Is African food the next big thing? This Ghanaian-born writer thinks so

 

Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, by Zoe Adjonyoh

Read this cookbook: “Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen: Traditional Ghanaian Recipes Re-Mixed for the Modern Home Kitchen” by Zoe Adjonyoh (Mitchell Beazley, $29.99)

By Wendell Brock

When a tall, skinny, light-skinned Londoner returns to her native Ghana at 35, the first stop is her grandma’s kitchen, where she is fed three breakfasts in a single morning.

As the conversation turns to food, she drops a bombshell.

Back home in England, she tells her family, she runs a pop-up restaurant and catering company called Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen. She cooks their food for a hip, curious audience.

The idea of a Western “pop-up” is as foreign to her family as African food is to most Westerners. But Adjonyah believes “we are on the cusp of an African food revolution,” that it is the last great unexploited cuisine, and that we will be hearing and eating more of it in the near future.

In her delightfully quirky book, Adjonyoh shares her spin on the food of her Ghanaian father’s homeland, with some funny side notes on her experiences in Ghana and how she’s mashed up her Irish mum and her African father’s native cuisines. There are even soundtracks to play while cooking and eating.

I suspect there’s a memoir in the making here.

For now, Adjonyoh focuses on the cooking of Ghana: the spicy stews and curries, the one-pot rice dish called jollof, and the myriad uses of plantains, yams, chili peppers, peanuts, okra, coconut and fish.

It all looks and sounds so good.

Many of these dishes (Chunky Yam Chips, Jollof Fried Chicken, Akara, or bean fritters) will be easy to make from everyday ingredients. For some of the more complex recipes (Gari Foto, Spinach & Agushi Curry), you will have to chase down exotic ingredients like gari (fermented, dried and ground cassava) and agushi (dried ground melon seeds).

Do not, however, be dismayed when you see a reference to “garden eggs.” A garden egg is simply a baby eggplant. With it, you can make salads with quinoa, stews with okra or tilapia, or spicy dip.

From the gorgeous photographs and textile-design motifs to the pithy personal anecdotes and observations, this book is a wonderful addition to the culinary letters of the African diaspora, as seen through Western eyes. It belongs on the same shelf as the works of Jessica Harris and Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, two smart and adventurous American writers who made similar journeys.

Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).

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