Delicious and bursting with flavor! Just two ways we would describe Asempe Kitchen, a fresh take on Ghanaian cuisine, based in Central Ohio. The brainchild of chef Kuukua Yomekpe, Asempe combines the rich tradition of the Ghanaian table with the modern sensibilities of current U.S. food trends. In Ghana you'll be hard pressed to find a dish without meat - but here, all the dishes are vegan or vegetarian.
This pairs well with mission of Asempe Kitchen. In Fante, Kuukua's native tongue, asempe means curiosity. And in making food accessible to the widest range of dietary tastes, new audiences can indulge in their gastronomical inquisitiveness.
Kuukua has generously shared a few of her favorite recipes (all without meat, of course) so you can bring a taste, literally, of Ghana to your table. First, the eponymous Spinach.
“You haven’t eaten until your nose is dripping”
In Ghanaian cuisine, the foundation, or pot de feu if you will, begins with onions, tomatoes (both fresh and paste), and hot pepper/chilies.
A Ghanaian staple is a dish named for it’s main ingredient: spinach. Traditionally it’s made with meat and ground melon seeds (which, if you can find in U.S. grocery stores, pack a protein punch.) Serve with boiled green plantains.
In total, this dish will take about 1½ hours to make. In the end, you’ll have a flavorful stew-like consistency to serve over white rice.
1 c. onion, chopped
2 ½ frozen spinach, chopped (don’t thaw!)
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
Fresh ginger & garlic
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onions and fry until translucent. Start adding fresh ginger, garlic and adobo spice, tasting as you go along. As Kuukua would say, “Cook from the heart!” If you prefer a little less of any of the spices, feel free to dial it down.
Add the tomato paste and chopped tomatoes, stirring together until all mixed together. Slowly start adding the chopped frozen spinach, making sure to not overwhelm the onions and tomatoes. (You may not need to use all 2 ½ cups!)
Add a splash of water (this will make the onions softer) and simmer over very low heat for an hour.
Once the consistency of the spinach (the dish, not the ingredient) is soft and stew-like, remove from heat. Serve over white rice with boiled green plantains.
Chef's note: Fried plantains are traditionally served with Red-Red, a black-eyed peas stew. But we love fried plantains too much not to include them in this first round up of recipes - and chef Kuukua has some great tips for finding the perfect yellow plantains!
To find the perfect plantain, look to the skin. If they’re green and the skin looks tight, move on – these are not your plantains. The ones you want are yellow, and you can feel a separation between the skin and the fruit flesh when you pick up the plantain.
The unripened green plantains are used to make crispy plantain chips (but that’s another recipe entirely).
Cut on an angle into ½ inch slices.
Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add plantain slices and fry until the bottom is a golden brown. Flip over and fry the other side.
Transfer plantains to a plate.
In part two we'll be sharing Sugar Loaf, an addictively delicious bread from Kuukua's mother. You don't want to miss it!