Have I told you about the feeling of fullness yet? Reading about the reverence many West and Central African cultures give to how it feels to have eaten and to be satisfied by a skilled cook, was a revelation to me. It was a perspective on what makes good cuisine that I hadn’t considered before.
So what better way to appreciate this (for me) newfound culinary philosophy than to make the starchy staple which has come to epitomize it: fufu! It’s not bread. It’s not porridge. It’s a kind of starchy, doughy, hybrid of both.
Likely first invented in what is modern day Ghana, fufu is a deceptively simple yet ingenious way to eat your daily carbs. Just about any carb will do: yams, sweet potatoes, corn, plantains, and cassava being the most common across Sub Saharan Africa today.
I’ll be making my very first fufu with the latter two, Cassava (or yuca) and plantains. We’ll be cooking, pounding, and somewhat binding the rich starches in these African staples into a creation that’s simultaneously food and a spoon for eating other food.
WEST-CENTRAL AFRICAN FUFU
3 large green (unripe) plantains
1 medium-large cassava root
Prep and peel the plantains and cassava. Use a sharp knife to carefully sheer away the hard outer layer of the cassava. For the plantains, slice off the ends, then score the peel lengthwise on each side before soaking for 10 minutes in very hot tap water to easily remove the peels.
Cut both into a rough large dice, then combine in a pot with cold water to cover. Bring the water to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes until tender all the way through. Drain, but reserve some of the water.
Mash very thoroughly with a potato masher until very smooth (You can use a food processor if desired, but make sure not to puree. Just pulse carefully until smooth). When you think it’s mashed enough, KEEP GOING! You have to really work it. The mixture should become starchy and sticky, like the texture and consistency of overworked mashed potatoes.
Let cool to room temperature or just slightly warm. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water back in. Then, with wet hands, scrape up the mixture into a dough like mass and knead it in the bowl, wetting your hands as needed to keep from getting too sticky. Shape into one giant ball, or several smaller ones.
Okay, not the most exciting picture I’ve ever taken, but how about with a spicy, tomatoey, West African inspired fish stew?
That’s more like it. Recipe for the stew coming soon!
When the fufu is completely cool, tear off a piece and roll it into a smaller ball between your fingers, then flattening it with your thumb to create a miniature spoon/bowl.
Use it to scrape up stews and chops, as side dishes are referred to in West Africa. Fufu is both food and eating implement, meant to be simple and filling, taking on the qualities and flavors of whatever you dip it in, but it’s also satisfying enough to make a meal of its own.
It’s tasty and unique, a little like moldable mashed potatoes you can pick up and dip. I can’t wait to try some different kinds! Maybe yam or sweet potato fufu will be next. See you next time!