Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kele Wele Made At Home

Wonderfully enough, one of my local grocery stores carries plantains that are both pretty cheap and pretty good quality. Most of them weren't quite ripe enough, but the ones that were I decided to cup up and fry to make some kele wele for my sister, her friend, and myself. I was stuck with using olive and canola oil, and all I've got as far as spices go are garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, and onions. Claire and her friend Katie both loved them. I would have liked the plantains to be a touch more ripe, but I can let the other eight (bought twelve, cooked four) sit until they're even more yellow than these were. I'll also want to give using peanut oil a shot, since the olive oil tasted a little bit off.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Eve of Departure, Round 2

There's honestly too much to say regarding the past threedays so late in the evening before I hop back on a plane to the US. Between Cape Coast, Kakum, the world cup match between Ghana and team USA, the Eastern Region, and all of the hours and kilometers in between, it's been a long weekend. There's a lot to think about from this trip, a lot to write about, and all of that takes far more energy than I've got right now. In the mean time, I'll put up some pictures and finish packing. I'll be writing more when I get home. Thanks for following me this far, hopefully I'll have more adventures back in the states.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Accra Adventure

This morning, Fran and Naomi worked to grind the corn that had been fermenting for a few days in water into a meal for making banku. Fran also saved the oranges, tangerines, and limes before they went too ripe by squeezing them into juice, which was delicious both with breakfast and dinner.

I spent today down in Accra, meeting up with Maddie. She's the sister of a friend of my boyfriend, and is working on an international internship teaching HIV/AIDS education classes to 12-15 year olds at a school here. She'd already been here for three weeks when I landed in Accra last weekend, and the day finally came when the two of us were free. It was a lesson in traveling solo in Ghana for sure, I had to take a cab to a place I'd never seen before to meet with someone for the first time. One great thing about Ghana, though, is that no matter where you are, you can stop someone on the street and ask for directions. If they don't know, they'll ask someone else who does or point you in a general direction and tell you to ask anyone in that area, they'll know. When searching for a restaurant Maddie had been to a few weeks ago, we were delivered personally by a woman we askedto a place to grab lunch (not the same place, but still good, still close to the ocean). I got some red red with fish, a really popular dish around here. It's ripe plantain and cowpeas (black eyed peas) cooked with palm oil which gives it a bright color, thus the name. My fish watched me as I ate, though. It was a bit uncomfortable.

On the way back, my lesson on travel in Ghana continued, as my taxi broke down on the Motorway several kilometers from the road into Community 18 where I'm staying. I had to wave down another cab, get in with three strangers, and go first to where they needed to go before heading back to the house. No problems, I'm getting familiar with the area enough to find my way back to Abattoir Road and through the more residential streets.

Dinner was some boiled cocoyam, yam, and ripe plantain accompanied by the leftover palm nut soup and some fried beans. All in all pretty good. Dessert, of course, was fresh mango (which is so unbelievably good here, I don't even like mango very much in the states).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Baeta, Day Three

Today's lunch was reheated light soup with more smoked fish added, along with some gari. Gari is awesome, it's this slightly fermented cassava meal that has a taste reminiscent of sourdough bread. It swells up to about double its size when water and soup are added, is mostly starch and fiber, but has some protein in it according to the composition index I got form the Food Research Institute. Surprise surprise, it's also a good source of calcium.

Barbara came to see us today at the house to properly finish our series of interviews with her. She has some really interesting stories of the meals she's had to serve, of how she got her school started, of how she tried to make it a practice not to borrow money from anybody (she only borrowed twice in her life, and paid the debt off promptly). She told one story of how she served Jimmy Carter breakfast when he was visiting, and he took a liking to the Tom Brown porridge because it was served with groundnuts, groundnut being the local term for peanuts.

I'm having Maosi make me a dress from the fabric at the top of the stack in the picture to the left. She says it'll be ready tomorrow, I'm very excited. I'll be sure to put up a picture or two!

