Tuesday, February 2, 2021



I thought I would give everyone a bit of a break from my usual "heavy topic" posts. Your 2020/21-exhausted brain cells (and mine, for that matter) can take a load off their feet.

When I joined Soho Press and wrote my first draft for MURDER AT CAPE THREE POINTS, whenever I mentioned a particular meal indigenous to Ghana, my lovely editor Juliet Grames asked for more details. "What's in it? What does it look like?" She said she wanted more "food porn," which I'm not sure is PC nowadays, but anyway that's what she said. Don't shoot the messenger.

Now, bear in mind I am not a chef or food expert, but Ghanaian food is easy to encapsulate. The first component is a starchy food in one form or the other: rice, plantain (which look like large bananas), cassava, yam (not what Americans call yam), cocoyam (it has a chocolatey color), and corn. 

Cassava (which is used to make tapioca), yam, and cocoyam are all starchy tubers like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and rutabagas. 

Pile of Ghanaian yams (James Dalrymple/Shutterstock)

Incidentally, yam is both the singular and collective form in Ghana. You say you're going to the market to buy "yam," no matter how many you're getting.

Now, all of these staples can be fried, boiled, or baked. (Fried yam, like french fries, are crisp and delicious, but notably more starchy.) All of them can also be made into a secondary form. Yam, plantain, cassava, and cocoyam can be boiled and then pounded to create a soft, pillowy, glutinous mass called fufu. (There's a lot of that in my novels.) Plantain-and-cassava fufu is more popular in southern Ghana, but yam fufu is preferred in the northern regions. Personally, I prefer yam. 

Traditionally, fufu is pounded in a large wooden mortar with a giant pestle, but someone found a way to create "instant" fufu by adding water to the flour of the corresponding starch while slowly cooking. That's the only practical way to prepare fufu in Europe or the USA.

"Pounding fufu"(Shutterstock)

Prepared cassava-plantain fufu and soup (Shutterstock)

The milled form of these staples can also be fermented: steamed fermented cornmeal yields kenkey, which is most famous with the Ga people, and cooked fermented corn and cassava yields banku.

Ghanaians often refer to their meals by the starch. In the US, if someone asks you what you had for lunch/dinner, you might respond, "grilled fish," or "baked chicken," but in Ghana your answer might be, "rice," "fufu," "banku." These are not eaten on their own, however. There will be something like a stew, or sauce with fish, chicken or meat prepared in different fashions.

The basic stews/soups are: groundnut (peanut butter), palm nut, and light soup.

Groundnut stew/soup, enhanced with various spices, has an exquisite and rich taste. It can be eaten with rice balls (sticky rice)or fufu. My mother made amazing groundnut stew/soup.  

Groundnut soup with chicken (Shutterstock)

But nothing beats the utter lusciousness of palm nut soup, which is a rich red-brown. It traditionally goes with fufu, but does well with rice balls too.

Light soup is prepared by steaming fish or meat with seasonings, onion, garlic and ginger in a saucepan. Tomato paste is then added. Chili peppers, garden eggs and tomatoes are boiled, blended and added to the saucepan. Water is added to bring the soup to its desired thickness. There's also pepper soup, which is like it sounds.

Wait a second. I think I misspoke. This isn't as easy as I dismissed it as. There's a lot more to it now that I'm actually talking about it. So, since it's getting late, I'll sign off here and plan for Part 2. Okay, I admit it--that's a cliffhanger of a sort.


  1. Reading the stories in Ghana Noir recently, there were several references to Red-Red. Will you tell us what that is next time?

    1. Oh, yes! Thanks for reminding me, Michael. I'll do that.

  2. Oh Kwei, how I wish I could sample such intriguing dishes. but I have scores of food intolerances and allergies. Reading about them here, I fear, is as close as I can get. BOOHOO!

  3. Sounds fantastic. Love tubers in all forms. Grew up with a mother who loved potatoes in all forms and even though they're not the same as what you describe, I do like other tubers that I've tried.
    You were very interesting in the Poisoned Pen interview, and I will read you first book in the second series featuring a woman protagonist.