at the table

Berry Bissap Founder, Akua Kyerematen Nettey, on Ghanaian Cuisine and Uplifting the West African Community

published Dec 5, 2021
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Akua eating
Credit: Erica Beckman/Clean Plate Pictures

This story is part of our At the Table series, created by Kayla Hoang. She has curated this collection of interviews and recipes from BIPOC cooks who have something to say about how their specific cultures are represented (or not) within the wider world of food media. 

Akua Kyerematen Nettey is the founder of West African spiced hibiscus drink company Berry Bissap. Her parents, immigrants from Ghana, instilled Ghanaian culture as an important part of her life from a young age. She spent her years growing up hearing her dad play old-school Ghanaian music as she stood alongside her mother in the kitchen, watching and learning the ins and outs of Ghanaian cuisine. Her passion for Ghanaian food, admiration of the rich culture and its history, and desire to share it with the world are a driving force in her life and today she’s sharing it here. I recently sat down over a video call with Akua to talk about her favorite Ghanaian dishes and ingredients, her mom’s specific way of cooking, and the changes she wants to see in the way West African cuisines are represented. 

Thank you so much for being a part of At the Table, Akua! I’m so excited to talk about Ghanaian food with you. I’d love it if you could start by telling us a little about yourself. 
I was born and raised in Oklahoma. My parents are immigrants from Ghana. We (my brother, sister, and I) grew up in a traditional, conservative Ghanaian home that values and cherishes Ghanaian culture. My parents always did their best to blend the best of both American and Ghanaian cultures in the home. My dad would play old-school Ghanaian songs, but in terms of music and TV, we grew up like any other teenager in the U.S. watching Nickelodeon and things like that. We grew up very proud of our Ghanaian culture though — especially our food. Food was big. 

My mom did try to make American food as a way of adapting, but she mainly made Ghanaian dishes. She really instilled Ghanaian flavors and foods in us growing up. I remember being in the kitchen when I was little and she’d put me on the stool and I’d chop up onions and tomatoes and okra and all the hot chile peppers, like scotch bonnets and habaneros. I was 5 or 6 years old [laughs]. 

I grew up watching my mom and aunties cook Ghanaian dishes from different regions. It [the food from different regions] is so different and I really dug into how deep the history is and how special each dish is from each region of Ghana. I think what really sparked my interest in food history is that when I was 14, I was watching this program on the Travel Channel. Samantha Brown used to do these travel shows and she had a series where she would travel to different places. In one episode, she was in Honduras and I remember seeing these beautiful Honduran women. When I saw the way these beautiful black women wrapped their hair and the way they dressed, I was like, “They look just like us.” And the way they made their food, the way they made different types of rice and different types of stews — I don’t know Honduran cuisine very well, but you could see the West African ancestry and influence. That’s what really sparked my interest in exploring more about the connection between Latin American, Caribbean, and African-American cuisine and Ghanaian and West African cuisine.

Credit: Erica Beckman/Clean Plate Pictures

Have you had the chance to visit Ghana? 
Just a couple of times. I do want to go again soon. The first time I went I was very young. I was 5 or 6 years old. I’m from a working-class family and we couldn’t really afford for all of us to go, so when I was growing up my mom would go and then my dad would go. The last time I was there was 2015 and it was such a wonderful experience. When I was there, I was like, “This is my country and these are my people and this is my food.” I was able to really get to taste how it’s [the food] originally made, see how it’s originally done, and go to the markets. At the markets, you get to see all different types of spices and different types of food, like fish and seafood, and so many wonderful things. The markets are my favorite place. I could stay in the market for hours just smelling and tasting everything. Learning one-on-one about the indigenous root vegetables and indigenous plants and leaves and herbs and spices was the most exciting thing for me. 

Credit: Erica Beckman/Clean Plate Pictures

The markets sound like such an amazing place to visit! There are probably so many unique ingredients there, such as the spices you use in the beverages for Berry Bissap. I’d love to hear more about what it is and how it came about.
I left Oklahoma in 2017 when my husband and I got married. I followed him up to the Hudson Valley and I love it here. Oklahoma’s home because that’s where I grew up and my parents are there, but I’m glad that I’m out of there and in a place where I’ve always wanted to be with my husband and son. 

