Ghana: Red Red and Kelewele

Posted by on Sep 12, 2014 in Recipes | 0 comments

Today on our VeganMoFo world tour we head to West Africa to meander for a while in Ghana. I have only spent a few days in Accra, Ghana’s vibrant capital city, and unfortunately, I got to see very little of it and took almost no photos. But for some reason I decided to choose Ghana over Senegal or Nigeria, because I feel really drawn to it.

Ghana is a bit of an anomaly in West Africa. It is a stable and peaceful democracy with quite strong institutions. For example, it has a taxation system that actually collects revenues, and was one of the first countries in the region to put in place programs to provide universal health insurance coverage (although its reach is not quite universal, yet and much needs to be done to strengthen its health system and workforce). While it has benefited from pretty strong economic growth, over the past few years that has begun to stagnate threatening to forestall some of the progress that Ghana has made.

While I was there I did get to go on some great site visits to learn about the country’s efforts to prevent and treat HIV. The highlight was spending time in a maternity hospital that had really great programs to support women living with HIV give birth to healthy, HIV-free kids and help them stay that way through the completion of breastfeeding.

Nurses at maternity center in Accra

Nurses and midwives at a maternity center in Accra

The midwives and nurses that drove that work were inspiring and woman after woman I spoke to there told me how important, critical and life-changing it was knowing that they had these support mechanisms behind them to keep both them and their children healthy.  

The rest of the time I spent being shuttled between my hotel and a hotel on the beach for meetings that were incredibly fraught, long and intense and gave me very little down time. The meetings extended far beyond their scheduled times and I had to run leave before they actually ended. I changed in a bathroom at the airport and boarded my flight back to NY just as news of its outcomes began trickling out. That said, I did get to spend one or two evenings dining with colleagues on the beach.

The first night I was excited to try Ghana’s infamous red red, a stew made with beans and served with fried plantains. It is traditionally vegan, although as I learned, chicken, fish or beef bouillon are often used. I was incredibly disappointed when it arrived and tasted distinctly fishy. I put it aside and ate french fries and a salad instead. Since most of my meals were catered I didn’t have a huge amount of control over what I ate. I remember eating a lot of rice and potatoes, which is a shame, because like many places on the continent vegan food is a core part of the cuisine. 

So today, I’m bringing you a definitely vegan version of red red. I’m told that what makes this dish is its use of red palm oil. Without it, it wouldn’t be red red. Luckily, Nutiva makes an organic red palm oil that is harvested sustainably in Ecuador without destruction to the environment, habitats, or communities and I had a jar of it sitting in my cupboard. It is similar to coconut oil in that it solidifies at room temperature. It has a distinct orange-red color that carries over to the food. I’m sure however that you could use a refined or aroma free coconut oil instead and it would be great.

Red red and kelewele

Red red and kelewele

Red red is normally made with black-eyed peas. And although I could have sworn I had a can of those in my cupboard as well, it seems I didn’t. Instead of running to the store, I decided to use great northern beans instead. I’ve lightened this recipe up; traditionally upwards of a quarter-cup of red palm oil is used. And because I can’t help myself, I added some kale!

Red Red
Serves 2
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Total Time
30 min
Total Time
30 min
  1. 2 tbsps red palm oil
  2. 1 onion, diced
  3. 2 large juicy tomatoes, chopped
  4. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 1 habanero or scotch bonnet chili pepper (you want a very hot chili)
  6. 2 tbsps ginger, grated
  7. 2 tbsps tomato paste
  8. 1 can of black-eyed peas or other firm, white beans
  9. 2 cups kale, chopped
  10. Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat.
  2. When hot add onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes, garlic and chili pepper and sauté until the tomatoes start to break down to make a sauce.
  4. At this point, you can either transfer the ingredients carefully to a large pestle and mortar and grind them together to make a sauce, or blender, or do what I did and use immersion blender to make it creamy and smooth.
  5. Continue to heat the sauce and add ginger, tomato paste, beans and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.
  7. Turn off the heat, stir through the chopped kale, and serve.
Vegan Sweet and Simple
Red red is traditionally served with kelewele, just-ripened fried plantains.  My plantains were a little on the green side, but I actually think that worked really well.  

Serves 2
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  1. 1 large plantain, sliced into ¼ inch discs
  2. ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  3. ½ tsp ginger, grated
  4. Salt and pepper to taste
  5. ¼ cup red palm or other vegetable oil, for frying
  1. Add oil to a large pan and heat.
  2. Toss together the plantains, spices and salt and pepper until plantains are well-coated.
  3. Carefully place plantains, individually, in hot oil. They should not overlap or touch, but float in the oil.
  4. Fry for 3-5 minutes, until nicely browned.
  5. Using tongs carefully turn over and fry the other side until also brown.
  6. When cooked, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil.
  7. Season with a little additional salt and pepper, if desired, and serve.
Vegan Sweet and Simple
Now, the plantains that are served with red red are usually not spiced to act as a counterpoint to the hotness of the beans. But I decided to go ahead anyway and spice the plantains the way that Ghanaians do when they eat it as a snack (yum!).  Why not right? You could do either, but regardless, the combination of spicy beans with crispy plantains is really spectacular! 

Filling, spicy, hearty and delicious!

Filling, spicy, hearty and delicious!

So now that we’ve covered Southern, East and West Africa, tomorrow we’ll head further north! 

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