Tuesday, February 15, 2011

G is for Ghana: Fufu and Soup

At seven years old Amma Asirifi was a thin girl, tall for her age, with large almond eyes, and skin like smooth dark chocolate. She was also one of my first friends. We spent countless days running around around our neighborhood, riding bikes, and getting into harmless mischief. From her I learned the trials and tribulations of adolescent friendships, and I learned about her Ghanian culture. Her parents were both pastors and immigrants from Ghana. She taught me a few words in Twi, one of the languages in Ghana, how people get there names (people base the first name of their children one the day of the week in which the child was born, Amma is for Saturday). I also vaguely remember eating dinner at their house, particularly a sardine dish with fufu. Growing up around Ghanian people was a big part of my childhood, one that has long been forgotten. This week was a perfect week to go back to my old neighborhood and get in touch with a culture that was once so existent in my childhood. 

Jollof Rice 
Ghana is located in western part of Africa, known as the Gold Coast, after the large amounts of gold found by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Ghana, which means "Warrior King", was the first sub-Sahara African nation to achieve its independence from the United Kingdom. With a population of over 24 million people, including over 100 different ethnic groups and 47 languages, Ghanian cuisine obviously slightly differs from different ethnic groups. But one thing is for sure, they sure do love their starch. Most meals consist of some type of stew with a starchy component, usually either rice or fufu, pounded cassava, yam or plantain to form a large, round doughy ball.  Jollof rice, a spicy rice with tomatoes and meat is widely enjoyed in Ghana, and is eaten all through Western Africa. These starches are usually served with a stew, and thus a typical Ghanian meal is formed. There are many varieties of stews, but the most popular is okro stew, forowe (a fishy tomato stew), and groundnut (peanut) stew. The fufu is usually place on top of the soup and eaten together. 

Okro Soup with fufu
Other popular ingredients and spices used include: cayenne, onions, chili peppers, plantains, yams, cassava, cocoyams ( a type of root vegetable), okra, corn, palm oil, and cocoa. (FUN FACT: Ghana is the largest producer of cocoa in the world!)

red red 
My wonderful and talented friend Angie coincidentally won a gift card for Western African food for an amazing photograph she took while volunteering in Ghana. Along with our pal Emil we all went to dinner to explore Ghanian food. After googling the restaurant I was happy to find out that I knew exactly where it was, or so I thought. Down the street from my old high school is a quaint restaurant located in a dark plaza. I have no idea what the place is called, and I couldn't find it on the internet. The inside is a bright as the personalities of the people working there. We were promptly greeted by Peter, a middle-aged Ghanian from Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana. Like three curious cats, Angie, Emil and I all ordered something different. I opted for a not very spicy version of Jollof rice with chicken and pepe sauce (a hot pepper sauce that is actually not very spicy). Angie excitedly ordered red red, mashed black eyes peas with plantains. Emil of course ordered fufu with spicy spicy spicy okro soup with, what we think was, goat meat. As I sipped on my super gingery made from ginger root drink waiting for our food to be made we were entertained with a hilarious Nigerian movie. As we stuffed our faces with food and laughed at the ridiculous film we soon realized we beyond full. None of us even finished half of our meals. As we go to pay Angie hands her gift certificate to our cook, and both her and Peter exchange foreign words as they laugh at our face. We had no idea what the joke was, and actually there was no joke. I drove us to the wrong restaurant. Apparently there are two West African restaurants down the street from each other...who would have thunk. I sheepishly payed for Angie and I's meal, embarrassed of my silly mistake, but hey now we have another excuse to go eat Ghanian food!


This is the first week I have cooked alone. It is midterm week for us Ohio State students and my pals couldn't join me for dinner. I myself was swamped with papers and studying and didn't have much time to dedicate on cooking. Poor planning and stupid poli sci exam called for much improvisation in kitchen. I really wanted to make okro stew with fufu after tasting Emil's dish Friday night. I also have a new love for okra after making Afghan Okra . It was late, and the African grocers were closed..bummer. So I had to stick with Giant Eagle, which largely underrepresented African food! I couldn't get the Maggi spice required, but I remember tasting it at the resturant and thinking it tasted like soy sauce, so I used that instead. I also couldn't find farina or yam flour to make fufu, so I picked up something starchy I can dip in my soup...a small loaf of sourdough bread. Then I got home and realized I didn't have garlic poweder, so I used Goya adobo (because it has garlic powder in it) and fresh garlic. So maybe my dish wasn't totally Ghanian, it was still delicious, simple, and better than watching Lady Gaga arrive to the Grammy's in an egg. 

Okro Stew
serves 1

  • 1/4 lb of okra, sliced
  • 1/4 lb of beef steak, cubed
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder ( I used adobo and fresh garlic)
  • 3 tbs of Maggie seasoning sauce ( I used soy sauce)
  • a splash of canola oil
  • salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste

  1. Season beef with salt and pepper.
  2. Place in a medium-hot sauce pan with onions and garlic. 
  3. Once the meat is browned add chicken stock. Bring to a boil, and then lower and cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes.
  4. Add oil, seasoning sauce, and red pepper. Cooking for a few more minutes.
  5. Stir in okra, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the okra is tender. 
  6. Enjoy with fufu, rice or sourdough bread, like I did!


  1. Stephanie,me gusto verte recordar tu infancia,aprendi mucho de la cultura de Ghana.Me diverti mucho leyendo lo que te paso en el restaurante y me admiro tu creatividad para inprovisar la receta de tu okro.You did a good job.I really enjoy reading your blog.

  2. Steph, the picture of the jollof rice and plantains made me hungry for some. You are right that rice is a staple food in most of West Africa. BTW, for the Maggi effect, I also use the Goya or Maggi powdered or cubed chicken or beef boullion. Does the same trick. You know another excellent substitute for fufu? The boxed potato flakes normally used for making mashed potatoes. Go figure!

  3. Steph...I absolutely LOVE reading your blogs. Not only do I feel I learn so much from them, they are very lively and entertaining! I am confident that you should figure out a way to get paid in doing this. It's your calling!