I founded my company, Berry Bissap, which is a West African spiced hibiscus drink, here in New York. Bissap is originally from Senegal, but it became a very popular beverage throughout all of West Africa. It’s made from hibiscus with indigenous spices and I infuse fruit into it. Infusing fruit is my modern twist, but the traditional way is with hibiscus and spices and a lot of sugar. I lower the sugar content in ours, but make sure to maintain the flavor to keep it close to the traditional drink. In Ghana, we call it sobolo, but different parts of West Africa have different names. My mom used to make it all the time and I grew up drinking it. When she would go to Ghana, she would come back with hibiscus and spices. She’d make sobolo and I just loved it. It has such a unique flavor profile. We would drink it chilled and it was just so delicious. I always wondered why it wasn’t on grocery shelves. 

We launched in January 2019. I was about 6 months postpartum and I was like, “I cannot sit at home. I love my baby, but I can’t not do anything. I need to launch this.” This is something that’s been in the works for a long time. I spend my time running the business and we’re growing and scaling. We’re in Whole Foods in some Manhattan and Brooklyn locations and we’re at Erewhon in Los Angeles and we’re launching two more accounts soon in other parts of the country, so we’re really excited. My passion is sharing West African food, beverages, flavors, and ingredients with the world, so that’s what I’m doing.

Credit: Erica Beckman/Clean Plate Pictures

Bissap sounds so refreshing! What a beautiful way to honor your roots and your heritage. Let’s talk more about the food. How would you best describe the food that you grew up with?
We grew up eating very spicy foods. We eat different types of soups and stews and rice — we’re big rice eaters. In Ghana, we eat the soups and stews with starchy dumplings called swallows. They look like dumplings, but they’re stickier, like fufu. Fufu is very popular as well and you eat that with the palm nut soup, which is called abenkwan in the Akan language. 

During the week we wouldn’t say, “I don’t wanna eat this. I want sloppy Joes,” or some other American food. It was like, “Okay, you’re going to eat rice and palava sauce or jollof or groundnut soup or palm nut soup because that’s what I have.” We really stuck with Ghanaian food. On Fridays my mom might have spoiled us with pizza or SpaghettiOs or those kinds of foods that were popular growing up, or my dad might say, “Okay, y’all can have McDonalds. I’ll get you some Happy Meals,” but that was very rare. 

I always loved Ghanaian food growing up although there were certain foods that made me say, “Ooh, that smell is not pleasant.” I mean they tasted great, but there was some serious funk [laughs]. As I’ve gotten older I’ve grown to appreciate those foods and what they mean. 

Credit: Erica Beckman/ Clean Plate Pictures

Are there any specific dishes that immediately come to mind when you think of Ghanaian food?
When I was growing up, I watched my mom make a lot of soups and stews and fufu, especially for my dad. Fufu is huge in Ghana — especially in the Ashanti region where he is originally from. I would watch my mom make a dish called light soup with fish or goat meat or even with poultry, such as chicken or fowl. It has this umami kind of flavor to it that I love so much. She’d cook the soup with lots of garlic and ginger and she’d put habanero slices in there. If she was using fish, she’d use a tilapia or grouper that gives a really nice flavor. Light soup is very soothing — especially during the cold months. I would just have it by itself and sip on it and it’s so good. 

Abenkwan, that I’m sharing the recipe for, is another dish that I really, really grew to love. The flavors that we use are regionally indigenous. My mom would marinate the meats, whether it was oxtail or goat meat, with carom seeds or negro pepper or alligator pepper (those are the English terms for the indigenous spices). Abenkwan uses palm nut base [or palm cream], which is a palm oil product. The way palm oil is traditionally extracted is crazy, oh my gosh. It’s a process. Abenkwan is very popular and flavorful and rich in umami as well, which we love.

