Accra Restaurant

Instagram Post 6/30/2018

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As part of a recent jaunt to Harlem, we visited Accra Restaurant, named for Ghana’s capital. Senegalese food is a bit easier to find in this neighborhood, but we had set out for a Ghanaian lunch and this steamtable spot provided just what we were after. Alas, my photos of their savory okra and palm nut soups with fufu got lost in the sauce, but here are two dishes that we enjoyed equally well:

[1] Fried whiting with jollof rice. Our jollof rice, the widely celebrated and beloved tomato-based West African triumph and a source of both pride and dispute among African nations as to whose version is best, was perfectly delicious as was the whiting.

[2] Chicken with waakye. You may see variant spellings but the pronunciation is wah-chay (rhymes with watch-way) and it’s Ghana’s culinary claim to fame. Similar to West Indian rice and peas, it’s made with rice and black eyed peas or cowpeas; the characteristic reddish-purplish-brown color can come from dried red sorghum leaves, millet leaves, or even baking soda. Love it!

Accra Restaurant is located at 2065 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, Manhattan.
 
 

Dakwa

Instagram Post 6/26/2018

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I may have a found new favorite West African sweet snack: Dakwa. A popular treat in Ghana 🇬🇭 and Togo 🇹🇬, it goes by spellings and names that run the alphabetical gamut from Adaakwa to Zowè. Fortunately, I had only to travel to New Harlem Halal Meat on 2142 Frederick Douglass Blvd at 116th St in Manhattan to spot these treasures tucked away in a large plastic jar perched on the cashier’s counter (see second photo).

Made from ground roasted corn flour and peanuts, spiked with cloves, ginger, chili powder, sugar and a little salt, tightly compressed into 2½ inch balls with a measure of peanut oil to stick it together, its texture is similar to Middle Eastern halvah, perhaps a little stiffer. The balls come tightly bound in plastic wrap; the first photo shows one broken apart for closer examination, but mainly for easier eating. 😉

Sweet, spicy, salty, zowie!
 
 

Pikine

Instagram Post 6/19/2018

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Pikine, a West African restaurant at 243 West 116th St in Manhattan is definitely worth a visit, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with Senegalese food. Portions are large (suitable for two, I’d say) but be forewarned that oftentimes many dishes are unavailable, sometimes because they’re served only on certain days of the week (typical for many African restaurants) but sometimes just because the kitchen reports that they’re out.

We ordered Senegal’s national dish, Thiebou Djeun – spellings vary widely but pronunciation is close to Cheh-boo Jen – and to call it rice and fish is an understatement even though the words translate as rice and fish. It’s made from “broken rice” (easily found at nearby African markets) and if you look closely you’ll see its short grains, but it begins its life as standard untruncated rice that breaks in the field or during processing or milling; the shards are sorted by size and are highly desirable since they cook faster and absorb flavors more readily than whole grains. The rice, combined with chopped onion and garlic, is cooked with tomato paste that lends its deep red color and rich flavor, plus okra, carrots, cabbage (your vegetables may vary) and perfectly seasoned fish.

Our second dish was Maffe (often spelled Mafé), lamb stew with vegetables in a tomato/peanut butter sauce, another Senegalese classic that’s not to be missed.
 
 

West African Home Cookin’

I’ve been getting into cooking West African cuisine lately. Here’s my rendition of Palmnut Cream Stew with chicken, smoked dried fish, squash, plantain, tomato and kale. That’s fufu (pounded yam) on the side. Turnip Greens with Peanut (not shown) rounded out the meal.
Palmnut Cream Stew
There are many variations on the theme of fufu; plantain, cassava, and cocoyam are relatively easy to find. If you’re shopping in a West African market, you’ll find fufu flour packaged in a box: just add a little water and a lot of elbow grease and your considerable efforts will be rewarded.
3 fufusGa KenkeyFanti Kenkey
I also experimented with fufu-like kenkey and banku, both made from corn. They differ significantly from fufu in that they’re fermented and almost a little too sour if you’re tasting them straight, but they harmonize perfectly with the smoked dried fish flavor of many of the regional dishes. You’ll see them in Ghanaian markets wrapped in plastic and ready to steam. I’ve spotted two varieties of kenkey, Ga and Fanti; the words describe two neighboring ethnic groups and the difference between the kenkeys was subtle: Ga came wrapped in a white corn husk and had a grainier texture than Fanti which was shrouded in a green corn husk and was stickier than Ga. Banku (no husk, just plastic) was a little less fermented and tasted somewhat smoky.

Thiakry
In keeping with the West African theme, dessert was thiakry, a sweet dish made from millet and yogurt or buttermilk or the like (I use both). My spin on it contains swirls of baobab fruit with peanut crème (which itself is the basis for another sweet dish called ngalakh). Thiakry is often served for breakfast or a snack, and “dessert”, as such, isn’t a feature of most African cuisines – it’s similar to China in that regard – but sweets do indeed make an appearance, just not necessarily at the end of a meal. As a matter of fact, an internet search turns up a number of recipes for thiakry (aka déguê) in which it’s described as a Senegalese dessert. In this case, I wanted to make something that would provide a sweet finish to a savory meal and whose flavor profile would be in complete contrast to the main dish.

Hungry for more? Check out the Home Cookin’ section of the site!