Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Recipe #9: Okra/Eggplant/Fish Stew

Banku is often eaten with a stew made from okra and/or garden eggs (a kind of eggplant, which is what is often substituted in the U.S.), and smoked and fresh fish. I especially love smoked mackerel, but my husband was recently placed on a low-sodium (salt) diet, so we had to omit that and go with fresh salmon instead. I confess I missed the lovely flavor smoked fish adds. We tried to compensate for that by serving it with a little bottled chili sauce since I did not have any "black pepper" (shito) on hand.

The ingredients I used included: a medium eggplant (to get several cups, peeled and chopped), a large really fresh tomato (or 2), or substitute canned if you must, a large onion, chopped, a jalapeno pepper (or a hotter variety, more, etc., to taste), about 1 1/2 dozen fresh okra, (or frozen), 4 salmon fillets, 2 large garlic cloves, a couple of tablespoons of red palm oil (or other vegetable oil), a little fresh, peeled ginger (to taste, try starting with an inch or so), and some salt.

Salmon would not be a traditional fish (whereas tilapia, tuna, or red snapper would), but I've often had salmon served in West African restaurants in the U.S., and it works fine, especially the wild type, which are meatier.

First wash and prepare the eggplant. Peel it and chop it into cubes, then put it in a saucepan and
cover the eggplant with water. Cover the pan, bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer it while you prepare the okra. If using fresh okra, rinse it, then trim both ends. According to your preference, you can 1) simply slice the okra into rounds, 2) chop it finely, 3) remove the seeds and slice it horizontally, 4) leave it whole. I generally chop it finely, unless I'm in a hurry, when I just slice it. When using frozen okra, I often leave it whole so it doesn't completely lose its body.

The stew can also be made with only one of the vegetables--either the okra, or the eggplant, but we like them combined, as they often are in Ghana.
When the eggplant is soft, remove it with a slotted spoon and puree it in a blender or food processor. Set it aside.

Similarly, peel and coarsely chop the ginger and garlic and tomato and puree them with a little water in the same blender container. No need to rinse it first.

Peel and chop or slice the onion. In a large, heavy pot or pan heat a couple of tablespoons of oil (I used a seasoned red palm oil from Ghana called "
zomi") and fry the chopped onion on a medium heat for a few minutes, then add the pureed pepper and tomato and garlic and ginger (if you're a perfectionist like me, you can strain out the seeds, or seed the peppers and/or tomatoes before putting them in the blender). Add the eggplant and fish, turning the fillets to coat them with the spices and vegetables, then add the okra and salt (to taste) and stir. If it's not spicy enough, add a little dried red chili pepper. Add a little water if the sauce seems too thick, cover it and lower the heat and simmer until the fish and okra are cooked. This stew also goes well with plain rice, and should serve 4 people. If you want more tomato flavor, add a spoonful of tomato paste.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Recipe #7, continued (banku)

We ate our banku with a stew. Today I'll mention the steps to finish the banku, and tomorrow #9 will be an okra/eggplant/fish stew that pairs well with it.

Basically, when using the fermented Indian Head cornmeal dough, just bring a couple of cups of water to a boil in a saucepan (about a 3-quart saucepan, with a handle), add a teaspoon of salt, and gradually stir in the fermented dough. If you stirred the dough every day it should not have mold on it, but if there is any, scrap it off before adding the dough to the boiling water. Incidentally, the more days you let the dough ferment, the more sour it will be. If it's your first time, probably 2 days will be long enough.

Lower the heat and stir constantly to keep it from forming lumps. Stir the banku for about 15 minutes using a strong wooden spoon or paddle (something flimsy will likely break), scraping the bottom of the pan and turning the dough as it cooks. If necessary, add a little water to keep it from scorching, and/or turn down the heat. Once the banku is cooked, remove it from the heat and let it sit a few minutes. When it is cool enough to handle, wet your hands and shape the banku into one large or several small loaves (I generally make individual servings). Banku is usually eaten warm or lukewarm.

Has anyone tried making banku in the microwave? Please let me know if you have, and how it worked out. The same basic procedure is used when making banku from already-prepared frozen dough, after defrosting it. If using the powder, one must of course add more water (I would add some water to make the dough, then bring more water to a boil and continue as with the Indian Head fermented dough).

Gosh, just remembering this is making me hungry again.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Recipe #7: Banku, 4 choices

Yesterday I mentioned I'd begun fermenting some cornmeal to make the dough for the Ghanaian dish known as banku. The same dough can be used to make a firmer, steamed ball called kenkey (see the March 28, 2007 posting). It takes a few days to get to the right level of sourness, so it'll be a couple more days before I actually make the banku, and perhaps an eggplant or okra stew to serve with it. The way many Ghanaians make banku, and I did for many years, is to put 2 cups of white Indian Head cornmeal (or other similar stone ground cornmeal, but do not use masa harina) into a nonreactive container, like glass or ceramic) with 2 teaspoons of corn starch. Mix them together well (I use a wire whisk), then add 2 cups of lukewarm water. Mix thoroughly, cover lightly and leave to sit in a warm place (counter, stove top or oven) for several days, stirring once a day. The dough should begin to bubble up as it ferments.

The Indian Head cornmeal version requires no imported ingredients. If you're unable to find white cornmeal (the preferred one in most of sub-Saharan Africa, for reasons described well in James McCann's excellent 2005 Maize and Grace: Africa's Encounter With a New World Crop, 1500-2000), go ahead and use any stone ground yellow cornmeal/corn flour.

While we're waiting for the dough to ferment, let me discuss other options for making banku. If you look online or live near a large city that caters to African immigrants, you will likely find several possibilities. The first drawback of the dough described above is that banku is generally made not only from corn, but also cassava (aka, manioc, yucca). Also, the traditional process for producing the corn dough includes first soaking the whole corn overnight, then grinding it. Usually people just take the corn to a local mill that grinds it for them. The result is that the flavor is different (this flavor different has to something to do with the starch/sugar relationship, I was told) and also the corn is ground much more finely than the Indian Head or other stone ground cornmeal available in the U.S. Finally, Ghanaian food scientist Professor Sefa-Dedeh once explained to me that the actual bacteria that grow during the fermentation process are specific to Ghana, and will also produce a different flavor to the dough. He advised me to dry some corn dough in Ghana and use it to make banku in the U.S.

Fortunately, many shops now import frozen dough or dried powders directly from Ghana. There are several versions. The first is a dried, powdered form to which you just add water. Many people like this, but to me it has an aftertaste. I prefer the frozen dough that includes, as does the
powdered version, both the cassava and corn doughs. Nina International produces both versions. Finally, there is also the option of having a corn only version of the frozen dough, which has the advantages of being closer to the original banku texture, but without the cassava. It can also be used for other Ghanaian dishes, such as a popular porridge called koko.

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