Ghanaian stew, kind of

I spent an extremely long time the other day looking for a black-eyed peas recipe that wasn’t lobia or hoppin’ john. I was first led to Red-Red by a Whole Foods post, and then finally I found what seemed like a more legit recipe. (I love that The Spice Island stresses how salty this should be. They know what’s up.) Red-Red is a Ghanaian stew—red for the red palm oil (which I substituted because I couldn’t find any, but then I remembered I could have just gone to one of the West African markets in Harlem and found some, probably) and red for the tomatoes. That’s all I can tell you about it, though; I could not possibly know less about Ghanaian food. Or Ghana, actually. Though I do know multiple people who have lived there.

This recipe has tons of onions, tons of tomatoes (real ones! not canned!), and tons of hot peppers. I used jalapeños rather than habaneros, both because habaneros scare me and because I couldn’t find any. (Well, I found something that looked exactly like habaneros, but it had a different name, and I didn’t want to accidentally feed myself something on the same heat spectrum as Scotch bonnets.) I am now glad about this because my hands are still burning from the jalapeños, and I chopped them more than twelve hours ago. I think I have skin problems. Or maybe I burned myself on, like, a pot or something.

OK, I forgot to mention the black-eyed peas business. I knew I had to soak them for three or four hours, if not overnight, so I put them in to soak and went about my day. Then I drained them, rinsed them, and added more water and put them on the stove. I looked at my previous blog post to see how long they should cook, but it was very unhelpful. I can now sympathize with all of you. (I ended up cooking them for about 50 minutes. When they were done, the liquid was all black. I was freaked out; I assume that if this had happened to me before, I would have recorded it. It almost seemed like they were white beans that someone had drawn a black eye on and the ink had all washed off. But … I mean … that probably didn’t happen?)

After they were done—the timing was a bit off because I was doing all this during/after dinner—I chopped my enormous quantities of onions, then tomatoes. Ugh, and jalapeños.

Beautiful lovely tomatoes, and evil jalapeños. (From my parents’ garden and a farmers’ market.)

Then I put a bunch of dried shrimp (I was aiming to end up with 2 tsp, but I didn’t really measure) into my food processor and ground them (it has a spice-grinding setting; it doesn’t work very well on actual spices). They became a sort of shrimp powder, though in slightly larger bits than I wanted.

I cooked the onions,

They were even yellower than this looks; also, it’s a truly frightening amount of oil.

then added the peppers, garlic, and tomatoes,

That liquid isn’t tomato. It’s tomato-colored oil.

then puréed it in batches in my food processor (instead of the immersion blender, because I wanted some texture rather than a soup).

I need someone to teach me how to take in-food-processor photos.

I added the beans, shrimp powder, salt, ginger, and tomato paste, and put it on the back burner while I prepared the plantains.

See that large pile of salt?

LOVE PLANTAINS. I think that when yellow (as opposed to green) plantains are fully ripe, they are entirely black; these were the blackest I could find, though. Also—you can’t tell in this photo how huge they are, but trust me, they are WAY bigger than bananas.

Many of my plantain pieces were larger than they should have been—I think maybe half an inch is an optimal width—but they smelled so wonderful and were so bright and yellow.

They were way yellower in real life. And they smelled better.

I cooked them two minutes on the first side, then turned them all individually with a fork and cooked them for two more minutes. I also cooked the particularly thick ones on their sides briefly. Cooking plantains was on my to-do list for living in East Harlem since they are always so available, and yay, now I have done it, though in an African dish.

I think I’m kind of done narrating this. I put the plantains into the stew when they were done, and put them in containers with rice. I forgot to take a picture of this, but it doesn’t look interesting anyway. Overall thoughts: This was surprisingly not difficult to make; it was really fun because it was so different (OK, that sounds dumb when everything I make is onions, tomatoes, and beans, but throughout the process it smelled different from anything I’ve made before, and the anticipation was exciting). I think my favorite thing to make is dishes I’ve never eaten or even heard of before…

Holy shit, I’m listening to the radio and for some reason they’re talking about the Fitzgeralds, and apparently Zelda died in a truly horrifying way. Even worse than you would expect. Here is my finished stew. Yum.

The verdict is that this is REALLY GOOD. The shrimp flavor is rather pronounced, though—I really like it and I think it makes the stew taste way more interesting, but if you don’t like fish (it just tastes like fish, not shrimp in particular; also, I don’t know if it’s supposed to) you should probs leave it out. Perhaps substitute some soy sauce for saltiness/umami (ugh). I also definitely overdid the plantains, partly because there were just objectively too many and partly because I don’t usually like sweet things interfering with my spicy/salty things. But overall I was not complaining. (Also, if you have this for lunch, don’t have a banana for your pre-lunch snack. I did and it was weird.) Fitzpatrick says, “MROW! MROWWWW!!! MROOOOOOOW!” Fitzpatrick, be quiet.

Ghanaian Red-Red
Not adapted except where I didn’t have ingredients from The Spice Island

2 cans black-eyed peas OR 1 c raw
1 c red palm oil (I used a mixture of canola and olive out of necessity)
2 onions
Several habanero or jalapeño peppers, depending on your spice tolerance
6 cloves garlic
4 medium tomatoes (or probably about two or three cups diced canned tomatoes)
1-2 tbsp salt (holy shit, I did not do this. That is crazy. I read teaspoons and sort of don’t regret it)
1/4 c ginger (I didn’t have enough so I added a few shakes of ground ginger, but primarily fresh is necessary. I forgot the ginger was in there; I couldn’t taste it at all)
3 oz tomato paste (half a can)
2 tsp dried shrimp powder
Black pepper
2 plantains (I used 3 because the recipe said 2-3, but I think the 3 was referring to bananas; I ended up with quite a ton of plantains)

If using dried black-eyed peas, soak for at least three hours and up to overnight (or just increase cooking time by about twenty minutes, I think—I’ve heard soaking is not as important as is sometimes said).

Dice the onions, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic. (This is for evenness of cooking only; it’s going to be  puréed later, so I think larger sizes are fine, but I just used my normal sizes because I forgot about the food processing when I was chopping.) Heat the oil; cook the onions until transparent, then add the garlic and peppers and cook briefly, then add the tomatoes. Cook a few minutes more, then purée in a food processor (preferable so the sauce doesn’t become completely uniform) or blender. (Don’t fill it up to the top; you will have hot liquid spurting everywhere. I actually did NOT make this mistake, miraculously, because I’ve read this warning so many times.)

Return the sauce to the heat; mash about a third of the black-eyed peas and add them and the salt, ginger, tomato paste, shrimp, and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low; cook until it reaches a stew-like consistency. Mine already was, so I just let it simmer until the plantains were done.

Slice plantains into circles of about a half-inch thickness or thereabouts. Heat some oil in a sauté pan and add plantains in a single layer. Cook about two minutes or until brown on the bottom; flip and cook for two more minutes. It’s pretty easy to tell they’re done; they’ll be soft, and a fork can go through them easily.

Serve with whatever you want, like rice. (I put mine over a fairly small amount of jasmine rice—well, small for me—and I think it goes really well, though the original recipe recommended injera or a Ghanaian bread, which does make more sense.)


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