Zoe Adjonyoh's Ghanian Dinner Party Is All About the Music (& Jollof Fried Chicken)
Inspired by the colors and music of Ghanian kitchens, this spread includes Jollof fried chicken, an agushi and spinach curry, and delightful West African doughnuts known as "puff puff."
When you’re "half" Irish, "half" Ghanaian and British, and also a new American immigrant, what does a dinner party look like? No, not a hot mess. Food is many things, and one of the most important things it is for me is a reference to the core of who I am, who and where I belong to, who and where I have been. Despite the incongruous geography that might otherwise set cultures apart, in both my Irish and Ghaniana ancestral roots there are in common: deep colonial oppression; religious fervor; that "it takes a village" mentality with family as a core centre; great music; great dancing; great storytelling and oral traditions filled with lore and fable; and great cuisine, despite the lack of a "respected" or lauded culinary canon. These are all the things that subconsciously speak to me when designing a dinner party and menu.
Ain't no dinner party like a Ghana Kitchen dinner party.
The gorgeous team at Food52 have thumbed and interrogated my cookbook, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, to pull together a seasonal feast for fall that could be met anywhere in the states and feel familiar to anyone from west Africa, in particular Ghana. This menu does everything I hope this cookbook does: It brings together the traditional, the familiar, and the reimagined in simple, accessible ways. It reminds you to put your heart into your cooking and discover the ever-evolving nature of Ghaniana cuisines, thanks to the many Ghanaian chefs around the continent and in the diaspora, who are bringing you their part of Africa on a plate.
For some people, it starts with the ingredients; for me, it starts with the guests. The people I am feeding: Who are they? What might their story be? What’s their background? What do I think they know and what do I not know about them? Do I need to persuade or engage? Or reengage? Do I need to reimagine to give inspiration, or throw it down family-style for familiar feels? The menu has to fit the audience, which is why my cookbook is so flexible in that regard. It’s important to meet your guests where they are, particularly when it comes to challenging or coaxing their palette toward a cuisine they may not have encountered before. It’s just as important when presenting to the West African or Ghanaian diaspora to share novel ways to experience a familiar dish. Behind it all is the human who will make communion with the food on the plate.
After considering the guests, seasonality and sustainability are everything! How can it not be in a world that is on its last strike as regards climate change and a reckoning of power dynamics within food systems caused by white supremacy? If you’re not living in a food desert (and let's be real, it’s unlikely you are if you’re reading this), then getting seasonal with this menu should be pretty straightforward. Music is important, too, as a soundtrack for cooking and eating. I even have a handy Spotify playlist in the book. The essence of Ghana, through its rhythms and lyrics, will infuse your dining environment with the atmosphere of the country and automatically put you and your guests in a good mood. This is essential. If you cook in a bad mood, your food will taste like a bad mood.
When table setting, I always purposely intermingle guests, often separating larger familiar groups so that they are encouraged to co-create the dining experience with a stranger next to them. Flowers always bring joy! Go wild. Candles are great too—that flickering light sets the table as an altar of good business. This isn’t about white plates and white linen. I encourage mix and match plates and cutlery. I like them secondhand, bringing with their own stories and whispers. Rebel against the status quo of what is deemed “high end” and valuable. Reimagine your own Michelin-starred venue, and create your own standard for joie de vie.
Medassi Pa—it’s Ghana be tasty!
Jollof Fried Chicken (JFC)
There is no “traditional” version of fried chicken in Ghana, at least not dredged and battered in the modern food franchise sense. I created this recipe to sneak Ghanaian seasoning into a dish that felt familiar for people at street food festivals, where the main competition was always run-of-the-mill burgers or fried chicken. It was a trick to get them to the stall so I could present Red Red, Jollof, Kelewele, Fried Okra and Shito to them. By far the most popular dish on both our street-food and former Brixton restaurant menu is this super-crispy and succulent fried chicken recipe. It gives KFC a run for its money with all those herbs and spices in the Jollof Spice Mix.
Kontomire (Spinach & Agushi Curry)
This vegan re-imagining of a staple Ghanaian favorite, usually served with smoked fish such as mackerel or catfish, is dense with protein goodness, and the creamy magic from agushi may well revolutionize your cream substitute for curries and sauces. Mildly spiced, this is a winner for vegetarians, vegans, and bodybuilders.
In 2015, I had a battle on my mind on whether to present this dish using red palm oil, as in the traditional recipe, or use my twist with coconut oil. Why the heart pain? Red palm oil has a bad reputation in certain parts, despite the fact that palm oil from small West African producers is for the most part sustainably produced, and there are many more sustainable brands emerging. This is not the same kind of palm oil extract used in making chocolate bars, soap or whatever other crazy application corporate food conglomerates have been making excuses for the last 20 to 30 years. So the choice is yours: Let your own conscience guide you.
Bofrot, aka Puff Puff
Bofrot is the famous Ghanaian doughnut, very much like a dairy-free beignet or doughnut. It is a popular street food snack that comes wrapped in newspaper. Traditionally, palm wine might be used in place of yeast, but it’s harder to come by than yeast, so I have used the latter here but with the addition of a little white wine, which is completely optional—just replace the wine with extra warm water. Bofrot is also a staple in Nigeria, where it is mostly called “puff puff.”
It’s so simple and delicious, and really easy to make sweet or savory—for example, we often add a little nutmeg to the batter, or ripe plantain or banana, or add kelewele seasoning for extra sweet smiles, or swap cinnamon sugar for Moringa sugar, or try an hibiscus glaze, or make it spicy with some spiced strawberry chile jam. It’s very flexible and easy to make your own. The trick is in the squeeze and push from the hand technique into the fryer. Thank goodness for the ice cream scoop, which will save you watching many hours of YouTube videos to get the knack of shaping the dough. Though it’s also time well spent if you want to make puff puff like a propah aunty!
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