You may be wondering what Alapa is, you probably have not heard of it before, even if you are Yoruba or you speak the language well. Don’t worry, this is not something new, you already know it by its English name. Alapa is simply Palm Oil Stew. That is all it is. My grandma was the boss of this stew. From friends, family and neighbours at her house in Onipanu all the way to Iperu where she was from, my maternal grandmother was well-known for this stew. She had business interests in selling household goods; she was a major and I mean major distributor for PZ, Cussons, Leventis, Nestle, Lever Brothers and co, otherwise, if she had opened a Buka, it would have been very successful too.
When we had large family functions, despite hiring Alase’s (commercial party cooks – they were the first step towards caterers we have now), Mama always supervised the cooking of the stew that was served. The rest of the food she left to the Iya Alase’s to handle but the stew, no way, she was there from start to finish. Even for a party of 1000 upwards, Mama made the stew for it. Iye Gbuyi’s (as she was fondly called after her first child) stew would make you lick your plate clean and ask for more. Anything served with her stew was the first to finish at our family parties. When she cooked it with Goat meat, Ram meat or Awo (guinea fowl), you will forget your name. Loads of women learnt from her and also passed it on to their daughters and granddaughters. I am bringing one of my family recipes to you today. If you have eaten palm oil stew before or you make it yourself at home, trust me you haven’t made it like this before. Many of you reading this would have tried out my Buka Stew recipe. I can beat my chest and say this is even better. You must be thinking WHAT!!! Dunni, nothing tops Buka stew, trust me this does. If you still haven’t tried Buka Stew (recipe HERE), you have really been missing. I think I recommend you trying Buka Stew first before Alapa, so you can appreciate Alapa more.
I have held this recipe close to myself for a while thinking Buka Stew should be Dooney’s Kitchen signature stew and Alapa I will keep within the family, but when my mother’s best friend passed away suddenly and so painfully with her only child a few weeks ago, thinking back on her life and in discussions with my mum trying to help her get over the shock, we were also reminiscing about other people who have passed away and the impact they left in our lives. Especially another recent passing, Uncle Mike, our lesson teacher, someone who was pivotal in the education of all 3 of us. He passed away on Sunday after a protracted illness. This prompted me to share another of my Grandma’s food legacies. To live in the hearts of people is to live forever. This post is dedicated specially to my Grandma who raised the wonderful woman I call Mummy today. Iye Gbuyi, you will never be forgotten, your legacy lives on in all us and we hope we are making you proud. To Uncle Mike, we all passed WAEC Maths and Physics because of you, you will never be forgotten. To Aunty Jane who understood my mum so deeply, your friendship was enviable, and delightful Chinwem who were buried today, the shock of your death still lingers and is very painful but The Almighty understands and we have to give in to His Will. We pray for His Grace to lead you onwards in your Journey.
Over the years, I have tweaked this recipe a bit, just so that my daughters and granddaughters can also say this was my Alapa – sorry Grandma. Nothing tops yours though.
You will need
2 cooking spoons of Palm Oil
3 pieces of Tomatoes
3 pieces of Tatashe – red bell pepper
2 – 3 pieces of ata rodo (scotch bonnet/habanero pepper) – depending on how hot you want it
1 red onion – for blending
1/2 red onion – chopped for frying
1 wrap of Iru – fermented locust beans
1 small tin of Tomato puree – I used the Derica brand
1 piece of smoked fish – i used smoked catfish
1. Boil and season your meats accordingly. While the meats are cooking, blend all the ingredients for the pepper and boil it till it becomes very thick. Wash the iru with cold water. Chop half an onion, and also clean and tear apart the smoked/dry fish.
2. Chop half an onion. When the meats have become soft, heat up palm oil in the pot on low heat for a few minutes till it darkens a little bit. Just a little bit.
