Conkie [Kankee, as it is pronounced in Guyana] is a sweet dish made with cornmeal, pumpkin, coconut, sugar and warm spices steamed in a banana leaf. Some variations include adding wheat flour and sweet potatoes to the dough. My recipe is simple but delicious. Other Caribbean Islands have similar versions of Conkie although called differently. In Trinidad it is called Paime, in Barbados Conkies and in Jamaica Duckanoo. If you have a different name for this dish, share it in the comments, I would love to know.
Conkie is African in Origin
Conkie came to the Caribbean by way of enslaved Africans forced to work on sugar plantations. It is a little similar to Ghanian Kenkey and because Conkie and Kenkey sound so similar I often thought that they were connected. However, Kenkey is made from fermented cornmeal and is savory not sweet. No spices are added to Kenkey, just a touch of salt if needed. My Ghanaian neighbor makes Kenkey often and serves it with steamed fish. When I explained to him what Conkie was he said it sounds more like Banku. I did some research and Ghanian Banku also includes fermented cornmeal.
As I continued my internet search I saw recipes for Nigerian Koki Corn. This looks closest to Conkie and although it was made savory, I can see similarities in Koki and Conkie. Even the names sound almost the same. I love learning about dishes and their origins. The more time I spent reading up on steamed cornmeal dishes it seemed that every culture has one. Like this recipe for Pilipino Suman Mais. It is basically Conkie made on the other side of the world. I love this about food. It transcends cultures and continents. It crosses rivers and oceans and connects people in an amazing way.
The mixture or dough for Conkie is critical in making this delicious dish. A too runny or wet dough will result in a mushy conkie. Too stiff and the conkie will be dry. While recording the steps for this recipe post, I experimented with different combinations of ingredients and how they impacted the final results. Below are my discoveries.
Cornmeal: Fine (corn flour) versus Coarse
- Fine cornmeal or cornflour was the clear winner. Coarse cornmeal made the conkie dry and grainy. For gluten free option I like Bob's Red Mill Corn Flour, linked here. But really any corn flour or fine cornmeal will do.
- Fresh (grated): When I grated fresh pumpkin you could see the tiny shreds of the pumpkin in the conkie and the conkie retained a yellow color. This however didn't impact the taste of the conkie and was quite time consuming to prepare.
- Frozen (pureed in the food processor): When using frozen pumpkin, I steamed them in the microwave, following instructions on the package then pureed in my food processor. The taste of the conkie was not compromised with this ingredient. It tasted exactly as the one using the fresh pumpkin. The color however was richer than the pale yellow of the conkie using fresh pumpkin
- Canned (Pumpkin pie puree): As a last resort option I decided to try canned pumpkin puree, the kind you would use in pumpkin pie. I bought a can of organic pumpkin puree and added it to one of my conkie batches. And what do you know that was my best batch. The texture was smooth and melted in my mouth. The flavors were rich and had an almost pumpkin pie taste (which I love). This version of conkie tastes almost like a smooth and creamy pumpkin pone and this is the recipe I am sharing today.
- Freshly Grated: This labor intensive process was thought to be a must try for conkie making. My Aunt scolded me that Conkie needs that really smooth coconut that only grating can provide. It was totally not worth it. I achieved the same consistency with my food processor. Sorry Aunty.
- Frozen: I bought frozen shredded and frozen grated coconut, defrosted both and added separately to the food processor and blended until almost paste like. Surprisingly the shredded coconuts were the best. The texture was smooth and almost paste like. I think because the grated coconut was already in tiny pieces it clumped together and didn't work well in the food processor. If you are using frozen coconut be sure to squeeze out all of the liquid before processing. You can add that liquid back into your Conkie to replace coconut milk in my recipe below.
Fat and milk (Dairy Versus Coconut):
- The coconut oil was the clear winner for me. It added to the rich coconut flavor of the conkie and complimented the delicate texture of the final dish.
- Same for the coconut milk. I used a full fat canned coconut milk and it really impacted the final product. My conkie batch that included coconut oil and coconut milk instead of dairy got two thumbs up from everyone. The texture and flavor was unmatched. Give it a try and see for yourself.
Working with Banana Leaves
You can find banana leaves at your local Asian or Latin/Mexican supermarket. Dried corn husk (the kind used for tamales) is also a good substitute. You must soften banana leaves before using to wrap the conkie or they will not be pliable. In the Guyana and the Caribbean we soften banana leaves by quickly running them over a low flame. To soften my banana leaves, I washed them then while still wet put each individual piece into the microwave for 30 seconds. It was perfect.
