Red Red

Red Red is a black-eyed pea (cowpea) stew cooked in a gently spiced tomato sauce. It's a great vegan dish that's eaten all day long in Ghana—as an alternative to baked beans for breakfast, or a bean casserole for lunch or dinner. It's usually eaten with fried ripe plantains. Seek out red palm oil in well-stocked grocery stores or African markets—it's the key to the stew's vibrant color. Recipe adapted with permission from Zoe's Ghana Kitchen, Hachette Book Group, 2021.

Red Red in a bowl
Photo: Brittany Conerly
Active Time:
30 mins
Total Time:
1 hr 30 mins

Hundreds of nutritious fruits, vegetables and grains are indigenous to the African continent, where the cuisines of each country and region are as diverse as the crops that grow there. Our series, African Heritage Diet as Medicine: How Black Food Can Heal the Community, explores the African Heritage Diet and highlights some of the most nutrient-dense foods found on the African continent and treasured by the diaspora. This dietary pattern—introduced by Oldways—promotes health outcomes associated with longevity and increased vitality and features foods that are most likely to be available worldwide.

The Revolutionary Act of Cooking with Red Palm Oil

Every culture has a celebrated bean or pulse dish—an everyday staple that is nourishing, affordable and easy to cook in large or small quantities. I would suggest that Red Red, a simple black-eyed pea stew, cooked with plenty of palm oil, onions and tomatoes, is that dish for Ghana.

An aunt told me the double red in the name comes from the crimson red palm oil, intrinsic to the dish's flavor profile, and the style of plantain served with it—also fried in red palm oil. Another aunt insists it's red twice because of the oil and tomato. Either way, the name makes sense. It's Red and Red. Red Red. It's worth saying twice, it's that delicious.

And it's impossible to discuss Red Red without talking about its primo ingredient: red palm oil, called zomi in Ghana.

Believe it or not, when I started writing my cookbook Zoe's Ghana Kitchen in 2014, the predominantly White publishing industry and food media was obsessed with critiquing this particular ingredient with well-intentioned sustainability concerns. It felt important, brave, if you will, for me to insist upon the inclusion of the ingredient red palm oil in recipes like Red Red and to defend our cultural use of it.

It was a relief to know that my small insistence meant something to early diasporic readers of the cookbook. I recall when Yewande Kamolafe, among many others, thanked me through my DMs for finding strength in disrupting the narrative around red palm. Some years later Kamolafe went on to write an excellent piece for Medium on red palm oil, which integrated the many well-intentioned but ill-leveled criticisms on the issue:

"If you are concerned about issues within our food system—exploitation of labor, land rights, water rights, deforestation, habitat destruction, to name just a few—the production of the palm oil primarily consumed outside of West Africa involves all of these. If you've interacted with media reports about palm oil, you've likely encountered facts, opinions, culpability, concessions, convenient omissions, and well-intentioned corporate doublespeak, often all at once," Kamolafe writes.

When I speak of decolonizing the food industry, this is exactly what I refer to: stripping back false narratives led by the White gaze's limited experience of external cultural practices, traditions and sentiment.

Red palm oil is the product of the oil palm tree, which is indigenous to Western and Central Africa. It's a pantry staple for myself and most West Africans, giving dishes cooked with it a singular earthy, floral, smoky flavor and deep orange or crimson red coloring (depending on the variety of palm fruit).

For centuries, red palm oil has been farmed locally, organically and sustainably on small farms across West and Central Africa and Asia for both culinary and medicinal use. Research shows its unrefined form is packed with antioxidants like beta carotene, which promotes good vision and boosts immunity, and vitamin E, which helps protect your cells from oxidative damage. It can also help control blood pressure and is a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.

White palm oil, on the other hand, is one of the world's most consumed vegetable oils. It's used in a wide range of consumer goods—from lipstick to shampoo and instant noodles to ice cream—and is industrially farmed by multinational corporations.

As Kamolafe points out in her piece for Medium, "Extracting the oil typically requires industrial processes that go beyond most traditional West African culinary practices." This is an essential distinction that highlights how West Africans should not be made complicit in the destructive profit motives of multinational corporations whose poor practices in the farming of white palm oil have created swathes of deforestation and ecological destruction including displacement of indigenous species, such as orangutans.

Red palm oil is delicious. It's a beautiful, unique ingredient that is irreplaceable. There is no other oil that tastes like it! It is inherent to this dish, and so I urge you to do any extra legwork to source it responsibly through African-owned sustainable red palm oil brands. Seek it out, then fall in love with this unique profile which will revolutionize your pantry.


  • 1 cup dried black-eyed peas or 1 15-ounce can no-salt-added black-eyed peas, rinsed

  • 5 tablespoons red palm oil

  • 1 medium red onion, finely diced

  • 1 (1 inch) piece ginger, finely grated

  • 1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper

  • ½ red Scotch bonnet pepper, seeded and diced

  • ½ teaspoon chili powder

  • ½ teaspoon curry powder

  • 1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground alligator pepper (see Note) or ground black pepper

  • ½ teaspoon salt


  1. If using dried beans, bring 6 cups water, black-eyed peas and 1 teaspoon salt (optional) to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about 1 hour. Drain.

  2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add onion, ginger, crushed red pepper and Scotch bonnet; cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Stir in chili powder and curry powder. Add tomatoes and their juice, tomato paste, pepper and salt; stir to combine. Cook at a bare simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes start to break down, about 30 minutes.

  3. Add the drained (or rinsed canned) beans. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick, 45 minutes to 1 hour.


Alligator pepper, aka grains of paradise, is native to West Africa and related to cardamom. It has a strong, peppery flavor with hints of citrus. Look for it at African markets or online.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

323 Calories
18g Fat
33g Carbs
10g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 4
Serving Size 3/4 cup
Calories 323
% Daily Value *
Total Carbohydrate 33g 12%
Dietary Fiber 10g 36%
Total Sugars 8g
Protein 10g 20%
Total Fat 18g 23%
Saturated Fat 9g 45%
Vitamin A 1519IU 30%
Vitamin C 29mg 32%
Vitamin E 4mg 27%
Folate 254mcg 64%
Vitamin K 6mcg 5%
Sodium 327mg 14%
Calcium 66mg 5%
Iron 4mg 22%
Magnesium 74mg 18%
Potassium 597mg 13%
Zinc 2mg 18%

Nutrition information is calculated by a registered dietitian using an ingredient database but should be considered an estimate.

* Daily Values (DVs) are the recommended amounts of nutrients to consume each day. Percent Daily Value (%DV) found on nutrition labels tells you how much a serving of a particular food or recipe contributes to each of those total recommended amounts. Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the daily value is based on a standard 2,000 calorie diet. Depending on your calorie needs or if you have a health condition, you may need more or less of particular nutrients. (For example, it’s recommended that people following a heart-healthy diet eat less sodium on a daily basis compared to those following a standard diet.)

(-) Information is not currently available for this nutrient. If you are following a special diet for medical reasons, be sure to consult with your primary care provider or a registered dietitian to better understand your personal nutrition needs.

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