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Though the poultry traditionally used in this dish is guinea fowl, the meat of which is dark, you may substitute chicken. Processed poultry will disintegrate quickly in the soup, so once it is cooked, remove it from the pot until the soup has thickened. But do leave it long enough for the peanut and vegetable mixture to permeate the meat. Peanuts, known as groundnuts in Africa, provide the rich flavor and creamy texture of this soup.
This soup is usually served with fufu, an Akan dumpling made from yams, taro root, plantains, cassava, or even processed potato flakes. The fufu should sit like an island in a sea of soup, with the meat and fish scattered over the top. It is even referred to as the "island in the sun"! This dish is traditionally eaten with your fingers-even the soup!
6 to 8 guinea fowl or chicken pieces, or 2 pounds (1 kg) lean meat (such as chops or medallions of lamb shanks), cut into chunks
Freshly ground black pepper 2 large yellow onions, minced 4 large, very ripe tomatoes, or 2 cups canned whole tomatoes, drained and puried 1 cup peanut paste or peanut butter 8 cups boiling water Red chiles, fresh or dried, ground, for seasoning (optional) 4 to 8 mushrooms, cleaned (optional) 2 pounds (1 kg) fish fillets, salted, smoked, grilled, deep-fried, or sundried Potato Dumplings (page 20)
Put the poultry or meat in a very large, heavy-based pan (not a crockpot, because the initial cooking process requires fairly high heat, which a crockpot does not provide). Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add the onions, stir, and cook "dry" on medium heat, stirring continuously, until the outside of the meat is slightly cooked and browned on all sides.
Pour the tomato purie into the meat and onion mixture, and continue to simmer.
Put the peanut paste in a big bowl, add 2 1/4 cups of the boiling water, and use a wooden spoon or a blender to blend the paste and water carefully together to form a creamy, smooth sauce.
Add the peanut sauce to the meat mixture, as well as the chiles and mushrooms. Continue to simmer, stirring only occasionally to prevent the food from sticking to the bottom of the pan. This is the basic soup. Pour the rest of the boiling water into the soup, and simmer slowly on medium heat to cook the meat for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the type of meat used (guinea fowl takes about 10 minutes longer).
Prepare your choice of fish by removing any residual bones. Add the fish, either whole or in chunks, to the soup during the last 30 minutes of cooking time to prevent it from breaking up in the soup. Once you add all the ingredients, simmer slowly until the soup thickens. Serve with the dumplings.
Ham Soup with Basil and Vegetables
This is an easy, affordable, and deliciously tasty soup. In fact, it is one of my family's favorite foods. Indeed, some members of my family would eat this soup with my fufu (dumplings) three times daily if they could, and that includes me! This soup cooks best in a pressure cooker, if you have one, use it for this recipe.
SERVES 4 TO 6
6 dried shiitake mushrooms 2 pounds (4 kg) smoked, meaty ham shank (choose the meaty, flat, rib portions, cut into 3-inch squares by your butcher) 6 large tomatoes, blanched and peeled, or 1 13-ounce (410-g) can Italian peeled tomatoes 3 large yellow or red onions, coarsely diced 2 tablespoons tomato paste 12 cups water (10 cups if using pressure cooker) 3 large sprigs basil 2 potatoes, peeled and quartered 1 large zucchini, coarsely diced 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 6 pieces 2 or 3 hot chiles (such as habanero, Scotch bonnet, or Thai) (optional)
Place the dried shiitake mushrooms in a small bowl of water and soak them overnight. Drain before using.
Trim any excess fat, sinew, or bone debris from the ham shank. Wash and place them in a large pressure cooker or stockpot (4- to 5-quart capacity).
In small batches, blend together the tomatoes, onions, and tomato paste with 4 cups of the water. Pour the mixture over the ham.
If using a pressure cooker, add the basil, potatoes, zucchini, carrot, mushrooms, chiles, and the remaining water. Close the lid and cook according to the appliance instructions. However, this soup must be cooked at least 1 hour. After cooking, pressure cookers take a long time to cool down before they can be opened.
If using a stockpot, add the remaining water and 2 sprigs of basil. Bring to a rolling boil on high heat, then decrease the heat to medium-low. Boil gently for about 40 minutes, or until the meat between the ham shank starts to soften. Add the third sprig of basil, the potatoes, zucchini, carrot, mushrooms, and chiles. Continue boiling until all the ingredients are well done and the meat on the ham shank is cooked and very tender. The soup should be runny but creamy and thick with vegetable pieces for texture. If it is too thick, however, the saltiness of the ham shank will take over. Add more water as necessary.