My favorite stew is called palava sauce or kontomire stew. It’s traditionally made with  kontomire, which are cocoyam leaves. Cocoyam is a type of root vegetable that is similar to taro. You can also make fufu from it as well. Us Ghanaians, we try to make use of every part of the plant, every vegetable, every animal so we use the leaves of the cocoyam in palava sauce. The cocoyam leaves are quite tough so you have to let them soak in water and cook them down first before chopping them and making the palava sauce. Here in the States we use spinach because spinach is light and it adapts to whatever flavor you cook it with. The base for palava sauce is called zomi, which is a spiced palm oil. You make the stew with zomi and shallots and spices. We use shrimp powder or crayfish powder or even herring powder in the dish and you add tomatoes and the spinach [or kontomire] and egusi seeds. Egusi is a type of melon seed that you grind and add to the stew and it’s so delicious. I love eating it [palava sauce] with boiled plantain or a pona yam. When you say yam in the U.S. people think sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are not yams, but that’s another conversation [laughs]. If you’ve seen the series High on the Hog, Dr. Jessica B. Harris really explains to Stephen Satterfield, founder of Whetstone, about the yam and its origin and really breaks it down. Pona yam is a huge root vegetable that’s tougher and you boil it and can eat it with the palava sauce. You can even eat palava with fonio as well, which I love. 

And there’s jollof, of course! We grew up eating jollof. I don’t know any West African who doesn’t like jollof. Jollof varies between each country and we fight over whose is the best. Jollof comes from the Wolof empire of the Senegambia region. Jollof comes from a dish called ceebu jën [also called thieboudienne], which is made up of fish and rice. There’s another dish called ceebu yapp, yapp meaning “meat,” that is made up of meat and rice. Ceebu jën is more tomato-based and ceebu yapp is more onion-based. Our Ghanaian jollof uses a base similar to ceebu jën with a neutral oil and tomato base and onions and spices and habaneros, but uses meat like in ceebu yapp. Sometimes it’s goat meat, which is usually the best kind of jollof, or beef, but some like to use fowl as well. 

Kelewele is another treat that I grew up eating. My mom used to make it all the time. When you go to Ghana, you’ll see vendors who sell kelewele on the streets at night. It’s basically super ripe, sweet plantains that are marinated in spices and fried. There’s this indigenous spice, called calabash nutmeg, that you grind with cloves and garlic and super hot chiles to make a paste and then marinate the plantains in the paste. Then you fry them and oh my gosh, it’s just such a delicious snack. It’s really good. 

Okra soup, which is called nkrumankwan, is really delicious. My mom used to make that a lot and okra stew as well. Okra soup is popular throughout all of West Africa, from Nigeria all the way to Guinea or Senegal or even The Gambia. They all make an okra-based stew with zomi [the spiced palm oil] and okra and molokhia leaves — we call it ayoyo leaves — with different types of seafood. You’ll see tilapia or sometimes my mom would put shrimp or you can use grouper or blue fish or even red snapper in there. It’s usually eaten with banku. Banku is a type of swallow that is cassava- and corn dough-based and we dip it in the okra soup and eat it and it’s so, so good with the fish.  

I actually like reading about the history of okra soup because it’s really the main dish that kind of inspired other okra-based foods like gumbo. Gumbo is really similar to okra soup or okra stew except instead of using zomi as the base, gumbo uses a roux with the andouille sausage and stuff like that. Okra is a very West African vegetable. We love our okra. And okra stew is, of course, like a stew so it’s thicker and you can eat it with rice or with kenkey. Kenkey is a fermented corn-based swallow.

My mom would also make red red stew, which are stewed beans. It’s a tomato-based stew of black-eyed peas. It’s made with the spiced palm oil and it has spices and shellfish powder, like shrimp powder, or herring powder. You cook the black-eyed peas down until they soften a bit and you add it to the stew. My mom would also grill mackerel and add it into the dish. You eat it with rice or fonio or with boiled or fried plantain. 