Add the onions, the iru and the boiled meat. Allow the meat to fry until it browns on each side. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: best to fry in a non stick pot or pan, because the onions and iru will burn a bit and stick to the pan. Someone pointed something out, which informed this bit. I was only cooking a small portion of meat, so it was okay to add all the iru and onions and fry with the meat. I only fried in 2 small batches. If you are cooking with more meat, especially family pot, portion the iru and onions with each batch of meat you fry. If you add all the iru and onions at once and fry the meats in multiple batches, by the time you are done frying all the meats, the iru and oninons would have burnt badly and be bitter. You don’t want that. Remember to fry your saki, cowleg and other parts too.
For health conscious people, you can skip this step if you wish, but I am afraid, the effect is not the same thing. My grandma was allergic to any kind of vegetable oil, so she cooked with only palm oil. She lived till 86.
I am only using 2 cooking spoons of Palm oil, so whether you fry or you don’t fry, the 2 cooking spoons of palm oil will still be used in the soup. Frying the meat this way in palm oil, iru and onions gives it this kind of flavour that is special and vital to the overall taste of the stew
3. Fry all your meats. Take out the fried meat and set aside.
You are probably going to be left with only a little palm oil at the end. Not to worry, transfer this oil and the charred bits of iru and onions to the pot you want to cook the stew with.
Add the freshly boiled pepper and let it fry till you end up with a thick sauce.
it will go from this
4. Add beef stock to dilute, and the tomato puree. Let this bubble up and continue the frying process.
When the stew thickens up a bit, add the fried meat, and continue cooking for the next 5 minutes or so. Taste at this point and re-season if necessary. Mine was fine because I used a very rich beef stock.
Now, my grandmother used to do two things I found quite odd. One of them I can explain, the other I simply can’t.
5. Once the stew has thickened up a bit, add a little extra palm oil. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: she does this to get back the original flavour of palm oil which has been lost from all the frying. Palm oil has its own flavour as we all know. When you fry with it, its original taste changes to a smokey version, which on its own is amazing but fresh palm oil flavour is also sublime. Those who cook with palm nut extract will know what I mean. So, by adding a fresh palm oil so late in the game, you get the best of both worlds. The fresh palm oil flavour AND the smokey palm oil flavour. This is probably why her stew ROCKS SOMETHING AWESOME!!!!!. In the spirit of tasting ingredients fresh, I also added a little extra fresh Iru.
The next thing she does is, she adds water to dilute the stew to the point it becomes watery. Why, honestly I don’t know. You have been frying stew for a while, it is now thick and then you dunk water in it. Don’t ask, even my mum probably doesn’t know why. I couldn’t ask her today of all days, but I will later on and if her answer is explainable, I will update this post, otherwise just accept it like that. Mama’s Alapa was always light and fluid. You add it to rice and it will sink nicely to the middle and bottom, leaving patches of stew on top. It was never watery i.e. no water separation at all. That was a no-no. Paired with ewedu or fresh okro, or even vegetable soup and it just flowed smoothly.
6. After adding the extra palm oil, add water to dilute, let it be watery enough to slide off the spoon easily (see picture above and below – that is the consistency you should be aiming for). Turn down the heat, and let the stew and meats bubble along nicely. The addition of water will dilute the salt and seasoning, don’t re-adjust just yet. Trust me, if you do you will end up with a salty mess later.
7. In about 5 minutes, you will have noticed that the stew has thickened a little bit. It should still have that watery look and feel to it. Add in the strips of the smoked catfish, stir gently.
Further lower the heat and wait a few more minutes, the stew will thicken just a little bit more, but still be ‘watery’. Taste the difference now. Come on. Taste it. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and simply let it simmer nicely.
……………..and you are done. If Buka Stew was your secret weapon at home, you now have an Arsenal of stews.
Mama always served in a deep large bowl and a ladle for which the stew will be scooped out and served to everyone. She would call out “eyin omo mi, obe ti jina, ounje ti dele”. English for my children, the soup has been cooked and food is ready. Miss that woman plenty.