Thursday, September 10, 2009

Recipe #16: Gari potowye (soaking)

Gari-potowye (gari soaking)

I featured a recipe for iced kenkey. Today I'd like to share another snack/porridge- type food I learned to call "gari soak" or "gari soaking." My sister-in-law, Theodora, was unfamiliar with those terms, but knows it by its Fante name "gari-potowye."

It's also simple to make. Take a small amount of gari (I've only used the finely sifted Ghanaian version, not the coarser Nigerian one, but it would work, too). For Americans, I imagine 1/4 - 1/3 cup makes a serving, though for Ghanaians it might take twice that much. Remember that gari swells up to almost 3 times its size when liquid is added to it.

Traditionally people pour the gari into a bowl and fill the bowl with water a couple of times to clean the gari and allow them to pour off any impurities that float to the top.

Like iced kenkey, Theodora agrees gari-potowye "is cheap and easy to make. . . people eat (it) mainly to quench thirst/hunger until they can make or eat something more filling. . ."

To make
"gari- potowye," after rinsing the gari and pouring off any chaff/impurities and most of the extra water, one adds cold or iced water, remembering to add enough to keep it from becoming too thick. For 1/4 cup, after draining off most of the water used to rinse the gari, use 1/4-1/2 cup cold (ice) water. If you are adding milk, you may stay with the lower amount of water. You can always add more milk or water if after it sits for a few minutes you think the mixture is too thick. Conversely, if you add more liquid than you like, you can always sprinkle in a little more gari. As I've said before, Ghanaian cooking is very flexible and forgiving.

Theodora likes her gari potowye best after refrigerating it for about 30 minutes (i.e., it will be softer). As with the iced kenkey, one may add roasted peanuts (in Ghana these would likely be dry roasted and unsalted), milk (evaporated, powdered or fresh) and sugar to taste.

I found an online site in the U.K. that sells processed gari
"Kwik meal gari soaking" to make this dish. Their Kwik brand included cocoa in the mix, something I've never heard of before in Ghana (nor had Julia or Theodora).

Julia affirms, "Yes, it's (gari soaking) delicious with roasted nuts, usually not crushed. It is also not described (as) a drink, though some people may dunk it, but rather (is) watery and eaten with a spoon since the gari thickens if you don't have enough water. The milk tends to slow this down."

Gari soaking has a milder taste than iced kenkey. It can be prepared more or less thick, crisper or soggier, according to taste. As Holli, a Canadian living in Ghana for over a dozen years noted in a comment on yesterday's posting "There is. . . (a) food . . .that my kids love, . . . made with dried gari (cassava powder). Pour the dried gari into water, add evaporated milk (Ideal Brand here!), peanuts and sugar... it has a similar flavour to breakfast cereal!"

Gari prepared this way is another student and boarding school staple.
I think of this cassava meal as Ghana's favorite convenience food, and "gari soaking" is another example. In the coming months I'll feature gari regularly, in ways both savory and sweet.

By the way, the images I'm posting these days were generally meant to be functional, not carefully composed food photography. I leave my camera in the kitchen and take utilitarian photos so you can see what I'm describing. Our cookbook will be visually much more exciting! Also, today I was fresh out of peanuts, so they're missing from the picture, though the added crunch they give to gari soaking is wonderful. For those with allergies, try another type of nut.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Recipe #3: Pot Luck Gari foto

Last Sunday for a fellowship meal at church I made some gari foto (Americans would say "Gary PHOto") a one-pot dish that's hearty, quick and easy and inexpensive to prepare, and a new (but not too new--Ghanaian gari has a mild taste that is quite acceptable and accessible to North Americans) flavor combination. Basically, one whisks and cooks a couple of eggs as you would for Chinese fried rice, sets them aside and makes a simple stew of oil, chopped onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and red pepper (and, if you like, something like canned corned beef, or tuna or sardines, or any other leftover meat or fish; I imagine tofu would work, too), and mix it together with some gari that has been pre-moistened. If you are not near a market that sells African ingredients, locate one online that will ship it to you.