Credit: Erica Beckman/ Clean Plate Pictures

I can tell how important the food is to you and how much you love it just from your expression while talking about it. You mentioned the use of indigenous spices and ingredients used throughout these dishes. Can you share and explain what some of these ingredients are?
There’s a spice I mentioned earlier called calabash nutmeg. To use it, you usually grind it and mix it with other spices such as in kelewele. Alligator pepper is really popular. We call it afom wisa and it is a red peppercorn. There’s esero wisa, which is a darker, black peppercorn. There is also hwentia, which is negro pepper, and it’s long and skinny. I like to grind it and use it to marinate meats for soups and stews or even to make kelewele with. Afom wisa, esero wisa, and hwentia are the Akan names for the spices, but more specifically Twi, which is an Ashanti Tribe Dialect. 

There’s zomi, of course, which is spiced palm oil. We can’t live without zomi. It sometimes pisses me off when people talk about how palm oil is so bad for you. Yeah, I can agree that the way it’s harvested and the way it’s grown isn’t the best for the planet, but that can be changed. It just requires certain education in how to best grow and harvest palm nuts to make zomi or palm nut oil. I feel like, and not to make it sound like the west is evil, but I feel like the way it’s talked about so negatively is a way of degrading a primary ingredient in so many of our dishes — especially West African dishes. It’s been so ingrained on so many people, “Avoid palm oil! Avoid palm oil! It’s bad.” I don’t know about the palm oil the U.S. sources, but palm oil in West Africa is actually very rich in vitamins and carotenes. Yewande Komolafe has an amazing article about the bad reputation that palm oil has, the backlash that palm oil has faced, the misconceptions around it, and how some look down at West African foods because of the use of it. She explains how essential palm oil is to West African food beautifully. I tell people all the time, “I don’t care what you think about palm oil. I use palm oil in my food. We love it and that’s what I grew up with.” 

Though not indigenous, I always say the holy grail in our food is ginger, onion, and garlic. You can’t make any food without that. I like to blend all three into a paste with anise seeds or any of the indigenous spices like the peppercorns.

We love our chiles. We like it hot. We like our spice. Not to say that if you come to my house you have to eat super spicy whether you like it or not — I’m not like that [laughs]. Just don’t expect me to remove the chiles completely. To me, I feel like something is missing without a delicious chile. Habaneros are my favorite. I just love them and I can’t cook without them. There are also indigenous chiles that we use. The Ghanaian name for one type is kpakpo shito, or pettie belle chiles in English, that are small and green. We cook with those all the time. We blend it into a paste and add it into our soups or garnish our soups with it. My mom used to bring them back from Ghana and cook with them all the time.

Another ingredient we use a lot is smoked, dried fish. My mom would get different types — tuna, a lot of times grouper, or barracuda. I really love smoked barracuda. I put them in red red or palava sauce. They just really take your food to the next level. It’s just *chef’s kiss.* It adds such a specific flavor and funk that’s just so delicious.

We have a delicious chile pepper hot sauce called shito and it’s amazing. I always explain to people that if they know what bagoóng is — which is a Filipino condiment of salted, fermented fish or shrimp paste — it’s similar to that. Shito is darker in color and heavily shrimp-based, but sometimes my mom puts herring in it. It’s amazing. You can eat it on the side with jollof and it’s delicious. It kind of looks like Sichuan chile oil, but it’s much thicker and so good. It’s hot, delicious, umami perfection.  

Credit: Erica Beckman/ Clean Plate Pictures

Your point about the way we speak about ingredients like palm oil in the West is extremely important and I appreciate you bringing it up. In regards to Ghanaian cuisine, what are (in your opinion) the best, most delicious aspects that you want people to know about?
Just how very nutritious and packed with flavor it is. That is what I love so much about Ghanaian food. It’s packed with flavor and there are layers that go into it. Some will talk about how it’s heavy on ingredients, but that’s what makes it the best. When you don’t have that special ingredient, it tastes like something is missing. Our food has that heat, that kick, that spice. It has that umami that comes from the protein or smoked fish. The seasonings, like the indigenous peppercorns, add not only heat or spice, but flavor. There’s the misconception that African food isn’t healthy. No. It is healthy and very delicious and flavor-packed and that’s what I love so much about it. 

