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Chef Zoe Adjonyoh on her favourite Ghanaian cuisine

The famous chef and author of Zoe's Ghana Kitchen shares her insights on how to work with Ghanaian flavours and ingredients, from kenkey to dawadawa.

By Zoe Adjonyoh
Published 28 Feb 2021, 10:00 GMT, Updated 9 Mar 2021, 19:45 GMT
Grilled sardines with kenkey (fermented corn dumplings) is one of Zoe's most delicious Ghanian recipes.

Grilled sardines with kenkey (fermented corn dumplings) is one of Zoe's most delicious Ghanian recipes.

Photograph by Nassima Rothacker

My journey to, and exploration of, Ghanaian cuisine has been led by a very personal desire to make a connection with an aspect of my ancestry — a people and a culture that were largely distant in my upbringing. Though I spent my early years in Accra, being weaned on ‘Tom Brown’ (toasted cornmeal) and cocoyam pottage, gurgling in baby Fante talk, it was a long time before I returned to Ghana in 2014. But food was my guiding point, leading me to be reunited with those people who first informed my palate.

While I was born to a Ghanaian father, I spent the majority of my childhood holidays in Ireland with my mother’s family. My first (and only) cookery lesson was when dad was cooking his chalé (spicy tomato) sauce. He had — fairly unceremoniously — thrown a mix of chopped onions, chilli and curry powder into a pan, and the smell and sizzle was fascinating. Next, his tomato mixture was sploshed in as I stood guard, and about 20 minutes later the splashback was splattered with hot tomato sauce. Concerned, I asked, “How do you know when it’s done?” He casually walked over to the hob, looked at the splashback and explained, laughing, “When it’s up there, it’s done!”

Another time, I remember standing next to him as he unwrapped kenkey (fermented corn dough) from its maize leaf casing and released that heady fermented odour. I watched him devouring the kenkey with tilapia and lashings of shito (hot pepper sauce) enviously. This is what started my food journey — connecting with my father and at the same time connecting with my Ghanaian heritage.

This is an extract from Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, published by Mitchell Beazley (RRP: £20).

Zoe Adjonyoh is the author of Zoe's Ghanian Kitchen.

Photograph by Lateef Photography

Three must-try dishes from Ghana


1. Kenkey and sardines
A fermented corn dumpling, wrapped and steamed in corn husks, kenkey is eaten with your fingers and used to scoop stews or soups into your mouth. My favourite way to eat it is with sardines that have been grilled with tomato, ginger and chilli. 

2. Groundnut soup
Ubiquitous across West Africa, this tomato and peanut butter-based stew is traditionally served with chunks of succulent meat or fish and accompanied with fried plantain, rice balls, fufu or gari (starchy side dishes). My protein of choice is mutton or goat.

3. Red red
This traditional black-eyed bean dish is another tomato-based stew, made with onions, ginger, scotch bonnets and palm oil. It’s spicy, nutty and a bit acidic from the tomatoes. Fried plantain is the staple accompaniment, adding that bit of sweetness to complete the flavour.

Zoe's one essential ingredient


Dawadawa, also known as iru or fermented locust bean, is my secret weapon. The pods are cut off the tree, the pulp is pounded and then dried in the sun. The end result: an umami rich ingredient typically used as an aroma- or flavour-enhancer in stews and sauces.

Published in the March 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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