Etor (or otor) is a traditional yam purée (or sometimes plantain purée) from Ghana enriched with palm oil.
Yam in Ghana
Yam is known as ete in the native Ghana language Ewe and is literally translated as “swollen”. According to the native African tales, yam was an accidental discovery. In one of the hunting expeditions, a hunter discovered this edible tuber in the forest. As it was a severe famine period, he hid it in the ground for later use. When he went back to fetch it, it had germinated and grown much bigger in size. Due to its gigantic physical appearance, yam came to be known as ete and subsequently eto or oto.
The traditional Ghana dish otor is from the Akan and Ga regions. It is a simple concoction made of mashed yams or plantains, which is compulsorily served along with hard-boiled eggs. Cooked yam or plantain is mashed in traditional earthenware called asanka or ayewa, similar to a mortar and pestle, as mentioned when we discussed kakro.
Otor is considered a sacred and celebratory dish in Ghana and it forms an integral part of the Ghanaian culture. The two main components in this dish, yam and eggs play a key role in the Ghanaian traditions and practices.
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Yam is one of the first crops to be harvested in West Africa and the harvest festivals have a great religious significance in the African culture. The annual Ashanti (Asgoli) yam festival is celebrated every year with great pomp and show marking the onset of New Year and new beginnings. The native folks try to finish or dispose of the previous years’ yam before the yam festival.
With the freshly harvested crops, mashed yam and eggs are first offered to Gods and ancestors as a gesture thanksgiving for giving them a prosperous life. After the Dzawuwu (the practice of offering to Gods), the rest of the yam is shared with the community as a communal meal.
How is etor served?
Etor is often served during many Ghanaian festive celebrations. It is a must during the naming ceremony of newborn babies. It also frequents the breakfast table during special occasions like birthdays and weddings. It is also known as the breakfast of the brides. As etor is primarily starchy, it is very filling and keeps brides away from using the restroom frequently during the matrimonial ceremony.
Otor is also served when people recover from illness or accidents. It is also offered to the spirits without salt and pepper to thank them.
Otor is always served along with hard-boiled eggs on the side. Eggs have a great importance in the Ghanaian culture. They are also considered sacred and often used during sacrifices, purification rites, convalescence, and also during puberty ceremonies. The oval shape of the eggs symbolizes fertility and is believed that when a woman eats otor with eggs on her wedding day, it prepares her womb to conceive.
Traditionally, etor is served sprinkled with palm oil fried onions and boiled eggs on the side. The Ga natives of Ghana add onions fried and infused in red palm oil on top of mashed yam, which not only elevates the flavor of the dish but also gives it the bright vibrant orange tint.
Palm oil is the preferred cooking oil in West Africa. From sautéing to frying, palm oil is used in all mediums of cooking. In West African cooking, it is often added directly in soups and sauces to enrich the dishes.
In the present times, etor is also served with roasted peanuts and avocado slices which makes it a wholesome meal.
Yam is not popular worldwide and yam recipes are often confined to African, Latin American and Asian cuisines. It is native to the African region and cultivated mainly in the tropics. There are several varieties of yam and the African type is usually huge and sometimes measures several feet in length. In the West, yam tubers are often interchangeably used with sweet potatoes. They are totally different roots and can’t really be substituted for each other.
Boiling, roasting and frying are the common methods to cook yam. Some of the common yam recipes in Ghana include fufu (another mashed yam dish), mpoto mpoto (yam porridge) and yam croquettes.
In India and Nepal, boiled or steamed yam is seasoned with spices and roasted. In Vietnam, it is used in stews and soups. In Japan, some varieties of yam are eaten raw and some are use used in preparing soba noodles. In Japan, Costa Rica and the Philippines, yam is also used in desserts and ice cream.
- 4 yams
- 2 onions , thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons roasted peanuts
- 4 tablespoons palm oil
- 4 hard-boiled eggs , halved
- 1 avocado (ripe)
- Peel and boil the yams in salt water.
- Drain the yams and crush them roughly with the potato masher.
- Add the palm oil into a saucepan and heat.
- Sauté the onions until they are golden brown (caramelized).
- Pour ¾ of the onions back and the warm palm oil into the yam purée and mix to obtain a homogeneous mixture.
- Serve by garnishing with peanuts, the rest of the onions, the hard-boiled eggs and the avocado.