As I mentioned recently, gari is a form of cassava (aka, manioc, yuca) that has been soaked, grated, fermented, dried, and roasted to make a convenience food that is reminiscent of couscous and is gaining in popularity in urban areas of Western Africa. Gari is especially popular in Ghana and Nigeria. Another day I'll talk about a delightful cousin of gari from Côte d'Ivoire called attiéké.

Gari foto is also called gari jollof, and is similar to classic West African jollof rice, which is a one-pot stew and rice dish. The main difference is that gari foto is faster, since you don't have to wait for it to cook as you would rice. While it was once a humble end-of-the-week-leftovers dish, today it is just as likely to be served at dinner parties in Ghana.

I'm putting recipes up on this blog and hope you will try them out and send me feedback, but I've been advised that I should mention that each of these are original recipes and are copyrighted ;-) ©Fran Osseo-Asare, 2009

Basic Gari foto with Corned Beef (this is the way I most commonly make it)

1 onion, chopped
2 large fresh tomatoes, or 2 cups grape tomatoes, chopped (or 3 drained canned tomatoes, chopped), seeded if preferred
1/2 tin of canned corned beef (or about 6 oz., or 1 cup of any leftover fish, meat, or beans), in chunks
1 Tablespoon tomato sauce (optional)
6 Tablespoons of peanut or other vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups of gari
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons red palm oil (if available)
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger (or 1/2 teaspoon dried ground ginger)
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (or to taste, or a little chopped fresh hot pepper)
parley for garnish, optional [that's a Western touch ;-)]
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced or pressed in a garlic press (optional)

Prepare ingredients: chop onion and tomatoes, grate ginger (if using fresh), peel and mince or press garlic (if using), open the corned beef can (if using), tomato sauce can (if using), break eggs in a bowl and beat well, measure out the gari in a separate bowl. Assemble other ingredients: oils, salt, ground red pepper, etc.
Measure out 3/4 cup of water and add a little (1/4 teaspoon) salt, and gradually sprinkle it over the gari, mixing it in with a fork (I usually just use my fingers so I can judge how wet it is). The gari should be dampened, but not dripping wet. Let the gari sit while you prepare the eggs and stew.

For a fancy version, you can fry a little of the chopped onion in a tablespoon of peanut or other oil, then mix a tablespoon of the tomato sauce into the beaten egg, and fry it as you would an omlett, then cut half of it into strips to garnish the finished gari foto (I usually omit this step for family meals, and just basically scramble the eggs and set them aside to break up and mix into the gari foto after mixing the gari in with the stew.)

After removing the eggs from the pan (I use a heavy cast iron skillet, but any heavy pan or pot will work), add the 2 Tablespoons red palm oil (this is called dende oil in Brazil, and there's a special spiced red palm oil from Ghana called zomi, if you can get it) and 1/3 cup, or 5 Tablespoons, peanut oil (or any other vegetable oil you like. Some Ghanaians have started using imported olive oil in cooking because they hear it is healthier, but that is not the traditional flavor). You can adjust the proportions of palm and peanut (or other oil, like canola) to taste. I usually use a light hand with the palm oil for those unfamiliar with it.

When the oil in the pan is hot, add the chopped onion and saute it until it is clear, then stir in the corned beef, if using. It will disintegrate as it cooks, which is good. After a minute or so, add the garlic, then the tomatoes, ginger, and red pepper. If you are using half of the egg mixture to garnish the dish keep it aside, then break the rest into small chunks, and stir into the stew. If you do not wish to garnish, add all of the egg into the stew. Turn the heat to low and mix in the gari mixture, using a fork to break up any lumps of gari. Keep turning it until the stew saturates the gari and there are no dry white (or yellow) lumps of the gari. Add salt to taste.

If desired, garnish the finished dish with fresh parsley and decorative egg strips.

Hints: Gari foto may be eaten alone or with a vegetable side dish, with a pepper sauce, or may be accompanied by a red bean stew.
A couple of teaspoons of dried ground shrimp may also be stirred in with the other seasonings to give it a distinctive West African flavor.
If you are leery of grating and chopping fresh hot pepper and/or ginger, just throw them into a blender with a little water and blend them together to add them. Remember that the more membrane and seeds you include from any hot pepper, the hotter it will be. I recommend using ground red pepper to have more control over the heat of this dish, which is usually not served spicy.


