Monday, May 20, 2013

Groundnut Paste No-flour Biscuit (Cookie)

I'm currently spending a couple of months in California, with time split between my own mother (84 years old) and my granddaughter, 2 years  (plus new grandson, 3 days old!). Around Mother's Day, mom and I were talking about cooking things using available ingredients, and I was (as usual) lamenting the dependency on wheat flour for baking in Ghana.

"Don't you know how to make 'Believe-It-or-Not' peanut butter cookies?" she asked. "They're quick, unbelievably easy, and only use 4 ingredients: peanut butter, sugar, egg, and a little vanilla." When I admitted I didn't, she whipped up a batch practically instantly.

I had to share this magic recipe: not only with those who eat gluten-free, or those in Africa who cherish recipes that do not require a bunch of imported ingredients, but anyone who can eat peanuts and wants to add an instant favorite to his or her culinary repertoire. 

 Groundnut Paste Flourless Biscuits (Cookies)
Assemble ingredients: To make 1 1/2 dozen (about 18), you'll need a cup of groundnut paste (in Oregon, mom used Jif creamy peanut butter), one cup of sugar, 1 egg, and a teaspoon of vanilla.

Next, gather the utensils you'll need: (along with an oven), we used  a cookie sheet, a small bowl and a mixing bowl, measuring spoons, a measuring cup, a wire whisk, a fork, a rubber scraper, a strong wooden spoona mini melon scoop, a pancake turner (or spatula), and a wire cooling rack. Use as many, or as few,  of these things as you need. But be sure to have a mixing bowl, a cup, a mixing spoon (or electric mixer), a cookie sheet to bake them on, an oven, and probably a fork to press the cookies down.
                                                                          To prepare:
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  •  Preheat an oven to 325 degrees F (farenheit) (= 160 degrees C or gas mark 3)
  • Mix together until creamy 1 U.S. cup of groundnut paste (260 grams) with 1 U.S. cup of sugar (that's 260 grams) in a large mixing bowl. We used a rubber scraper to get all of the groundnut paste/peanut butter out. (A clean finger also works ;-)
  • First break the egg into a small bowl (to make sure you do not have any shell in it), then add the egg to the mixing bowl
  • Add 1 U.S. teaspoon (5 ml) of vanilla to the large mixing bowl
  • Using a sturdy spoon or an electric mixer, mix all ingredients well until they form a ball. (That's my talented mom, Sylvia Casteel, stirring away!)
  • If you have time and a refrigerator handy, you can chill the dough slightly to make it easier to work with (we skipped this step, and it was fine).
  • Using a small spoon (we used a melon scoop to easily make small balls of a uniform size), drop enough dough on the cookie sheet to make about 18 cookies, leaving room for them to expand and spread out


  • Finally,  using a fork, press it lightly on each cookie (alternatively, if you chill the dough first, or possibly if you wet the fork, you can press the cookie again at a 90 degree angle to  criss-cross the marks)
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until it is just slightly brown. The cookies will harden as they cool. Use a pancake turner or spatula to carefully remove the cookies (biscuits) and store them in an airtight container.
This is the basic recipe, but it is wide open for variations: sprinkle chopped groundnuts on top or into the batter, add some cocoa (chocolate) bits or powder, or coconut flakes, or another flavoring in place of the vanilla (maybe something like lime or orange?)  What do you think? And thanks, mom, for another gift from you.
P.S. These freeze really well, and the recipe can easily be doubled. Plus, I've heard you can substitute brown sugar or honey or even Splenda for part or all of the white sugar.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Borlaug Fellows Do Up an African Feast

In April 2013, several Borlaug Fellows visiting Penn State as part of the USAID's Feed the Future program spent two days in my home preparing and serving a feast to which they welcomed their mentors and colleagues. The Fellows who participated included: Rugie Wonyene, who studied business management at the University of Liberia and  Liberian farmer Patricia Gant; Ruth Pobie from the Ghana CSIR Food Research Institute; Amma Amponsah  from the University of Ghana; Alganesh Gamechu of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR); Alice Ajani with the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute; Mercy Elom from the Cross River Cooperative Womens Alliance ; and Eucharia Onwurafor  from the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Nigeria.

Central Pennsylvania is a long way from Africa, and it was a joy to be in the kitchen cooking, laughing, and sharing with these talented and committed women. The original idea was to videotape them as they cooked, and chat with them about their foods, but the sheer number of dishes being prepared in the crowded conditions, plus technical difficulties with the camcorder, made that a no-go. Just for the record, below is the horrendously unsuccessful, but actually pretty hilarious, initial attempt to document the experience--if you don't mind mostly audio only and lots of camera jumping:

The menu was mouthwatering: tef injera and multiple stews/sauces from Ethiopia; check rice,  fried okra, and cassava leaf stew  from Liberia. banga (palmnut) soup and eba (from gari)  from Nigeria, groundnut (peanut) soup  fufu, omo tuo (rice balls) and kelewele (spicy fried ripe plantain cubes), from Ghana, bissap (hibiscus iced tea), Ethiopian coffee, fresh fruit salad. . . you get the idea. . . It was a fitting way to wind down their experiences at Penn State, and their friends and sponsors were grateful for the opportunity to share a meal together with them. I (Fran) was grateful to have a little window into their lives, too. I wish them well as they return home to continue working towards a better future in their home countries. There are many more pictures from the day of preparation as well as the meal at betumi's flicker account in a set called Borlaug Fellows cooking/dinner.