Let’s talk about cooking. How did you learn to cook Ghanaian food?
I really learned everything from my mom in the kitchen. Something that’s interesting about cooking Ghanaian food, whether you’re watching your mom or your aunties or grandparents, is their style of cooking and the way they don’t measure anything. I grew up learning how to cook without measuring. That’s something I used to kind of get frustrated with my mom over. I’d say, “Okay, how many tablespoons of this? How many of that?” and she would say, “Listen, we don’t do that,” [laughs]. “We just feel it. You taste it and go by feeling.” That’s how I learned all my life. I learned to gauge spices and different flavor profiles by taste. I would watch her gauge how many habaneros or scotch bonnets to put in a dish or how much spiced palm oil to use to make palava sauce or I’d watch her use the can from the palm nut soup base to measure water. Honestly, I didn’t learn how to cook with measurements at all until I got my very first cookbook at 16. It was Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. That’s when I learned measurements and how to measure dry and wet ingredients with cups or spoons.

Sometimes I learned from my aunties as well, like if they were having events or parties I’d watch them. But for the most part, I watched my mom and everything I know in the kitchen is from her. My mom amazes me. She doesn’t measure anything, but she manages to make the food come out the same every single time. She just knows what to put in there. She’ll taste it and add a little bit more of this or that. That’s what we do. When we cook, we take a little bit off the spoon into our palm and taste and go, “Hmmm. Is this good? Okay, let’s add a little more spice.” We feel as we cook. 

I’ll call my mom and say, “Mom, I need to make this dish,” or “I really want to perfect this dish, but [for example] I don’t know how much groundnut paste to mix with the tomato paste to make the groundnut soup. How do I do that? And how much water do I add because I know I need to add water to it?” My mom will say, “Yeah, you can just add, I don’t know, maybe a tin full of water,” and I’m like, “Okay, mom. You can’t just say tin because tins come in different sizes. I’m using a measuring cup. Is it 2 cups?” and she goes, “Oh, I don’t know. You’ll feel it. Just add it until it looks like this or until it looks like that” [laughs]. That’s how my mom cooks and that’s how she taught me. When I was little she’d always say, “Keep your eye on me. Don’t watch your cartoons. No playing with toys. You keep your eye on me. Look at me as I cook because you have to see how I do it.” 

Credit: Erica Beckman/ Erica Beckman

Not measuring and cooking by feeling and by looks and taste is something that feels characteristic of so many immigrant mothers. That’s how my mom cooks and how my grandmother cooked. It feels so universal. 
And that’s so cool to hear. A friend of mine is from the Dominican Republic and she’ll say, “My mom doesn’t measure anything!” [laughs] Being able to cook by feeling is a skill that’s been in our families for generations. It’s a skill that’s been passed down and now I feel like it’s up to us, our generation especially of West Africans in the food industry, to continue to pass that down to each generation and teach others to stay true to our indigenous roots and spices and ingredients, but also let’s document it too. They [the older generations] didn’t document anything. They really didn’t and so we need to keep the culture alive. It has to be documented for us and to teach other people about our foods.  

I feel like especially with West African food, not just Ghanaian, it’s time for the world to appreciate our food and acknowledge it and enjoy it and for it to be as popular as other international cuisines. I know people say, “Well other international cuisines have been Americanized and have not had the proper representation it deserves,” and I agree. But we can still control our narrative and our stories when it comes to our food and share it with the world so they can know and love it too. It’s really up to us. 