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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Great gari: Recipe #2: Simple Gari (Ghana's first fast food)

The response so far to my ambitious proposal of a couple of days ago, while thoroughly encouraging and supportive, is: "don't go crazy (and make us crazy) trying to bang out a recipe a day: focus on quality, not just quantity." That's good advice. I'll revise my plan to just 1 or 2 recipes a week.

Also, some people have written to ask if putting recipes online might not imperil a cookbook contract. I remember when I worked at Penn State as an instructional designer for their "World Campus," and there was a great emphasis on controlling the information available in online courses so that it didn't escape "out there" in the cyberworld. A year or so later our family spent a sabbatical at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the school announced they were making all of the information from their online courses free to anyone who wanted it. They were not marketing their knowledge, but their expertise. I guess I feel the same about my upcoming cookbook. Besides, all of the recipes won't be there, nor will those that are be in their final form, nor will the professional photos from Ghana be included, nor the supplemental information, and a lot of the stories.

At the end of May I'll be talking at a conference about cassava, a hugely important staple in many parts of Africa (and other tropical countries outside of Africa from Brazil, where it originated, and spread to other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Indonesia and Asia). Particularly important in West Africa is the coarse cassava meal known as gari. Gari (aka gali or garri) is a processed form of cassava (or manioc, mandioca, yucca, yuca, singkong, ketela, or ubi kayu, depending on what part of the world you are from and what language you speak). When I was in Brazil in 2007, I explained that it was similar to the Brazilian farinha de mandioca. It is a popular convenience food in West Africa due to its low cost, easy storage, long shelf life, and ease of preparation, plus it is very filling.

Gari is made from cassava, a root crop we in North America really only know when processed into the starch tapioca, which we use to make puddings and thicken things. But there is much more to the cassava than that. It is a staff of life to many people in tropical places, and especially in West Africa. There's no room here to go into a detailed history (plus there are already a lot of places on the web you can get that info: just do a google search on cassava); the same is true of West African gari (just don't confuse it with Japanese pickled ginger: that's a totally different gari!)

The processing of the cassava root involves washing, peeling, grating, soaking, pressing, drying, and toasting. The net result is a kind of cassava "couscous," that can be served simply by adding lightly salted water. I always boil my water before I sprinkle or pour it on the gari, but that is just me. Gari is very filling. It swells up when water is added, and can be eaten as a side accompaniment to a stew.

Preparing gari this way is faster than rice, and easier than couscous. The picture above shows 1/4 cup of dry gari on the left, with 1/4 cup gari sprinkled (and then stirred and let sit until it swells) with 1/2 cup of boiling water. There's a wonderful tangy smell from the fermentation of the cassava that releases when the water hits the gari.

Serve with a stew or sauce. For example, put a little oil in a frying pan, slice some onion into it, saute until golden, open a can of Goya sardines (rich in omega oil!) in tomato sauce, add it to the pan, sprinkle in a little red pepper if you want (and/or some beaten egg, or spinach if you like), and you have a meal in less than 10 minutes, even if you have to cook the spinach in the microwave before adding it to the stew. I've served gari to many North Americans who had never tasted it, and it was a very accessible flavor: it's mild, and makes a good canvas for a variety of stews, or when cooked into a one-pot as in
gari foto. Incidentally, not all gari is the same texture: the Nigerians prefer a much coarser cassava meal than Ghanaians. However, you will have to find an African or International market to find it, or order it online since you will not be able to find this at your local supermarket. By the way, it's also very inexpensive.

There's a lot more to say about how to eat gari, but not today. (I just finished hosting a symposium luncheon for all the students in one of my husband's graduate courses, and as we were finishing up discovered a Ghanaian family is in town for their son's graduation, and I've invited them for dinner, so it's back into the kitchen. BTW, I made plantain chips to serve as an appetizer today to use up four plantains I had left over and they were a huge hit with students from: Nigeria, India, Japan, China, Ghana, Brazil, and Pennsylvania!

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