Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ghana-style Kenkey

Italy has polenta, Ghana has kenkey. This steamed fermented corn dough dish from Ghana has several versions. The two most well-known include Ga and Fanti styles, the former dough including salt and made of balls wrapped in corn husks before steaming, the latter without salt and wrapped in plantain leaves. It is also called komi in Ga, dokono in Twi, or dokon in Fante, kokui or tim in Ewe (sorry, I'm missing the correct orthography to insert special Akan characters in several of these words).

There are numerous other versions of kenkey, including a type where the skins of the corn are removed before grinding it. A sweet version is called dokompa, and it is one of the few instances where sugar is added to a main carbohydrate (sweet potatoes or yam are also added). Kenkey can also be made from plantains, where very ripe plantains are pounded and mixed with green plantain meal (amada kokonte). Plantain kenkey is known as brodokono in Twi, afanku in Ga, and ahyenku or asenku in Fante.

The preparation of corn-based kenkey involves souring the dough, then cooking half of it slightly to make aflatta, (a.k.a. ohu, or half-cooked banku), then mixing the partly cooked dough with the uncooked dough and wrapping and steaming the mixture. Banku is a smooth, softer dough that is cooked and stirred, rather than steamed.

Kenkey fascinates me, and I hope to continue tracing its history when I'm in Brazil later this year. Apparently some of the
peoples in Amazonia, such as the Tupi-Guarani, also ferment corn to make dough. Many parts of sub-Saharan Africa have thick corn-based porridges (pap, bidia, ushima, sadza, ugali, etc.), but Ghana's fermented dough seems different. It is also difficult to duplicate in North America, where we are usually forced to ferment Indian Head or other (white) cornmeal. This disappoints on several counts: the corn should be soaked before being ground and fermented (something to do with how the starch changes to sugar, a food scientist in Ghana once tried to explain to me), it should be white (harder to find in the U.S.), and it should be finer than our stone ground cornmeal. I've also tried soaking dried Indian corn, and grinding it myself, but have not identified the correct types (flint, dent?) and been unsuccessful. Ga-style kenkey is wonderful with crisply fried fish, a spicy pepper sauce/sambal such as Ghana's "sheeto," and a fresh tomato, pepper, and onion "gravy."

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Nigerian Moin-Moin

Here are 3 brief videos to help you make perfect moin-moin. The first is a 2-minute introduction, followed by a 10-minute summary of the ingredients and process (including information on preparing the foil packets in which the moin-moin is steamed), and finally a 9-minute demonstration of dehulling the beans and making the batter.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Tea Bread Update and Sugar Bread Draft

As they say in Ghana, "Little by little, the chicken drinks water." The tea bread recipe is getting better and better. I've added some gluten flour, trimmed down the amount of yeast, and substituted ground mace for the nutmeg. I'm also using my electric bread maker to mix the dough (otherwise, just knead it).

Into the bread maker (or bowl), add (liquids first):

about 1 (8 oz.) cup warm water, and
2 oz margarine
Next, 1 lb. 1 oz. bread flour (I used Pillsbury this time), and
4 teaspoons gluten,
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground mace
3/4 teaspoon dry powdered yeast

I set the timer on the "dough" setting, and wait for it to finish, then remove the dough, and put it in a greased bowl to sit for about 8 hours, then punch it down, shape it into a loaf or loaves with slightly tapered edges (I no longer use the bread pans), place it (them) on a lightly greased/oiled cookie sheet and let the dough rest for about half an hour (I always let my dough rise lightly covered with a dishtowel and rest in a slightly warmed oven with a bowl of water. Bake
in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes.

The picture above is actually from one of my earlier efforts and not the best illustration, but the better loaf got eaten before I could photograph it.

I"ve had another request for a sugar bread recipe (see the picture from the blog posting for March 5 to see various ways of shaping the bread besides in a bread pan). I don't believe in hoarding recipes, so even though I've not tested or developed this yet, here are my rough notes from my trip to Ghana (I'll probably halve this recipe as I work on it):

Sugar Bread, loaves and Rosca (working draft)

2 eggs
about 1/4 c full-cream powdered milk, or a single-serving sized packed (like Nido)
2 c sugar

7 c presifted flour (~2 1/2 lb)
2 t salt
4 heaping t ground nutmeg
3 level t yeast
12 oz margarine

1. Break 2 eggs into a large mixing bowl.
2. In a measuring cup add a single-serving-sized packet of full-cream powdered milk (a little less than 1/4 c) with enough water to make 1 c. Add the milk to the eggs along with 2 t salt and mix until foamy.
3. Add 2 c sugar and mix again.
4. In another bowl, measure out the flour and add 4 heaping teaspoons of ground nutmeg and 3 level t yeast. Stir together.
5. Mix together the dry and wet ingredients (she added the flour to the other bowl gradually (?), using her hand to knead it as she added it.
6. Work in 12 oz of margarine to the dough. Push in the middle and turn and turn.
7. Dust a clean work surface with flour and continue kneading the dough until it is smooth, satiny, and elastic.
8. Leave the dough to sit for about 30 minutes (but this was a warm, humid environment—in the U.S. you might need to put it in a slightly warm oven with a bowl of hot water in the oven). Punch it down (Q: and knead again?? I think we formed the loaves, etc. at this point.
9. Here we stopped to make “Rosca” (?) (Rose string?): She took a portion of the dough, divided it into 3 equal pieces, and rolled each piece out to about 17”, then pinched the 3 strands together at one end and braided them, (some of them she left in a long braid, others she shaped into a small ring), and also made a couple of different sized “mother and baby” rosca. To do that, first took a small ball of dough (size??) and rolled it into a cylinder (length? about 4 or 5 inches?) and how wide? (about an inch?). At one end, she pinched the dough on each side to form the neck, then made small slits at a 45ยบ angle about halfway (or a little less?) down from the neck on each side to pull away from the rest of the dough to make the arms, then a slit up the other end of the dough (not the end with the head) to make the legs (they formed the legs by gently spreading the dough out a little where the cut was made. )

After shaping the dough, put it in greased/oiled pans and leave to rise until (??)

