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."

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At 8:51 PM, Blogger kenkeyaddict said...

2am in Dublin - can't sleep. Came accross your blog while surfing the net. Have eaten Kenkey many times and am quite addicted to it. Not from Ghana but married to a Ghanaian and really love the food. So hungry just thinking about it! Have even tried to make the stuff with great success wraping in foil as plantain and corn leaves not available in Ireland. I'll never get to sleep with all this talk of food!

At 9:01 PM, Blogger Fran said...

Maybe you should try drinking some iced kenkey with milk and sugar as a soporific ;-)

At 11:55 PM, Blogger Seyram said...

Hey Fran.. the name for kenkey in Ewe spelt Kokwe. Kokui is an name given to the first daughter in some Ewe clans and some people might be offended by this..

At 6:27 AM, Blogger Fran said...

Thanks for the correction, Seyram. I was relying on the classic 1953 Gold Coast Nutrition & Cookery Book for the spelling. I'll trust that you're correct (and check with my Ewe friends). By the way, the same book lists another Ewe name for kenkey as "tim." Is that correct?

At 7:28 AM, Blogger Here, There, Elsewhere... and more said...

Hi, I'm so thrilled to have come across your blog quite by chance...
I LOVE kenkey (and a zillion other yummy Ghanaian dishes...) and hadn't had it for years, until the other day when I was in Hamburg, visiting my childhood friend(from ghana) and enjoyed a meal of Kenkey, sardines and shitoh (eaten with our fingers, of course..!).
In fact, the city has quite a few Ghanaian food shops so I came back with my suitcase full of all I could carry..!
I'm adding you to my favourites and will be back asap :)

At 10:41 PM, Blogger Gilbert said...

This post has been removed by the author.

At 10:50 PM, Blogger Gilly said...

Fran, I was impressed when I came across your blog. I live in Connecticut and we are faced with the same problem you described in making the corn dough from Indian Head. We have tried some suggestions such as using warm water to mix the Indian Head cornmeal prior to the fermentation, but we have still not got the dough right.

We usually buy kenkey from an African market but have been trying out making the dough for banku. We learnt from one man who prepares and sells kenkey to the African market we shop at that he uses Indian Head corn to make his kenkey. Unfortunately, he considers his method a trade secret and therefore he refused to let us on his method. It is my search to find out how others in North America are tweaking with the available cornmeal to make the ideal Ghanaian corn dough that brought me here.

At 6:05 AM, Blogger Fran said...

Kenkey lovers: here's a video clip of making fresh hot pepper sauce (I didn't see the peppers, though) in an asanka to eat with canned sardines and fried fish and Fanti-style kenkey:


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