Ghanaian Basic Tomato Gravy

Just as Brazilian cooking often begins with preparation of a base called a refogado, or Spanish Caribbean cooking uses a sofrito, in Ghana many stews begin with a simple “gravy,” made from oil, sliced or chopped onions, sliced or chopped fresh tomatoes (or canned tomatoes or tomato paste), likely chili peppers (fresh or dried and ground), and sometimes fresh garlic and/or ginger. The oil may be canola, soy, peanut, corn, palm, coconut, or other vegetable oil, each with a distinctive flavor. In contemporary middle-class Ghanaian homes, expensive imported olive oil is more often finding its way into recipes for stews and sauces. This popularity is based on the perception that olive oil is healthier than traditional oils. It does, however, impart a “non-Ghanaian” flavor to the food.

From this combination, other vegetables and/or protein sources can be added. This list includes an endless variety of greens, eggplant, pumpkin, cowpeas, eggs, fresh and/or smoked/dried fish and shrimp, seeds, and nuts. The gravy is also a base for one-pots where rice or gari (cassava meal) are added to make Ghanaian classics reminiscent of fried rice, Spanish rice, or paella (see Gari Foto and Jollof Rice recipes). This basic sauce can also stand on its own merits and be served with many of the recipes in this book, from Rice and Beans (Waakye) to Jollof or Coconut Rice, Banku, Ampesi (Boiled Starchy Vegetables), or Fried Ripe Plantains, etc. Also, it is easy to add things to it, from fresh or dried or smoked fish and seafood, poultry, snails, mutton, pork, beef, or goat to vegetables or ground seeds or nuts, singly and in combination.

But classically, tomato gravy only requires oil, onion, tomato, chili pepper, and salt. For health reasons, I have halved the amount of oil used in Ghana.

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