Three Main Ghanaian Traditional Staples
(And how to make them)
To people who are not from the continent, perhaps the most unusual ethnic foods of Africa are the malleable breads that are served with almost every meal. Most common in Western African countries, meals prepared from these cuisines are not complete without some banku, fufu, ugali, ablo, kenkey (to mention some of the most popular) served with them.
The following recipes are the mealtime favorite “breads” in Ghana.
How to Make Banku
Banku is a fermented food, and is one of the three main Ghanaian Traditional Staples – probably the most popular – taken with meals in Ghana. It is actually a kind of “edible utensil” used as a spoon of sorts … you break off small bits of the dough, form the piece into a soft little cup-like shape, then scoop up bite sized morsels of the main dish, and then pop the whole yummy delight in your mouth.
- 26 oz. (750g) ground white corn (maize)
- 26 oz. (750g) cassava grits (sometimes called “Yellow Garri”)
- Mix the grated cassava and the corn flour together in a bowl. Add just enough warm water to the mixture to moisten it all, and then blend thoroughly. Using a clean cloth, cover the bowl and let it stand in a warm place to ferment for 2 to 3 days in warm climates, and up to 4 days in cooler climates.
- You should notice a slightly sour aroma when the mix is properly fermented. Some people liken the smell to that of rising bread. When it is properly fermented, knead the dough with your hands. Keep kneading until it is thoroughly mixed and a bit stiff.
- In a cooking pot, bring 2 cups (500ml) of water to boil. Add the fermented dough to this, slowly, and cook let it simmer on low for 20 minutes or more, with constant and vigorous stirring. If it is initially too hard to stir, add more water as needed. It will turn slightly gray and become thick, eventually very stiff. At this point the Banku is ready to form into serving sized balls—about the size of a small fist. Serve with African dishes, soups, stews, fish and meat dishes with sauces also.
- Any banku balls not eaten right away can be stored, unrefrigerated, wrapped tightly in cellophane and kept in a closed thermal container.
How to Make Fufu
Ghanaian Fufu is traditionally made from cassava root and plantains. In Nigeria, fufu is mostly made from boiled cassava and unripe plantain beaten together, as well as from cocoyam. Recently, these products have been pre-manufactured into a powder/flour that can be mixed with hot water to obtain the final product—thus taking away the laborious chore of beating it in a mortar with a pestle—a long pole with a flared pounding end on it—until the desired consistency is obtained.
I had the pleasure of pounding Fufu a while back. It is an arduous task, but one that can be fun if you are in good company. Check out The Old Silly pounding Fufu with Fafali, his native Ghanaian wife.
In Western and Central Africa, the typical method is to serve a mound of fufu along with a soup or stew dish. After washing your hands, you pinch off a small piece of fufu and make an indentation with your thumb. This cavity is then dipped into the soup, and the whole ball is eaten. As with Banku and Kenkey, Fufu is not only a food, but serves as a utensil as well.
What you need to make Fufu the traditional way …
- One to two pounds each of plantains and cassava root
- One or two teaspoons butter (optional)
- Peal plantains and cassava roots and place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until the ingredients are soft—typically about 30 minutes.
- Remove pot from heat and cool ingredients with cold running water. Drain.
- Add butter (optional).
- Put ingredients in a large ceramic earthen bowl and beat them together with a Fufu stick, which is a tall (usually 6’ long) wooden stick with a flared blunt end for pounding, folding and mashing the ingredients together repeatedly. This is usually done by two people, one doing the pounding, while the other adds water to keep the mash moist and malleable and does the folding.
- This folding, pounding, and watering process continues until the mash is stiff enough to mold into shapes that will hold.
- You then mold the fufu into balls (about the size of a man’s fist) and serve immediately with meat stew or any dish with a sauce or gravy.
- To eat it, tear off a small handful with your fingers, create an indented cup shape, and use it to scoop up your meat and sauce.
- Any fufu balls not eaten right away can be stored, unrefrigerated, wrapped tightly in cellophane and kept in a closed thermal container.
And to Make Fufu the Easy Modern Way …
- The ratio is always 2 to 1, portions of water and fufu powder – a typical batch will be 4 cups of water with 2 cups of fufu powder.
NOTE: You can find Fufu powder in all varieties in local African food stores, or you can purchase it on our online store here. Variations of traditional Fufu are plantain fufu and cocoyam fufu – all three types of the powder can be found and purchased on our online store here, if you cannot find them locally.
- Bring the water to boil and then remove 1-1/2 cup of the hot water and set aside.
- Add the fufu powder while mixing vigorously, then pour in the remaining water and mix well. (Note: if you have a friend around, ask him to hold the pot for you while you are kneading the fufu until smooth. This step requires all your strength and it may take up to 10 min. If you are alone, then the easiest way is to beat the fufu on the ground near a wall)
- When the fufu is smooth and elastic, mold it with the use of a large and deep spoon.
- Fufu, as with all Ghanaian Traditional Staples, can be served with any soup or stew. And this easy, modern fufu can be stored in the same manner as fufu prepared the traditional way.
Kenkey and How to Make It
Kenkey is another fermented food, a variation on Banku, and is also one of the basic staples taken with meals in Ghana, prepared from fermented ground white corn (maize). Dried corn kernels are first ground into a flour-like substance, and then mixed with warm water. It is then allowed to ferment for 2-3 days, after which it has turned into maize dough.
This dough is then kneaded by hand until thoroughly mixed and a little stiff, and next it is divided into two equal halves. One half of the fermented dough is then cooked—partially—in a big pot of water for ten minutes or so, with constant, vigorous stirring. When done with this process, the cooked half of the dough is called “aflata”. Next, the aflata is recombined with the other half of uncooked dough and mixed together.
Now you have an aflata-dough mixture, which is molded into balls—about the size of a small fist—and then tightly wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks (you can use cellophane wrap if you don’t have either of those). The wrapped balls are then put on a wire rack above a large pot of boiling water and, depending on the size of the balls, allowed to steam for one to three hours.
Kenkey, as with all Ghanaian Traditional Staples, is typically served with any traditional stews, sauces, or any fish or meat dish.
Don’t feel like going through all the work in order to try some kenkey? Order some already made for you, at our online store here.
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