In this post, you will learn how to make a quintessential Ghanaian recipe — waakye. Waakye in simplicity is rice and beans cooked with sorghum leaves, which gives it a rich burgundy colour. On its own, it is traditionally vegan.
Waakye is a dish originally from the Northern part of Ghana. It is a loose translation of the Hausa phrase rice and beans. Traditionally it is just white rice cooked with black eye peas and saltpetre/baking soda, which gives it a brownish colour. However, someone decided to add sorghum leaves along the way, and now everyone knows waakye to be a bright burgundy rice and beans dish.
What is special about Waakye?
Although on its own it is traditionally vegan, waakye is served with a variety of condiments that makes it a special reflection of Ghanaian cuisine. Waakye is usually served in plantain leaves and eaten with a lot of condiments. These condiments include tomato stew, shitɔ, coleslaw/salad, egg (because it’s a Ghanaian meal), spaghetti, which we call talia, gari (cassava couscous), kelewele, and cow skin or fried fish (obviously I don’t eat anything from an animal so the egg, cow skin and fish are a no for me). However, these condiments can be easily made vegan and make an incredible and fulfilling dish.
What will you need to make this dish?
- Beans: We usually use raw black eye peas. These are the indigenous bean variety in West Africa and sold in a lot of grocery stores.
- Sorghum Stalk: The stalk of the red sorghum variety that grows in Northern Ghana is full of antioxidants. When beans and rice are cooked in this, you get a very beautiful bowl of red rice and beans. Sorghum stalks are found in Ghanaian grocery stores but it is not required. As mentioned above, traditionally, waakye is not made with sorghum stems; however, if you can, please do use the sorghum stalks. It adds a lot of nutrients.
- Baking Soda/Salt Petre (Potassium Nitrate): Baking soda or Salt Petre is essential in this recipe. It makes the beans cook faster and softer. It also darkens the rice.
How to Make Waakye?
I came across a research paper from Ghanaian researchers on the variations of cooking time with the sorghum stem and saltpetre/potash to get the highest among of flavonoids (a group of antioxidants). From what they wrote, the optimal cooking method is to soak the leaves with saltpetre for 12 hours then cook the beans in this solution before adding the rice. Unfortunately, since sorghum stems are a precious commodity at home we cannot afford to soak the stems that long because we save it to use for multiple batches of waakye.
Making Waakye with Sorghum Stems
- The first step is to soak the beans overnight. Soaking overnight shortens the cooking time but it also starts the breakdown process for the phytonutrients that make beans hard to digest
- The next day, the beans are washed and cooked with sorghum stems and baking soda. Once the beans are halfway cooked, add in more water, the rice and salt to taste
- Cover and cook till done
Making waakye with Baking Soda
- Soak the beans overnight.
- The next day, wash well and boil in a lot of water and double the baking soda used with sorghum stems
- When the beans are partly cooked, add in the rice, more baking soda, salt to taste and cook till the rice is tender
You can store the waakye in the fridge for about a week; however, I actually divide the amount in half and freeze on portion; just so that I can have it available should the waakye craving hit
Prep Time: 5+ hours
Cooking Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 6 + hours
- 1 cups dry of black-eyed peas
- 3 cups dry of white rice
- 6 1/4 cups of water to cook the beans and rice
- A pinch of salt
- 1 tsp baking soda (if you are not using the stems it will be about 1 tbsp)
- 6 sorghum stems
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- Soak the beans overnight.
- The next day wash and drain the beans.
- Cook the beans with the sorghum stems at medium-low in a large pot with 4 cups of water. If you are not using the stems, you can just cook the beans in water
- Make sure to leave a crack when closing the pot so that the water does not boil over onto the stoves
- After about 10 minutes add the baking soda. if you are not using the stems, add about 1 tbsp of baking soda
- Let the beans cook for another 10 minutes. At this point, add in your rice, the rest of the water (2 1/4 cups) and mix evenly
- Let the pot come to a boil.
- Once it has come to a boil, turn the heat to low, cover the pot with aluminium foil and let it cook at low heat for about 30 minutes
- After the 30 minutes has passed, check on the waakye to see how well the rice has cooked. Add in some coconut oil if you like and then cover the pot till the rice is done. Should take another 15-20 minutes.