Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Coming soon: The Ghana Cookbook

News flash--our forthcoming book is now listed on Amazon! The cover features some of my Ghana photography. Still lots of editing and finalizing, but please stay tuned. It should be out in time for your holiday giving next October. Kudos to Hippocrene for their lovely design.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Investigating Traditional Basotho Breads


Wheat is expensive and often imported into sub-Saharan African countries, where it is
generally the preferred ingredient in baked or steamed breads. It is often in competition with other more traditional ingredients, such as sorghum and maize.

In 2014 I had the privilege of participating in the thesis defense of another young African woman scholar, Pulane Nkhabutlane, who set out to investigate and document  the culinary practices and consumer preferences regarding traditional Basotho bread. She  sampled villages in 5 rural districts in Lesotho, a small country in southern Africa completely embedded within S. Africa.

(photo from  http://bit.ly/1IpV5yw)

A consumer science doctoral student at the University of Pretoria, Dr. Nkhabutlane's pioneering doctoral research was, like Rose Omari's, by necessity largely exploratory and descriptive.  There were 3 main phases of her research: 
  • First, to identify and describe the different traditional breads in Lesotho, to investigate the past and present culinary practices related to them, to understand the factors influencing consumers' perceptions and consumption patterns, and to identify how Basotho culture impacts traditional bread acceptance. She considered ingredients, cooking methods, and social and economic variables (e.g., age, gender, and rural-urban differences)
  •  The second phase included a more technical analysis to standardize the recipes, considering regional variation, and to identify the nutritional value (macronutrients, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals) and yields.
  • Finally, to characterize selected traditional Basotho breads. This section included identifying sensory characteristics like texture, volume, and color, and the contributions of wheat, maize and sorghum flour to these. Also, to investigate and determine the contribution of sourdough in the bread doughs (pH and total titratable acidity).
The thesis was another fascinating contribution to filling in the hole in contemporary sub-Saharan African culinary research. It also suggests a number of policy recommendations, such as campaigns to improve nutrition and food security and a greater appreciation of the strengths of the culinary heritage of sub-Saharan Africa. 

It is exciting to observe a new generation of African scholars taking hold of their own research agendas. It also gladdens my heart that there is a generation of African fathers and husbands who are willing to support their wives to enable them to make contributions to the development of their continent, even at a personal cost to themselves. 

The full title of Dr. Nkhabutlane's thesis is: "An Investigation of Basotho Culinary Practices and Consumer Acceptance of Basotho Traditional Bread."

Some of her work has already been published: P. Nkhabutlane, G. E. du Rand, and H. L, de Kock, "Quality characterization of wheat, maize and sorghum steamed breads from Lesotho" Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Volume 94, Issue 10, pages 2104–2117, August 2014.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Urban Food Provisioning in Ghana: Fast Food Restaurants

As 2014 draws to a close, I have returned to my desk in Pennsylvania, USA, after several
months away. A recent trip was to the Netherlands, specifically to Wageningen University, where I was pleased to be on the examining committee during Rose Omari's doctoral defense. I first met Dr. Omari when she was a student and working at the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute in Accra during a research trip to Ghana in 2010, and it is encouraging to see another young African scholar tackling some of the gaps in African culinary research. Originally trained as a food scientist, Dr. Omari transitioned into the social sciences with her doctoral research.

Intrigued by the rapid emergence of an urban social phenomenon in Ghana, the "fast-food restaurant," she wanted to use the Accra Metropolitan Area to answer basic what, why, where and when questions, and to try to make sense of it. She wanted to use a Ghanaian perspective rather than simply adopt Western models. Prof. Dr. E. O. Sakyi-Dawson, from the University of Ghana, was another of her examiners. The research is fascinating and likely to inspire further efforts. Besides doing a fine job of description, she sought to cast a wide interdisciplinary net to analyze the phenomenon considering the interacting and contradictory dimensions of social identity,  convenience, and sense of consumer responsibility.

The thesis title is: Fast Food in Ghana's Restaurants: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Relevance--An Interdisciplinary Perspective. One paper rising from the research has already been published, and several more are already submitted/accepted:

Omari, R., Jongerden, J. P., Essegbey, G. Frempong, G., and Ruivenkamp, G. T. P. (2014) Fast food in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana: Characteristics, availability and the cuisine concept. Food Studies 1 (4):29-44.

