Chale sauce will enhance just about any protein
West African cuisine has been pinging on my healthy-food radar a lot lately. Several months ago, I spontaneously picked up a package of fonio — a gluten-free West African grain that has recently become more widely available. I was delighted by this tiny millet, which cooks in just 5 minutes, coming out light and fluffy, with a gentle nutty flavor.
Shortly after that, a friend introduced me to Ginjan Café, in New York City, which features healthful, African-inspired dishes, and a lively, nottoo-sweet signature drink of ginger, pineapple and lemon, which the owners developed to satisfy their longing for a taste of their hometown in Guinea.
Then I met Zoe Adjonyoh and discovered her cookbook, “Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen,” which opened my eyes further to the wealth of healthful ingredients and dishes from that region. In an email exchange with me she wrote, “I think American audiences are only at the beginning of their journey when it comes to foods from across Africa and there is so much to learn and explore which makes the gap exciting, and there are now plenty of cooks, chefs, dietitians and nutritionists from the continent starting to get the word out.”
This recipe, a chale sauce, is inspired by a meal her dad would regularly make for her. Adjonyoh writes in her book that he would whip this sauce up “and then literally throw in any type of meat, fish or vegetarian protein, but it was always tasty.” Its base is a version of a Ghanaian passata, a tomato sauce that is also used as a seasoning element in recipes throughout her book.
When I first made the sauce, as I was adding the spices I felt certain it was going to be way too fiery for me, even with my high heat tolerance, but I was surprised at how the flavors mellowed in the cooked tomato base. Prepared as written, the heat level is a solid medium, which you can certainly adjust to taste.
The sauce’s intense flavor makes it an ideal foil for the richness of fatty fish, such as sardines or mackerel, with all their omega-3 goodness. Using canned or jarred sardines, as in this recipe, also makes it a convenient weeknight meal. Adjonyoh suggests serving the fish and sauce with a squeeze of lemon and with a ball of
banku or kenkey, a big dumpling made with fermented cornmeal (and/or cassava) which can be purchased premade at most African grocers or online.
I enjoyed mine spooned over a bed of the fonio I had just bought, which, along with rice as an alternative, Adjonyoh also recommends.