Friday, July 27, 2012

Kick-Ass Kenkey Recipe

Think of a slightly sour tamale without the inner filling and you've got a pretty good idea of what this Ghanaian staple is like.

The problem with kenkey is that it takes a while to make on your own and is almost impossible to find (unless you have a West African market nearby). Traditionally, kenkey is a fermented corn mash that takes days to prepare properly. You can ferment it on your own (there are instructions available online), or you can use my recipe, which has an almost identical flavor and takes only a few minutes to prepare.

For a more sour kenkey, increase lime juice by ¼ cup and reduce water by ¼ cup.

This recipe makes roughly 6-8 kenkey “tamales.” For this, you’ll need to purchase both masa harina and dried corn husks (masa is a flour made from hominy). Both are available in the Mexican aisle of virtually any grocery store or any Mexican market.

Kenkey goes great with any type of fish and shito or red-red, all eaten by hand. Though not as traditional, kenkey also goes great with a lot of other African proteins, such as mesir mot. Non-vegetarians would love it with tibs and awaze.

Prep time: 1 cocktail

5-15 corn husks, depending on size
3 cups masa harina
1 cups water
½ cup canola oil
3/4 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 tsp salt

Start by soaking the corn husks in a big bowl. Submerge them in hot water and let them soak for at least a half hour. You’ll need something heavy to set on top of the husks so they remain submerged. A brick is what I use.

Now you’re ready to make the kenkey dough. Combine masa, water, oil, lime juice and salt in a large mixing bowl and mix well with a mixer or by hand.

Next, take a fully-soaked corn husk and figure out which is the smoothest side. Set on the counter with smooth side facing up. The stuffing amount will vary depending on the size of the corn husks. But you want to fill the corn husk so that you’ll be able to roll it up.

Roll the kenkey “tamale” like a big hand-rolled cigarette. Tie the two ends securely with string. If you don’t have string, you can tear strips off soaked corn husks to do the job, but this takes a bit longer and the husk strips are easy to tear when tightly pulled.

At this point, you can freeze any kenkey “tamales” you don’t plan on cooking right away. Just stack in a large Tupperware or zip lock bag and place in freezer. You can later prepare frozen tamales by following the steaming directions below (but add a couple extra minutes). Frozen tamales can also be steamed inside their husks right in the microwave (though most purists would pooh-pooh the practice). Cooking times vary on size and number cooked, but ranges from roughly 2 to 10 minutes.

To steam right away, use a bamboo or metal steamer. Stack the tamales so there’s lots of circulation space. Cover and until the masa gets nice and firm and doesn't want to stick to the wrapper when you open it up, which can vary from 45 minutes to two hours, depending on the thickness of each kenkey and how tightly they're packed in the steamer. . Don’t forget to check the water level occasionally!

When done, serve with fish or the protein of your choice and shito.

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