Ghanaian fritters and Venezuelan corncakes: Yotam Ottolenghi’s street food recipes

Lifestyle

One of the many joys of street food is that you can move on from one country to another as soon as your tummy allows. Last week, we were in Mauritius and Brazil, snacking on jackfruit kati rolls and prawn pasties, and, having had seven days to digest those, I hope you’re all up for round two today. This time, we’re off to Ghana and Venezuela. As with so much street food, these dishes are best eaten by hand, standing up outside next to people you’ve just met. I may not be able to conjure up new friends, especially in these times, but I can supply recipes that will transport you to far-flung places.

Arepas with feta, ancho and smashed avocado (pictured above)
Masarepa is cooked and ground white or yellow cornmeal (you need the white variety here); don’t confuse it with masa harina, which is corn treated with lime to remove the germ and outer lining before being ground, because that has an altogether different flavour and texture (and makes it more suited for making tortillas). You can buy masarepa at international supermarkets and online (the Pan brand being the most common), so, if need be, bookmark this recipe for when you can get your hands on some. I’ve added egg yolk to the dough, which, though not traditional, softens and enriches it in a really welcoming way.

Prep 20 min
Cook 1 hr
Serves 4 as a light lunch or starter

320g pre-cooked white cornmeal (masarepa or harina Pan)
Salt
20ml olive oil
2 large egg yolks
500ml lukewarm water
100g feta, finely crumbled
120g block hard mozzarella, roughly grated
2½ tbsp (10g) fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and roughly ground in a mortar
2 tsp ground ancho chilli, toasted (or about 1 dried ancho chilli, ground)
½ tsp paprika
1 large avocado
1 large plum tomato, cut in half lengthways and then sliced into 16 half-moons
1 tbsp lime juice

Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Put the cornmeal and a teaspoon and a half of salt in a large bowl and mix to combine. Add a tablespoon of the oil and the egg yolks, then slowly pour in the lukewarm water. Use your hands to bring everything together into a dough, then knead for a couple of minutes to get rid of any lumps. Leave to rest for five minutes, then, with slightly damp hands, divide into eight roughly 100g pieces and roll into balls. Flatten the balls into 10cm-wide discs, use wet hands to smooth out any cracks, then lay out the arepas on a tray lined with greaseproof paper.

Put a teaspoon of oil in a large frying pan on a medium-high heat. Once hot, cook the arepas four at a time for about three minutes on each side, until nicely coloured. Transfer to a tray lined with baking paper and repeat with the remaining arepas and teaspoon of oil. Transfer the arepas to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, flipping them over once halfway, until crisp and cooked through the middle (they will still be a little soft in the centre). Set aside for five minutes, to cool slightly.

While the arepas are cooling, combine the cheeses, coriander, cumin, ancho, paprika and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl.

In a second bowl, roughly mash the avocado with the lime juice, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper.

Once the arepas are cool enough to handle, lay them out flat and use a small, sharp knife to open them up to create a little pocket, much as you would a pitta; take care to keep one end sealed. Stuff the arepas with the cheese mixture, return to the tray and bake for another eight minutes, until the cheese has melted.

Remove and, once cool enough to handle, stuff each arepa with some mashed avocado and two slices of tomato. Transfer to a platter and serve warm.

Gilbert’s kaaklo

Kaaklo is hugely popular in Ghana, both as a street food and as a side dish. It’s a fritter made from plantains that are so ripe, their skins are completely black (though fruit with some patches of yellow will still work). Ask your grocer for the blackest plantains they have, or plan ahead and give them time to ripen at home in a dark, warm place. Thanks to Ixta’s dear friend Gilbert Johnson for this recipe.

Prep 10 min
Cook 20 min
Makes 12 fritters

20g fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small onion, peeled and quartered (120g)
1 small garlic clove, peeled
¼ scotch bonnet, finely chopped (or 1 mild red chilli, if you prefer less heat)
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
3 very ripe, black, soft plantains, peeled
25g fresh coriander, finely chopped (about 6-7 tbsp in all)
2 tbsp plain flour
Salt and black pepper
2 tbsp maple syrup (optional – you’ll need this to add sweetness only if the plantains are not completely black and soft)
30g ready roasted and salted cashew nuts, or peanuts
¼ tsp smoked paprika
800ml sunflower oil, for frying
Flaked sea salt, to serve
2 limes, cut into wedges, to serve

Put the ginger, onion, garlic, chilli, ground cloves and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until the onion is very finely chopped. Add the plantain and pulse again, so you end up with a mixture that isn’t completely smooth – you want some small pieces of fruit in there.

Scrape the plantain mixture into a bowl and stir in the coriander, flour, half a teaspoon of salt and a lot of pepper (about 40 or so twists of the grinder); if you didn’t start off with very black, soft plantains, at this stage stir in the maple syrup, too.

In a mortar, coarsely crush the cashew nuts (or very finely chop them by hand), stir in the paprika and transfer to a small serving bowl.

Heat the oil in a medium saute pan or wok set over a medium-high heat. Once the oil is very hot (180C, if you have a temperature probe), and cooking in batches, carefully drop in large, roughly 60g spoonfuls of the batter and fry for three to four minutes, turning the fritters once halfway, until they’ve formed a dark brown crust. Remove with a slotted spoon, transfer to a tray lined with kitchen paper and repeat with the remaining batter – you should end up with 12 fritters.

Sprinkle generously with flaked sea salt, squeeze over the lime wedges and serve with the cashew crumble alongside, for dipping.