Fancy something a bit exotic? Instead of grabbing for the phone and ordering a not-so-authentic Chinese or Indian, let Elizabeth Beecham show you how to make some real West African cuisine
West African cooking, particularly Ghanaian cooking, lends itself perfectly to a busy student lifestyle. It is dominated by soups, stews and curries – one pot wonders that don’t involve any intricate cooking techniques, are healthy when contrasted to other ethnic styles of cooking, and are absolutely delicious. The key to many West African dishes is a ‘holy trinity’ of onions, tomato purée and spices. Another fantastic reason to try your hand at cooking some West African food is that you can temper the heat to suit your own tastes. The most commonly used spices in Ghanaian cooking are dried red pepper and powered ginger, store cupboard essentials for most of us. In terms of utensils, a frying pan and a saucepan are all you really need to make satisfying and delicious West African food.
Specialist African food shops have popped up all over the country in recent years and are also great places to refresh your hair with some lovely extensions or pick up other accessories. The best place to source ingredients is Dublin’s Moore Street, which has plenty of shops with very fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as affordable spices in large quantities. The Rathmines and Camden Street areas are also good spots to pick up typical ingredients.
Here are some simple recipe ideas to get you started cooking like an African, so step away from the takeaway menu and try your hand.
The West African ‘paella’, this meat and rice dish is the ultimate one pot wonder. Firstly decide whether you are in the mood for chicken or beef – both are equally delicious. For four servings, boil 500g of diced stewing beef for approximately one hour in salted water (half the time for chicken). Fry some chopped onions (roughly three big onions per 500g of meat) in a large saucepan until brown. Then, add a few tablespoons of tomato purée to the onions. Once well-cooked into the onions, add a tin of chopped tomatoes. Cook until you have a thick sauce and season with dried red pepper (paprika can also substitute). When the meat is ready, add it to the sauce with half of the cooking stock. Wash four cups of white long grain rice (this removes excess starch) and add to the pot. Cook on a medium heat for about an hour, stirring every fifteen minutes or so to avoid the meat sticking to the base. Serve with steamed carrots or spinach.
Wonderful as a starter or in place of potatoes for your main course. Similar to bananas in appearance, plantains are more robust, with a thicker skin. Try to get green plantain and allow them to ripen in your kitchen for two days or so (do your best to recreate a tropical environment to make them feel less homesick by placing them in a sunny and warm spot by a window). Peel and slice the plantain into 2cm thick pieces. Season the slices with some salt and ginger, and fry in very hot oil. Cook the plantain until it is a deep, golden brown. Drain off excess oil using a piece of kitchen paper. You can then eat the pieces as they are, or serve with chutney to dip. Bags of plantain chips can also be found in African food shops for an equatorial twist on Taytos.
Chilli Pepper Sauce
A spicy accompaniment to cooked chicken, salmon, turkey or red kidney beans. Fry some chopped onions until golden. Chop some chillies into small chunks and add to the onions. Fry until well cooked. Then add a little tomato puree to bring the sauce together. Simples.
“Ma onko” – as they would say in Fanti, a Ghanaian tribal dialect; tuck in!