Omari R., Essegbey G. and Ruivenkamp G. (2014) Barriers to the use of locally produced food products in Ghanaian restaurants: Opportunities for investments [Accepted for publication in Journal of Scientific Research and Reports]

Dr. Omari is married and has children. From personal experience I know that a woman's academic road in that case can be a long and challenging one, requiring intense commitment and persistence, and the sustained love and support of one's spouse, family, and friends. Clearly, Dr. Omari received that. Well done!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Help with Nigerian snack name

It's October and I'm in Austin, Texas, visiting family. Daughter Abena just gave me a snack (grain? seed?) she bought at a Nigerian store. It  looks like barley or buckwheat, or a fat kind of rice. Can any of you tell me what it's from, and its name--English, indigenous, and/or scientific? Also, any more information about how it's prepared and eaten is welcome. As always, thank you.

Monday, September 08, 2014

A Giant Step Forward

I trust I have not completely slipped off everyone's radar. The good news: the Ghana food and culture book manuscript was sent off on August 30, 2014, as promised.

The next step is sorting through hundreds of high resolution photos to select some for Hippocrene to consider as possible illustrations. (As the photo below shows, I am a "floor filer.")

It feels great to see some light ahead. Again, thank you to everyone who assisted in testing recipes and giving me helpful feedback. 

Now there is quite a bit of "catch up" to do as well.
For anyone in the State College, PA area, I will be giving a presentation at Foxdale Village,
500 East Marylyn Avenue, State College, PA 16801 this Thursday evening, September 11, at 7 p.m. (If you come by 6:30 p.m. you can also help prepare atwemo, (a deep-fried, slightly sweet cookie/biscuit). The event is free and open to the public. During the presentation,  also sample plantain chips and bissap (hibiscus iced tea) prepared by Executive Chef Jeffrey Boggle and his staff. The talk will include some of the story behind my love affair with Ghana's food, as well as information about its vibrant food and culture.

Also, next year be prepared to see sub-Saharan Africa represented in the 2015 upcoming Oxford Companion to Sweets, edited by Darra Goldstein!

Summer flew past without a break, so several trips are on the immediate horizon (Texas, Oregon, and California), but I will be weighing in here as well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Working on the book: "little by little, the chicken drinks water"

Hello, friends. Yes, it has been almost 3 months since a posting here. Let me assure you that I am alive and well. The final draft of our book  (tentatively titled "The Good Soup Comes From the Good Earth: Regional Cooking of Ghana") is due at the publishers at the end of the summer, along with photos. That is a full-time project (note  the 6 binders and file box!), taking every spare moment. As soon as the manuscript is on its way to Hippocrene Press, I will be back at the blog with renewed energy.

Though I am writing alone, many of you have offered assistance with testing the recipes--please know how much that is appreciated, and how helpful the feedback has been. Student interns from Penn State and elsewhere are helping manage that whole process to leave me free to work. To see photos as they are taken by some of the testers, see http://www.pinterest.com/afculnet/recipe-testing-for-ghana-regional-cookbook/

Once again, thank you, thank you, thank you. It is sometimes a lonely road, and it is tremendously encouraging to have a community of supporters out there cheering me on.--Fran Osseo-Asare

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

More thoughts on snacking on toasted corn

The consensus was that  the crunchy version of toasted corn from yesterday's posting was a bit hard to chew. Since there was no dried hominy corn available,  I decided to experiment with canned white hominy today. After draining off the water, I dry roasted it in a
heavy cast iron frying pan on a low heat, stirring regularly. After half an hour, even though the water had cooked away, the corn did not look toasted, so I added a little bit of oil (no more than a teaspoon) to a second pan, turned the heat to medium, and put half the corn from the dry frying pan into the second pan. Almost immediately the corn began to sizzle and jump around, and I needed to put a lid on it. I shook the pan on medium heat for about 15 minutes, lifting the lid occasionally to let the steam escape, then uncovered it and turned off the heat.

The result of both batches was tasty, though pretty far removed from the Ghanaian version: the corn was chewy, with the version cooked in a little oil (on the left above ) a bit more crispy and browned. Both were much easier on the teeth.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ghana-style snack: toasted corn and peanuts

In Ghana, people snack on nuts (as in tiger nuts, groundnuts [peanuts], cashews, etc. ) often combined with something else, such as fresh coconut or corn. While corn is sometimes popped and eaten alone or with peanuts, it is also toasted. (Think African corn nuts.)

Toasted corn is an African snack food that I have been hesitant to prepare because I have been unable to easily locate the correct type of corn. I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago to some farmer neighbors  and they brought me a huge bucket of hard, field (sometimes called "Indian") corn to experiment with (thank you Micah and Bethany). While it is yellow corn rather than the white corn more common in Ghana, it provided me with the raw materials I needed.