Things to look out for later in the week: Ghana plays USA on Saturday, any and all of you reading should watch for sure.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Food Research Institute (and more Fufu)

Today was spent breakfast- and lunching at Barbara Baeta's with the intention to record some more interviews with her. Barbara the ever-hospitable, however, had several guests over for both breakfast and lunch and so we couldn't get the intimate conversations with her that we managed to capture last week, but we did get some quick recordings of her guests talking about their history with Barbara. We had fufu and palmnut soup again, but Barbara has her way of making peasant food feel decadent and gourmet. Between breakfast and lunch, Barbara accompanied Fran and myself to the Food Research Institute where we met with several of the faculty, learned a whole lot, and walked away with 1) the promise of more pineapple chuff flour and 2) a booklet entitled Compositions of Foods Commonly Used in Ghana, published in 1975 but promised to be fairly accurate. I wish I had had this thing earlier in the semester to help me begin with the compositional breakdown of the recipes Fran hopes to publish (that's been an ongoing project since the start of the spring semester, and will continue into the fall for sure). It's got things broken up into food category, such as grains, doughs, fruits,nuts, etc, and it's really interesting to see what they have compared to what the USDA has published in their nutritional database(from which I was working all spring).

And now for something completely different:

Today, on a wall near circle 37, I saw "Ethiopia" scrawled in nearly unnoticeable letters across the corner of an ad for some breakfast porridge. I've pointed out the stickers on the backs of taxis and tro tros, and most advertisements and shop signs are hand-painted (even corporate logos like MTN and Coca Cola). There is, however, a severe lack of street art, of murals, of graffiti. There's no obvious paint covering graffiti up, either. So what is it about West African culture that stops this general practice? I know graffiti didn't emerge as a culture of its own in the states until at least the late 1970s, but painted vandalism and illegal murals have been around for a long time in western countries, especially in times of conflict. I'm wondering why in West Africa the only painted images on the walls are to advertise? I did a quick image search on google for West African street art and found almost nothing. A blog about street art that I follow, Wooster Collective, featured an artist in Senegal, but he's been the only one anywhere remotely near Ghana. South Africa is full of graffiti artists, could this be due to a feeling of us-vs-them that stemmed from apartheid? (Fran suggested that here in Ghana, there is none of that sentiment, that the general attitude of the population is one of hard work and community, that there is no oppressive "them", no "man" to rebel against, even in this packed and sprawling city of Accra.) Is it because of the intense Christianity that seems pretty much universal? In the north, where the population is more Islamic, is this trend any different? How about in Islamic neighborhoods in the south, since there are mosques and Islamic schools around here? This would definitely be something to look into during potential follow-up visits to Ghana when I have more time and more familiarity with Accra.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Two Nights of Fufu

Both last night and tonight Fran and I made soup and fufu. Lastnight, Sunday, we used fufu flour and stirred it over the stove until it reached the right consistency, but today, Monday, Kay and Naomi taught me how to properly pound fufu from plantains and cassava. Fran caught a short video of me pounding fufu.

Last night, I also learned to pound palm nuts in order to make palm nut soup. After the palm fruits (those red things we bought at the market) were

boiled for 45-60 minutes, they were mashed in the taller mortar using the hard stick. Then they were soaked in hot water, strained several times, and that cream was what was used forthe palm nut stew.

Today, Maosi (who owns the sewing kiosk outside) took me to Makola Market down in Accra. It was one of the coolest things I've seen since I've arrived in Ghana. We caught one of the tro tro, the large vans that act as busses and have really cheap fare to ride. It took us through some really rough dirt roads rather than chance getting caught on Spintex Road or pay the toll on the Motorway, but that alone was a really cool experience, driving through so much of the area between Tema and Accra rather than right past it on the fast roads. I bought several yards of really nice wax prints, and I'm hoping to have Maosi make me a dress before I leave.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Week One, Down

I cannot believe I've been here for over a week, now. It both feels much shorter and much longer, like I was just in the states and simultaneously have been in this house for quite some time, now. I've grown accustomed to the time, the climate, the bugs (for the most part, I did battle with a cockroach that landed on my leg during dinner).

This morning, Fran Naomi (pictured below with her mother, who sells maize) and I went down to the Tema market to take care of some more shopping, and I took advantage of the time to play tourist. I snapped aton of photos, mostly of the people who sold us things. I also managed to stop a fabric seller and pick up six yards of cloth for six Ghana cedis (that's about four dollars, I'm pleased). I wish I had gotten a picture of her, but I was too busy worrying about finding exact change. She had the fabric folded up, stacked, and tied to a board that she balanced on her head, plus a few cloths draped over her arms. I also finished the skirt I was working on this afternoon! It needs to be run through my sewing machine once I get home, but for now it'll do the trick.

Alright, photo dump:

And the skirt:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Football, Frisbee, and Fufu

Today I stuck around the house, slept in a bit, got some writing taken care of for the night before and watched the first two football matches of the day. I'll quote a friend when I say it was shocking that out of two matches and three teams, there was no single victory to cheer for! Later in the afternoon, I went outside to throw the frisbee around some more with Eric and Frances. Eric and his friends had the disc overnight and probably at school, and so when I got it back, it was not only washed, my name had been re-traced in sharpie, and two more names were added to the list.

Eric's mother and aunt came outside closer to dinner to pound fufu. Fran had shown me pictures of the process before, but I was really curious, so I came over to watch. They knew I'd never tried fufu before, and offered me a piece of the un-pounded cassava (another first). It also tastes starchy and potato-like, and you can see in the pounding process, it's a lot like kneading dough for bread. One person works to release the gluten in the cassava by pounding with this big heavy piece of bamboo while another turns the fufu between pounds and adds water as necessary. I asked if they would let me pound, but I didn't realize how much force and movement was needed, and so I was laughed at for my few wimpy attempts. I have to work on my technique for sure.

Baeta, Day One

Late start yesterday, but we made it to Barbara Baeta's house a little after one in the afternoon. Barbara is the owner of Flair Catering, a big name in Ghanaian food. The catering company recently served breakfast when the Obamas were in Ghana last spring. The conversations Fran and Barbara had I recorded on the camcorder for Fran's oral history project. She wants a spoken recollection of Barbara's history and how she got to be where she is today, a powerful woman in the realm of cooking, teaching, hospitality, and traditional Ghanaian food. The stories she shared between courses and other conversation were pretty interesting, and we'll be going back to meet with her again on Tuesday to finish where we left off.

The meal we were served was delicious, and I have a new love/constant craving for fried plantains. The first course, pictured above, was bambara beans and tatale. Barbara's brother, who joined us for lunch, loves to put sugar on his bambara beans, which I tried when I'd finished half of my bowl without sugar. Without, it's spicy and tastes somewhat like chick peas in spicy sauce, but with sugar it has more of a southern spicy-savory-sweet flavor. Both are good, it just depends what you're craving. Tatale, though, is a kind of plantain pancake that's just the right balance of sweet and savory, crispy and meaty. I kept having to remind myself not to eat the whole thing, but to move between the bambara beans and tatale to both enjoy the mix of flavors and to have more tatale to return to. I had a little internal "woohoo!" when I remembered just how easy it was to buy plantains in the states (what up, Fresh Grocer). Family, I hope you're all ok with a sharp increase in plantain consumption this summer. Consider this your warning.

Barbara's brother said he was there at the meal that was served to the Obamas. He said that he'd been watching some of the white house staff members looking at the food cautiously, and convinced one of them to try the bambara beans. The guy took a really small portion and sat back in his seat. Then, he said, a few minutes later the guy goes back up to the buffet table to get a bigger helping of the beans, followed by the other guys at the table going up for small and then bigger and then second helpings. Point of the story: try things once. You may or may not like it. No harm if you don't, awesome discovery if you do.

The meal continued with more fried plantains (this time cut into little pieces rather than served as tatale), spicy chicken, rice, some sort of green bean salad, and tomato gravy. All of it was pretty good, but I think I must have polished off half of the plate of plantains on my own.

For dessert, Barbara mentioned that she had an interesting plate of cookies and cakes she'd made earlier. A Swedish researcher who had spent some time down in Ghana developed a kind of pineapple flour made from the chops of fresh pineapple that can be used in flour mixtures for baking. Not only does this directly cut down the organic waste from pineapple, it adds another way that growers of pineapple can make revenue, and gives a tangy alternative to adding lemon zest to cookies and cakes.

We came back to the house later in the afternoon, and feeling antsy I decided to head out for a walk but stopped just past the gate to sit and talk for a while with Mensah's wife, Gladys, who runs the little sewing shop outside called "God Is Great Fashion". Her sons came back later on, Francis (5) on his bicycle, making motorcycle sounds, and Eric (12) asking where my frisbee went. I ended up throwing with him until long after it got dark, and he's pretty good for someone who's never even seen people tossing a disc around before. He even learned to throw a steady flick.

That's all for now, I'll be posting more about today later this evening.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Yesterday, Fran and I headed out to the University of Ghana at Legon to meet with some of the faculty members from the food science department. First task was to meet Rose Omari over breakfast to talk about her work, talk about Fran's work, and get closer to the bottom of the issue of national pride regarding food, the penetration of Western foods and Asian foods, and the disappearance of more traditional recipes in daily Ghanaian life. The conversation was recorded on video, but that won't be making an appearance up on this blog.

