Monday, September 08, 2014

A Giant Step Forward

I trust I have not completely slipped off everyone's radar. The good news: the Ghana food and culture book manuscript was sent off on August 30, 2014, as promised.

The next step is sorting through hundreds of high resolution photos to select some for Hippocrene to consider as possible illustrations. (As the photo below shows, I am a "floor filer.")

It feels great to see some light ahead. Again, thank you to everyone who assisted in testing recipes and giving me helpful feedback. 

Now there is quite a bit of "catch up" to do as well.
For anyone in the State College, PA area, I will be giving a presentation at Foxdale Village,
500 East Marylyn Avenue, State College, PA 16801 this Thursday evening, September 11, at 7 p.m. (If you come by 6:30 p.m. you can also help prepare atwemo, (a deep-fried, slightly sweet cookie/biscuit). The event is free and open to the public. During the presentation,  also sample plantain chips and bissap (hibiscus iced tea) prepared by Executive Chef Jeffrey Boggle and his staff. The talk will include some of the story behind my love affair with Ghana's food, as well as information about its vibrant food and culture.

Also, next year be prepared to see sub-Saharan Africa represented in the 2015 upcoming Oxford Companion to Sweets, edited by Darra Goldstein!

Summer flew past without a break, so several trips are on the immediate horizon (Texas, Oregon, and California), but I will be weighing in here as well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Working on the book: "little by little, the chicken drinks water"

Hello, friends. Yes, it has been almost 3 months since a posting here. Let me assure you that I am alive and well. The final draft of our book  (tentatively titled "The Good Soup Comes From the Good Earth: Regional Cooking of Ghana") is due at the publishers at the end of the summer, along with photos. That is a full-time project (note  the 6 binders and file box!), taking every spare moment. As soon as the manuscript is on its way to Hippocrene Press, I will be back at the blog with renewed energy.

Though I am writing alone, many of you have offered assistance with testing the recipes--please know how much that is appreciated, and how helpful the feedback has been. Student interns from Penn State and elsewhere are helping manage that whole process to leave me free to work. To see photos as they are taken by some of the testers, see

Once again, thank you, thank you, thank you. It is sometimes a lonely road, and it is tremendously encouraging to have a community of supporters out there cheering me on.--Fran Osseo-Asare

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

More thoughts on snacking on toasted corn

The consensus was that  the crunchy version of toasted corn from yesterday's posting was a bit hard to chew. Since there was no dried hominy corn available,  I decided to experiment with canned white hominy today. After draining off the water, I dry roasted it in a
heavy cast iron frying pan on a low heat, stirring regularly. After half an hour, even though the water had cooked away, the corn did not look toasted, so I added a little bit of oil (no more than a teaspoon) to a second pan, turned the heat to medium, and put half the corn from the dry frying pan into the second pan. Almost immediately the corn began to sizzle and jump around, and I needed to put a lid on it. I shook the pan on medium heat for about 15 minutes, lifting the lid occasionally to let the steam escape, then uncovered it and turned off the heat.

The result of both batches was tasty, though pretty far removed from the Ghanaian version: the corn was chewy, with the version cooked in a little oil (on the left above ) a bit more crispy and browned. Both were much easier on the teeth.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ghana-style snack: toasted corn and peanuts

In Ghana, people snack on nuts (as in tiger nuts, groundnuts [peanuts], cashews, etc. ) often combined with something else, such as fresh coconut or corn. While corn is sometimes popped and eaten alone or with peanuts, it is also toasted. (Think African corn nuts.)

Toasted corn is an African snack food that I have been hesitant to prepare because I have been unable to easily locate the correct type of corn. I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago to some farmer neighbors  and they brought me a huge bucket of hard, field (sometimes called "Indian") corn to experiment with (thank you Micah and Bethany). While it is yellow corn rather than the white corn more common in Ghana, it provided me with the raw materials I needed.

I tried 3 variations:

1) Soaking the corn for 24 hours and then draining it, stirring in a couple of tablespoons of  canola oil  for a couple of cups of corn and  and roasting it in a hot (400 degree F) oven  on a greased cookie sheet, planning to stir every 5 minutes. Whoops! After 5 minutes I stirred it and before 5 more minutes were up, the corn started jumping off of the cookie sheet into the oven. It wasn't popping exactly, more the way sesame seeds pop when you put them into a pan to heat them. I had to turn off the oven and remove the cookie sheets after the oven cooled. I then drained the corn on paper towels and salted it.

2) While the corn was cooking in the oven, I also used a heavy frying pan on the stove top with a little oil (a tablespoon or so) to toast a cup of the soaked corn on a medium heat, stirring regularly. After about 7 minutes I had to put a lid on the pan, too, to keep the corn from jumping out.

3) The traditional way they do in Ghana: toasting the corn dry over a low heat (on my stovetop), then pouring the toasted corn into a pan of cold salt water to soak for an hour, then drying the corn in the same heavy cast iron frying pan I used to toast it originally.

I'd recommend #2 or #3 as providing the most successful result. Certainly, if I'd been able to
easily locate Goya's giant white corn or dried hominy corn, I'd have liked to have tried that.

This makes a nice crunchy snack, but not one to be recommended for small children.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Tiger Nuts: Another African food discovered by US health food enthusiasts

Tiger nuts (aka "chufa," or technically, Cyperus Esculentas), are included in the 1996 initial book in the Lost Crops of Africa series (Grains, Vol. 1), published by the National Academy Press.

