Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Class on Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa debuts Fall, 2012

I'm not sure how many undergraduate Pennsylvania State University students check out my blog, but here's the announcement for the new African Studies class I'm piloting this fall at University Park:

                                                                               ©BETUMI, 2012

AFR 297B: Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa
Fall 2012 (3 credits)
Place: 173 Willard
Time: MWF 9:05 – 9:55 a.m.
Instructor: Fran Osseo-Asare (

·      Discover and define sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) place in food studies by:
o   using resources from history, economics, education, sociology, psychology, linguistics, political science, anthropology, literature, geography, agricultural sciences, gastronomy, public health, popular culture, and nutrition to create understandings of the roles procuring, selecting, preparing, consuming and celebrating food play throughout SSA.
o   recognizing the multiplicity of food cultures and culinary contributions that SSA brings to the global table, as well as the challenges facing its foodways.
·      Explore historical and geographical contexts, major foods, ingredients and flavor principles, tools and cooking equipment, meal formats, diet and health, special occasions, religious significance of foods, rituals and taboos, food production and preference changes over time, including pre-colonial, colonial, marketing, and globalizing influences.
·      Identify the roles foods play in traditional and contemporary cultures as well as similarities and differences and intraregional, interregional and international links. 
·      Create a final project on a personalized area of interest:
o   Possible topic areas: specific indigenous or adopted ingredients; the role of new media in images of African cuisine; “national dish” and national identity in Africa; effects of new technologies or food crops on food cultures; specific colonial or multinational experiences and impacts on diet or farming systems; culinary tourism in Africa; sub-Saharan African food and the African diaspora; cookbooks and the oral tradition; food in African art or literature; or . . .

The instructor, Fran Osseo-Asare, MSW (U.C., Berkeley), PhD (Penn State) is the author of Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa (Greenwood Press, 2005), a culinary professional, and an African food blogger (

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

IACP Book and Blog Festival

Just a note to let any of you near/in New York City that I'll be networking and representing African cuisines at the International Association of Culinary Professionals' annual conference this week, March 29 through April 3, 2012.

If any of you have time, please stop by my table at the Book and Blog Festival  on Sunday, April, from 12:30-4:30 p.m. at  82 Mercer St, Soho. There'll be a fabulous  number and range of amazing famous and (not-yet-famous) cookbook authors and bloggers there to chat with, plus free book giveaways, (likely some tastings, too) and lots of energy. I'd love to meet you. More information about the location and registration at:

Looking forward to meeting some of you there.
(P.S. copies of my Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa will also be on sale at the conference)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Celebrate with Cassava Cookies (Gari "biscuits")

Spring is coming! Last December I mentioned baking some classic cookies made from the West African cassava meal called "gari." It's now March, and I'm finally sharing the recipe--just in time for spring celebrations, or Easter,  or graduations, or a special teatime snack.

These crispy cookies are simple to make, and have an uncluttered, fresh, pure taste. The coconut and gari deliver a crunchy texture with a mild, pleasing flavor. Incidentally, I started to make them yesterday, cracking open a fresh coconut only to find it was spoiled, so had to return to the store today for some frozen unsweetened grated coconut. Apart from the time saved from not having to do all the work of opening and grating the coconut myself, the only difference was that the frozen one was more tightly packed, so I only needed about two/thirds of a cup of it (instead of about 3/4 cup) to make up my 2 ounces. 

Also, I used evaporated milk (as one would likely do in Ghana), and since I didn't have any margarine, substituted unsalted butter. For a vegan version, use margarine and substitute soy or almond milk.

Gari Biscuits (Cookies) 
Yield: 2 dozen


1/2 cup fine sifted Ghana-style gari
1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup plus 1-2 tablespoons sifted unbleached wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar (or less, to taste)
1 teaspoon baking power
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 oz or about 3/4 cup medium freshly grated (or about 2/3 cup defrosted frozen  unsweetened coconut)
1 oz (2 Tablespoons) margarine (or butter)
2-3 Tablespoons of evaporated milk (or regular, soy, or almond milk)

Set the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit  (191 degrees Celsius, or 5 gas mark) to preheat.
Grease or oil a baking sheet.
1. If using fresh coconut,  crack open, prepare and grate the white meat (see blog posting). Set aside.
2. In a bowl, sprinkle a teaspoon of water over the gari, and mix it in well with your fingers  (see picture on right).
3. Add the remaining dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking powder) to the bowl, along with the coconut.
4. Using your fingers or knives, cut the margarine (or butter) into the mixture until it resembles cornmeal.
5. Stir in 2 Tablespoons of milk. If the mixture seems too dry to stick together, add up to one more tablespoon (a teaspoon at a time) until the batter will form small patties.
6. I made the cookies 3 different ways, :
first, I hand-formed 8 of them into small patties; secondly, I patted some of the dough onto a lightly floured board and cut 8 small circles using a small jar; thirdly, I formed 8 small balls, set them on the cookie sheet, and pressed them with a fork as one would for peanut butter cookies--first one way, then once again at right angles to the first)

Finally, I baked them in the preheated oven for about 12-15 minutes, until they turned very lightly golden. The tops are whiter, the bottoms browned. The longer you cook them, the crisper they become, which is the way we like them.

These are delicious, and one cannot help but reflect on the reality that if people in Ghana made them more often, they could cut their use of imported wheat flour basically in half. Plus they make use of locally available coconuts, rather than expensive imported flavorings.

Variations could include sprinkling the biscuits/cookies with coconut or gari, or adding other flavorings/spices (vanilla, lemon, etc.).
I'm sure these would keep well in a covered container or in the freezer, but they never last long enough at my house to try that. These cookies are festive for any occasion year round.