Thursday, November 23, 2006

Small Chop - Part One

This post is going out to all my brothers from Ghana living away from home, especially my man Sir Irafath aka Kubolo Bway aka Ningbo. No home cooked meal here in China is complete without you dude. So growing up in Ghana an integral part of every dinner was ‘Small Chop’. Now some people might say ‘what is the big deal about small chop, it just an appetizer for gods sake.’ NO!!! It was a way of life man. It was getting together in the living room with your whole family at 6 in the evening, maybe having a relative or friend drop over. Mom or Dad would be calling out to the maid, ‘Charity! Quick quick bring Blae Labal Bhiskey and small chop. Make E bring plenty SHITTO’. The grown ups would kick back with their Johnny Walker Black Label, plenty ice, and soda while we youngsters would be allowed to suck on one Coke or Fanta. We would spend an hour or 2 consuming a wide variety of fried dishes like kebabs, pakoras, kachoris, spring rolls, and other hot h’ordervres (I can’t spell that) while talking story and passing time. Each bite would be graciously dipped in SHITTO, a home made Ghanaian hot pepper concussion. ‘Small Chop’ was family time in the most Sindhi way possible. Where some families played sports together, we would sit around consuming unhealthy fried foods and learning by example from our parents how to hold down our liquor. Those were the days. I paid a little too much attention I think.


Earlier tonight I was invited to my Uncles house for dinner, so having had some good practice cooking over the last few months I decided to attempt some ‘Small Chop’ and revitalize some of those old memories. I bought this blender a few months ago with the intention to make smoothies for myself every morning. It is a magnificent machine, and I only broke it out of the box last week. So much for healthy living. So I finally put the blender to use making some SHITTO to go with my ‘Small Chop’. And now that it is out of the box I will probably use it to blend some margaritas this Sunday.



Real Ghanaian SHITTO is actually a cooked mix of local peppers, spices, and fish. What we called SHITTO in our Indian homes should correctly be referred to as MOKO. But being a Sindhi boy through and through, I will call it SHITTO. For the mix I used salt, 1 tomato, 1 onion, 4 cloves of garlic, a large piece of ginger, 7 red hot chilly peppers (not including Anthony, Flea, Chad, and John), and 2 green peppers just for flavor and color. I also believe it is healthy for peppers from different walks of life to integrate.



I pealed the ingredients that needed to be pealed and cut them into large chunks. I just wanted to give the blender a bit of a hand. Also I think if I just blended all the stuff in large pieces they would not really work their way around the mix. This way I feel the ingredients get a chance to mingle before they get unified and ultimately become one.



The ingredients are then placed in the blender. I guess you could just dump it all in but I put a little bit of everything in first making sure the larger items like the onions and tomatoes are on the bottom. I give the blender a short whirl creating more space and then add the rest of the stuff in, the peppers falling on top, making sure to add all the pepper seeds because they really pack the punch. This method prevents the blender from getting too stuffy and uncomfortable. Plus the items get merged better this way. This is also a good time to add the salt. I used a generous table spoon or more because the tomatoes can cause the SHITTO to be a bit on the sweet side. But salt is quite a relative ingredient that depends on an individual’s personal taste.



While the items were being blended I gave the machine a good shaking, insuring that all the ingredients had a chance to get acquainted with the blades on the bottom. I did not want to leave them in there too long either causing the mixture to become too watery. What I ended up with was this salmon colored lumpy muddle. Upon opening the lid of the blender I was hit with a strong smell of chilly. It was quite mouth watering.



The SHITTO is actually ready for consumption at this point and it goes great with fried yam. The fresh tomato flavor is still prominent. But although it is good with yam in this state, for fried foods it is still a bit too thin and watery. Plus it has a very short life span in this condition. I like to take the SHITTO a step further and give it a good cooking. I heated up my wok really hot and dropped in a generous amount of oil. But not too generous, you don’t want to spoil the sauce.



Once the sauce hit the pan it really started to sing and the pungent aroma of spices filled the kitchen. Luckily I did have my vents on but a weaker man would have wept. I on the other hand was curiously aroused. The SHITTO begins to change color from a dark salmon to an orange hue once it heats up. I guess this is a good sign. I kept the heat on high and continued to stir the sauce as it cooked. It was quite a messy affair because the SHITTO was not just content to sing, she had to dance as well. And dance she did all over my white t-shirt. Warning, do not cook SHITTO in a white t-shirt. I think it was important to keep the lid off and the sauce moving so it would not stick or over cook.



I can not really say how long I let the sauce cook for. I am not a very methodical cooker. I do not follow recipes from books or use measuring tools. Cooking for me is based on instinct and taste. That is probably why I am not a very good cook. So I proceeded to stir the sauce occasionally, gradually reducing the heat, having a taste every now and then, and it was good. It was not too spicy for me but just right where you can have a good dollop on every bite and break a bit of a sweat.



I left the sauce to cool in what I would consider to still be a pretty liquidy state. As in it was not a complete paste as yet. After about 45 minutes playing a really cool Chinese hacky sack type thing that I will write about another day downstairs I came back to the SHITTO which had cooled and gave it another high heat cooking for about 5 minutes. I finally ended up with this bright orange paste which is exactly what I wanted. I figure in this state I can keep it for a week at least. If I added more oil and kept cooking the SHITTO I think I would end up as a bright red oily paste that could live for way longer.



The SHITTO was supposed to provide me a condiment for my fried food but as things stood I was thinking vice versa. I was pretty temped to make a SHITTO sandwich, but I held out. Because I know if I did that, my ass would be making some serious contributions to an unfortunate porcelain god tonight. There is still more preparation to come but its 1am now and I am knackered so this post is going to have to end with a TO BE CONTINUED…

1 comment:

drooling like crazy... said...

queee! magnificent, what a work of art! trust me son, not only does the Shitto look fingerlikin' good but your writing needs to get recognized (save the spelling errors)! I tell you, this post and another past article by a friend of mine from high school about kelewele (Lydia Polgreen, dunno if you ever knew her) have made my mouth water and my heart chant with happiness more than any other article ive read about food... guess im just a true ghanaman at heart.

true say about the smallchop days, never realized till now that there was more to us just chopping and that it was a time to wind down a hectic day together as a family... (typical sindhi culture?)

(Lydia's article if you ever wanted to read it... http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/01/dining/01ghana.html?ex=1296450000&en=f328262b060f2c20&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss )