Sunday, September 19, 2010

How to Cook a Ghanaian Meal 101

Let me introduce myself. I am the kind of girl who cannot wait fifteen minutes for the oven to both preheat and cook a frozen pizza. I am the girl who’s most complex meal is Macaroni and Cheese (with shapes), and I am certainly the last person in the world who I thought could ever appreciate the time and effort it takes to pull of a well cooked meal. I finally caved though. I was done with weekly hamburger dreams, and sick of eating nothing but plain rice and bread on the weekend, and so I actually learned to cook.

Starting with the basics, this is what I mean by rice.

Ghanaian Rice

2 liters of rain water
Rice, preferably not local because it has rocks in it.
4 generous handfuls of salt
Oil. A lot of it.

Tomato Stew (Foundation for everything)

It is Emmanuel that I owe for helping me learn this dish. He taught me the proper way to use the pestle and mortar (crossing over the middle rather than using the edges), and instructed me that by mashing up one vegetable at a time the process goes quicker. To mash at home, just use your blender.

1. Cut up a small onion and fry it in some hot oil.
2. Mix up 7 peppers and 1 large onion. Then add it to your pot with some water. Boil it and stir until the water evaporates. You remember those times they used to tell you that oil and water do not go together? Well, that rule does not apply here.
3. Add the tomato paste and about 1 cup full of water,and then let it boil. You wait till it is thick consistency before moving on.
4. Add the corned beef, Maggi (about 1 cube, taste to decide, and yes, it does have MSG), and add the curry powder. Stir it until the corned beef is cooked.
5. Eggs fried on the side make a great protein to add to this dish.

I have made this dish once since I have been home, and it was a hit with my family.


Christiana was the first to give me the directions. I got overwhelmed and confused in the process. Isabelle at school gave me another fruitless rundown, and I finally decided that I was never going to learn until I tried it for myself. I headed to the cold shop, got the chicken, haggled down the rest of the supplies at the market, and then set out on a four hour long journey. Yes. Four hours. Start this dish early!

1. Cut and clean chicken (with a machete or another kitchen knife you are more familiar with)
2. Boil the chicken with garlic, ginger, curry, three cubes of Maggi, and an onion. Save the juice for the ‘stock.’ It will add flavor when you cook your rice in it.
3. Take the chicken out of the stock and fry it in a lot of oil. Make sure the oil is hot before you put in your chicken. To see if it is ready, throw in a little drop of water. Be careful! You will get burned. It is better to have a rag or a lid to hold up as a shield.
4. Once your chicken is fried, remove it and throw in a diced onion. You can also add a cut up green pepper if you want.
5. Add your stew mixture (Tomato stew, see above for instructions, a mixture of peppers, onions, tomato paste, and water)
6. Add noodles and stock to the tomato stew, then add your rice.
7. When it has about fifteen minutes left to cook, put in a can of corned beef.

If you are impatient, like myself, you can put a wet plastic bag over the rice and it will steam quicker.

By the time I finally mastered this dish I was able to share with all of the people in my host family who taught me. Grace even got seconds.

Groundnut Soup

Groundnut soup I learned with Maggie. Even without chicken it came out tasting pretty good. This dish took three hours to make.

1. Cut and clean chicken (about two thighs)
2. Finely chop one onion, 1 piece of garlic, 4 pieces of ginger (grind up garlic and ginger together), and 2 Maggi cubes.
3. Add six ounces, or about two scoops of tomato paste
4. Add water
5. Once that boils, mash up about fifteen peppers and add them to the mixture.
6. Last, add two bags of groundnut paste. The most equivalent thing we have to it in the west is peanut butter. Mash the paste with your hands in water to make a creamy mixture. Add it to the pot. Once the oil has risen to the top you know that the soup is finished.

Rice Balls

Rice balls are my favorite starch to eat with groundnut soup.

1. Cook white jasmine rice, or sticky rice with more water than normal at home.
2. Mash the rice against the side of your pot. Grace showed us this cauldron shaped pot and these two metal hooks she uses to make rice balls. Once you stick your feet in the hooks to hold the pot steady you can use a canoe paddle shaped stick and mash the rice against the side. If you are in the west, just use a wooden spoon and push the rice against the side of the pot or a bowl.
3. Once it is all mashed up, remove a handful of the paste and form it into a ball by wetting down your hands and packing it like a snowball. You can then put it in the middle of any soup or stew and you are set.

I discovered that there is a unique satisfaction you can get from creating a nice dinner for close friends and family. It is nice seeing your hard work paying off and the people you love enjoying it with you, especially when you can pay them back for the hours of patience they spent teaching you. I know. Me cooking? I am just as shocked as you are. It doesn’t mean I love the microwave any less though…


(Field Notes : 7.12-13, 23.7-10, 27.37, 36.6-10, 44.11-13, 72.5-7, 73.13-14, 80.13-16)

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