Kontomire is a popular favourite green leaf in the Ghanaian diet, but did you know that there’re many other local greens you could try? Here’re a few nutritious examples!
When it comes to greens in the typical Ghanaian diet in Accra, the go to green is Kontommire leaves. These are usually boiled once, and then cooking water thrown off. They’re then slow-cooked with palm oil and egusi, or sometimes lightly steamed with onions and tomatoes and ground in an asanka and finished with a drizzle of palm oil.
In the last few months, I’ve started looking more deeply into how we prepare kontomire, and I’ve also been experimenting with other local greens to understand the best ways of preparing them to maintain their nutritional value, and new ways which they could be integrated into our busy lifestyles. Here’s your quick start guide!
What: Cocoyam (Taro) leaves – popularly known as kontomire in Ghana – have large firm leaves with thick stem and veins which are shaped like a heart or elephant ears.
Nutritional content: Protein, ascorbic acid, dietary fiber, and other important minerals including, thiamin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin C, niacin, potassium, copper, and manganese.
How to cook it: Traditionally used in palava/palaver sauce and kontomire abom. Cocoyam leaves need to be cooked before eaten or they can cause a throat irritation. They are great in stews, soups and curries to name just a few uses.
Garden egg leaf
What: The garden egg leaves often go by the name gboma in Ghana while the plant is sometimes called the African eggplant and goes by its scientific name solanum macrocarpon. Like the fruit, the young leaves have a mild bitter taste.
Nutritional content: The leaves of the garden egg plant contain protein, iron, calcium and zinc among other nutritional benefits.
How to cook it: It is recommended to lightly blanch, boil for 5-10 minutes (cooking water discarded) before using the greens in your desired dish or preparation. They are a great addition to many soups and stew, including okra stew.
Alefu (Amaranth leaf)
What: Amaranth leaf, African spinach and also known in Ghana as alefu and fotete. The leaves are more delicate than that of kontomire and can be deep green in color or a purple green color.
Nutritional content: Niacin, and a very good source of Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, Copper and Manganese.
How to cook it: This is traditionally used more in the northern and Volta regions of Ghana in stews and soups. It doesn’t need to be cooked so the young leaves can be eaten raw or lightly steamed or sautéed, allowing your body to absorb more of its nutritional value.
What: Commonly called bitter leaf and lesser so ironweed in English and known by its scientific name as Vernonia Amygdalina. The leaves are a dark green hue with a classic leaf shape.
Nutritional content: High protein, fiber and minerals: Iron, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc
How to cook it: Bitter leaf can be eaten raw, juiced or added to smoothies and cooked lightly. This makes it a very versatile green for those with time constraints and looking for quick ways to consume leafy greens. Please note that the traditional method of heavy agitation through washings with water does reduce its nutritional value.
What: These large (almost hand-shaped) leaves are the visible plant of the cassava tuber, called yuca in Latin and South America and manioc in francophone countries. I first got to eat these delicious leaves while living in Liberia. In Ghana, we see them more in the regional cuisine of the northern regions.
Nutritional content: Cassava leaf is high in protein, fiber, vitamins B and C and also contains potassium, calcium, iron among others.
How to cook it: Similar to kontomire, cassava leaves must be cooked before they are consumed to neutralize the naturally occurring toxin in the leaves. Pre-cook the leaves in water for at least 10 minutes, then discard this cooking water before starting to prepare your culinary creation.
What: Locally known as ayoyo in Northern Ghana, these leaves are also known as mallow leaves in English and the scientific name, corchorus. These leaves are a deep green color and an oval shape which comes to a point at the tip. When prepared, the leaves have a texture similar to that of okra.
How to cook it: The leaves are often prepared in a soup which is eaten with tuo zaafi in Ghana.
General advice for buying, storing, and cooking Ghanaian greens
When buying greens, make sure the leaves are a vibrant green color, crisp and not too mature. If you see yellowing leaves, avoid those.
Make sure to wash your leaves in potable water before you store them in the fridge.
When cooking your leaves, just remember that the longer you cook them, the more nutritional value you will lose.
The exceptions to this rule are garden egg leaves, cassava leaves, and kontomire which all require pre-cooking. If you don’t pre-cook these leaves, they’ll cause throat irritations, or worse.
Any Ghanaian greens I might have missed?
My research continues, so if you have other leafy greens you adore that I haven’t mentioned, I’d love to hear more about them. Drop a line and let me know what it is and how you go to preparation for them.
Leafy greens are nutrient dense, high in fiber, rich in antioxidants and have a low glycemic index (low impact on blood sugar) so are a great addition to anyone’s diet.