Wrapping the Banana Leaf
Once softened, the banana leaf is perfect for wrapping Conkie. I used bakers twine (all I had on hand) to tie my conkie packets, but kitchen twine or any kid of string will work. When tying the banana leaves with the twine be careful not to wrap the twine too tightly or it will make indentations on the conkie.
Using Aluminum Foil
I also tried making my Conkie in parchment paper and aluminum foil. It was much easier than the banana leaf but the taste was slightly different. The texture of the aluminum foil Conkies were drier than the banana leaf conkie. I think the banana leaf is a perfect vessel and keeps it moist and creamy, but if you don't have banana leaves use corn husks or as a last resort use the foil. If you use foil and parchment paper, I highly recommend eating it fresh.
Steaming the Conkie
In Cynthia Nelson's beautiful cookbook Tastes Like Home she shares some traditional methods for steaming conkie, such as using the hard part of the banana leaves to make a steamer. My banana leaves didn't come with those hard veins so I used left over leaves in the bottom of the pot (see video). For the aluminum foil and parchment version I used sheets of aluminum foil to prevent the packets from sinking to the bottom. You can also buy a steamer pot like this one for easy steaming. And as a last resort you can add the conkie directly to some boiling water for a shallow boil, as pictured below.
After 15 minute of steaming my conkie was perfection. I did notice that the longer I cooked it the dryer it became no matter what method of steaming I used. Please don't over cook your conkie or it will be dry and not as tasty.
Bonus Tip: I made about 6 batches of Conkie over the coarse of a few days while testing different variations. By batch 6 I wanted to freeze some and save for another day. I portioned out the raw conkie dough/batter/mixture and wrapped in parchment paper and froze them. Then when I was writing up this post I really wanted to eat a conkie, so I placed one of the frozen raw conkies into a bowl with some water (about ½ cup of water) and I microwaved it for 3 minutes. the cookie was really good. Not as smooth and creamy as steaming, but good enough to satisfy my instant craving.
Save It For Later
The Printable Conkie Recipe:
- ½ cup of fine cornmeal or corn flour
- 1 cup of pureed pumpkin
- ¼ cup of granulated sugar may substitute for coconut sugar
- 1 heaping cup of grated coconuts
- 2 tablespoons of coconut oil melted
- ¼ cup of full fat coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon of fresh grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of almond essence
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- ¼ cup of raisins rinsed (optional)
- Banana leaves for wrapping the conkie optional
Equipment for steaming the conkie
- Parchment paper
- Aluminum Foil Wrap
- Steamer Pot optional
- Combine all the ingredients (except the raisins) in a large mixing bowl and mix together well until mixture has a smooth paste-like consistency
- Then add the raisins and continue to combine until fully incorporated
Using Banana leaves
- Cut banana leaves into 8-10 inch pieces, ensuring that there are no tears or holes in the pieces selected
- Carefully wash the banana release removing any cob webs or other insect residues
- Place each piece of banana leaf in the microwave and microwave for 30 seconds then remove from the microwave and wipe dry with a towel
- Next place the banana leaf on a flat surface then add about ½ cup of the conkie mixture to the center of the leaf
- Then fold over (see video) concealing the mixture inside the leaf and tie with kitchen twine
Using Parchment Paper and Aluminum Foil
- Cut parchment paper and aluminum foil into 8-10 inch pieces
- Then add the conkie mixture to the center of the parchment paper and fold to conceal the mixture within the parchment paper
- Next securely wrap the folded parchment paper in aluminum foil ensuring that there are no openings for water to get to the conkie
Cooking the Conkie
- Add enough water to a large saucepan on high heat and bring to a roaring boil
- If you are using banana leaves add some reserved banana leaves to the bottom of the pot, then add the wrapped conkies. Then cover, reduce the heat to medium and steam for 15 minutes. Be sure to check on the conkies to ensure the water doesn't cook down before the cooking time is up. Keep a pot of boiling water going so that you can add hot water at any point if needed.
- If using parchment paper and foil add a few sheets of aluminum foil to the bottom of the pot, then add the foil wrapped conkies. Then cover, reduce the heat to medium and steam for 15 minutes. Be sure to check on the conkies to ensure the water doesn't cook down before the cooking time is up. Keep a pot of boiling water going so that you can add hot water at any point if needed.
- As a last resort you can add the conkie directly to the pot of boiling water, making sure that the water does not come more than half way up the conkie. Cover the conkies and steam for 15 minutes. And just like with the other two options check often to ensure that the water does cook off before the conkies are ready
Try some other dishes from our African Ancestors