Fufu (foo-foo, foufou, or foutou) is a snappily-named West African starchy staple, eaten as an accompaniment for stews or other dishes with sauce. Fufu is to West African cooking what mashed potatoes are to American cooking: familiar comfort food. Though to those of us used to mashed potatoes, fufu can seem rather gummy in texture.

In West Africa, fufu is usually made from yams, sometimes in combination with plantain; in Central Africa, it is commonly made from cassava. In a pinch, fufu can be made from any starchy ingredient: semolina, rice, or even instant mashed potato or Bisquick. No matter what it's made from, however, its preparation involves boiling, pounding, and vigourous beating until the mixture is thick and smooth.

Should you be overcome by a sudden urge to make fufu, you'll need a few pounds of yams. Use large white or yellow yams, not sweet potatoes, which are not the same thing; or a combination of yam and plantain. You can add a little butter if you like.

The cheaters way of making fufu is to put the yams (and plantains or whatever) in a large pot. Cover them with cold water, bring them to a boil and cook until they are soft, about 30 minutes. Drain yams and cool by running under cold water; when cool enough to handle, peel. Put the yams in a bowl (or back in the empty pot), add butter if desired, and mash them with a potato masher, then stir energetically with a wooden spoon until completely smooth. This might require the services of two people: one to hold the bowl while the other one stirs. Or put the bowl on a damp tea towel to hold it steady, although if you're a vigorous stirrer this probably won't be sufficient to hold the bowl still.

The authentic West African way to make fufu is to place the partially mashed yam is placed in an earthenware bowl on the ground and pounded with a huge pestle. Such hard work is, of course, women's work, and it too requires the services of two. Usually one woman pounds while the other waits till the pestle is raised, then reaches in and deftly turns the fufu. You think she'll get her fingers squashed like slugs on the highway, but she doesn't. They joke and sing while they're doing this, too.

Shape the fufu into balls and serve immediately with meat stew and gravy or any saucy dish. To eat it, tear off a bite-sized piece with your fingers and use it to scoop up your meat and sauce. Who needs forks?

I often saw people making fufu when I was a young tyke in Ghana, and I ate it lots of times too, but I've never made it myself. I got the recipe and tips from

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