After skipping “G” (see “H is for Hungary”), I return to the order of the alphabet with my first meal from an African country (though I had made several African meals the first time I cooked through the alphabet, before I started blogging). My youngest son, Josh, recently moved to Washington to work for IBM, and we thought this was a great way to introduce him to the multi-cultural nation’s capital. It took a bit of doing to find a date where we, and all our DC children (Josh, Noah, Emily, and Hannah), were available, but Tuesday October 10 was free on everyone’s calendars. I had not previously made an “alphabet meal” mid-week, but I figured I could pull it off with enough advance preparation (and getting back early from work).
Given that I do not make many African recipes, I wanted to do something a bit unusual for this special meal. I read in various places that goat was typically used in Ghanaian cooking, and decided that was the thing to try. The only two problems I foresaw were 1) finding a source for kosher goat meat, and 2) convincing the guests that a goat-based entree would be fun to try. Davida, although a bit skeptical, was good sport about it and the children (I was going to write “kids”, but thought better about it, given the subject matter) were excited about it, so it was only a matter of finding the meat, itself. After a bit of googling, I found that Bisra, in Hackensack NJ, has a wide variety of glatt-kosher goat products, including the goat stew meat that I needed for the recipe. They were great working with me, and delivered the vacuum-sealed goat in a small icebag-packed Styrofoam container. The only small hiccup was that their delivery of meat was delayed and they had to work into the evening cutting up the goat meat to get it delivered before the start of Sukkot.
Groundnut soup is a typical African dish. I had made it during my first round of cooking through the alphabet (pre-blog) as part of my Nigerian meal, and liked it very much. That recipe included kale, which is not my favorite vegetable; the Ghanaian groundnut soup recipe calls only for mushrooms. I decided to leave out the protein and make the dish vegetarian, to make it easier to eat afterwards, as leftovers. That may have been a mistake, as the soup was a bit watery and I felt that it needed a bit more flavor. I also probably did not chop the onions finely enough, as they ended up being a bit chunky and competing with the texture of the mushrooms.
Ghanaian groundnut soup is traditionally accompanied by fufu, a spongy ball of starch made from either cassava, plantain, or yam powder. I couldn’t find any of those ingredients in the immediate neighborhood, but I did find Afrik International Foods, a small store specializing in African food about 3 miles from our apartment. A quick bike ride through 85 degree heat got me there, right before closing time. The woman who helped me find the fufu powder did a great job helping me decide which type to get (yam or cassava) and instructing me on how to make it (lots of mixing). I went with her favorite – yam powder, and now have enough for years of fufu. Making the fufu was a lot easier than I had been led to believe, and it needed a lot more water than the recipes recommed, which makes me wonder if I was doing it correctly. The recipe called for a one-to-one ratio between water and yam powder, but I ended up using nearly a 3-1 ratio. I also added two pinches of salt per cup of yam powder, since I found it extremely bland otherwise. The result was not unlike mashed potatoes – approximately the same consistency and a similar flavor. I served the fufu as a ball in the middle of the groundnut soup, which was both aesthically pleasing and a very good complement to the flavor and textures of the soup. While I liked the Nigerian recipe better (even with the kale), the Ghanaian soup was still reasonably good. The guests gave it a similarly reasonable rating, averaging 5.8 – not bad, but not a keeper, either.
The Main Dish:
I thought that a stew would be a great way to use the goat meat – that way, if it did not appeal to some of the guests, they could eat around the meat itself (as Davida ended up doing). Besides, I really love making (and eating) stews. The goat stew recipe that I settled on was fairly simple, but seemed that it would be flavorful, with ginger, garlic and hot peppers. Someone suggested to me that potatoes would be a good addition to the stew and, even though it is not in any of the recipes I found, I thought that yams would be a great addition to the recipe. So, what I ended up making is not exactly a traditional Ghanaian stew, but sometimes one just has to improvise.
The goat had been cut into about 1” pieces, but the recipe called for half-inch pieces. I doubled the recipe, so ended cutting up about 3 pounds of goat meat (leaving me with 1.5 pounds for future meals). It was a fair amount of work, but good exercise for my hand! I mostly left out the seeds of the pepper (I used a bonnet pepper, which many of the other goat stew recipes suggested), to keep down the heat, and used canned, diced tomatoes, instead of fresh, mainly because I didn’t have a lot of time to do the cooking - I made the stew the night before, partially cooked it, and finished with 45 extra minutes of cooking right before the meal. The extra cooking time was necessary, as when I cooked it the recommended time, the goat was still a bit chewy, the eggplant was not very soft and, not surprisingly, the yams were crunchy. After the extra cooking time, though, everything got nice and soft (although not mushy) and the goat was very tender. I was afraid that the goat would be gamey, but it tasted like a milder version of lamb. It was really quite tasty! Overall, the stew was OK, but not great. The guests were fairly split in their opinions – ranging from a 4 to a 7, averaging 5.4. One guest really did not like the eggplant and another (who shall remain nameless) didn’t like the goat. While I felt that making and eating the stew was definitely a good experience, unfortunately the recipe is not a keeper.
The two main Ghanaian starches to eat with stew are apparently fufu and jollof rice. We had fufu with the soup, so naturally, I decided to make jollof rice with the stew. Jollof rice is infused with tomato puree and baked along with onion and carrots. The recipe calls for an optional addition of noodles, but I eliminated them to make the dish gluten-free, for Hannah. We also had some leftover parsnip from an earlier (non-alphabet) meal, which I decided to slice like the carrots and add in. It turned out to be a good move, in my opinion, adding a nice crunch and sweetness to the dish. The guests seemed to agree – the rice was, by far, the highest rated dish of the meal, averaging 6.4 (all 6’s and 7’s)! I baked the rice in the oven, as suggested, in a pyrex casserole dish, and that helped, I believe, in making the rice fluffy and keeping it fairly moist. If I make this recipe again, I may try to add other root vegetables, since the carrots and parsnip seemed to add so much.
Many of the Ghanaian vegetable dishes are stews, which I felt would clash with the goat stew. Instead, I chose to make kelewele, or cubes of fried plantains. I used ground ginger, instead of freshly grated, and cut down the amount of cayenne by half. As a result, the dish wasn’t all that spicy, but still had a bit of heat, which contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the plantains (if I make the recipe again, I would probably use more cayenne, closer to what is suggested in the recipe) . As usual with frying, it took quite a while to make, especially since I was using a smallish pan, to avoid using up too much oil. On the other hand, who doesn’t like fried food – the guests liked this almost as much as the rice, with an average rating of 6.0.
Overall, there weren’t any bad recipes, but nothing that really stood out, except maybe for the jollof rice. I will be looking out, though, for other countries where goat is featured, since I really thought that was a tasty part of the meal.
Up next: Still undecided – probably one of either Iceland, Iraq, or Iran!