A taste of Ghana

My weekend has been busy. Baking and board games with the kids, hunting for sustainably produced furniture, potting seedlings on my balcony garden, the usual housework. It hasn’t left much time for blogging, so this week my Monday Music post is combined with a foodie post.

The soundtrack is Ghanaian classics. Here’s some palm wine music from Koo Nimo to get you in the mood.

So, the food.

Ready to cook. That's the dokonu wrapped in banana leaf and looking less appetising than it actually is.

Ready to cook. That’s the dokonu wrapped in banana leaf and looking less appetising than it actually is. (You do unwrap it before you eat it …)

Eggplant that I rescued from the sale bin at a local greengrocer. A lump of dokonu (fermented cornmeal) that Obaapaa generously gave me almost two weeks ago. Lovely fresh okra that I’d bought specifically to eat with the eggplant and the dokonu. An almost full bottle of palm oil, left over from recent culinary adventures and begging to be used. Lunch time on a Sunday.

I didn’t really feel like making the effort, but it was time to cook the dish with no name, before the ingredients collectively became penicillin in the bottom of my fridge.

I call it the dish with no name because I’ve never managed to pin down DadaK on its exact name. He always tells me it’s ampesi, but that word actually refers to the boiled yam/plantain/cassava/cocoyam etc. that you normally eat with this quick and easy mashup. The mashup itself doesn’t seem to have a name — unless perhaps it’s froye, which translates as stew. I wouldn’t call it a stew, myself, because it’s not slow-cooked.

It’s a fast food lunch, and I’ve seen several variations. The most basic is raw onion, chilli, and tomato ground together in an earthenware grinding pot, seasoned with salt, swamped in warmed palm oil, and eaten with whatever starch you’ve just dug up or chopped down or managed to find at a Vietnamese greengrocer.

The version I make, which I learned from DadaK, includes eggplant and okra.

boiling-vegies

.You start by boiling eggplant, okra, tomato and habanero chilli. I was cooking for one, so I didn’t use large quantities.

aportoyewa

 

While the veggies are boiling you squash raw onion to taste in the grinding pot —aportoyewa —  with some salt. I bought this one in Ghana a long time ago. Ghanaian confectioner Louisa can tell you all about the history and use of the aportoyewa.

If you have a spare moment or two at this stage in the proceedings, you could listen to some highlife – here’s E. T. Mensah.

But you probably won’t have time, because it all happens pretty fast.

vegiesVegies boiled, it’s time to mash them up. Louisa notes that ‘a good cook … is often judged by how well she uses her aportoryewa’. I don’t think I would be judged very well.

vegies-steam

This is just the beginning; you need them a bit more mashed than this, but you don’t want the vegies to be completely, uniformly mushed together, because you want to keep the distinct flavours of the various ingredients.

If you don’t have an aportoyewa — and let’s be honest, you wouldn’t be bothering to read this post if you had one, because you’d probably be Ghanaian and know how to make this dish  — try a regular mortar and pestle  or maybe just a fork or a potato masher. A blender is a poor substitute, as the marvelous Betumi explains.

Once you’re satisfied with the texture of your vegies, fork in a few chunks of tinned fish. I used sardines in tomato sauce, DadaK also uses pilchards in tomato sauce. Again, don’t mash it up too much, you want chunks, not fish paste. Now would be time to check if it needs more salt.

palm oil

Now it’s time to heat the palm oil. I used a couple of heaped teaspoons. Do not do what I did, and prance around taking photos for your blog while the palm oil is heating, or it will burn. It only takes a minute or so to melt into a lovely orange oil. See palm oil disclaimer here. If you like, you can gently fry some onion in the oil at this point, until it starts to crisp.

Pour the oil over the vegies. Notice how absolutely lusciously orange it is.

20140831_131228

Eat with boiled starch of your choice. I really don’t know where you would find dokonu if you don’t have Ghanaian family or friends, but potato would probably be fine, or you could try green bananas or cassava (which I’ve described how to cook here).

eating-stew

It’s been at least ten years since I cooked the dish with no name, but it didn’t disappoint. Smoky, spicy, sour (that’s the dokonu) and salty. Tasting of earth, sea and fire. The first mouthful transported me to Ghana. I moaned. Yes, I moaned.

AM, busy gaming in the next room, called out to find out what was happening. He had a taste, but my half-Ghanaian son is not such a massive fan of palm oil as I am, and stuck with a ham & salad sandwich for lunch.

I ate standing at the kitchen counter, every mouthful a nostalgic, gustatory delight. It fueled me for another six hours. By the time I sat down to blog in the evening I was tired, but still not hungry. So this last song by Pat Thomas, which I first heard around the time I first ate this meal in Ghana, is a tribute to that tired but happy feeling. I admit, I don’t know all the lyrics, so it may be a wildly inappropriate choice, but the bit that sounds like ‘marbray’ (mabr3) means ‘I’m tired’, and that’s enough for me.


If you’re in a multi or biracial family, do you often cook food from your partner’s cuisine? How does that work out for you? Do you also burn the palm oil and buy the wrong brand of sardines?


This post is also a response to Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Orange.

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