywaylay’), a simple and quick side dish of spiced and fried plantain, and a common snack available from roadside chop bars and street-food vendors across Ghana.
There are a few different recipes out there for this dish and it goes by various names in different parts of West Africa, but the principle is the same—ripe plantain cooked in fresh spices. It can be as simple as marinating the plantain in a mix of very finely chopped onion, grated fresh root ginger, chilli flakes and salt. I also like to make a sweet aromatic version using nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, which combines the best of what I’ve tasted on the streets of Accra.
1 heaped tablespoon Kelewele Dry Spice Mix
1 small red onion, grated
5cm (2-inch) piece fresh root ginger, grated
(unpeeled if organic)
pinch of sea salt
500ml–1 litre (18fl oz–1¾ pints) coconut oil for
deep-frying, plus 2 tablespoons for marinating, or
substitute vegetable oil
4–6 ripe plantains (see Tip, below left)
handful of roasted peanuts, crushed, to garnish (optional)
Mix the dry spice mix with the onion, ginger, sea salt and the 2 tablespoons oil in a bowl.
Using a sharp knife, peel the plantains by cutting the tips off each end and slicing through the skin lengthways (avoid cutting into the flesh), then use your hands to remove the skin.
Cut the plantains in half lengthways into 2 long pieces.
Usually the plantain is then diced into 2cm (¾-inch) squares or bite-sized chunks, but I like to make chunky plantain chips with this spice mix, so I cut the plantain in half across the middle, making 4 pieces, and then each piece in half lengthways again to end up with 8 evenly sized chunky chips from each plantain. This way, the plantain chips will cook evenly and quickly without burning.
Coat the plantain chips in the spice mix and leave to stand at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. You can also cover the bowl with clingfilm and place in the fridge for longer to soak up the marinade until you’re ready to cook.
Heat the oil for deep-frying in a deep-fat fryer (the safest option) or heavy-based, deep saucepan filled to just under half the depth of the pan to 180–190°C (350–375°F) or until a cube of bread browns in 30 seconds. Fry the plantain chips, in batches, until they float to the surface and are evenly golden in colour – you should have a crispy spiced outside and sweet soft inside. Remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper, keeping the cooked chips hot while you fry the rest. Alternatively, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), Gas Mark 4. Spread the coated plantain chips out on a baking tray and bake for about 20 minutes until golden on the outside and tender inside. Serve hot. With or without the garnish of crushed roasted peanuts, this makes a great appetizer, snack or side for both meat and veggie dishes!
The secret to a good fried plantain is to use fruit at the correct stage of ripeness. Here, this is when the plantain is mottled black but still yellow and firm, and as fleshy as the skin on the inside of your wrist.
Kelewele Dry Spice Mix
This is a spice mix for kelewele—a simple, quick side dish of spiced and fried plantain (see page 44), a common street-food snack throughout Ghana. It’s a good one to keep in the cupboard, as it can also be used to make Spiced Plantain Chutney (see page 236), or in baking.
MAKES ABOUT 5½ TABLESPOONS
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
½ tablespoon ground clove
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place and use within a few months.
Nkatsenkwan (Peanut Butter/Groundnut Stew with Lamb)
Nkatsenkwan, as this dish is known in Ghana, is most frequently eaten with fufu (pounded green plantain or yam with cassava), but you can also serve it with boiled yams, cassava or even rice. It’s equally good served on its own as a rich winter stew with a sprinkling of gari (fermented, dried and ground cassava) and a side of fried sweet plantain (see Simple Fried Plantain, below). This recipe is for lamb (or mutton), but it can be made with any combination of meat and seafood. There is a traditional Fante version of the recipe on my blog that features large forest snails and crabs for the adventurous palate!
2kg (4lb 8oz) mixed bone-in lamb (or mutton) neck and shoulder, cubed
500ml (18fl oz) water or good-quality vegetable stock
1 onion, finely diced
5cm (2-inch) piece fresh root ginger, grated (unpeeled if organic)
1 garlic clove, crushed
8 green kpakpo shito (cherry) chillies, or substitute 1–2 Scotch Bonnet chillies, pierced, according to desired level of heat
1 tablespoon extra-hot chilli powder
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
500ml (18fl oz) uncooked Chalé Sauce (see below)
100–200g (3½–7oz) organic peanut butter, depending on how thick you want it
1 red Scotch Bonnet chilli, pierced
3 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts, to garnish
Put the lamb into a large, heavy-based saucepan, cover with the measured water or stock and add the onion, ginger, garlic, kpakpo shito chillies, chilli powder, curry powder, sea salt and black pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer over a medium heat for 25 minutes until the lamb juices run clear, skimming off any froth that rises to the surface.
Stir in the chalé sauce and then add the peanut butter 1 tablespoon at a time while stirring until it has all dissolved.
Add the pierced Scotch Bonnet and cook for a further 45 minutes–1 hour over a low heat, stirring regularly so that the sauce doesn’t stick to the pan, until the peanut oil has separated and risen to the top, which means that it’s done.
You should have a soupy consistency and super-tender meat falling away from the bone.
Serve with your choice of side dish (see the recipe introduction), or with crushed roasted peanuts or gari sprinkled on top.
To speed up this recipe, steam the lamb with the onion and ginger until the meat juices run clear, pour over 600ml (20fl oz) Peanut Sauce (see page 249), add the pierced Scotch Bonnet and simmer for 45 minutes–1 hour, or until the meat is falling away from the bone.
This basic recipe is based on my dad’s everyday cooking sauce. He would whip this up and then literally throw in any type of meat, fish or protein, but it was always tasty. You can just blend the ingredients and store the uncooked sauce for later use, or cook it and then leave to cool—either way it saves time when making many of the recipes in this book. I make a big batch of this at least once a week – you can easily double the quantity if you want to make a bigger batch, although it’s not necessary to increase the Scotch Bonnet unless you like it extra-extra-hot!
MAKES 500ML (18FL OZ)
400g (14oz) can tomatoes or 250g (9oz)fresh tomatoes
30g (1oz) or 2 tablespoons tomato purée
1 onion, roughly chopped
5cm (2-inch) piece fresh root ginger, grated (unpeeled if organic)
1 red Scotch Bonnet chilli, deseeded
1 tablespoon dried chilli flakes
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 garlic cloves (optional)
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon extra-hot chilli powder
Place all the ingredients except the ‘to cook’ ones in a blender and blend together until you have a fairly smooth paste. This is your uncooked chalé sauce. For cooked chalé sauce, heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the onion and sauté over a medium heat for a few minutes until softened. Then add the curry powder and chilli powder and stir thoroughly to coat the onion evenly. Add the blended tomato mixture and simmer gently for 35–40 minutes.
Use straight away, or leave to cool then store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days, or freeze for future use.