In Ghana people delight in eating tiger nuts raw as a snack food, kind of like peanuts (though one spits out the fibrous coating after  chewing them to extract all the sweet milky juice.) 

Back in 2009 I posted a recipe for "atadwe milkye" or tigernut pudding. At that time I had to import the tigernuts from Spain, and they required a long soaking before grinding them to make the pudding.

While preparing to have some recipe testers try their hands at making this wonderful gluten-free pudding, I began searching for a source closer to home. 

Lo and behold: the health foods community has discovered tiger nuts! Two British-born men, Jack Sims and Jim McNulty, teamed up in 2013 to begin making this product available to the U.S. market via Tigernuts USA. They are also taking things one step further by providing the option of purchasing them with some of the outer husk removed (the part that we strained out repeatedly through silk cloth in Ghana after grinding the rice and tigernuts together). And soon, they are going to have tigernut flour available! There are all sorts of possibilities for simplifying the process of making the pudding.

My first order just arrived and I'll begin trying their nuts out soon.

Also, I want to thank all the folks who have volunteered to help out with the recipe testing. We can always use more! Just fill in the form and forward it to me. Also, the first couple of volunteers have emailed the results of their efforts and you can see their photos at the pinterest site. It is very encouraging and helpful to hear from all of you, and will definitely improve the final book.

Monday, January 27, 2014

New Year, News from BETUMI: calling recipe testers

It has been awhile since we have posted. No, we didn't lose interest in promoting, preserving, and celebrating Africa's food and culture. Most assuredly, work has neither slowed nor stopped.

BETUMI: The African Culinary Network expected to move into an office by early December, with access to new resources such as student interns (especially to help with research and the Africa Cookbook Collection and technical support). That project was repeatedly pushed back due to delays in approval and construction, but we are now at our new site.

BETUMI is now part of the community co-working space in downtown State College, Pennsylvania, USA, known as the New Leaf Initiative.

It is an exciting new venture and wonderful place to be, surrounded by energy and enthusiasm, as well as a quiet, efficiently designed place to work.

The other reason for the silence is the  intense work on the book manuscript Barbara Baeta and and I are preparing for Hippocrene on Ghana's regional cooking. The book includes a couple hundred Ghanaian recipes from regions throughout Ghana. To date, there are about a hundred that have been drafted and tested, and  about 100 in various stages of development. It is time to turn to you for help in testing the final drafts before we hand over the manuscript to the publisher. Many of you have already verbally offered to help: we need everyone's input: home cooks, foodies, Ghanaians, culinary professionals, both those who know and who know nothing about Ghanaian cooking, beginners, experienced cooks. . .  If you would like to help, please fill in and send me this form.

For those who want to follow our progress on the testing, we have set up a new Pinterest 
board for the testers to post photos of their results at Ghana Regional Cookbook testing Pinterest. Come join us!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Africa Cookbook Projects, Original and New

In my previous post I promised to share about what's happening with BETUMI's "mountain moving" projects. 

BETUMI's Original Africa Cookbook project:
In 2007 at the TED Global conference held in Arusha,
Tanzania, BETUMI launched the
Africa Cookbook Project --we now have collected well over 120 books written by Africans and published (mostly) in Africa. They range from mimeographed (yes, before the 1960s, before  photocopying or scanning, there was mimeographing) informal collections of recipes to sophisticated full-color print books. They are in English, French, Portuguese, Amharic, Malagasy. . . We have also collected dozens more cookbooks published outside of Africa and/or written by non-Africans, along with dozens of  African-food-related reference books.

The earliest books in the collection were originally published in 1933 (The Gold Coast Cookery Book,  by the Government Printing Office in Accra, reprinted in 2007 as The Ghana Cookery Book by Jeppestown Press in the U.K. AND the 1934 The Kudeti Book of Yoruba Cookery by J. A Mars & E. M. Tooleyo--we have the 3rd (Revised) Edition (1979) and the reprinted and repackaged 2002 edition, all from Lagos.

The most recently published additions are: from South Africa,  Ukutya Kwasekhaya: Tastes from Nelson Mandela's Kitchen by Xoliswa Ndoyiya with Anna Trapido, published in 2011;  from Ghana, Florence Sai's Aunty Mama's Cook Book launched in Ghana in December 2011, and from (Côte d'Ivoire (via France), Marguerite Abouet's  Délices d'Afrique, published in 2012 by Editions Alternatives.

A huge thank you to everyone who has contributed so far to this project. One immediate mountain that needs moving is getting all of the books into the fledgling data base. We need help to do this. Maybe the next step after that is getting some of the earlier works digitized and available to everyone, while ensuring that there is fair compensation to authors and publishers.

The Newest Africa Cookbook project:

As many of you already know, for over a decade (when the photo on the left was taken), Barbara Baeta and Fran Osseo-Asare have been collaborating on compiling an ambitious Ghanaian cookbook designed as a basic cooking course. It will feature regional variations and step-by-step instructions for a wide range of Ghanaian recipes (roughly 150), along with Ghanaian artwork, scenic shots, and anecdotes from both of our lives. 

We're thrilled to report that in August 2013 we signed a contract with Hippocrene Books, respected for over 40 years as a publisher of ethnic cookbooks. The manuscript will be completed by the end of August 2014, and the book is expected out 9 months later, around May 2015. Thank you to all of you who have been supportive of this unfolding dream. We trust that, like all truly great things, it will prove worth the wait.

We're very excited! 

P.S. Those of you who have offered to help (or would like to)  with the final recipe testing, stay tuned. We welcome your involvement, and will soon give more details on how you can be a part of this project.