Try West African cuisine at these dinner parties in the Charlotte area
Charlotte-area chef Awo Amenumey wants Americans to be as comfortable with Ghanaian dishes as they are with Asian and European staples. Red red stew is instantly familiar, with black-eyed peas as the star ingredient, and sweet and tangy banku balls are fun to eat from the hand. But nothing beats the appeal of jollof rice.
“Jollof is just this party dish. You won’t go to any occasion in Ghana – a wedding, an engagement party, a christening ceremony or a funeral – without some sort of jollof on the menu,” said Amenumey, who lives in Concord.
Jollof rice is ubiquitous throughout West Africa. Although originating from the Wolof people of Senegal, most coastal nations including Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cameroon have a version. At its base, it is richly flavored rice cooked in a broth of pureed tomatoes and other vegetables, palm oil and warming spices. Hearty, delicious and common, it’s the kind of dish that can feed a crowd, make generous hosts and happy guests.
While Ethiopian cuisine has been popular in the United States for decades, jollof rice is the first West African dish to break the traditional barrier, thanks to several factors.
In the beginning, when social media allowed users from all over the world to connect, friendly competition arose across the diaspora. Children from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cameroon, living abroad in the US, UK and elsewhere, started bragging about who had the better version. The #jollofwars hashtag has grown in popularity, attracting outside attention and arousing curiosity. August 22 was declared World Jollof Day in 2015. And food historians have claimed a centuries-old American version, linking Louisiana’s iconic jambalaya to its lineage of jollof rice.
Amenumey puts its own stamp on the dish, using smoked shrimp, ginger and coconut milk, and pairing it with greens and protein. She started cooking at the age of 7, with her grandmother and mother in Ghana.
“No one has come to our house and left empty-handed or on an empty stomach. You eat and take more food home. It’s something that’s always been a part of me,” she said.
When she arrived in the United States 17 years ago, she began introducing her neighbors and friends to Ghanaian cuisine. As their dinner parties multiplied, her husband encouraged her to enroll in culinary school. She embarked on catering and launched her company Eh Vivi in 2022, which means tasty in the Ewe language.
Where to taste Amenumey’s jollof rice
Want to try it for yourself? Amenumey has instituted a series of sit-down dinners and now hosts a regular pop-up at the Free Range Brewery in Charlotte every second Tuesday of the month. Pre-orders are needed and are selling out fast.
She hosts a full west africa party later this month at Old North Farm in Shelby.
When: May 28 at 5:30 p.m.
How to order: Tickets are available online.
June Dinner at Free Range:
When: June 13 at 6 p.m.
Cost: $25 (plus $5 each dessert).
How to order: Place your order online when the order becomes available.
This story was originally published May 5, 2023, 6:15 a.m.