Once the soup is ready, use a slotted spoon to carefully remove the hot chiles. Serve hot, but do not remove the bones; allow your guests to enjoy the meat on the bones by using their fingers when the soup cools.
Only every so often in my life have I come across a dish that seems to surfeit all my senses! This stew is one. With its clever mix of seafood, smoked ham, dried salted fish, and vegetables such as okra, eggplant, tomatoes, and onions, it smells good, tastes sensational, and even feels good, with a wonderful smooth texture. I always feel that this food can win wars! This stew is delicious with a variety of carbohydrates, such as boiled rice, Cornmeal Dumplings (page 21), boiled potatoes, yams, taro root, plantains, cassava, or gari (page 221).
1 pound (500 g) okra 1 1/4 cups oil, preferably palm oil (see Note) 3 or 4 yellow onions, minced 2 eggplants, peeled and finely diced Pinch of ground kaawi or traditional stone, thought to enhance the "tackiness" of the okra (optional) 4 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger 1 to 4 fresh red chiles, minced (optional) 4 large, ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled, and puried, or 1 cup canned tomatoes, mashed 1/2 cup dried shrimp 1 ounce (30 g) dried salted fish (such as herring), shredded Small piece of cured, salted beef (optional)
1/4 pound (125 g) smoked ham, diced, and/or 4 small pieces of boiled pig's feet (substitute another meat, more fish, or crab, but not chicken)
Trim the ends of the okra, and slice the pods into thin rounds. In a large, heavy pan, heat the oil and fry the onions until they are light brown. Stirring constantly, add the okra, eggplant, kaawi, ginger, chiles, and tomatoes, allowing 3 minutes simmering time between each addition. This dish burns easily, so stir regularly.
Simmer about 10 minutes on low heat. Add the dried shrimp, dried salted fish, salted beef, smoked ham, and pig's feet. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, or until all the ingredients are well blended and cooked, but not mushy.
This dish should be served hot.
NOTE: if you use plain vegetable oil, add 4 teaspoons ground turmeric.
Toasted Comment Porridge
Many West African schoolchildren call this dish Tom Brown, while others call it Laying Concrete. The former name was coined from the book, Tom Brown's School Days, because the recipe is so often served at boarding school.
When made properly (as opposed to the lumpish mass I remember being dished up at school), it is absolutely delicious and quite addictive. For this dish, it's always better to use freshly roasted and ground corn, if only for the smell alone!
2 cups ablimamu (finely ground, roasted corn) 3 1/2 cups milk, hot 8 teaspoons brown sugar, or more, according to taste
To make the ablimamu, dry-roast 2 1/2 cups ordinary popcorn kernels. Remove from the heat just before the popcorn begins to pop, then cool and grind until powdery and fine in a, spice or coffee grinder. Cool overnight.
Place the ablimamu in 4 cereal bowls. In each bowl, pour in a portion of the hot milk and add some of the sugar. Stir to mix thoroughly. It will thicken and swell to form a typical Tom Brown porridge. Sit back, smell it, tuck in, and ... enjoy.
The Legend of the Golden Stool
The Ashanti of Ghana are part of a larger group of Akan-speaking peoples. Centuries ago, wars periodically broke out between the different kingdoms of these people, and the custom was for the loser to send a member of his royal household to serve the victor in his kingdom.
The kingdom of Denkyira annexed the budding Ahsanti prince Osei-Tutu was sent to wait on the Denkyiran king Nana Boa Amponsem. In Denkyira, a fetish priest named Okomfo Anokye, who had come from the kingdom of Akwamu, befriended Osei-Tutu.
As the Ashanti was, and still is, a matriarchal society, when the king of the Ashanti died, his maternal nephew Osei-Tutu was called home to assume the throne. He asked to take Okomfo Anokye with him. In time Okomfo Anokye became the most influential high priest of the Ashanti, giving spiritual protection to the kingdom.
To cement his friendship with King Osei-Tutu, Okomfo Anokye decided to conjure from the heavens a solid gold stool with the power to make the Ashanti invincible. As part of the eight-day ritual, he took two saplings of a native kum tree and planted them some distance apart, proclaiming that whichever lived without mark the site of the new capital of the kingdom.
