When out walking in Kaneshie, the town in Ghana where my grandmother lives, in the hot dusk of the evening among the clatter and chaos of life, amid the sound of tro-tro (share taxi) drivers shouting out their destinations to attract fares, it's hard to avoid the soothing and dominant, sweet and spicy aroma of spiced ginger cooking on sweet plantain that emanates from almost every street. Hard to avoid and nigh on impossible to resist.
This is kelewele (pronounced "kaylay-waylay"), a simple and quick side dish of spiced and fried plantain, and a common snack available from roadside chop bars and street-food vendors across Ghana.
There are a few different recipes out there for this dish and it goes by various names in different parts of West Africa, but the principle is the same, ripe plantain cooked in fresh spices. It can be as simple as marinating the plantain in a mix of very finely chopped onion, grated fresh root ginger, chile flakes and salt. I also like to make a sweet aromatic version using nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, which combines the best of what I've tasted on the streets of Accra.
Technique tip: The secret to a good fried plantain is to use fruit at the correct stage of ripeness. Here, this is when the plantain is mottled black but still yellow and firm, and as fleshy as the skin on the inside of your wrist.
Kelewele Dry Spice Mix (makes about 5½ tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cloves
- 1 heaping tablespoon Kelewele Dry Spice Mix (recipe above)
- 1 small red onion, grated
- 1 (2-inch) piece fresh root ginger, grated (unpeeled if organic)
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 1 liter (1¾ pints) coconut oil for deep-frying, plus 2 tablespoons for marinating
- 4-6 ripe plantains
- 1 handful roasted peanuts, crushed, to garnish (optional)
For the Kelewele Dry Spice Mix:
In a small bowl, mix together all the ingredients until well-combined.
For the plantains:
1. Mix the Kelewele Dry Spice Mix with the onion, ginger, sea salt and the 2 tablespoons oil in a bowl.
2. Using a sharp knife, peel the plantains by cutting the tips off each end and slicing through the skin lengthways (avoid cutting into the flesh), then use your hands to remove the skin.
3. Cut the plantains in half lengthways into 2 long pieces. Usually the plantain is then diced into 3/4-inch squares or bite-sized chunks, but I like to make chunky plantain chips with this spice mix, so I cut the plantain in half across the middle, making 4 pieces, and then each piece in half lengthways again to end up with 8 evenly sized chunky chips from each plantain. This way, the plantain chips will cook evenly and quickly without burning.
4. Coat the plantain chips in the spice mix and leave to stand at room temperature for at least 20 minutes.
5. You can also cover the bowl with clingfilm and place in the fridge for longer to soak up the marinade until you're ready to cook.
6. Heat the oil for deep-frying in a deep-fat fryer (the safest option) or heavy-based, deep saucepan filled to just under half the depth of the pan to 350 to 375 F or until a cube of bread browns in 30 seconds. Fry the plantain chips, in batches, until they float to the surface and are evenly golden in color; you should have a crispy spiced outside and sweet soft inside. Remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper, keeping the cooked chips hot while you fry the rest. Alternatively, preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the coated plantain chips out on a baking tray and bake for about 20 minutes, until golden on the outside and tender inside. Serve hot.
With or without the garnish of crushed roasted peanuts, this makes a great appetizer, snack or side for both meat and veggie dishes!
Reprinted from Zoe's Ghana Kitchen by Zoe Adjonyoh, published by Mitchell Beazley. Copyright © 2017.