Food in Theory

10 Essential Ingredients in a Nigerian Kitchen

10 Essential Ingredients in a Nigerian Kitchen

Jump to video Around the world, there are common food ingredients we are all used to having in the kitchen. As much as there are similarities ranging through countries and continents, there are also different varieties specific to different cultures. In the next few minutes, you will read about 10 essential ingredients in a Nigerian kitchen. This was not an easy list to compile because Nigerian being the most populous country in Africa has over 300 sub-groups, tribes and languages. Of which the most popular is Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa. However, there are various other sub-groups that are not wildly spoken for, but in total makes a large percentage of the country. Hence why it was important for me to choose items that I believe you will have a high chance of finding in any Nigerian kitchen. Well, let’s say you will find at least 80% of these items in a Nigerian kitchen. My selections are based on both my upbringing and interaction with Nigerians locally and in the diaspora over time. Here is my list of 10 essential ingredients in a Nigerian kitchen: 1. Plantains Plantains are the hybrid version of bananas. Popular in Latin America, the West Indies and of course across Africa. Every Nigerian knows about and have eaten plantain (if you are a Nigerian that hasn’t eaten plantain, please return your passport! Ahaha just kidding!). Plantain is embedded in the Nigerian food culture, from the yellow sweet plantains to the green plantains. Plantains are also a go-to side dish with the popular Nigerian jollof rice. Did you know you can use plantains in cooking the same way you would use potatoes and bananas? These days you can find meals like plantain pancakes, gnocchi, bread etc. Below is a list of classic Nigerian plantain dishes: Dodo (Fried Sweet Plantains) – a.k.a the best friend to Jollof rice. Kpekere (Plantain chips) Plantain pottage – The plantain version of the simple one-pot dish typically made with yam cooked in a blended mixture of tomatoes, peppers and onions. Also known as ‘Asaro’ in the Yoruba language. Plantain Peppersoup – Spicy and hearty soup with plantain chunks and meat or fish. Perfect for the cold weather. Also known as ‘Ukodo’ in the Urhobo language. Boli (Roasted plantains) – A popular Nigerian street food. If you love plantains, check out these 4 Ways to Prepare Plantain Around the World. 2. Palm oil Oil is a big deal around the world and one of the most commonly used and produced oil in Nigeria is Palm oil. According to the World Bank, Nigeria is the largest consumer of palm oil in Africa. Palm oil is used in various cultures across the country to make dishes ranging from soups, stews, pottages, sauces etc. Palm oil has a high smoking point of 235 degrees celsius making it one of the best oils for frying. 3. Black Eyed Beans Honey beans and black-eyed beans are the most popularly used beans in Nigeria. Black-eyed beans are the go-to legume in Nigerian homes locally and in the diaspora. Meals such as Moi-Moi (bean pudding) and Akara (bean fritter) are two classic Nigerian ways to transform simple beans into something exquisite. 4. Rice If rice is common to mankind, I will say it is a necessity to a Nigerian. That’s just a little bit of humour, but in all honestly, Nigerians eat rice almost like we drink water. Well somewhat close. This is evident in the various rice dishes we have, the most popular one being Jollof rice. Various types of rice are farmed and produced in Nigeria, especially long-grain rice. However, the showstopper rice of Nigeria is what is known as Ofada rice. Ofada is ‘The Nigerian Rice’. 5. Stock Fish (Or any smoked dried fish) As much as I can remember and I believe even beyond that, stockfish has been a huge part of traditional Nigerian cooking. My parents, grandparents and their parents before them used stockfish not just as a protein in dishes but as a seasoning. Most Nigerians still use it today in soups, stews and sauces. You can imagine my disbelief when I found out that Nigerians do not produce stockfish but rather is it imported from Norway. This adds up as stockfish is unsalted cod that has been dried in cold air, which is not a common practice in Nigeria. Every Nigerian sub-group, culture, tribe and/or religion has a loved rice dish. Hence why it made it to my 10 Essential Ingredients in a Nigerian Kitchen, similar to all the other items on this list. 6. Smoked Crayfish Similar to stockfish, crayfish is a unique delicious additive to Nigerian cooking. It comes in handy for soups, stews, rice dishes, potages and more. It adds a great flavour in its whole form but is also great as powdered seasoning. 7. Garri Garri is a type of cassava flour a.k.a milled cassava. Cassava is grounded, fermented, drained of excess starch then toasted. Garri can either be yellow or white. for the yellow Garri, the fermented and drained cassava is mixed with a little palm oil before toasting. These are the two classic ways Garri is eaten: Eba – Garri mixed with hot water to form a dough. A type of “swallow” that is used to eat soups and sauces by moulding into small dumpling to dip into the sauce or soup. Swallow is the generic Nigerian term for these hot dough dumplings. Soaking Garri – Just as the name implies, it is Garri that is soaked in cold water. It’s basically a cold porridge typically made with ice water, sugar and optional additives such as milk, peanuts, coconut flakes. Soaking Garri is also great served with Moi-Moi, grilled fish, and bean dishes. 8. Spice mix Spice mixes are popular amongst Africans and the black community at large. A combination of different spices, herbs and seasonings always takes a meal to a tastier level. Some of the most common spice mixes in Nigeria are: Suya spice