I tried 3 variations:

1) Soaking the corn for 24 hours and then draining it, stirring in a couple of tablespoons of  canola oil  for a couple of cups of corn and  and roasting it in a hot (400 degree F) oven  on a greased cookie sheet, planning to stir every 5 minutes. Whoops! After 5 minutes I stirred it and before 5 more minutes were up, the corn started jumping off of the cookie sheet into the oven. It wasn't popping exactly, more the way sesame seeds pop when you put them into a pan to heat them. I had to turn off the oven and remove the cookie sheets after the oven cooled. I then drained the corn on paper towels and salted it.

2) While the corn was cooking in the oven, I also used a heavy frying pan on the stove top with a little oil (a tablespoon or so) to toast a cup of the soaked corn on a medium heat, stirring regularly. After about 7 minutes I had to put a lid on the pan, too, to keep the corn from jumping out.

3) The traditional way they do in Ghana: toasting the corn dry over a low heat (on my stovetop), then pouring the toasted corn into a pan of cold salt water to soak for an hour, then drying the corn in the same heavy cast iron frying pan I used to toast it originally.

I'd recommend #2 or #3 as providing the most successful result. Certainly, if I'd been able to
easily locate Goya's giant white corn or dried hominy corn, I'd have liked to have tried that.

This makes a nice crunchy snack, but not one to be recommended for small children.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Tiger Nuts: Another African food discovered by US health food enthusiasts

Tiger nuts (aka "chufa," or technically, Cyperus Esculentas), are included in the 1996 initial book in the Lost Crops of Africa series (Grains, Vol. 1), published by the National Academy Press.

In Ghana people delight in eating tiger nuts raw as a snack food, kind of like peanuts (though one spits out the fibrous coating after  chewing them to extract all the sweet milky juice.) 

Back in 2009 I posted a recipe for "atadwe milkye" or tigernut pudding. At that time I had to import the tigernuts from Spain, and they required a long soaking before grinding them to make the pudding.

While preparing to have some recipe testers try their hands at making this wonderful gluten-free pudding, I began searching for a source closer to home. 

Lo and behold: the health foods community has discovered tiger nuts! Two British-born men, Jack Sims and Jim McNulty, teamed up in 2013 to begin making this product available to the U.S. market via Tigernuts USA. They are also taking things one step further by providing the option of purchasing them with some of the outer husk removed (the part that we strained out repeatedly through silk cloth in Ghana after grinding the rice and tigernuts together). And soon, they are going to have tigernut flour available! There are all sorts of possibilities for simplifying the process of making the pudding.

My first order just arrived and I'll begin trying their nuts out soon.

Also, I want to thank all the folks who have volunteered to help out with the recipe testing. We can always use more! Just fill in the form and forward it to me. Also, the first couple of volunteers have emailed the results of their efforts and you can see their photos at the pinterest site. It is very encouraging and helpful to hear from all of you, and will definitely improve the final book.

Monday, January 27, 2014

New Year, News from BETUMI: calling recipe testers

It has been awhile since we have posted. No, we didn't lose interest in promoting, preserving, and celebrating Africa's food and culture. Most assuredly, work has neither slowed nor stopped.

BETUMI: The African Culinary Network expected to move into an office by early December, with access to new resources such as student interns (especially to help with research and the Africa Cookbook Collection and technical support). That project was repeatedly pushed back due to delays in approval and construction, but we are now at our new site.

BETUMI is now part of the community co-working space in downtown State College, Pennsylvania, USA, known as the New Leaf Initiative.

It is an exciting new venture and wonderful place to be, surrounded by energy and enthusiasm, as well as a quiet, efficiently designed place to work.

The other reason for the silence is the  intense work on the book manuscript Barbara Baeta and and I are preparing for Hippocrene on Ghana's regional cooking. The book includes a couple hundred Ghanaian recipes from regions throughout Ghana. To date, there are about a hundred that have been drafted and tested, and  about 100 in various stages of development. It is time to turn to you for help in testing the final drafts before we hand over the manuscript to the publisher. Many of you have already verbally offered to help: we need everyone's input: home cooks, foodies, Ghanaians, culinary professionals, both those who know and who know nothing about Ghanaian cooking, beginners, experienced cooks. . .  If you would like to help, please fill in and send me this form.

For those who want to follow our progress on the testing, we have set up a new Pinterest 
board for the testers to post photos of their results at Ghana Regional Cookbook testing Pinterest. Come join us!