Credit: Erica Beckman/ Clean Plate Pictures

I feel that so often those two experiences of either not having representation or being misrepresented are compared or pitted against each other. We can acknowledge that we have made mistakes and try to correct it while also making space for cuisines that haven’t yet had the representation they deserve. 
Exactly. I also think we need to appreciate these foods as quality foods and not just cheap roadside food. You know, yeah, we have foods that are considered market foods and things like that, but I feel like there are some cuisines, especially different types of Asian cuisines, that don’t get the respect they deserve because people say things like, “Why would I pay X-amount for this type of Asian dish? That should be cheap?” No, it shouldn’t and I’m glad there are people out there who are putting the respect on their cuisines. I feel like we, those who represent West African food, can do the same. Many people see our food as, “Ooh, that’s nasty,” or “It’s too heavy,” or “It stinks,” and it’s time for us to educate people on why we cook this way and the history behind it.

I couldn’t agree more. On that note, let’s talk about representation. From your experience as a home cook, how do you feel Ghanaian cuisine has been portrayed in food media? 
Not much, but there are people really doing the work and representing Ghanaian food specifically that I applaud. Zoe Adjonyoh is the first person that comes to my mind. Zoe is amazing and really breaks Ghanaian food down into regions and explains the way different  Ghanaian ingredients are grown and how different foods are prepared by different regions. Zoe is someone who is really doing the work when it comes to Ghanaian food. There’s also Fafa Gilbert who has a blog called “Ndudu by Fafa.” She’s amazing as well. She does a lot of fusion, but also shows a lot of indigenous Ghanaian recipes that really hold true to its tradition which I think is very important. Then there’s Afia Amoako of the blog “The Canadian African.” Afia does excellent research and shows many different types of West African foods using traditional methods, but with a vegan twist. 

Credit: Erica Beckman/ Clean Plate Pictures

Moving forward, how would you like to see Ghanaian food represented?
Not just Ghana, but West Africa as a whole has a long way to go. I feel like the best way for our food, especially Ghanaian food, to be represented the way it should be is by those who are of Ghanaian descent or by those who live there or are immigrants from there or by those who may not have the big name, but know the ins and outs and the history. It’s important to let people like us tell these stories.

Overall, there could be more representation. Zoe Adjonyoh’s book Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen is really great, but we need more cookbooks and we need more voices and more faces that represent Ghana and West Africa in its truest form because we are the ones who grew up with this food.  We need our voices elevated more in these food publications or with cookbook deals. We need people to really work with us and help us to articulate and share these recipes with American or Western audiences because I feel like that’s where there’s a gap. We know our food, but it’s about learning the best way to articulate and educate American audiences and American food-lovers who want to learn more. That’s more of the work we need to do. 

I think the first step right now is to boost our voices. Elevate our voices and faces and let us represent Ghana and the West African region. Zoe, who I mentioned above, and Hawa Hassan, who is Somali and represents more East African food and has a cookbook called In Bibi’s Kitchen, have really busted the door down on the idea that there can only be one African cookbook. They’ve literally opened so many doors for more stories to be told. If there can be 500 Italian cookbooks there can be 500 Ghanaian or Senegalese or Nigerian or Ivoirien cookbooks.

Credit: Erica Beckman/ Clean Plate Pictures

Absolutely. I believe our culture is really reflected through the cuisine. Because I’ve never been to either country, food has been my connection to both my Bangladeshi and Vietnamese heritage. Has food affected your connection to your own ethnicity and culture in any way?
In the beginning, even though I loved our food, it was rough publicly. We usually ate school food, but when my mom did pack lunch, people would be like, “That smells. What is that?” or friends would come over and they’d say, “Well that stinks,” and things like that that put you down. You get to a point where you feel ashamed because it’s so largely frowned upon. Back in the early days, anything African was frowned upon. I remember. But now, I embrace it more than ever. I love it more than ever. 

Cooking Ghanaian food and being in the kitchen with my mom is what helps connect me to Ghana and feel more connected to Ghana in a bigger way. When I was in the kitchen with my mom, she would play Ghanaian gospel music while making the food and it just made me feel at home. I felt that piece of Ghana and this sense of, “This is my home and this is where I’m from and I love this place and I’m unashamed and unapologetic about it.” That adolescent period of listening to people say, “Africans are this,” or “Africans are that,” was short-lived and I came to realize that these people just don’t know and if they only knew how beautiful our continent is instead of how it’s portrayed by the media or if they could come and see it for themselves and see how beautiful this place is, they wouldn’t be making fun of it.