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The Nigerian Jollof 101 - Extras & Essentials

The Nigerian Jollof 101 – Extras & Essentials

Nigerian jollof rice is one of the well-known delicacies of West Africa. Amongst its counterpart, Jollof is from Senegal, Ghana, Liberia and other West African countries. There have been comical disputes on which country makes the best Jollof. I lean towards the side of Nigerian Jollof being the best. Within the varieties of this West African delicacy, Nigeria brings a more vast variation. Each country has its classic cooking method of Jollof but within Nigeria, there isn’t just one. Without the need to dive too deep I’ll just make a mention of the top three Nigerian Jollof: Classic Jollof Basmati Jollof Smoky/Party-style Jollof The 1st and 3rd are similar but there are certain nuances that are not initially obvious. The basics of each style of Jollof follow similar principles but usually take a different turn in the cooking process. Here is a brief outline of some essential ingredients that can make or break any Jollof rice recipe. Followed by some extras that can level up any Jollof from basic to exceptional. Essentials: Fresh Tomatoes: It’s in the simple definition of the dish. ‘Rice cooked in tomato sauce. The first win for a good Jollof recipe is a good sauce base. Simply put, fresh ripe tomatoes will do the trick. However, canned tomatoes can also make some magic. Fresh Peppers/Chilli: Savoury Nigerian dishes are typically spicy. The standard chilli used is habanero or/and scotch bonnet peppers. Red Onions: Just like peppers and tomatoes, onions are a staple for many Nigerian sauces. Particularly red onions for their rich flavour and aroma. Seasoning (type A): Salt, dried thyme, curry powder and Maggi cubes were the basic seasonings in most traditional Jollof recipes. Oil: The sauce used in Jollof is oil-based. All of the above is fried up before the addition of rice. Rice: Another obvious item. However, the type of rice used adds or takes away 1 or 2 cooking steps. The original rice used in classic Nigerian cooking was the long grain. However, conventional recipes use mainly basmati rice, which in recent times has become most people’s personal preference, mine included. Stock/broth: Authentic Nigerian cooking typically uses fresh ingredients. We also believe nothing goes to waste and thus we like to kill two birds with one stone. A great example of this is pre-cooking the meat we intend to serve with a meal and then using the broth (stock, extra juice, liquid or whatever you want to call it) from the meat to cook the main dish. A nice plate of Jollof served with grilled chicken has most likely been cooked with the same chicken broth. Hence, its rich flavour pairs perfectly with the meat of choice. Similar to vegetarian Jollof which would be cooked with vegetable stock. Stocks could also be bought instead of homemade, either fresh, condensed or in stock cubes. Extras: Dried/Smoked Peppers/Chilli: Popularly known in Nigeria as ‘Tatashe’, these are sun-dried whole paprika peppers or red bell peppers. Not a requirement in cooking jollof rice, but when used it makes a whole lot of difference. Gives a richer smokey flavour that most people fail to achieve without its use. Another great addition is dried scotch bonnet peppers or habanero, popularly known as Cameroon pepper (name derived from a Cameroonian technique used in drying the peppers). My mum was the first person I saw use Cameroon pepper in Jollof and ever since my jollof rice game has never been the same. Fresh Ginger: Traditional Nigerian home cooks are often scared of using an additional spice to Jollof. However, ginger works well when combined with most peppers/chillies. whenever I’ve used it in my Jollof, people could just tell there’s something different but could never guess it was ginger, especially when used with the next ingredient on this list. Fresh Garlic: Most people are not fans of garlic, you either love it or hate it. As mentioned above, it simply takes the right combination of spices to create a distinct flavour that hides the cons (such as a pungent smell) and highlights its pros (such as a lush taste). Seasonings (type B): Finally, seasonings again. I classified this because I noticed a lot of people prefer name brand seasoning mixes. Which are great, but there is a lot of culinary magic that happens when you combine ordinary seasonings of nature. Some of my favourite seasonings to use are: Tumeric Nutmeg Paprika powder Herbs other than just thyme which is great, but oregano and bay leaf are special. Ginger and garlic powder (in addition to or as a substitute for fresh ginger and garlic) And of course Salt. Come on! Don’t be scared to add salt to your Jollof, no need to panic if your Jollof is tasting a bit too salty when it’s still liquidy. However, by the time the rice soaks in all the sauce, the flavour will balance itself out. I know it seems easier said than done, but after a few tries, we all eventually get it right. Although I consider salt to be an essential ingredient, years of serving people have made me realise to some people it isn’t. So tell me, are you a master at making jollof rice or was this an introduction for you? Got any tips and tricks you want to share, maybe something I should have mentioned. Additionally, here is an unconventional jollof rice recipe you might like: Jollof Risotto with Ossobuco and Plantain.

