Express Yourself

Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen: these West African recipes will reawaken your soul this autumn

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Susan Devaney
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Zoe Adjonyoh, of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, shares her recipes and creative cooking process. 

“My mum sent me some pictures last night of me when I was cooking as a kid, which I’d never seen before,” says Zoe Adjonyoh, owner of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen. “I’ve always liked feeding people. I come from a Ghanaian-Irish heritage – big food culture and a lot of females.”

With an introduction like that you’d think that Adjonyoh always knew from the get-go that creating recipes, fusing her roots through flavour and starting her own restaurant was always going to be on the cards. But Adjonyoh has taken her time (and travelled to several countries) before finding success in the form of her own London-based restaurant.

It’s a restaurant that started in Adjonyoh’s front garden during Hackney Wicked Arts Festival in 2010. Seeing the opportunity to “make a bit of pocket money” and “feed her friends” Adjonyoh made enough peanut butter stew that she soon had a queue lining up to taste it. Now, she feeds it to diners night after night (for more than just spare change) in her long-term pop-up in Brixton.

This is exactly why Adjonyoh has shared some of her recipes in her debut cookbook, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen – she wants everyone, from everywhere, to “engage with culture from Ghana”. More importantly, she believes “everyone can cook” and should do so to encourage self-expression and “joy”. 

Using cooking for self-expression 

“When I am in that moment [cooking in her kitchen], I am basically playing or experimenting. That is my joy. That is my meditative time,” explains Adjonyoh. “It is when I get to be creative.”

But the trick is not to set limitations – including sticking to a set recipe. From sourcing new ingredients to actively using up what’s already in your fridge, it’s important to seek inspiration and trust your own skills.

“You know, it’s really difficult to find that process, and it’s something which is a living thing,” explains Adjonyoh. “It can come while following a recipe. Sometimes it’ll spark from an individual or place that inspires you.”

Whether you find inspiration on your commute or while you’re swinging by markets during the weekend, channelling it through cooking can provide you with a creative outlook and help to calm your mind, too.

Try this recipe below from Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen – but remember to add your own touch. 

Peanut butter stew 

Serves 4

Nkatsenkwan, as this dish is known in Ghana, is most frequently eaten with Fufu (pounded green plantain or yam with cassava). 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.

This recipe is for lamb (or mutton), but it can be made with any combination of meat and seafood. There is a traditional Fante version of the recipe on my blog that features large forest snails and crabs for the adventurous palate!

  • 2kg (4lb 8oz) mixed bone-in lamb or mutton) neck and shoulder, cubed
  • 500ml (18fl oz) water or 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) chillies, or substitute 1–2
  • Scotch Bonnet chillies (pierced)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-hot chilli powder
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 500ml (18floz) uncooked chalé sauce 
  • 100–200g (3½–7oz) organic peanut butter (depending on how thick you want it)
  • 1 red Scotch Bonnet chilli 
  • 3 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts, to garnish

1) Put the lamb into a large, heavy-based saucepan, cover with the measured water or stock and add the onion, ginger, garlic, kpakpo shito chillies, chilli powder, curry powder, sea salt and black pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer over a medium heat for 25 minutes until the lamb juices run clear, skimming off any froth that rises to the surface.

2) Stir in the chalé sauce and then add the peanut butter (one tablespoon) at a time while stirring until it has all dissolved.

3) Add the pierced Scotch Bonnet and cook for a further 45 minutes–1 hour over a low heat, stirring regularly so that the sauce doesn’t stick to the pan, until the peanut oil has separated and risen to the top, which means that it’s done.

4) You should have a soupy consistency and super-tender meat falling away from the bone.

5) Serve with your choice of side dish or with crushed roasted peanuts or gari sprinkled on top.

Tip: To speed up this recipe, steam the lamb with the onion and ginger until the meat juices run clear, pour over 600ml (20floz) Peanut Sauce, add the pierced Scotch Bonnet and simmer for 45 minutes–1 hour, or until the meat is falling away from the bone.

Using cooking to de-stress and find joy 

“Cooking should be fun,” says Adjonyoh. “I think everyone can cook, so I don’t believe people when they say ‘I can’t cook.’”

Which is why a lot of Adjonyoh’s recipes are easy enough for even the most unskilled cook to try to attempt.

“One recipe which is super tasty and is quick to make is the red red stew,” suggests Adjonyoh. “You can enjoy it as a Vegan dish or you can add meat to it if you want. I mean, so many of my recipes encourage people to adapt it to how they want.”

While trying out a new recipe, put on Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen soundtrack to help you de-stress and really enjoy being in the kitchen.

”You have to be prepared to take your time. Relax into it and enjoy it. Enjoy what you are doing, because you are creating something after all, and anytime when you are creating something, it should be joyful.”

Try this recipe below from Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen – but remember to enjoy the whole process. 

Red red stew

Serves 4

This dish is so called, I’m told, because it’s coloured red twice – once from the red of the palm oil and a second time from the tomatoes. But there’s a lot of duplication in the titles of dishes in Ghanaian cooking in any case. This stew of black-eyed beans (cowpeas) cooked in a gently spiced tomato sauce is a great vegan dish eaten all day long in Ghana – an alternative to baked beans for breakfast or as a bean casserole for lunch or dinner. Usually eaten with Simple Fried Plantain, this is tasty, nourishing comfort food that’s super easy to make.

  • 200g (7oz) dried black-eyed beans, or 400g (14oz) can of organic black-eyed beans
  • 75ml (5 tablespoons) sustainable palm oil or carotene oil
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 2.5cm (1-inch) piece fresh root ginger, finely grated (unpeeled if organic)
  • ½ tablespoon dried chilli flakes
  • ½ red Scotch Bonnet chilli, deseeded and diced
  • ½ teaspoon curry powder
  • ½ tablespoon chilli powder
  • 400g (14oz) can chopped or whole plum tomatoes
  • 200g (7oz) plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato purée
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • gari (fermented, dried and ground cassava), for sprinkling

1) If using dried beans, rinse and place in a large saucepan, cover with a good depth of water and bring to the boil, then simmer for at least 1 hour or until the beans are tender enough to be squeezed easily between thumb and forefinger. Drain and set aside. If using a can of beans, just drain, rinse and drain again. 

2) Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a low–medium heat until it melts (palm oil has a low smoke point, so be careful not to let it burn), add the onion, ginger, chilli flakes and Scotch Bonnet and sauté gently for a few minutes until the onion is translucent. Add the curry and chilli powders and stir well.

3) Add all the tomatoes, tomato purée, sea salt and black pepper and stir through. Leave to cook over a medium heat for 45–60 minutes or until the tomatoes start to break down. If you want a smooth sauce, blend with a stick blender at this point.

4) Add the cooked or drained canned beans, reduce the heat to medium–low and cook for a further 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the beans don’t stick to the pan, until the beans are tender and the tartness of tomatoes has dissipated.

5) Check the seasoning before serving in a bowl with some gari sprinkled on top, along with a side of Simple Fried Plantain.

Tip: If using canned chopped tomatoes, add them 20 minutes into the cooking time or stir in one tablespoon sugar to counterbalance the tartness of the tomatoes. 

You can pick up a copy of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen here

Images: Instagram / Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen