As a chef, I pride myself on having a wide repertoire of dishes up my sleeve. I can comfortably recreate plates from a wide array of countries and cultures. That said, I feel a certain pride in being able to cook several Nigerian Soups and Stews. There’s this “sexy” thing to Nigerian soups that I can’t quite explain. I was cooking a pot of Afang soup a few weeks ago when it dawned on me.
As a Yoruba man, I grew up with our staples - Stew, Plain Akpon (Ogbonno), Ewedu, Plain Okra, Efo Riro and Efo Elegusi. It wasn’t until I moved to Port Harcourt many years ago that my eyes (and taste buds) opened to the variety of dishes that our beautiful Nigeria has to offer. Port Harcourt introduced me to luscious soups like Afang, Ogbonno, Draw, Rivers Native, Oha, Bitter Leaf, White Soup, Black Soup, Abak, Groundnut, humble Pepper Soup and my personal favorite Banga.
The sexiness of our soups is not just from the inviting aroma. Visually, they can be absolutely stunning.
"Well-made Efo-Riro has the vividness of the palm oil coupled with the lure of all the cuts of meat and the striking green from the spinach leaves"
Or let’s take a luxurious soup like Banga. When I think of the redness of the oil, the flecks of leaves from the native spices and then the star of the show is the meat, which can be anything from dried fish, bush meat, fresh fish, cow tail, cow leg, goat meat, snail and anything else your wallet or desire leads you to. In my opinion, Banga Soup is the epitome of comfort food.
Nigerian soups are interesting in that you can often tell the socio-economic status of the "preparer" from the appearance and ingredients in the dish.
I take a particular delight in cooking Nigerian soups because there are so many techniques, ingredients and flavors at your disposal that you can basically “engineer” your soup to any direction you desire.
Cooking a Nigerian soup is such a deliberate process. With my Oha Soup, for example, I start out with a foundation of a well-flavored stock (fish, chicken or beef). Then, I go to work on building the structure of the soup by adding sliced kanda (pomo), dried fish flakes and stock fish flakes to the simmering stock. When the flavors start to develop, I add my pepper blend. The pepper blend is what gets the proceedings underway. I like to blend fresh yellow peppers with onions. The yellow peppers are quite fierce but they mellow out as the process builds up.
Very meticulous, you see.
The science of it all is such an underrated aspect of the Nigerian soup.
At this point, I can now start adding funkiness to the mix. The funk comes in the form of ground crayfish and ground Cameroon Pepper. The crayfish build on the flavor of the dried fish and stock fish but also adds a taste that I can only compare to the smell you get when you are at the waterside. It gives it a very “Native” taste. The Cameroon pepper adds a distinctive smokiness and it enforces the heat/spiciness of the soup. So, while the fresh pepper is mellowing out, the Cameroon pepper is reminding it where its roots came from.
Now for the meat. I usually pre-cook either cow shin, cow-tail, cow tongue and/or tozo (beef brisket) for my Oha Soup. I feel the texture and flavor of the beef lends itself very well to the velvetiness of Oha Soup. Also, the stock is what I use as the base for the soup. I tend to cut my meat fairly large (my Lagosian roots). A large soft piece of beef is incredibly inviting and satisfying at the same time.
After adding the meat to the show, I start to prepare the thickener (so the meat does not get too soft). I like to use Ofo as a thickener. Some of you will argue that Coco Yam is better but I prefer Ofo. I mix the Ofo in a separate container with some palm oil to avoid lumpy uncooked Ofo in the soup. Once mixed, I cut the heat on the Soup and add the Ofo mix. For me, this stage is very emotional. Once the Ofo starts to thicken the soup; the sound and look of the soup will start to change.
The sound goes from a rapid boiling note to a deeper base note that tells you to start getting ready for the goodness.
Now the look is where the sexiness comes from. Once the soup is thickened, it gains a romantic sheen to it and the thickness changes the flow of the soup. The flow is very key for me because the thick flow beckons you to sit down and get into it. Also, because the soup is now thick, it sexily coats all of your meat pieces so every bite is “Soupified” as well.
Once the soup has sufficiently thickened, I add my washed Oha Leaves and serve almost immediately. I particularly like Oha leaves because they are so unassuming but once you bite into them they are so succulent and fresh tasting all at the same time.
If my Oha recipe doesn’t convince you of the sexiness of our soups, I don’t know what will. As I am typing these words, my mouth is watering.
Thanks for reading. I’m off to cook!
Chef KD Prime is a self-taught chef with a wide repertoire – Italian, Russian, Chinese, French, Thai, Vietnamese, Classic American, the almighty Nigerian, and other cuisines