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The Nigerian Suya Spice Mix

The Nigerian Suya Spice Mix

Suya is a popular street food not only in Nigeria but in other west African countries. Nigeria in its rich culture of diverse ethnicity and dialect has always found harmony in certain meals, or this case spice. In the likes of Suya, Jollof, Moi-Moi and Nigerian fried rice. These are all dishes that many Nigerians are familiar with regardless of ethnicity. Suya is a meat dish Nigerians cook over a firewood grill with spices, similar to a kebab. The key is using the right spices and thus almost anything can have the Suya flavour. The spice mix was originally made by northern Nigerian herdsmen. It has in time found its way across West Africa and beyond. Each spice in the suya mixture is common across Nigeria and West-African local dishes. They are packed with aromatic flavours that make a perfect spice rub for beef, pork, fish and chicken. Talk about an all-purpose taste of West Africa. Here are the essential ingredients and what they are: Kuli–Kuli Balls – A common Nigerian snack made from roasted peanuts. Groundnut is the common name for peanuts in Nigerian and most West-African countries. To make the kuli-kuli, the groundnuts are blended and strained of their oils. The leftover pulp is then made into different shapes, one of the popular shapes being a round ball shape. Kuli-kuli is eaten as a spicy snack and commonly used in various recipes especially in the northern region of Nigeria. Such as in making the suya spice mix. Alternatively, you can blend roasted peanuts and use them as a substitute in making the suya spice mix. Peanut butter is also a great substitute for a wet suya spice rub. Grains of Selim – A common spice in Nigeria also used in cooking soups and sauces. It is common in other West African Countries and also known as African Pepper, Hwentia (in Ghana) and Uneihnei (in my native language ‘Urhobo’ in Nigeria) African Nutmeg (Calabash Nutmeg) – One of Nigeria’s most widely used ingredients in seasoning dishes. Also known as Erhe in Urhobo language, Ehuru (in the Igbo language), Gujiya dan Miya (in Hausa) and ariwo (in Yoruba). Alligator Pepper – A pungent spice used in a lot of West African soups. Traditionally regarded as an expensive spice and holds other traditional symbolism. Such as in the performance of native wedding ceremonies. Other Substitute/add-on spices Star Anise is a great substitute for the grain of Selim although not quite the same. Regular Nutmeg is milder but also has a close resemblance in flavouring dishes to the calabash nutmeg. Chilli powders are another fundamental ingredient to the suya spice mix. Preferably dried/smoked habanero or scotch bonnet peppers, popularly known to Nigerians in the Yoruba language as ‘Ata-rodo’. However, cayenne pepper powder makes for a great substitute. Enjoy learning about Nigerian food? Then you might like these recipes and articles: 10 Essential Ingredients in a Nigerian Kitchen The Nigerian Jollof 101 – Extras & Essentials Also check out these recipes from 40+ black food creators.

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