A Basic Wield of Ghanaian and West African Culinary: Greens, Fish and Tomato
By, Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu
A basic “wield” of West African cooking may have the same simple ingredients in many different combinations: it may include greens, peanut sauce, tomato and chicken, or greens, fish and tomato, or peanut stew with mushroom and chicken, or black eyed peas, fish, and tomato.
Most are stewed with and cooked in palm oil or coconut oil or vegetable oil with African Red Pepper Chili (Nina International Brand) and include garlic and ginger, onion and green pepper and sometimes magi cubes or blended up and liquefied onions, or blended up garlic, ginger and tomato with plantain dipped inside to make “Kelewele” or sometimes coconut milk, broth, or okra, or fried okra, or add spoonful’s of peanut butter or as a side blended up eggplant or hummus-these are some basic West African (and around) or Ghanaian cooking. You can get experimental with interesting chili peppers or a variety of mushrooms in stews or add plantains to stew to make it a little fancier or haughty. Some cooks will thicken a stew with Tahina or coconut milk or the liquefied onions or broths.
A basic idea is to blend and liquefy vegetables etc., succulence, and dipping. Also it’s flavored oils, tender meats and a little heat. Other common things are fresh fruit, fruit salads, fresh bread, kebabs and satays. Also common are rice dishes or rice and vegetables like “Joloff Rice” that includes mixed vegetables or dill rice or little savory dishes or cabbage dishes.
Alot of Africans like tender and spicy jerk chicken or coconut shrimp or meat pies or fried chicken or chicken wings (even marmalade wings or teriyaki wings)or curries or Ethiopian Berbere Stews or even Chinese Stir Fry’s or Spaghetti Bakes. Some African’s will go to a fish market or meat market and just want “a nice piece of meat” and some rice, plantain and salad etc. Some even like gravy’s and sauces. One African may like salads with boiled egg, sausage, tomato topped with Thousand Island Dressing. Some Africans like other cultural dishes that include a peanut taste like Vietnamese dishes with crushed peanuts or Thai, Pad Thai noodles in peanut sauce. Africans may also like “Bright Chicken,” which is a lemon based pan fried chicken and has marvelous flavor. Some may also like grilling or popping a piece of fish into foils with herbs and lemon into the oven wrapped up in a packet. Some African cooking has alot of French or Francophone influences from common shared languages and cultural taste buds. Dishes like Coq au vin or an aperitif or a cheese and fruit platter dessert may be popular.
Many meats can be tenderized and sautéed in coconut oil and eaten with rice and a salad or a vegetable or a pot of pickled greens. Many dishes can be topped with fried plantain and or a boiled egg on top or a boiled egg in bowls of stew to be sexy or macho. Most also include plantain fried, baked or boiled, yellow or green (green and unripe is often boiled) or cocoyam boiled, or yam tubers skinned and boiled.
Most also include some kind of doughy manioc like Fu Fu (pounded yam, often sold in flours), Gari (sometimes a Cream of Wheat or Farina stiffened with more of itself and less water), Kenkey or corn meal “Husky” (like Mexican masa cooked)(Kenkey without the Kenk or fermentation), rice or rice balls, or yam or plantain-as the starch accompaniment.
The other staple are stews or soups that go with starches. Stews are “cut meat” stews where large chunks or cubes are cut by a butcher on a band saw of either fish, chicken, goat or beef or lamb. There is an art to the cutting of the meat and the succulence of the stew later. Sometimes you can cut chicken with a cleaver. Try Kasoa Market in Ann Arbor, Michigan for good “cut meats,” for stews.
Kasoa Market also carries the staples of Titus Sardines which are good with a stiffened Cream of Wheat, Sriracha Sauce, chopped onions and diced tomatoes and sometimes also cooked corned beef-this is simply called “Gari.” Gari is served on a plate or platter all together in order of eating operations. Most dishes are eaten with the right hand, sometimes dipping into each item. Ghanaian’s have that dipping quality je ne sais quoi, like in the game with seeds and bowls “Oware,” almost like the letter “U.” Husky can be eaten the same way as Gari. The leftover corned beef can be mixed with cooked rice, onions and green pepper for another delicious dish.
Nkotombmre-is cooked down and blended chopped spinach or another green, broken up pieces of fish (mostly canned, marinated or pickled fish) Geisha Brand Mackerel in Chili Sauce or Titus Sardines and fresh or stewed tomatoes with African chili pepper and salt, cooked in palm oil. Let it all break down until it is one interesting blended green sauce that you eat over something or dip into with an accompaniment, even crackers or warmed or toasted bread. Nkotombmre is really tasty with fried plantain logs or boiled green plantains for example. It looks almost like Chimichurri which may have originated in Ethiopia and is around the world? It can be found in Mexico and Argentina via the Italians in Ethiopia that later immigrated to Argentina and it became their food, then from the Argentine’s presumably to Mexico etc. Chimichurri is ladled over meats, mostly beef, and is parsley, olive oil, red wine vinegar, cilantro, garlic, red pepper, cumin and salt all blended into a green sauce.
Many dishes could just be eaten with crackers like the Mackerel in Chili Sauce or the Nkotombmre, or Chimichurri can be ladled over meats and things. Some dishes you can take a bowl of rice turn it upside down in another larger bowl and pour soup over then lift off bowl to leave a round mound or an island with stew around or have a Fu Fu island in stew bowl or just a boiled egg and meats in stew. You can dress a stew in many ways.
Good drinks to have are ones like: Fanta, Bitter Lemon, Pampelmousse Grapefruit Drink, Palm Wine, Ting, Star Beer or African Guinness. With all the chili you may just want water!!! Fire! Fire! Fire! West African’s also typically drink lemon grass tea. They use fresh stalks of lemon grass and cut off pieces and steep them in hot water for a delicious and memorable tea. Some Africans really enjoy mulled herb teas or Black tea’s or Gunpowder Green Tea. There are also excellent South African wines like Chamonix or Simeon and many others. African’s also enjoy Peak Milk with Nescafe Coffee and even cakes iced with Nescafe icing. You can also just mix condensed milks as often do the Thai with coffee, a few tablespoons, for a delicious hot drink.
Ghanaian’s love “tea and biscuits” and are somewhat influenced heavily by the English. Other dishes common in England like baked beans on toast one may find also in Ghana. A Ghanaian father in America may feed to his young children, baked beans with hotdogs cut up in them-“beans and franks.” A plate of Gari may be shared by a father and his children as one plate. A dessert for a child may be simply baked plantains with peanut butter.
Africa was designated a more rural locale due to the presence of large game animals and game reserves. Perhaps it was more savior faire that desired land and rural, mixed with animals and cities. This represents a more simple “rural African diet.” As Africa advances and becomes more cosmopolitan, so will Africa’s culinary augment and grow with all the old favorites.
Then pop in some music like: Franco, or Thomas Mapfumo, or Ali Farka Toure or Amadou and Mariam, Orchestra Baobab, Miriam Makeba (Love Tastes Like Strawberries), Salif Keita, Baaba Maal, Babatunde, Fela Kuti, Buika, Caetano Veloso, Cesaria Evora, Dar es Salaam Jazz Band, Femi Kuti, Ibrahim Ferrer, Peru Negro, Sam Mangwana, Youssou N’Dour, Angleique Kidjo, Zap Mama, Soukous.