This dough can be formed into various shapes, including baking in a greased loaf pan, making into round loaves, or the braids (hers was about 17” long), etc.

Our yeast was bad, so we still need to check the rising and baking time (and temperature).

If any of you Ghana sugar bread fans try this recipe, please e-mail me to know of your results.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Step-by-step moin-moin (or moyin-moyin), a savory steamed bean (cow-pea) pudding from Nigeria.

Coming Soon: Black-eyed peas are frequently prepared as savory steamed puddings throughout Western and Central Africa. Last October I introduced and interviewed "Auntie Bola" Sodeinde in a podcast (see blog posting for October 21, 2006). She returned to Pennsylvania in March and kindly offered to demonstrate the preparation of moin-moin, similar to Ghana's tubane. We spent a couple of delightful hours cooking together at her son and daughter-in-law's home. I recorded the session with my digital camera and will soon be posting her very helpful Nigerian cooking lesson as a video. To whet your appetite, go ahead and gather the ingredients you'll need to make the moin-moin: a pound of dried black-eyed peas, a medium onion, a red sweet bell pepper, peanut oil, salt (OR seasoning salt), white pepper, chicken, or vegetable or other stock OR granulated bouillon and water. If you want to make our fancy version you can include hard-boiled eggs, a little tomato paste, tinned corned beef, and dried crayfish.
You'll also need some aluminum foil in which to steam the pudding (unless, of course, you have banana leaves available), a large pot with a steamer insert, and a food processor (a blender can be used, but it's harder). Check back in a couple of days for the video.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ghana's Tea Bread Secrets

I've probably had more interest expressed in finding a recipe for Ghana's tea bread than any other recipe.

In 2002 in Ghana I asked the owner of PamFran Co., a bakery in Accra, to teach me to make Ghana-style sugar bread and tea bread. She came to Flair Catering where I was staying, and demonstrated quantities and techniques. After returning to Pennsylvania, my first attempt to recreate her tea bread failed miserably: mine was hard as a rock. I returned to Ghana 2 years later, and went back to Mrs. Spendlove, Pamela Ayele Attipoe, to be shown again. This time I went to her bakery, and realized her commercial mixers and rollers also affect the texture of her bread. I'm still trying to perfect my recipe. I thought I'd share where I am so far.

One difference between Ghana and Pennsylvania tea bread is the gluten content in the flour: Ghana's has more gluten. In Accra we mixed flour from Takoradi and Irani mills to average the hardness (Ghana does not grow its own wheat, but imports it and mills it locally. I've read that around 90% comes from the U.S. I think, but am not sure, that it imports mostly hard red winter wheat). This time I used bread flour, which may still not be as hard.

Anyhow, I've combined the 2 lessons in Accra with another, older recipe from the 1953 edition of Gold Coast Nutrition and Cookery. The 1953 recipe uses palm wine, but I substituted yeast and a little extra water. However, I noticed that Marian Shardow has a recipe for palm wine bread in her A Taste of Hospitality and says you can substitute white wine for palm wine. I'll try that next. I'm still having some trouble getting the sugar and salt in the right proportions, and my dough is rising faster than the 8 hours it takes in Ghana, but I'll keep working on it. In the meantime, any of you who'd like to take a crack at it and let me know your versions/results, here's where I've gotten to so far with my recipe development (I'm using U.S. measurements):

2 lb. 3 oz. of bread flour (about 7 1/2 cups)
2 oz. of sugar (this needs increasing some, I think)
1.5 t yeast (or 1 rounded teaspoon; I may try 1 t next time)
2 t ground nutmeg (reduce to 1 1/2 t?)
2 t salt (down from 1 T)
4 oz margarine
about 2 cups warm water

I weighed, then sifted the flour, added the sugar, yeast, nutmeg and salt, and mixed in the water gradually, first with a spoon, then my hands. Finally, I continued mixing in the margarine (not butter) with my hands.

I kneaded the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes until it was elastic and smooth (it's a stiffer dough than a normal white or whole wheat dough), and turned it into a greased bowl, covered it with a dishtowel and set it in a warm oven to rest and ferment for about half an hour. Then I punched the dough down, divided it in half and stretched each half out and formed each into one-pound loaves to put inside lightly greased aluminum bread pans I brought from Ghana and let them rise (proof) inside my warm oven with a bowl of water below them to keep them from drying out (I also covered them with the dish towel). Instead of the 8 hours I was hoping for, after 4 hours they were at the top of the pans and needed to be baked. I put them in a hot oven (425 degrees F) for about 15 minutes, then turned the heat down to 375 for another 30 minutes. Next time I'll just cook them at 375 degrees for the full 45 minutes or so (my crust browned too quickly).

Today I halved the recipe and just added everything into my bread machine on the dough setting and mixed it, then turned it into a lightly greased bowl to let it rise. It's still rising. I'll wait 7 or 8 hours before I punch it down and make the loaf, then let it rise for about 30 minutes and bake it at 375 degrees F for about 45 minutes.

Family taste test: For the first version listed above my husband said there was an elusive flavoring he seemed to think his mother's tea bread used to have (someone suggested it might be mace?). Teenager Sam said he thought mine had too much nutmeg and the texture was different, plus the crust was too tough. Sam and I thought there was too much salt, but my husband disagreed. I'll let you know how the recipe testing process goes as we keep working on this. Please do share your insights.