Okomfo Anokye then took the akonfena, the sword of state, and marked a spot where a hole was to be dug in which he would be buried. While entombed he would consult the tribal elders who had preceded him and would receive supernatural powers to pass on to the Ashanti.
He charged everyone not to cry if he did not return in eight days, for, he explained, he could only return if no tears were shed. Before his burial he promised that on the third day, the golden stool would descend from heaven.
Legend has it that this is exactly what happened, but tragically, when Okomfo Anokye had not reappeared by the eight day, the Ashanti women began to wail, and he was lost forever.
The sapling that lived marked the capital of the new kingdom, which was called Kumasi (which means "under kum") and is still the capital of the Ashanti today. The place where the others sapling died marks the present-day town of Kumawu. To this day the sword of state remains inextricable from the ground into which Okomfo Anokye thrust it, and many believe the golden stool, the symbol of the Ashanti power, rests at the Ashanti palace.
There are many variations of this traditional spinach dish from West Africa. No one can agree about its origins-some say it is Nigerian, others claim it comes from Ghana, but my mother says her version comes from Sierra Leone!
In West Africa palava means "business or trouble," so I suppose you can also call this dish Trouble Sauce. Actually, it is a stew rather than a sauce, a rich blend of spinach, pumpkin seeds, shrimp, meat, and fish. Despite its name, it is no trouble to cook and certainly no trouble to eat!
This dish is delicious served with boiled rice, yams, plantains, gari (page 221), Cornmeal Dumplings (page 21), or any root vegetable, roasted, boiled or grilled.
1 cup palm oil (see Note) 4 yellow onions, minced 4 large tomatoes, blanched, peeled, and mashed 2 to 4 fresh red chiles, minced (optional) Salt Freshly ground black pepper 1/2 pound(250 g) diced cooked meat (not chicken), and/or 1/2 pound (250 g) fish (such as snapper or pompano) 1/4 pound (125 g) smoked herring, boneless (optional) 3/4 cup dried shrimp 3 bunches fresh spinach, chopped, or 1 1/2 pounds (750 g) frozen chopped spinach 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, ground in a spice or coffee grinder
Heat the oil in a medium pan and fry the onions until golden. Add the tomatoes and the chiles, and season with pepper. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes on low heat, stirring regularly (not continuously).
Season with salt and add the diced meat and/or fish. Stir in the smoked herring and the dried shrimp. Simmer on very low heat, stirring regularly to prevent burning.
Add the spinach to the meat mixture. Cover and simmer on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the spinach is soft and cooked. Stir regularly, taking care not to break up the fish too much.
Add the pumpkin seeds and stir them into the sauce. Cook for another 10 to 15 minutes on low heat, or until the sauce is thick and green. It will be speckled white with the ground pumpkin seeds.
NOTE: Palm oil is red oil from the red, tropical palm kernel. It is used for making a variety of foods, including some graham crackers. Substitute corn or vegetable oil and 4 teaspoons ground turmeric to give a similar look and taste.
Many African recipes combine filling, although rather bland, dishes made from grains or vegetables with spicy sauces, soups, and condiments to provide the flavor. Chile sambal is one of these zesty additions, and you can use it to pep up not only grain- or vegetable-based dishes, but also seafood, poultry, and meat recipes. Here are three sambal recipes known collectively as "shitor." Fresh Chile Sambal will keep for only a day or two; Traditional Dark Chile Sambal and Dorinda's Chile Sambal will keep in the refrigerator for up to a year.
MAKES ABOUT 6 CUPS
TRADITIONAL DARK CHILE SAMBAL
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil 4 yellow onions, minced 1/2 cup peeled and finely grated fresh ginger 2 tablespoons tomato paste 2 chicken bouillon cubes 3/4 cup dried shrimp 1/2 cup tiny dried shrimp, ground to a powder 1/3 cup chile powder
Heat the oil in a heavy-based medium pan and fry the onions and ginger for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the onions are golden. Stir in the tomato paste and mix thoroughly.
Crush the chicken bouillon cubes, add them to the pan, and stir to mix. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Add both types of shrimp and stir for 1 minute. Add the chile powder and thoroughly blend, Cook for 2 more minutes, stirring continuously. Be careful not to burn the mixture at this stage.
Excerpted from A Taste of Africa by Dorinda Hafner Copyright © 1993 by Dorinda Hafner. Excerpted by permission.
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