In the recent year, I’ve been introduced to the varied and complicated world of African cooking. I’ve been shown Jollof rice, Okra stew, a strange tasting dried fish and spinach soup that burned the roof of my mouth off. It’s safe to say that my “chilli sense” (a phrase my teacher used) has improved but certainly isn’t close to her’s.
One of the simplest dishes, and thus the one I’ve decided to study is Waakye. Waakye is African rice and beans. Black eyed beans to be precise. It is boiled in a mixture of salt, chopped onion, water, and baking powder.
Waakye is the easiest African recipe to get started with. It is simple, wholesome, full of fibre and protein. It is typically served with side dishes, including Tomato gravy, stewed Orka and others.
As I write this post, it is the 12th of January, the festivities are over and my body is all too accustomed to the unhealthy treats that Christmas, new years and my own birthday (5 days ago) has ravished upon my body.
To try retrain myself into a healther way of eating, I’ve begun to have simple Waakye (because it’s quick and easy to make). The basic receipe calls for white basmati rice which is absolutely delicious.
But I’ve decided to try and make the dish a little healthier by using brown basmati rice (which has six times the fibre content of white rice). For a full comparison check out this link https://www.oldschoollabs.com/basmati-rice-vs-brown-rice/ and drop a comment below if you disagree with it. Note that the link talks about brown rice, not brown basmati rice and I’m not sure if there is a difference.
Brown rice includes the husk that surrounds white rice, this is where the extra fibre content comes from because it is indigestible by the body. Having more fibre, helps to control sugar, promote healthy insulin levels and can aid in weight loss. While I’m no doctor or professional, I regard this information and well cited enough to repeat. Again, if you have a different opinion feel free to leave a comment.
As I practised my Waakye cooking with white rice, I make several discoveries. The first is that the baking powder added to the recipe is designed to colour the grains a darker shade. The more baking powder you use the darker the mixture becomes. When I watch my teacher add it, she does so liberally. Other receipe sources call for just one or two teaspoons of baking powder. I have found that 1 teaspoon is enough for me, otherwise I taste the powder too strongly. I find it overpowers the pleasant nutty flavour of the rice.
Baking powder is used to replace Waakye leaves, also known as Sorghum Leaves bicolor. Sorghum is a leaf that is local to Ghana, but harder to come across in the UK. I’ve found several sources on ebay that sell them, but no where official. If you know of a place please drop a comment and a link or search term in the comments. So far I’ve not tried buying them from ebay because this seems a little suspect, I don’t truly know where they’ve come from, how old they are, if they have been stored correctly, etc.
As my teacher also uses baking powder, I figure if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me.
On my first attempt as brown rice based Waakye, I discovered it wasn’t enough to simply substitute brown rice for white rice. They came out hard, dry and it was difficult to digest. It simply did not sit well on my stomach.
After a little trial and error, I soaked the rice for between 4 – 8 hours in the fridge in a sealed container. This softening of the rice allowed me to use it as a direct replacement in the receipe. I highly recommend doing this, it maintains the texture as closely as possible to the Waakye I’ve been served. While giving it the extra darker colour that the baking powder is supposed to bring on. This both allows me to use less of the powder to remove some of that baking soda taste, and produce something closer to the original.
In the mornings now, I serve myself a bowl of Waakye, fry a couple of eggs, throw some green onion, black pepper, salt and chopped red finger chilli’s on top for colour and a little bit of heat. I find the meal satisfying, and able to take me through to lunch.
Other days, I’ll serve it with fish. Waakye goes very well with fish. My teacher makes a wonderful deep fried Tilapia that is perfect. A side of stewed Orka provides a cleansing action. She often uses Orka for regular bowl movements.
I’ve not progressed as far as Okra Stew yet, but once I prefect this receipe I’ll blog about it here.
One cup brown basmati rice (250ml), added to two cups (500ml) water to soak for 4 – 8 hours.
Two and a half Cups of Water (625ml)
One half teaspoon salt
One half onion chopped finely
One, or two teaspoons of Baking Powder.
One tin (246g drained) black eyed beans (or black eyed peas (the same thing)).
One tablespoon olive oil.
My teacher doesn’t use oil in her recipe, whereas I’ve discovered that other books and sources do recommend it. Upon trying the two methods myself, I’ve found the oil adds a light nutty flavour to the rice.
Pre-soaking the rice, if you are using brown rice is essential in my opinion. It creates a fluffier lighter rice, whereas if you don’t you get a harder rice.
Pre-soak your rice in the fridge for 4 – 8 hours. Add it to the pot, and then add the water, followed by the baking powder and salt. Stir both until the liquid is cloudy. Finely chop the onion, and add to the pot. Measure your olive oil and add then stir. Open your tin of black eyed beans and drain them before adding to the pot. Don’t wash the beans first, a little brine adds an earthy flavour.
Bring the mixture to a boil if you are using a pot.
If you are using a rice cooker simply switch it on and leave until it’s finished.
If using an instant pot, I set it to rice, with the pressure valve open and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.