The Ghana Files: Cooking Lessons!

Our okra stew with beef, fish, crab and (yes) cow skin. The thing that looks like mashed potatoes is “banku in progress.”

Yesterday, I had my first cooking lesson!

I had made a promise to myself that before leaving Ghana, I would learn to cook at least a few local dishes. Even if I won’t have the ingredients or the tools back home to recreate these dishes, I will be able to add some of the things I’ve learned into my cooking repertoire.

The first step was locating all of the ingredients! This was an adventure in itself. Highlights include:

– Wandering around the market asking everyone where to buy “cow meat that is safe…” (much of the meat I’ve seen in the market has been sitting in the sun for hours)

– Finally locating a stand, and having to order my “cow meat” while being stared down by a bunch of decapitated animal heads.

– Ordering something that is called “coat” to find out that it is actually the skin of a cow. Yum.

– Actually getting to buy some of the already-cooked-fish that the women sell from plates on the top of their head. I have always looked at these fish and wondered what people do with them. Oh, and I learned that these cooked head-fish are all called “Simon”

On Saturday morning, one of my students showed up. Edith has been extremely friendly towards me, always checking on me to see if I need anything. Bringing me food when I was sick, things like that. I asked her one day if she knew how to cook, and if she would mind showing me how to make a few local dishes. I have to say that I initially asked her because she was so nice and friendly, little did I know she is also a freakishly good cook.

Banku, a local favorite.

We spent the entire morning chopping, steaming and stirring. At the end of it all, we had a delicious okra stew. In this stew was a medley of meat and seafood: beef chunks, fish, small crabs, and (yes) cow skin. It turns out that after the cow skin is scraped clean, boiled and added to the stew… it is DELICIOUS. To go with the stew, we made banku. Banku looks a bit like balls of pizza dough, you eat it with your hands and use it to scoop up the stew.

I not only learned how to make a delicious local dish, I also learned some really cool techniques for preparing food. They are local techniques that Ghanaians use to prepare their food more quickly:

Tools used to quickly mash up garlic, ginger and onions into a fine paste.

-They use a wooden masher and a textured ceramic bowl to mash up ginger, garlic and onions into a fine paste for the stew. Such a great trick, how many hours have I spent grating ginger and chopping garlic up into tiny little pieces?

-She also taught me a technique for chopping your vegetables into tiny pieces very quickly. First, cut the vegetable the long way into strips, leaving it joined together at the end. You’ll want to slice it the long way in half, then quarters and eventually eighths. Then, put the vegetable onto the cutting board and slice it the “short” way. Ok, that explanation isn’t the best. I will see if I can get a video of her doing it, it’s such an amazing technique. We chopped a mountain of okra into teeny-tiny uniform pieces in just a few minutes!

The food was delicious, and we both had a great time. Next week, we are going to tackle fufu and light soup! Fufu is made using a very complicated pounding technique, it is a two-person job. I will be going to the market this week to buy a mortar and pistil, two essential fufu pounding tools.

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