Starting with a makeshift stall selling peanut (aka groundnut) soup out of her studio flat at the Hackney Wicked Festival three years back, Zoe Adjonyoh has unintentionally become one of the new voices of Ghanaian cuisine in London. A writer by trade, Adjonyoh insists she’s not a chef, choosing instead to focus on homemade favourites and traditional flavours, while adding her own contemporary flourish.
Since its inception, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen has thrived at markets, pop-ups across London and Berlin, and a monthly residency at Studio GI in Hackney. Born to a Ghanaian father and Irish mother, Adjonyoh deepened her understanding of West African cuisine after a trip to visit her extended family in Ghana, where she got time in her grandmother’s kitchen, explored the famous Kaneshi street market, and met with chefs who shared with her their own takes on tradition.
For her most recent project, Adjonyoh has brought her Ghana Kitchen to the Africa Centre in Covent Garden. Here she’s set up a Chop House – the epitome of social, informal, and affordable dining – replete with a communal dining table where guests gather to enjoy Ghanaian classics, notable for their heartiness and spice. One of these is jollof rice, which is spiced differently depending on where you are, and with various ingredients added – anything from vegetables to meat. “There’s always a competition between Nigeria and Ghana about who has the best jolloff,” Adjonyoh says. Or Red Red, black-eyed beans slow cooked in a lightly spiced tomato sauce and served in a cornhusk with sweet fried plantains; and kentumere, spicy sardine stew with maize dough dumplings. Another Ghanaian staple is palaver sauce, Adjonyoh tells us. “This is a stew which supposedly got its name because people argue all the time about the ingredients.” Also on hand is some Emu palm wine and special Ghanaian lomo bitters, to be had mixed or, (whoa) neat.
"Adjonyoh insists she’s not a chef, choosing instead to focus on homemade favourites and traditional flavours, while adding her own contemporary flourish"
While Ghanaian food stall the Jollof Pot has been a regular for years at Exmouth Market, Broadway Market, and Portobello Road Market – where they serve up a mean spinach and agushi (melon seeds) – other London pop-up initiative, The Groundnut, started by Duval Timothy, Folayemi Brown, and Jacob Todd, is also bringing attention to West African cuisine, though they also look to the Continent’s East for inspiration. “When I was in Ghana I met a lot of people of my generation who are representing the country in a contemporary way,” Adjonyoh says. “Whether it’s fashion or food or music or art. There’s a keenness to be involved in a bigger international community.”
“I can’t promote Ghana enough,” Adjonyoh continues. “It’s such a friendly place. You can feel the electricity of somewhere that’s really alive – there’s so much going on, so much energy – everyone’s always hustling, everyone’s on it. There’s also a lot of foreign investment coming into the country, and you can tell it’s in the middle of a huge change. If you’ve never been to Africa, go to Ghana.”
Zoe’s Mini Mashed Yam Balls with a Golden Gari Crust
900g puna yam
115g margarine, to mash
1 tsp turmeric
1 cooking onion, finely chopped
3 spring onions, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to season
4 eggs whisked
70g plain flour (or ground rice for gluten free) seasoned with salt and pepper
8 tbsp white gari (cassava tubers mash – can be bought pre-made), or breadcrumbs
Oil to fry
1) Peel the yam, chop into inch sized cubes, rinse thoroughly under cold water to wash off starch. Place chunks into a large pan of salted boiling water for about 12 minutes, until just fork soft
2) Drain well, rinse again and mash with margarine and turmeric and leave to cool. Tip into a large bowl and add the chopped onion, garlic, thyme, seasoning and half the whisked eggs. You may want to add some flour to the mix to get the right consistency. It should be a very smooth mash.
3) Form the mixture into plum-size balls and chill for half an hour to firm up
4) Roll the balls in the seasoned flour, then in the remaining whisked eggs, followed by the gari.
5) Heat a pan then add the oil. Fry in batches until golden.
6) Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Keep warm while you cook the rest.
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen is at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden until 12 September. Open Sun-Wed, 11am-10pm, and Thurs – Sat, 11am-11pm.
Text by Ananda Pellerin