The old blog hasn’t been seeing much action as of late. As a way of getting back on track and hopefully sharing something indicative of what’s been happening, here’s a step by step guide to preparing my all-time favorite Ghanaian dish, guinea fowl with okra stew and banku.
Late Friday night, I went down to the Tamale bus station to pick up my friend Nis. She hails from the Upper East Region and has a line on guinea fowls from Navrongo, which is apparently the place to find these chubby, speckled relatives of pheasants. She had been threatening to bring some over, but it was still a bit of shock when she dropped a live bird in my hands and said, “Here, cook this.” A live animal staring you in the face is a powerful incentive for meal planning, so, as one does, we dangled the thing off the handlebars of my moto and headed home to cook up some ideas.
The next morning, we engaged the services of Nis’s friend, Queen, who went to school for cooking and worked in several hotels before trading the heat of the kitchen for the A/C of the insurance office. She still wants to get back into cooking and eventually open her own restaurant, so was she down for showing me the ropes. We went into town and entered the Tamale central market—a place I’ve been struggling to comprehend let alone to describe for some time. After a lot of greetings, himming and hawing, hard bargaining and various subtle jedi-mind-tricks I could not perceive to get the market ladies to lower their prices, we came away with the following:
- 1kg of pre-sliced okra
- Tomato paste
- Garden Eggs (Eggplant)
- Salted Fish
- Shrimp bouillon
- Cassava “Dough” (not fermented)
- Corn “Dough” (fermented)
- ½ litre of Palm oil
We got back to the house to check up on the critter, who, while cooing gently, could not help but betray an air of trepidation and doleful pessimism regarding its present situation. Earnest meal preparation kicked off around 2:00pm by boiling the okra and the garden eggs together to get that gooey, snot-like goop which makes okra stew so unique.
The next step was to dress the fowl. Now, like most people, I don’t go out of my way to kill my own food, but I still think it is a valuable experience everyone should try at least once. Strangling the life out of some other animal for a few brief moments of enjoyment while you are eating it and enough sustenance to keep you alive for a few days is a visceral, unsettling, and humbling act. Growing up on a sheep farm, I’ve been exposed to this side of meat production from an early age and have had the benefit of some experience slaughtering chickens. I’ll spare the details, but after some time we eventually ended up with a half decent looking dressed fowl.
We then sliced and diced half the onions, tomatoes, peppers, and the garlic and stewed the pieces of fowl to infuse some flavour. After about 10-15 minutes of stewing, we proceeded to deep fry the pieces in a shit ton of palm oil. I was slightly dismayed by this step as it seemed to negate any health benefits of the lean guinea fowl meat, but Queen assured me it was healthy and would taste better this way. In the future, I might bypass this step simply due to the time involved.
After the fry up, we combined the remaining stew stock with the rest of the onions, tomatoes, peppers and garlic. We then added in some salted fish and shrimp bouillon cubes which are, for some reason, ubiquitous in Ghanaian cooking, as well as the okra and garden egg mixture from earlier. Lastly, we added the fried fowl pieces back in and let the whole pot simmer away on the back burner while we prepared the banku.
Banku is my favourite of the Ghanaian starch ball trifecta which also includes fufu and tuo zaafi (“Tee-Zed”). This lumpy mix of fermented corn flour and cassava dough has a mildly sour flavour similar to sourdough bread. To prepare it, we mixed the corn and cassava doughs together roughly 2 to 1 with plenty of water and got it simmering on the stovetop. As the mixture began to heat up, it became thicker and thicker, and stickier and sticker eventually resembling some sort of industrial strength building material. Keeping it from burning on the bottom of the pan and stirring it vigorously to prevent clumping was no small feat. After what seemed like a half hour of stirring, Queen finally said it looked done. She then proceeded to form fist-sized balls of the mix by rolling it around in a small bowl with a little water. The more modern method is to spoon the finished banku into small plastic bags, which can be more easily refrigerated and reheated.
At this stage, nearly 4hrs later, we were finally finished. Interest in photography and documentation had dropped off markedly by this point, so I don’t have any photos, but we did finally did get our “chop” on. The end result, while not mind blowing, was still deeply satisfying having the virtue of being hand-built from the raw materials with much toil and caloric expenditure. Would I make this again? Maybe, if I enough people to feed. Will I appreciate eating it a lot more the next time I order it a restaurant? Definitely!
Special shout outs to Nis for providing the fowl and the incentive to get cooking and to Queen for being a great teacher. Hopefully, I’ll have some time to do this again with some other of my top fav dishes, stay tuned.