Every other week, we're sitting in Yasmin Khan's
sidecar kitchen as she selects and prepares a recipe from the most delicious kind of travelogue—a cookbook. Today, she takes us to Ghana via London chef Zoe Adjonyoh's joyous tome to her West African roots, Zoe's Ghana Kitchen. (It has it's own even has its own playlist—see below.)
The first thing that hits you when you open Zoe's Ghana Kitchen is that it pulsates with spirit and vibrancy in every page. Zoe Adjonyoh, a writer and cook from London, was born to a Ghanaian father and an Irish mother. She deepened her understanding of West African cuisine after a trip to visit her extended family in Ghana, and chronicles this journey in her cookbook. A passionate proponent of bringing African cuisine into the mainstream, Zoe’s book is a cheerful and accessible introduction to a food culture that is far too often overlooked or ignored.
I had little familiarity with Ghanaian cuisine before reading Zoe’s book, but her tone was so encouraging and inviting that it soon had me grabbing my tote bag and heading to my nearest West African grocer in search of cocoyams (part of the yam family, but smaller and with slightly hairy skin) and garden eggs (a type of African eggplant that is pale-coloured and egg-shaped). She effortlessly guides readers through the basics of Ghanaian cuisine, introducing you to its holy trinity—ginger, chile, and tomatoes—with the gentle familiarity of an old friend chatting with you at your kitchen table. My nose tickled with anticipation as it imagined the scent of ingredients such as calabash nutmeg or cubeb pepper, and my mouth watered as I pictured what it would be like to bite into the tart, sour flesh of an adasama (the African star apple) or the sweet, white, pulp of a soursop fruit.
This cookbook is great for anyone avoiding dairy or wheat, as neither features heavily in the recipes. Rather, the carbs of choice are yams, millet, or fufu, the name given to a dough made from starchy vegetables such as steamed, pounded, green plantain or cassava. Fufu is enjoyed as an accompaniment to groundnut stews, bean soups, and lamb curries, with regional varieties throughout the country. A food map of Ghana had me pouring over its rugged terrain, imagining what it would be like to visit Ashanti to try its smoked fish, or take a trip to Volta to feast on some okra stew.
And if all this food wasn’t enticing enough, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen also serves up a bouncy soundtrack of music to cook to and serve dinner with. The suggested songs are both written in the book and have been turned into a Spotify playlist so you can stream Ghanaian high-life music to sway to whilst you are cooking (and maybe even bust out some dance moves in the kitchen).
The recipe I’ve chosen to share is an adaptation of Zoe’s Jollof Spiced Chicken, using chicken legs instead of breast, as I prefer the flavor and tenderness of this cut of meat. Jollof spices are central to Ghanaian cuisine, where they are most commonly used in the classic West African dish of jollof rice, but they also work well as a marinade for meat or fish. I like to serve this with thick slices of baked plantains for an optimum West African experience. Afro-beat soundtrack optional.
Jollof Spice Mix
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Chicken & Plantains:
- 2 1/2 pounds chicken legs (or a combination of thighs and drumsticks)
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- Salt and black pepper
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 4 very ripe plantains
- Finely chopped cilantro, for garnish
- Thinly sliced scallion, for garnish