Senior Sarah Ackerman said she’s never considered herself a master chef, but ever since her trip to Ghana in 2011, she has worked hard to recreate the flavors of many West African dishes every year at the Ghana Gala. Ackerman is the donation coordinator of The Ghana Project, the organization that fundraises for education in Ghana and educates individuals about Ghanaian culture.
“After I got home, I realized I really missed them,” Ackerman said. “So I got a cook book and started to practice. They’re never quite as good, but they’re close.”
Ackerman said that Ghanaian food is simple, yet flavorful and that the main dishes are usually organized around high-calorie staple foods, like rice and grains.
“Meat is a sign of wealth and luxury in Ghana,” Ackerman said. “Usually the meals consist of hearty stews, plantains, fermented grains and, of course, a lot of fruits.”
Ackerman explained that the club usually steers clear of some of the more unfamiliar traditional foods, like the fermented grain dishes or starchy dough like foods like fufu or banku, in an effort to cater to their guests’ preference for Westernized cuisine.
“These are American-paletted African foods,” Ackerman said. “While the stuff we make is definitely authentic, we try not to include anything too out of the ordinary – like traditionally Ghanaians will cook the whole fish, eyes and bones and everything, […] or goat meat.”
“[Ghanaians] also eat with their hands a lot, and we provided forks,” she added.
Although The Ghana Project has switched up the menu a little over the years, there are three things that Ackerman said they include every year: jollof rice, “Red Red” bean stew and fried plantains.
Ackerman said these items are not only her personal favorites; they are also authentic staples in Ghanaian dining.
Similar to Spanish paella, East Asian fried rice or jambalaya of Louisiana, jollof rice is a well-known traditional rice recipe that can be made with many variations.
The basic ingredients of the dish include rice, tomato, onion, salt and red pepper, but after the foundation is prepared, nearly any kind of meat, herb or spice can be added.
“Lots of people add chicken to the rice, […] and I know we used ginger tonight,” Ackerman said. “Everybody likes rice and beans – they recognize it; they love it.”
The other popular Ghanaian dish “Red Red” is a bean stew served with fried plantain, earning its name from the palm oil that tints the ingredients. Ackerman said that the fried plantains are a little different each year, but the idea remains the same.
The proceeds from this year’s dinner on Saturday March 1 went to the children of the Agogo Clinic in Ghana, a children’s ward that Geneseo has donated funds and food to over the years.
In addition to the delicious food, the Gala also included a Ghanaian fashion show, several dance numbers, a performance by the Korye Dance Theater and presentations from four different speakers.
Adjunct professor of English Glenn McClure closed the speaker series with warm wishes and congratulations to the club and all those involved in the many Ghanaian projects around Geneseo.
“I hope someday to see the Ghana Gala so big that it no longer fits in the ballroom,” McClure said. “I look forward to many more years of partnership, dedication, celebration and, of course, delicious food.”