This weekend finds us in Ghana. Akwaaba! Welcome!
Coming into this weekend, I knew little about Ghana, except that it’s one of the most popular African countries that Americans visit, probably due to two major factors: one, the official language is English and two, it’s a stable country, though a still developing one. Clearly, I had the potential to expand my knowledge a lot more.
For breakfast, I made hausa koko, a traditional porridge made from millet flour and spices. Millet flour is not my favorite as I find it unpleasantly bitter (I’d take corn or sorghum over millet any day), but with the spices and a few heaping spoonfuls of sugar, this is the best millet porridge I’ve eaten. The weather has finally turned cool in Buffalo after a few weeks of hot weather, so the hot porridge suited the weather, at least for this girl who’s always lived in the northeastern United States –the hot weather would have probably been more Ghanaian.
We watched the Ghana episode of Geography Now to get our Ghanaian education started:
Peanuts, aka groundnuts, are a common ingredient in Ghanaian cuisine, but something we have to avoid because Derek’s allergic to it. Luckily, it wasn’t too hard to find dishes this weekend that either didn’t contain nuts, or ones where we felt we could skip the nuts. I made red-red, a popular Ghanaian dish, for lunch. Red-red is a bean stew made with red palm oil and tomatoes. I strayed from the recipe by increasing the amount of black-eyed peas, but I still think the dish came out pretty well. I also fried some sweet plantains to go with the red-red.
To end lunch on a sweet note, we shared some of a chocolate bar made from Ghanaian cacao. The chocolate bar had been from a chocolate sampler we had received last Christmas. Chocolate never lasts this long in our household, but we had saved this particular bar since we expected to globetrot to Ghana at some point this year.
In the afternoon, we took a walk to enjoy the crisp fall weather (meanwhile, in Ghana’s capital, Accra, the weather appeared to be in the 80s). In the late afternoon, Derek made us kontomire, a stew traditionally made from kontomire, aka cocoyam leaves. In the United States, spinach is generally used as a substitute. There is typically fish in the stew, but Derek decided to put tofu instead to make it vegetarian-friendly. He also boiled and mashed some yam.
For dessert, Derek made Ghanaian toffee. I’ve never gotten into candy-making, even though the both of us have a sweet tooth, partly because I’ve been too lazy to get a candy thermometer that most recipes call for. But the Ghanaian toffee recipe doesn’t require one, and only calls for two ingredients: condensed milk and butter. The hardest part of the recipe is pulling and shaping the hot toffee mixture into long skinny rods with your hands, since the mixture gets less pliable as it cools. Derek and I both worked on this step of the recipe.
This is what the toffee looked like after Derek cut the rods into bite-sized pieces. Thankfully, this step could be done with a knife, giving our now tender fingertips a break.
I had hoped to find a feature film made in Ghana, but the only Ghana-related film I could get my hands on was a 2005 documentary called Emmanuel’s Gift, which focuses on a physically disabled Ghanaian man named Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. There is a stigma surrounding the physically disabled in Ghana, and Emmanuel seeks to change that. Here’s the trailer:
We also found a short video on YouTube from 2011, with an update on Emmanuel’s mission.
The next morning, we had more hausa koko for breakfast, before doing some chores for the week ahead. Once our work week lunches were packed up and stored in the fridge, we watched a few videos to learn more about Ghanaian culture. First, we toured Accra with a Nigerian television host. While Emmanuel’s Gift had shown us poverty in Ghana, this video seemed to focus on more affluent areas in the city, interviewing young successful Ghanaians, like designers and entertainers. The second video we watched gave us a glimpse into life in a Ghanaian village.
I fried some more sweet plantain for lunch, which we ate with some reheated red-red. This hearty lunch gave us energy for another long afternoon walk (gotta get those 10,000 steps for my FitBit). And, yes, we sneaked in some toffee candy, too.
Unfortunately we couldn’t find any Ghanaian activities in Buffalo for this weekend. There’s a Facebook page for the Ghanaian Association of Buffalo, but there haven’t been any posts since 2015. The link to the association’s website also no longer works. Buffalo is also sister cities with two cities in Ghana, Cape Coast and Aboadze, but we couldn’t find anything in the city recognizing those relationships. While both the association and the sister cities ended up being dead ends, the warmth and hospitality for which Ghana is famous hardly seems out of place in Buffalo, the City of Good Neighbors.
When it was time for dinner, we warmed up the spinach stew and mashed yam from the previous night.
As we reflected on what we learned about Ghana, its culture and its people this weekend, Derek and I agreed that the country does seem to live up to its reputation as a welcoming place, very accessible for first-time travelers to the African continent. We expect we’ll hear more about Ghana in the future, both in the news and from more family and friends who go there. Me daa si–thank you, Ghana!
Next time, we’ll be heading back to the Americas, to learn about Grenada!