Rice, Legumes and Roots

Image: Pot of fufu, or yam paste balls, alongside a pot of spinach


Fufu, also written foufou, foutou, is a staple food of West and Central Africa akin to mashed potatoes in Euro-American cooking. In Africa, fufu is also made from cassava, cocoyam, plantain or rice. It is a standard accompaniment to spicy soups, stews and sauces such as chicken-groundnut stew or mokoto.

To make about ten 1-1/2-inch balls

  • 1-1/2 pounds yam
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons salt

With a sharp knife, slice the yam crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds and then peel each slice, cutting 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep into the flesh to remove all the skin. As you peel the yam, drop the slices into a bowl of cold water to prevent discoloration.

Combine the yam, water and salt in a heavy 2- to 3-quarter saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan tightly, and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the yam is tender enough to be easily mashed with a fork.

Drain the yam slices in a large sieve or colander. Then puree them through a food mill set over  a large, heavy earthenware or metal bowl.

Using an up-and-down motion, pound the yam vigorously with a large pestle or the smooth side of a wooden kitchen mallet. After four or five strokes, dip the pestle or mallet into cold water to keep the yam moist as you pound and to prevent it from sticking to the pestle. Repeat for about 10 minutes, or until the yam forms a compact but slightly sticky paste.

To shape the fufu into balls, fill a mixing bowl with cold water and set it beside a large, flat plate. Sprinkle a little water on the plate and moisten your hands lightly. Lift up about 1/4 cup of yam paste and roll it between your palms and across the plate until it is a smooth, firm ball and its surface appears shiny and somewhat translucent. Moisten your hands and the plate again from time to time if necessary.

Arrange the yam fufu balls attractively on a platter and serve at once, or cover them tightly with foil or plastic wrap and set them aside at room temperature for up to 2 hours before serving.