Ghanaian waakye has sustained a West African nation and traveled across the Atlantic to inspire Western Black cuisine. This simple recipe will step up your home cooking game.
I typically stick with the Nigerian recipes of my heritage but am putting you onto the proper way to make Ghana waakye in your own kitchen much more easily than you might think. Let' me show you how's get into the details!
In 2023, the theme of Black History Month is Black Resistance and Eat the Culture is recognizing the remarkable and, frankly, underrated resistance of our ancestors in bringing culinary traditions across the Atlantic to shape the vibrance of Black cuisine that we know and love today. They physically and mentally carried African foodways across the deadly Middle Passage to pass down through generations.
This year’s Black History Month Virtual Potluck traces popular dishes of the Diaspora from their West African roots to North America and beyond. You can grab the full list of recipes from this year’s collaboration on the Eat the Culture website. Share these recipes with your friends and loved ones and follow each participant by using the hashtag #BHMVP2023 on Instagram.
What is waakye?
Waakye is a rice and beans dish where the rice and beans are cooked in the same pot at the same time. It originated in northern Ghana with the Hausa* people and the word waakye is shorthand of shinkafa da wake which means rice and beans in the Hausa language.
Our ancestors brought this versatile staple to the American South, Caribbean, and South America. Today, I’m teaching you how to make waakye from Ghana and encourage you to follow the story through cookup rice from Guyana, rice & peas from Jamaica, and hoppin' johns from the United States.
*The borders of African countries were largely drawn by Europeans. As a result, you'll find the same ethnic groups and tribes in multiple neighboring countries. This is the case with Hausas, who are also in Nigeria, where they are credited with creating suya!
What You'll Need for this Recipe
You probably have most of the ingredients to make homemade waakye in your pantry. Here's what to add to your grocery list.
- Black Eyed Peas or cow beans are what traditional waakye calls for.
- Rice used in this recipe is typically white rice like basmati or jasmine but you can use brown instead and extend the cooking time as needed.
- Dried Sorghum Leaves are also called millet leaves or, aptly, waakye leaves. They impart the signature color that Ghana's waakye is known for.
- Baking Soda helps the beans and rice cook more quickly while still yielding a pleasantly soft texture. It also helps the rice take on more of the purple sorghum color so that the rice and beans reach the same hue when finished cooking.
- Sea Salt
Why use baking soda for cooking waakye? Science is the answer! As noted above, baking soda interacts with waakye ingredients to speed up the cooking process and yield a more aesthetic result. Traditionally, limestone is used and baking soda is a readily accessible substitute that serves the same purpose.
So what does waakye taste like?
Waakye has simple, savory flavor that is slightly salty. The sorghum leaves add nothing in the way of flavor but, of course, deep reddish brown color. If you enjoy tender black-eyed peas and fluffy white rice, you'll like this dish.
Tips & Tools for this Recipe
For this small batch of waakye, grab a saucepan and a wooden kitchen spoon. That's pretty much all you'll need! You can also use a knife or scissors to cut the millet leaves into smaller pieces.
Do I have to soak beans for waakye? For the best texture, you should soak the dried black eyed peas in water overnight. They will absorb most of the water and double in size to be quite plump.
How to store cooked waakye? Store refrigerated in an airtight container. It will keep for about five days
Can I freeze it? Yes! Waakye will keep for up to six months in the freezer when stored properly. I recommend dividing into serving size portions and freezing in airtight containers or freezer bags for easy reheating.
How to Serve Waakye
Waakye is a popular Ghanaian street food that has evolved into a staple in many households. It is enjoyed at any time of day for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Traditionally, waakye is served in a banana leaf and accompanied by assorted condiments including stew, chopped salad, spaghetti, boiled egg, and garri.
And sharing is caring so be sure to pin this traditional Ghanaian recipe for later and follow me over on Pinterest. Thanks for reading!
How to Make Waakye at Home
- 1 cup black-eyed peas or cow beans
- 5 dried sorghum leaves
- 3.5 cups water
- 1 cup white rice jasmine or basmati
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- sea salt to taste
Soaking the Beans
- Add black-eyed peas to a bowl and pour in enough water to cover the beans by about one inch. Soak beans in water overnight. They should absorb most of the water and double in size to be plump and slightly softened.
Cooking the Waakye
- Rinse sorghum leaves, beans, and rice, keeping them all separate. Add rinsed leaves to a small saucepan over medium heat then pour in 3.5 cups water.
- Bring water to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes to allow water to take on more color from leaves.
- Remove sorghum leaves from water and raise heat to medium. Add in beans, baking soda, and sea salt and stir until dissolved. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes or until beans have softened further and taken on some of the color.
- Add rice to pot, cover, and continue to cook about 30 minutes or until water has dissipated and both rice and beans reach your desired texture and color.