Zoe Adjonyoh: Searching for identity in West African cuisine

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Adding grains of paradise to a fish marinade enhances flavor and a nuttiness without overpowering a delicate protein. Photo by Nassima Rothacker.

Chef and food justice activist Zoe Adjonyoh’s exploration of Ghanaian cuisine has been led by her personal desire to connect with her ancestry and cultural identity. Ironically, it was her Irish mother who extrapolated the recipes of her father’s homeland. Adjonyoh credits peanut butter stew for launching her food career, where each tribe in Western Africa has their own interpretation. A one-pot, warming dish, she says it takes her back in time and space. On a mission to collect more recipes, she returned to Ghana in 2013, her first trip back since she was a toddler. Her successful pop-up in London has extended to her cookbook, “Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen.” Her collection of spices can be found at Milk Street.

Pan-roasted Cod Seasoned with Hibiscus & Grains of Paradise
Serves 2

Grains of paradise make a great addition to any fish marinade, especially if roasted before grinding, as their nutty flavour enhances rather than overpowers delicately flavoured fish such as cod. This recipe is ideal for a super-fast brunch.

Ingredients 

  • ½ teaspoon grains of paradise
  • 400-450g (14oz-1lb) cod fillet, cut into 2–3 pieces
  • 1 teaspoon hibiscus sea salt, to season
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • extra virgin olive oil, for sprinkling 1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve chopped parsley, to garnish

Instructions 

-Preheat the oven to 400°F.

-Toast the grains of paradise in a dry pan over a medium-high heat, then leave to cool. Coarsely grind with a mortar and pestle.

-Season the cod on both sides with hibiscus sea salt and a pinch of the ground grains of paradise.

-Return the frying pan to a medium heat, add the peanut oil and heat. Add the cod to the centre of the pan and sauté for 2–3 minutes until crisped and brown, then gently turn over and sauté the other side for 1 minute.

-Transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking for 2–3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove from the oven and place on serving plates.

-Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle the remaining ground grains of paradise on top. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the fish, scatter with chopped parsley and serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Nkatsenkwan
Peanut Butter/Peanut Stew with Lamb
Serves 4-6

Nkatsenkwan, as this dish is known in Ghana, is most frequently eaten with Fufu (pounded green plantain
or yam with cassava - see page 173), but you can also serve it with boiled yams, cassava or even rice. It’s equally good served on its own as a rich winter stew with a sprinkling of gari (fermented, dried and ground cassava) and a side of fried sweet plantain (see Simple Fried Plantain, page 42).
This recipe is for lamb (or mutton), but it can be made with any combination of meat and seafood.
There is a traditional surf and turf Fante version of the recipe that uses land or Forest snails, crabs, goat meat and all the things!

Ingredients 

  • 800g (28oz) mixed bone-in lamb (or mutton) neck, leg, and/or shoulder, cubed into knuckle size pieces (or smaller if you prefer)
  • 2 teaspoons hibiscus salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground alligator pepper
  • 500ml (18fl oz) good-quality vegetable stock
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 5cm (2-inch) piece fresh root ginger, grated (unpeeled if organic)
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 8 green kpakpo shito (cherry) chilies, or substitute 1–2 Scotch bonnet chilies, pierced, according to desired level of heat
  • 1 tablespoon extra hot chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon extra hot madras curry powder
  • 6 guinea peppers (cracked open)
  • 500ml (18fl oz) Chalé Sauce (see page 247)
  • 100–200g (3½–7oz) organic peanut butter, depending on how thick you want it
  • 1 red Scotch bonnet chili, pierced
  • 3 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts, to garnish

Instructions 

-Season the meat with hibiscus salt and alligator pepper.

-Put the lamb and any extra bones and the stock into a large, heavy-based saucepan. Steam the meat for 5-8 minutes until the lamb juices run clear before adding the onion, ginger, garlic, fresh chilies, chili powder, curry powder and guinea peppers and cook together for another 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat, set aside for later. If you used bones in the stock, remove these as well. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer over a medium heat for 25 minutes. Add the chalé sauce, then gradually add the peanut butter until it has all dissolved.

-Once incorporated, use an immersion blender to blend into a smooth liquid.

-Re-introduce the meat to the pot, then add the Scotch bonnet chili and cook for a further 90 minutes on a low heat until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. The peanut oil should rise to the top, and you should have a soupy consistency and super-tender meat falling away from the bone.

-Serve with your choice of side dish (see the recipe introduction), or with crushed roasted peanuts or gari sprinkled on top.


Zoe Adjonyoh aims to balance tradition with “newness,” bringing New African cuisine into the spotlight. Photo courtesy of Voracious.

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Evan Kleiman