One of my best friends is Ghanaian and when we lived together at university, I was immediately struck by how diverse and flavourful Ghanaian food is! Ghanaian meals are centred around a starchy staple food, often rice, yam or cassava, which is accompanied by a stew or soup typically containing fish or meat. With the mix of exotic ingredients, wide variety of flavours, spices and textures, there is a distinct art to Ghanaian cooking. This is coupled with a passion and pride that is so evident when Ghanaians talk about the origins and preparation of different food. On my recent visits to Ghana, I enthusiastically immersed myself in the tastes and flavours of jollof rice, banku, waakye, fufu, kenkey, plantain, all enjoyed with a variety of soups and stews.
On my last visit, I grabbed this recipe book ‘Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen’ by Zoe Adjonyoh at the Kotoka International Airport just minutes before I boarded my night-flight home. What a beautifully written book! Zoe eloquently shares her journey and exploration of Ghanaian food, largely inspired by her desire to connect with her Ghanaian dad and heritage. She mixes the personal with the practical as she discusses the different spices and herbs as well as various staple ingredients. Each recipe is well-explained with additional tips as well as a personalised note.
Not particularly gifted in cooking but wanting to impress my father who himself is quite talented in the kitchen (and was coming over for Sunday Lunch), I decided simplicity would be best for my first Ghanaian recipe. The pan-fried okra seemed to fit the bill! Okra, also known as lady’s fingers or nkruma in Ghana, is a vegetable that originates from Africa and is also used widely in Caribbean and Indian cuisines. It grows well in warm climates and we have a few plants scattered around our proudly permaculture garden. In Gaborone, you can find it in most stores including Choppies and Mr Veg. Okra has a number of health benefits as it is rich in vitamins A and C, antioxidants and is also a good source of magnesium, folate, vitamin K and B6.
- 500g okra
- 5cm piece fresh root ginger, finely grated (unpeeled if organic)
- 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
- 1 red rocket (Anaheim) chilli or 1 tablespoon dried chilli flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil or olive oil
Using a sharp knife, trim the tail off each okra pod, then cut it in half lengthways and add to a bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients with 1 tablespoon of the oil and mix together well. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to marinate in the fridge until you’re ready to cook. I used the suggested 1 hour but Zoe highlights that 15 minutes will also do.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a shallow frying pan and fry the okra in batches, over medium heat – you just want to lightly char the okra, so a few minutes, turning occasionally should do it. When overcooked, okra can be quite slimy in texture and for this recipe it’s important to retain some of the crunch.
Remove the cooked okra from the pan and keep hot while you fry the remaining batches. I made about three batches and got most of it right but some could have done with some extra time on the pan. Serve hot as a side dish.
This was a beautiful dish that went very well with the steak, potatoes and salad we had prepared. My dad was very impressed and surprisingly had never tasted okra before but said it reminded him of his “ancestral food”! Big win! On subsequent days, we used the leftovers for our salads which made for quite a hearty and tasty addition. If you’re wondering about the uniquely-patterned serving dish I used – this is from Gabane Pottery.
A special thank you to Zoe from Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen for this simple, yet tasty recipe! I can’t wait to explore even more recipes from this book.
Are you familiar with Ghanaian cuisine? Have you tried okra before? What do you grow in your garden? Do you own Gabane or Thamaga Pottery?