I definitely feel connected even more now that I have this beverage company. I talk about West Africa all the time and how we source from Ghana. I feel that connection with cooking, especially when I use the fufu mortar and pestle to mash the plantain or cassava or use these traditional utensils and tools and cooking dishes. It really just makes you feel so proud of where you come from. 

We’re very happy, very proud people and I don’t ever want to feel ashamed about that. It makes me sad and question why I denied it in my early adolescence. I grew up in the South and I was used to being the only black girl in my school for the longest time until junior high. There was a Ghanaian population and we would come together as a community, but it was small. Thinking back, I wish I would have embraced that more. But I was young, 11 or 12, and when you get made fun of, all you want is to fit in. 

It’s so hard when you’re teased or made to feel small because of your heritage, especially when you’re young. I know I look back and just think, “How silly?” We shouldn’t ever feel ashamed of where we come from.  
Exactly and that’s what I, as a mom, want to instill in my son. We want to instill in our son that, “You are of royal blood. You are proud. We come from Africa, from Ghana. You come from a rich culture. Your lineage is rich. Your culture is rich. Don’t let anyone tell you you are less than. You walk with your head up high.” 

My dad instilled that from the beginning. My sister, my brother, and I all have Ghanaian names. We don’t have English names. Growing up, that was the way for your children to assimilate in the U.S .— to give them English names — but my dad was like, “No. Everywhere they go, I want people to know they are Ghanaian,” and our names say it loud and clear. And yeah, I used to get made fun of for my name. I used to get made fun of all the time and it’s terrible and pathetic that we had to go through that, but now I love it and I thank my dad. I call him and say, “Daddy, thank you for giving us indigenous, traditional Ghanaian names and not watering anything down.” And that’s what we did for our son. 

That’s so special and so beautiful that your parents instilled that in you and that you’re doing that for your son. You shared so much wonderful insight into Ghanaian cuisine and brought up really vital points in the way we speak about culturally significant ingredients and about what we need to do as a community to uplift West African cultures. Before we wrap up, tell me about the recipe you’re sharing today.
It’s called abenkwan, which is the Akan name for it, and it translates to palm nut soup. It’s a soup that is made from a palm nut base, which is married and merged with the meat that is cooked on the side with spices. It’s made with goat meat and oxtail and smoked dried fish, like a tuna fish. It is a very rich, delicious, warm, umami, lovely soup that anyone can enjoy. It can be enjoyed with any type of starch. Fufu is usually the starch you eat with the soup, but you can have it with rice or we also have a mushy kind of rice ball we make called omo tuo. Omo tuo is usually made with jasmine rice or any kind of starchy, sticky rice and you make it soft and pound it out and it looks like fufu, but it’s made with rice. You can eat abenkwan with banku as well or fonio. It’s wonderful. You can make a pot of it and enjoy it for a few days. It’s great for lunch, great for dinner. Very filling, very nutritious, and rich in protein. It is so flavorful and now that it’s getting chilly, it’s great to enjoy in the evening with family. It’s just really, really delicious. 

Credit: Erica Beckman/ Clean Plate Pictures

And what does sharing this recipe with me and with readers mean to you?
This recipe means so much to me. The reason it means so much to me is because it’s indigenous. This is an indigenous, special dish to Ghana. This is a dish that’s been enjoyed and made for centuries and that is loved by Ghanaians in all regions no matter what ethnic group. You make abenkwan and it really brings everyone together whether it’s served with fufu or omo tuo or even with fonio. It’s a traditional Ghanaian dish that everyone can love and make. It’s so simple, but it really shows you Ghana in a pot. It represents our whole country in a pot. 

Credit: Erica Beckman/ Clean Plate Pictures

Ready to get a taste of Ghana by making your own batch of rich, delicious, umami-packed abenkwan? Get the recipe here.