Cooking with Coalpot

CoalpotAll I gotta say is I haven’t met a female in this place yet who can’t cook! All of them are great cooks, and it’s no wonder. They start very early in Africa, with the daughters washing utensils and bowls as they keep an eye on their mother’s movements, and the youngest ones sweeping up the peelings from the many yams, plantains, cassava roots, and whatnot that go into almost every meal in Africa. From there it’s a simple progression to peeler, steamer, mixer and eventually cook. When I think about America and the fact that many females of all ages will readily admit that they can’t cook, all I gotta say is – they won’t be catching any husbands here!

manual mixing bowlThere are several items that a cook in Ghana is never without (unless she is one of the few who has a modern kitchen with sink, stove and refrigerator – and even then, she came from the same coalpot roots as everyone else, no matter how advanced her current status). Those things are: a coalpot fueled with charcoal, a hand fan made up of various materials to keep the heat going, a stool to sit on, several pots and pans for use on coalpots, a “eta” and “appetoyuwa” to grind and mix the tomatoes/peppers/onions by hand, at least two large metal bowls for washing and rinsing used utensils and plates, and a bucket to provide water. Those are the basics, and there is usually much more.

And these women are always cooking, after constant shopping at the never-ending markets. They cook for their families every day, from lengthy dishes like fufu, to simple ones like steamed plantains and yams. In any event, shopping and cooking daily comes naturally to them, primarily because many do not have refrigerators in their small 1-3 room homes, so food must be prepared and eaten on a daily basis. They love to shop and they love to cook.

sauce w/greens & sardinesBesides the usual starches like fufu, banku, kenkey and rice, there are all manner of soups (to accompany the fufu and banku) and sauces (to accompany almost everything else). A soup can be simple with only 1-2 ingredients, or much more detailed. Sauces, however, are as individual as the person making them, and absolutely delicious. Main ingredients for a great sauce are the same for most cooks: fresh tomatoes, red onions, and plenty of fresh peppers. After that, the sky is the limit. You can add sardines, mackeral, greens, scrambled eggs, smoked fish, and almost any other ingredient you can think of. Certain sauces go with certain dishes, and of course only soups or stews go with fufu, the most popular being okra stew.

20131119_103219Most of the cooking is done outdoors using a charcoal cook stove, or indoors on a two- or four-burner gas grill. Gas and charcoal are used very much here, and the charcoal comes in chips (in huge bags) and not the briquettes that we are used to. The chips burn quickly, catch easily, and are much more suited to cooking whole meals in pots than like our barbeques done on a charcoal grill. My hostess Doris is having an outdoor kitchen constructed in her compound here, and I look forward to cooking using a charcoal cookpot. It is both quick and economical. That is, after I learn how to properly use the eta and appetoyuwa. There is a definite technique involved which I have yet to master, but which provides unending amusement to my “sisters” here. I do, however, enjoy their teasing and laughter at my efforts, because it’s all in good fun, and they appreciate me trying so hard!