This starchy solid is revered and well-respected across the Niger Delta. The Urhobos call it Usi, not sure what the Edo people and other parts of Delta call it, but I have always known it as Starch. It is best enjoyed with Banga Soup (recipe HERE). Deltans will tell you that there is no better meal. Well, many of you must know by now that I have Delta roots. 50% to be precise, so Starch is something I am very familiar with. Watching grandma prepare it was always fascinating. I stood there in the kitchen and watched in amusement how the block of Starch was dissolved in water, added to the pot, a splash of plan oil and Mama started turning and turning, and solid lumps were forming int he white solution, and then it turned from white with oily flecks to pale yellow and then the yellow got darker and darker, and the starch turned translucent. It always fascinated me, but sadly, she never let me do it. If I begged and begged, she would say Uche (or sometimes Amma), okay start stirring it, and I would be really pleased, but as soon as the lumps started to form, she would take the wooden spoon from me and finish off, which disappointed me to say the least, because that is when the fun had begun. Little did I know that making starch was so not fun.
I got brave one day and decided to prepare it on my own, after all I had seen it made hundreds of times by Mama and my big Aunties. Oh dear, they were correct in not letting me near it. What looks like fun when you are watching someone else do it, is definitely not the same experience when you are holding the wooden spoon. Starch seems to have a life of its own. As soon as those lumps start to form, it is as if the Starch has become the concert instructor and you are just one of the violinists. That thing can turn on you so fast, you will not see it coming. Once it solidifies, goodness me, you can turn and turn it round and round, but if you don’t have the upper arm strength backed with experience, it will be a disaster. This is not to scare you, but to prepare you, especially for first timers. Follow my steps clearly and pay attention. This is nothing like making Amala, Semo, even Pounded Yam, not even close. Even if you are a pro at making those starchy solids I just mentioned, Starch will humble you. Needless to say I quickly emptied the pot in a plastic wrap and dumped in the bin outside, so Mama would not notice. I washed the pot so fast, I could have won the Gold Medal in Pot washing. My grandma was quite stern and had a zero tolerance policy with wasting food, and I sure did not want to be at the receiving end of her tongue.
As I got older, she let me practice more and more but towards the final stages, she always took over and sadly I did not get to show her that I could make Starch from start to finish by myself. My mum being a Yoruba woman was definitely not amused with the process (don’t blame her), so it wasn’t even something she could teach me. I learnt how to make starch on my own. Years of watching it made, plus plenty of practice, half of which were disasters, fine tuned my skills and I can make it successfully now, but with a little Caveat. For not more than 2 adults. The arm cardio involved to feed a group of people is way more than my tiny arms can produce. What I would advise for anyone reading this who truly wants to make it is to be prepared to turn out not so great batches, but once you get it, you get it. Your first trial may be a mess, I must confess the first pot I made when I wanted to blog about this went straight to the bin. I hadn’t made starch since I cooked The Edo Black soup (recipe HERE), plus I wasn’t paying attention, so I binned it. The next batch of which you will see the pictures below, turn out perfect. Here’s how
You will need
Water Palm Oil
Now, for the starch, if you live in Nigeria, yay for you. You can buy the edible starch in local markets. If you live abroad, a close alternatives are Farina (potato starch) and Cassava Starch. They both come under different brand names. You can find them sold in Asian and African Stores.
1. Pour out the starch into a bowl
2. Add water to the starch until it forms a liquid solution. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: now, the volume of water you add will be based on experience. My grandma always made the solution thick, but that has never worked for me. The lumps develop too fast for me and it spirals out of control, and starch is one solid that is not salvageable. I make my solution quite watery and it gives me better control. It may take slightly longer, but that is nothing compared to how frustrated you will be, plus annoyed when you have to bin it.
3. Add the liquid solution to a pot, and splash in some palm oil and start with the heat on low to medium. Just a little. The palm oil is what gives it its signature light orange/yellow colour. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: you only need a little. About a tablespoon or even less, depending on how much you are making. About the heat being on low to medium, as I mentioned earlier, after going through so many unsuccessful attempts, I had to tweak the process to find what suited me better i.e. gave me more control. With the heat on low to medium, the starch doesn’t solidify too fast for you to handle.
4. Once the heat has been turned on, keep stirring. Not for a second should you stop, because even though you have this volume of liquid squishing around, in a few minutes, the starch will start to solidify at the bottom, so don’t be deceived by the volume of liquid you can see. It is from the bottom that it starts to solidify and pop up. Once it starts to solidify, you will feel it. I have taken a shot of the first “cooked” lumps of starch. Once that happens, it is time to put your back into it, and stir vigorously, to bring the cooked lumps together and basically mesh into one, otherwise, the lumps will harden individually and you are basically screwed (pardon my French), because once that happens, you can’t bring them together again.
5. Keep stirring and stirring, that action will melt the lumps into a smooth thick custard like solution. This is what you want. See how thick and smooth it is, like custard. Don’t get too excited, more work is on the way. Heheheheh
6. From that custard consistency, more cooked lumps begin to form as the solution gets hotter. Just think of it like making Semovita or Poundo flour. Keep going, keep stirring.
7. And just like with other starchy solids, it begins to come together into one big mass. The colour will also deepen and it would probably become quite stiff and difficult for you to manoeuvre, so I invented the add hot water technique. Make sure you already have hot water in the kettle or a pot beside you. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: the hot water is to help soften the starch, to the consistency that makes it easier to keep stirring in circular motions. This was something I developed after many frustrating trials.
8. The addition of hot water also creates an almost instant result. The colour not just deepens, but it starts to take on the characteristic almost translucent look to it. This is what minutes and minutes of stirring would achieve (hurting your arms in the process), but hot water helps you to cheat, and quickens the process.
Keep stirring till the hot water is absorbed, the starch takes on an elastic spring to it, and the colour is deep and translucent. If it gets too bought to stir, add hot water again and repeat the dance, until it becomes stretchy, elastic, and translucent.
9. You know it is ready, when it begins to pull away cleanly or at least almost cleanly from the sides and bottom of the pot. I moved it to the right, so you can see how it lifts off from the left hand side of the pot, and doesn’t stick as much to the wooden spoon.
………and that’s your Starch done. Now heave a sigh of relief and pat yourself on the back. From me to you, Well done.
Serve hot. You can make it more presentable by scooping out lumps into a plastic wrap, hold the starch ball in your hand and keep twisting and twisting like you are trying to screw a light bulb, till a long rope starts to form on top, and tighten at end. This will give the starch ridges, making it look like a tangerine. Of course, for presentation purposes, I had to go at it with a knife to define some ridges, but for you, you don’t need all that aggro. Lol. The next time I make a starchy solid, I will repeat the process and take pictures.