Food by the Book: Ghanaian family struggles to make US home

Gyasi mentions two traditional Ghanaian dishes in “Transcendent Kingdom,” spicy millet porridge known as koko, and jollof rice. A major hit with Gifty and her brother, though, is Chick-fil-A. Two copycat recipes are pictured here. 

“Transcendent Kingdom” is the new novel by Yaa Gyasi, author of 2016’s award winning “Homegoing,” and a 2020 Read with Jenna pick. It is the story of Gifty, a Harvard graduate and PhD student at Stanford whose parents had emigrated from Ghana to Alabama before she was born. Although fiction, the novel’s themes are authentic, as Gyasi’s family came to America through the same route.

At once exploring the immigrant experience, questions of race, growing up in America, and a family’s problem with addiction and depression, Gyasi’s story has universal appeal on many levels, while also presenting a unique perspective. Gifty’s character is raised in an evangelical tradition, and she spends time with her grandmother in Ghana during the summers. Her father, known affectionately as the Chin Chin Man, growing weary of racial epithets and false accusations because of his color, eventually returns to Ghana. This leaves Gifty, her older brother Nana, and their mother to fend for themselves.

As her mother’s depression continues to set in and her brother dies of opioid addiction, Gifty turns to the study of neuroscience to try to understand the process of addiction and mental illness. Citing real scientific studies, Gyasi gives us insight into current theories on mental illness, such as the idea that schizophrenics in Ghana hear kinder voices in their heads than their American counterparts who hear startling, violent rantings. Her depressive mother’s response is to pray, and that includes spending one’s moral life as an example of living prayer.

From an argument involving soccer snacks of Capri Sun and oranges to red Solo cups, Chic-fil-A, and the opioid crisis, “Transcendent Kingdom” explores the common nuances of American life. It also explores, as the title says, the ways in which man has been the only animal whose amazing brain has enabled him to go beyond his scientific kingdom. From it we learn that the answer to the constant “I’m fine” we all mutter is “ebeyeyie,” it will be alright.

Gyasi mentions two traditional Ghanaian dishes, spicy millet porridge known as koko, and jollof rice. A major hit with Gifty and her brother, though, is Chick-fil-A. Here are a couple of popular copycat recipes from the well-known chain.

Chicken Salad

According to Chick-fil-A’s website, this entrée left the menu in 2017. Key to its flavor was using a food processor to blend ingredients equally. This is a common chicken salad recipe in everyone’s repertoire.

4 chicken breasts, cooled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 1/2 celery stalks, washed, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/3 cup of sweet pickle relish

1/2 cup of mayonnaise

2 hard-boiled eggs, cooled and peeled

Using a food processor, mix chicken, celery, mayonnaise, and relish on low or medium for 5 seconds. Add eggs one at a time and continue processing for up to 10 additional seconds or until salad is chopped to desired consistency. Serve on whole wheat bread.

Superfood Side Salad

This salad was replaced on the Chick-fil-A menu by Kale Crunch in 2020. Superfood Side remains a favorite with fans. Here you can make your own adaptation. I had to use regular broccoli in place of the broccolini.

4 cups kale, loosely chopped or torn

Maple vinaigrette to taste (see below)

1 bunch broccolini, chopped

1/2 cup dried cherries

Toasted walnuts

Crushed croutons

Combine the kale, broccolini, dried cherries, and nuts in a large bowl. Add vinaigrette to the salad, and toss well. Top with crushed croutons. Serve.

Maple Vinaigrette

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

1/4 teaspoon black pepper to taste

Whisk together olive oil, maple syrup, cider vinegar, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Season dressing with salt and pepper; whisk until the dressing is well blended. Source:

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