Next stop was the department of food science and nutrition. While we were there, we were shown a new product that the department has been developing and is in the final stages leading up to public sales. If you've never had Ice Kenkey before, I apologize now because I have no idea how to describe it. It's not comparable to anything in the typical American diet, it's a fermented corn meal drink made with milk, and from what everyone else is saying, it's wildly popular around here. The problem, according to the food sci department, is that the Ice Kenkey available now is stuff made at home, it's not always safe to drink, it's got a really short shelf life, and it falls out of suspension if it's not mixed frequently or drunk right away. By making a bottled variation, the hope is that this is a safer, more shelf-stable, and stays suspended without constant shaking (it's a really thick drink, more like bottled pudding than a bottled drink).

I'll come right out and say it, I have no taste for Ice Kenkey. Regular kenkey is a fermented corn dough, and I think that might be good, but just as garlic ice cream (garlic festival 2005) was not bad necessarily but simply not right, Ice Kenkey was such a surprise that I really didn't know how to react.

After that, we met with Esther Sakyi-Dawson, a professor in the food science department, who had some really interesting things to say about cassava, and helped to answer some of the questions Fran and I had.

Following that meeting, there was lunch, which for me was groundnut soup and rice balls, and for Fran was some other soup that I didn't catch the name of, but was made with greens and served with corn dough balls. The groundnut soup came with either fish or meat, but when I asked for meat the server asked me of goat would be ok. Verdict: goat was pretty tasty.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tom Brown, Yam Balls (Yele Kakro), and Tiger Nuts

Breakfast was a porridge made from what's called
tom brown. It's a toasted corn or sesame flour
that is admittedly bland when eaten straight (mix
with one cup water to incorporate, one cup boiling
water to heat), and has a texture like a smooth
paste. Adding raw sugar, those brown crystals that
are becoming popular in coffee shops, improve the
flavor and the texture considerably. Brown sugar
or granulated sugar would do similar things to the
flavor, but the raw sugar has an excellent grit to it.
On top of that, we added some peanuts and milk.
More often, it's eaten with evaporated milk, that
stuff that comes in cans and reminds me of old people
and the Royal Empire, but it wasn't worth it to open
a can just for that little bit, so we stuck to milk. I like
it just with the sugar and a few peanuts, personally.

After breakfast and a bit of work setting up the rest of
the week, we turned out attention to the stack of yams
that were acquired yesterday. African yams are not at
all like the orange tubers in grocery stores back in the
states, these things are more like overgrown potatoes,
both in texture and in taste, but they've got a bit of a
lingering aftertaste. Anything I do over here with yams
can be done back home with potatoes, no problem. One
thing I'd like to actually experiment with is using half
idaho or red potato, half sweet potato, and seeing if they
remain solid enough to fry at the end.

Fran decided we would make these yam balls, which
mayor may not be called yele kakro in one of the many
Ghanaian languages. I'm no expert, unfortunately, so if
I'm wrong, feel free to point me in the right direction.
We started by washing and peeling the yams, chopping
them up, and boiling them much like one would when
making mashed potatoes. Simultaneously, tomatoes
were blanched and peeled and chopped up with some
onions. Half of the mixtures went onthe stove to cook
and caramelize, the other half stayed raw.

Once the yams were finished cooking, they were mashed and
combined with both the cooked and raw tomato and onion
mixture and two eggs. Tossed in were thyme and red pepper
and some salt, and then we set to work rolling them into
little flour-coated balls. The balls were fried in a pot of
saffloweroil and strained. They're fantastic hot because the
outside stays crispy for only so long, but when I make them
at home,I'll be packing some away in the refrigerator to pull
out at lunchtime.

(The recipe is so easy and a lot of fun, I'm thinking of
teaching it to the girls that I'll be tutoring in July and August.)

I know, how good do they look? Although, to be honest, it's
a given that you fry something starchy with spices, it's going
to be delicious. You can add whatever spices you really
want to add to these things, I'd go for garlic in future batches,
maybe try a little bit of dill for more of a wintertime treat.

The last picture I have here is a bowl of what Fran calls
tiger nuts. They're pretty common down here, we bought
them off of a street vender (don't worry, they were washed
under hot water before anyone ate them). They're also pretty
common in Spain. They're chewed but not eaten entirely, the
hard outer husk is spit out at the end. They can be crushed up
and the milk can be drained, sort of like coconut milk, and the
taste is sweet and nutty, like a sweet almond.

Tomorrow, we head out to the University of Ghana at Legon to talk to a
few people in the food science and nutrition departments. I'm
excited and a little bit nervous, to be honest.